Chinatown Kid (1977)

Chinatown Kid [唐人街小子] (1977)
AKA Chinatown Kung Fu

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Sun Chien, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Lo Meng, Jenny Tseng, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Siu Yam-Yam, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Yeung Chi-Hing, Wong Ching-Ho, Lo Dik, Chiang Nan, Yue Wing, Wang Han-Chen, Ku Kuan-Chung, Teresa Ha Ping, Kara Hui, Tsai Hung, Wong Lik, Chiang Sheng, Dick Wei, Wang Ching-Liang, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Lu Feng, Chin Chun

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Interested to finally see the longer cut.


Chinatown Kid is a great Chang Cheh film with a strong following, but it’s one of the few films that had a restoration tarnish its legacy. The story goes that when Celestial went to their Shaw archives to remaster Chinatown Kid, the only print they found was an alternate version that was much shorter, featuring re-shot scenes and a unique ending. This was back in the early 2000s, so at this point, nearly 20 years later, it’s probably safe to say that this shorter version is the only one that will ever be officially released by Celestial. It’s unfortunate because it’s almost assuredly not Chang Cheh’s original cut, but it is better than nothing. For this review, I watched the film twice: once with Celestial’s shorter version (which I’ve seen before), and once with the Venomsfan custom edit that combines a full-length VHS with a couple of extra scenes only found in the Celestial cut.

The story remains fairly constant across the two versions. Tang Dong (Alexander Fu Sheng) is an illegal immigrant who has just arrived in Hong Kong to help his aging grandpa. Finding a job is a struggle without a Hong Kong ID card, but Tang Dong is resourceful, street smart, and willing to work hard to make ends meet. He is largely driven by a materialistic desire to have cool stuff (like a digital watch), but he’s a nice guy at heart. Meanwhile in Taiwan, Yang Jian Wen (Sun Chien, in his debut role) has just returned home from two years service in the army. He shares Tang Dong’s willingness to work hard for his goals, but his family isn’t poor, and he is more book smart and responsible. Both characters end up in San Francisco by very different means (one studying abroad, the other running from the law), and they quickly befriend one another while working at a restaurant.

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Magnificent Wanderers (1977)

Magnificent Wanderers [江湖漢子] (1977)
AKA Magnificent Kung Fu Warriors

Starring David Chiang, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Li Yi-Min, Shan Mao, Yeung Chung-Man, Lee Ying, Lam Fai-Wong, Han Chiang, Wong Cheong-Chi, Yu Heng, Cho Boot-Lam, Chiang Sheng, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Lu Feng

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Moderate.


Ever the innovator, Chang Cheh’s final film under the Chang’s Co. banner was new ground for the director. Magnificent Wanderers brings together “Chang Cheh” and “comedy,” two concepts that seemingly couldn’t be further apart. I love a good kung fu comedy, but I never imagined Chang Cheh would throw his hat into that ring. Nothing about Chang’s films suggests he had any interest in making a comedy, in fact, the kung fu comedies that arose from this era seem like a specific reaction to the ultra-seriousness of Chang Cheh’s genre-defining work. I don’t know what compelled him to attempt a comedy, but judging from Magnificent Wanderers I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t a great fit.

Lin Shao You (Fu Sheng), Shi Da Yong (Chi Kuan-Chun), and Guan Fei (Li Yi-Min) are three poor nomads who make a living by hustling with a rigged fortune-telling stand. After a successful day, Lin suggests they all visit a real restaurant for once. They are stopped before they can sit down, but the well-known millionaire, Chu Tie Xia (David Chiang), claims they are his friends and invites them to dine with him. So begins a friendship upon which the rest of the film is built. There isn’t really much of a plot to the film; it’s more about the general struggle between our heroes (who are attempting to meet up with the rebellion) and the Mongols. This doesn’t accurately represent the movie that well, though, as the tone is always lighthearted and jovial. It’s a comedic struggle with bungling, farcical Mongol villains.

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The Naval Commandos (1977)

The Naval Commandos [海軍突擊隊] (1977)

Starring Lau Wing, Chi Kuan-Chun, David Chiang, Alexander Fu Sheng, Shih Szu, Ti Lung, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chiang Sheng, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Lu Feng, An Ping, Woo Kei, Shan Mao, Lee Sau-Kei, Chu Jing, Kwok San-Hing, Lam Fai-Wong, David Tang Wei

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Pao Hsueh-Li, Wu Ma, and Liu Wei-Bin)

Expectations: Pretty high.


The Naval Commandos was one of the last movies Chang Cheh made in Taiwan before returning to the Shaw studio in Hong Kong. It was produced in cooperation with Taiwan’s Central Film Company, and like 7-Man Army, the Taiwanese military assisted with the filming by providing vehicles and other tools of war to make the film realistic. This is evident throughout the film, but it is the most prominent during the film’s introduction and frame story. It depicts a training exercise simulating the many pieces involved in a successful beachfront invasion (similar to the D-Day invasion shown in Saving Private Ryan or The Big Red One). It works beautifully to set the stage for the wartime action drama to follow, as well as serving as a large-scale display of power for the Taiwanese military.

This introduction is great, and it perfectly frames the film, but the film’s primary story is far more interesting. Many years prior during the Second Sino-Japanese War, when the Chinese Navy was less advanced, the Japanese cruiser Izumo (referenced as Izuma in the subtitles) was docked in Japanese-controlled Shanghai in preparation for further attack on China. The Chinese Navy had nothing that could stand up to the Izumo in direct battle, so it is decided that a small group of men aboard a torpedo boat will try to perform a sneak attack disguised as a fishing boat. Getting there is not so easy, though, as there is a huge field of mines to be crossed and Japanese patrols to elude. It is a valiant plan in theory, but unfortunately it is derailed before it even has a chance of success. The men arrive in Shanghai, undeterred and focused on finding a new method of sinking the Izumo.

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Shaolin Temple (1976)

Shaolin Temple [少林寺] (1976)
AKA Death Chamber

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Wai Wang, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Yueh Hua, Wong Chung, Lau Wing, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Li Yi-Min, Shih Szu, Ku Wen-Chung, Shan Mao, Chiang Sheng, Ku Feng, Lu Feng, Wong Ching, Tsai Hung, Chiang Nan, Shum Lo, Wang Han-Chen, Lee Sau-Kei, Liu Wai, Hao Li-Jen

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Another Shaolin Cycle film. Yes, I’m still expecting greatness.


Shaolin Temple isn’t Chang Cheh’s last Shaolin film, but it is the last in his Shaolin Cycle that began with 1974’s Heroes Two. His later Shaolin films with the Venom Mob actors may relate in some ways, but I consider them separately from the Shaolin Cycle films. Anyway, Shaolin Temple is a great finale to Chang’s non-linear series with a habit of contradicting itself and re-telling different versions of the same story. Shaolin Temple showcases something that has been talked about in just about every film, but has yet to be shown in its full glory: the Shaolin Temple itself. In classic Chang Cheh fashion, it’s also not a typical martial arts film; it’s one that puts the Shaolin Temple and its teachings at the forefront of the film, above character development and even plot. If you’ve seen all the previous entries, this isn’t a big deal, but newcomers might be a little lost with the sheer amount of characters in the film.

Shaolin Temple is basically a prequel to Five Shaolin Masters and Heroes Two/Men from the Monastery/The Shaolin Avengers (and while we’re building shaky Shaw Shaolin timelines, Lau Kar-Leung’s The 36th Chamber of Shaolin would come directly before Shaolin Temple). It also re-tells/re-imagines certain aspects that would tie into those films, so it’s not the type of prequel that completely works. That doesn’t matter in this case, though, as these are folk tales just waiting to be re-imagined and re-told as the teller sees fit. In any case, the film opens with Hung Hsi-Kuan (here played by Wang Wai), Fang Shih-Yu/Fong Sai-Yuk (Alexender Fu Sheng), and Hu Huei-Chien (Chi Kuan-Chun) kneeling outside the Shaolin Temple in hopes of being accepted for training in the martial arts. The Grand Master (Ku Wen-Chung) decides that after five days of kneeling, the men are dedicated enough to withstand the hardships of Shaolin training. What ultimately sways him is his feeling that if he does not teach them, the very survival of the Shaolin martial arts might hang in the balance. They enter the temple, and it begins a new era of the temple training outsiders to aid their resistance against the oppressive Qing government.

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The Escaper (1973)

TheEscaper_1The Escaper [十段高手] (1973)

Starring Hung Chiu-Hung, Lau Tak-Yan, Cindy Tang Hsin, Yee Yuen, Sit Hon, Meng Ti-Chen, Shan Mao, Shut Chung-Tin, Lee Keung, Got Siu-Bo, An Ping, Wu Kuo-Liang, Chiang Sheng

Directed by Lee Tso-Nam

Expectations: Zero. Super rare and probably for a reason. Hahaha.

twostar


Out of the hundreds of films released by the Shaw Brothers, only a few were not remastered and released to DVD by Celestial. The Escaper is one such film, but after many searches I was finally able to source a copy. It was without subtitles, but in such cases one doesn’t have the leeway to be picky. And as it turns out, The Escaper is still fairly easy to understand without the finer story points that dialogue would bring.

Obviously, I can’t give a real synopsis of what this film is about, and since it’s so rare I can’t find one anywhere else on the net either. So here goes nothin’! The Escaper opens in prison. A group of three inmates mount a daring escape attempt, but they are quickly thwarted by a badass guard with a whip and locked back in their communal cell. Not for long, though, as another guard comes to them with a basket containing a rope and a cell door key. He appears to make some kind of deal with the inmates, and before you know it he’s distracting the other guard so the inmates (who become the film’s heroes) can use the provided tools to make their escape… this time for good.

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