Arnold Quick Takes: The Long Goodbye, The Rundown, The Kid & I

longgoodbyeThe Long Goodbye (1973)
onestar

Starring Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Jim Bouton, Warren Berlinger, Jo Ann Brody, Stephen Coit
Directed by Robert Altman

Raymond Chandler is one of my favorite authors. After many, many years of procrastination, I finally read The Long Goodbye last month. It instantly became one of my favorite books from any author, and it is by far Chandler’s best. To put it bluntly: Robert Altman’s film version is a horrid adaptation of one of the best books I’ve ever read. Yet, this is a film with a fantastic reputation among film buffs! I can only surmise that they haven’t read the book. I understand that Altman’s goal was to subvert the detective genre with The Long Goodbye, but what I find most interesting is that Chandler’s novel does this better in many ways already. Much of the novel’s complexity is completely lost, and while some that is to be expected in any adaptation, it is very clear from the beginning that Altman was never interested in actually adapting Chandler’s novel. He supposedly didn’t even read the whole thing! The style, soul, and substance that made The Long Goodbye such a resonant piece of work are unceremoniously sucked out and replaced with an entirely different, Altman energy. I honestly don’t know that a faithful adaptation of The Long Goodbye could work as a film, but this sole attempt literally gets every aspect of the novel wrong. Even taking my love of Chandler out of the equation, the film itself hardly feels worthy of praise.

Oh yeah, I was watching this because of Arnold’s cameo. Even this was a disappointment! Arnold doesn’t get to say anything, although for what it’s worth, he sports a weird mustache and strips down to his underwear in one of the oddest gangster confrontation moments I’ve ever seen. WTF.  And don’t even get me started on the recurring Long Goodbye theme song… [and then, then I made a noise like this — HHUUUAAHH  HHUUUAAHH  HHHUUUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAHHHHH] I’ll stick with the book, thank you very much.

the_rundownThe Rundown (2003)
twohalfstar

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken, Ewen Bremner, Jon Gries, William Lucking, Ernie Reyes Jr.
Directed by Peter Berg

The Rundown was the first starring role for The Rock, and he easily proved that he could be a capable leading man. It’s not a great film by any means, but it has an odd charm that most mainstream films, especially ones from this era, don’t have for me. Arnold’s cameo isn’t anything more than the quick line, “Have fun,” but in this single moment during the film’s opening, Arnold effectively passes the bodybuilder-turned-action-hero mantle to The Rock. He’s a perfect fit, too; he’s got the body, the charisma and the acting chops to do very well. And now, 13 years later, he definitely has! But The Rock isn’t Arnold, so The Rundown isn’t the type of movie that Arnold himself could have starred in. The Rock is given a few hand-to-hand fights, and the action choreographer (Andy Cheng) wisely incorporated wrestling takedowns and the like into the choreography to take advantage of The Rock’s special skill set. Capoeira figures largely into the film’s most impressive fight, as well as some excellent wirework. I was honestly taken aback by how much I liked the choreography. It felt very Hong Kong-influenced, so when I discovered that Andy Cheng was a stunt double/member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team for a few years, it all made sense. Overall, the action is pretty good, the comedy not so much, but it was still a lot more fun than I remember it being.

The Kid & I (2005)
threestar

Starring Tom Arnold, Eric Gores, Linda Hamilton, Joe Mantegna, Henry Winkler, Richard Edson, Shannon Elizabeth, Brenda Strong, Arielle Kebbel, Yvette Nicole Brown, Gabrielle Sanalitro
Directed by Penelope Spheeris

The Kid & I genuinely surprised me. It’s well-written and it boasts a great cast with a bunch of fun cameos (including Shaq and Arnold as themselves). I wasn’t expecting anything, but I was instantly won over by the unexpectedly dark suicide humor that opens the film. What makes the film even more interesting is that it’s a blend of fact and fiction. The film revolves around Tom Arnold writing a vanity project for a billionaire’s kid to star in, and the kid is played by Eric Gores, son to real-life billionaire Alec Gores. The Gores family lives next door to Tom Arnold, so the film serves as both the vanity project AND a sort of documentary peek inside the making of the movie. This kind of thing could have easily gone off the rails, but the cast performs admirably and it is impressively well-directed and edited. I’ve wanted to delve into the work of Penelope Spheeris for a while now, but The Kid & I solidifies that inclination to explore the work of this interesting and varied filmmaker.

Heroes of Sung (1973)

HeroesofSung_1Heroes of Sung [龍虎會風雲] (1973)

Starring Shih Szu, Lo Lieh, Chang Pei-Shan, Fang Mian, Tong Tin-Hei, Richard Chan Chun, Lee Ga-Sai, Yue Fung, Chan Shen, Lee Wan-Chung, Cheng Yin, Erh Chun, Cheung Ban, Cheung Hei, Hao Li-Jen

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: Moderate. Shen Chiang has been hit or miss in the past.

threehalfstar


As much as I try to watch the Shaw Brothers films chronologically, there are always discrepancies. The specific date of release for Heroes of Sung has been lost in time, so who knows where it actually came in the 1973 release cycle. In my series it’s the final film of 1973, and honestly, it’s a perfectly rousing and entertaining little movie to close out the year with. It looks back as it moves forward, recalling the style of wuxias past (like late ’60s/early ’70s), while also containing excellent action that would have never graced screens in those years.

What makes Heroes of Sung interesting is that it’s a wuxia filled with all kinds of supernatural wuxia feats, but it’s also based around Chinese history. Like Iron Bodyguard, Heroes of Sung doesn’t tell its audience about the story’s foundation in reality. Makes sense, I guess. Seeing a dude roll around in a combat wheelchair fighting off a villain wielding a steel eagle claw on a chain doesn’t really say “Based on a True Story,” now does it?

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The Fate of Lee Khan (1973)

The Fate of Lee Khan [迎春閣之風波] (1973)
fateofleekhan_2

Starring Li Li-Hua, Pai Ying, Tien Feng, Han Ying-Chieh, Hsu Feng, Roy Chiao, Angela Mao, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Wei Pin-Ao, Wu Chia-Hsiang, Ng Ming-Choi, Lee Man-Tai, Chiang Nan, Woo Gam, Gam Dai

Directed by King Hu

Expectations: Super high. I’ve been very eager to continue exploring King Hu’s filmography for a while now.

threehalfstar


The Fate of Lee Khan is a fantastic film, hidden in the shadows of other, more well-known King Hu films. I’ve never heard anything about this movie, but yet it is an incredibly solid and effective piece of filmed martial intrigue. It’s similar in a lot of ways to Dragon Inn, but that is hardly a complaint. It is a true joy to watch as a world-class director returns to a smaller scale story after opening up the genre in ways previously unknown in A Touch of Zen. I need to re-watch Dragon Inn to confirm this, but it seems as if King Hu’s storytelling ability has matured a lot since that film, and the economy with which he delivers an intense, compelling story in The Fate of Lee Khan is a masterful achievement. The inn featured here is also a vibrant center of the region, as opposed to the desolate way station of Dragon Inn.

The film opens by setting itself in the context of history. Our story is set in the late 1300s, during the Yuan Dynasty established by the Mongolian leader Kublai Khan. The Chinese people, frustrated with political corruption and oppression, organized a revolt under the lead of Chu Yuan-Chang. But as we’re told in the intro, the war is not just fought on the battlefields, but also through the devious methods of espionage. Lee Khan is a powerful man in charge of the Yuan spy activity, and at the outset of the film his sister and trusted advisor manage to secure a war map detailing the movements of Chu’s forces. The rebel spies refuse to let the map go easily, so when word comes that Lee Khan is coming to the Spring Inn, forces from both sides gather there to decide his fate.

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Flight Man (1973)

flightman_1Flight Man [馬蘭飛人] (1973)
AKA The Ma Lan Flying Man, The Daredevil

Starring Wong Yung, Ivy Ling Po, Shan Mao, Yee Yuen, Tien Yeh, Ling Yin, Sit Hon, Yuen Sam, Tong Chi-Wai, Wu Fei-Song, Yu Lung, Tsai Hung, Tien Shun, Cheng Fu-Hung

Directed by Ting Shan-Hsi

Expectations: None, but I like Ivy Ling Po and look forward to her.

twohalfstar


On one hand, Flight Man is pure fantasy. As the title suggests, there is a man who can fly (in the traditional wuxia sense), but on the other hand, Flight Man presents itself like it’s telling a true story, complete with extensive title cards detailing the back story and the exact locations of the events. I suppose this makes Flight Man something of a realistic fiction tale with mild fantasy overtones. This seems relatively simple, but the fantasy elements (which are basically limited to the flying) don’t really come up much or even matter to the overall story. It would have been a more effective movie played straight, although I definitely wouldn’t have been as intrigued by it had it stayed realistic. I guess I just have a hard time coming to terms with not being able to understand why the film is the way it is.

Flight Man opens in Wu Lung Village, where an old, traveling medicine seller has come to the dojo to peddle his wares. For some reason, a kid plays a trick on him by drugging his tea with a dead frog. Everyone laughs at the old man, but the joke’s on them! The old man spits out the tea they thought he drank, retrieves the frog, eviscerates it and eats it raw. Then our hero, Yang Ah-Bao (Wong Yung), and a bunch of martial arts students come to kick him out of the dojo, but the old dude flies out of their reach onto the rooftop. Yang Ah-Bao is so taken with the feat that he demands to be taught or else he’ll “smash his brain” (after which he bashes his head into a tree trunk). Cut to: Main titles where the old man trains Yang Ah-Bao and his buddies.

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The Master of Kung Fu (1973)

masterofkungfu_3The Master of Kung Fu [黃飛鴻] (1973)
AKA Death Kick, Shaolin Death Kicks, Wong Fei-Hung

Starring Ku Feng, Chen Ping, Lam Wai-Tiu, Hui Siu-Hung, Wang Hsieh, Wong Hon, Chan Shen, Law Hon, Shi Lu-Kai, Yuan Man-Tzu

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Wong Fei-Hung! I’m stoked.

threestar


Wong Fei-Hung films will always hold a special place in my heart. In the late ’90s, when I was first getting into Hong Kong films and digging past the US releases of Rumble in the Bronx and Supercop, my friends introduced me to Once Upon a Time in China and Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master films. To hold The Master of Kung Fu up to these lofty standards is not fair, so purge those memories of Jet Li’s Shadowless Kick and Jackie’s drunk antics and let’s get down to business. Although, I will say that if I were to compare them, The Master of Kung Fu is much more inline with Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China, to the point that it could have been an influence on the later film.

The Master of Kung Fu begins with a New Year’s celebration, complete with a lion dance competition. The students of Wong Fei-Hung (Ku Feng) are clearly the better team, but Wong’s cousin Mai Gen (Chan Shen) tricks them into a fight, making Wong’s students lose the dance and forcing Wong to apologize publicly to Mai Gen. This might seem like kind of a petty move on the part of Mai Gen, but he does have a purpose.

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Na Cha and the Seven Devils (1973)

NaChaandthe7Devils_1Na Cha and the Seven Devils [梅山收七怪] (1973)

Starring Ching Li, Tina Chin Fei, An Ping, Wai Wang, Chen Hung-Lieh, Yu Lung, Got Heung-Ting, Yeung Oi-Wa, Chang Feng, Yueh Yang, Got Siu-Bo, Ho Fan, Lam Lam, Ngai Chi-Wong, Aai Dung-Gwa, O Yau-Man, Law Bun

Directed by Tetsuya Yamanouchi

Expectations: Moderate, but I think it’s gonna be fun.

threestar


Na Cha and the Seven Devils is the type of movie that only certain people will like. It’s essentially an FX movie — nearly every scene has some form of supernatural shenanigans going on — and while the FX are quite ambitious, they don’t necessarily hold up well to modern standards. To be honest, they don’t even necessarily hold up to 1973 standards; everything looked at about a similar level to the work seen in Ho Meng-Hua’s four-film Journey to the West series, and those were all made 5–7 years prior to this. But when a film considered low-budget by American standards has such a plethora of supernatural delights, it’s unfair to think that they’re all going to look fantastic to someone 43 years in the future. And besides, I love these sort of special effects, especially in Hong Kong films, so I loved every minute of Na Cha and the Seven Devils. I merely seek to give you an idea of what we’re talking about here.

Our story begins on Mt. Kunlun, existing high in the sky between heaven and the mortal world, where there is a peach tree that only blossoms every thousand years. It takes another thousand years for the peaches to appear, and another thousand years still for the them to ripen. But, if it’s not already apparent, these are no ordinary peaches! We get our first taste of their power when the mischievous child god Na Cha (Yu Lung) decides he’s hungry. He devours a peach, his eyes glow a bright yellow, and suddenly he can see right through the clouds and into the mortal world! He can also crack rocks & trees in half and cause earthquakes with a single blow! The only problem is that when Na Cha shook the tree to get his peach, he knocked loose the remaining seven peaches. These rogue magical peaches landed on the Earth, and now Na Cha and a pair of his brothers are tasked with retrieving the peaches before the devils can eat them and become immortal.

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The Pirate (1973)

thepirate_2The Pirate [大海盜] (1973)

Starring Ti Lung, David Chiang, Tin Ching, Lau Gong, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yue Fung, Dean Shek Tin, Wu Chi-Chin, Yeung Chak-Lam, Lo Dik, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Ko Hung, Yuan Man-Tzu, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Chang Cheh, Wu Ma & Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: High. Pirates, Ti Lung, David Chiang, and Chang Cheh? How can I not be pumped?

threehalfstar


I didn’t know quite what to expect going into The Pirate, but it’s safe to say that the opening sequence fulfilled pretty much every expectation I had. The film commences with a naval battle between a British ship and a Chinese pirate ship. The pirate captain is none other than Ti Lung, playing the chivalrous pirate Chang Pao-Chai, who was a real pirate in the 19th Century. Ti Lung performs like a Chinese Errol Flynn, athletically swinging from ropes and laying waste to everyone in his path with ease after the pirates board the British ship. I’ve loved the swashbuckling good times of Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks for years, so as soon as the film started it had me right in its pocket. (Do pirates have pockets?)

Having fulfilled the average moviegoer’s idea of a pirate movie, the film is free to reveal its true nature. It’s not so much about smuggling or thieving, as it is a drama about morality. Written by that ever-resourceful scribe Ni Kuang, The Pirate slowly introduces multiple factions that each have their own goals and desires. Of course, they all intersect and conflict with one another as the plot unfurls, with two defined villains, two heroes who are also villains depending on your moral standpoint, and one neutral group that is at the mercy of the others’ whims. This landscape works to great effect in presenting the tortuous life of a pirate with enemies on all sides.

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