Mission Impossible (1971)

missionimpossible_5Mission Impossible [劍女幽魂] (1971)

Starring Ching Li, Chen Hung-Lieh, Chiang Nan, O Yau-Man, Su Chen-Ping, Ma Kei, Yee Yuen, Ngai So, Tsai Hung, Yuen Sam, Law Bun, Lui Jun

Directed by Joseph Kuo Nan-Hong

Expectations: Moderate.

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Mission Impossible is a rare Shaw Brothers film. When Celestial Pictures acquired the rights to the Shaw catalog and they undertook the massive project of remastering and re-releasing the films to DVD, there were a number of movies that somehow slipped through the cracks. Perhaps prints were lost or some such unavoidable circumstances occurred. Some films were remastered but never transitioned to DVD for unexplained reasons, only appearing on the Singapore-only Zii Eagle set-top box that contains hundreds of Shaw films. Mission Impossible is one of those slip-through-the-cracks, unremastered movies, so the print is pretty bad. Not the worst I’ve seen, but still a huge step down from what I’ve become accustomed to while making my way through the catalog. I’ve definitely become spoiled.

But sometimes it’s good to revisit your roots, so I actually kind of enjoyed watching Mission Impossible in its damaged form that reminded me of how most Shaw films used to look before Celestial took over. They were neglected, dingy prints that were incredibly hard to come by in the US (exacerbated by the fact that the Internet was in its infancy and I was still a teenager with limited resources). But there is a special charm to watching old, faded prints. Are the dark, shadowy visuals just the print, or was the cinematography specifically designed to achieve this look? The fun of a bad print is that it is up to you to deduce the filmmaker’s intent from the context clues. Definitely not a task that everyone will get a kick out of, though. 🙂

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Duel of Fists (1971)

duel of fistsDuel of Fists [拳擊] (1971)
AKA Striking Fist, Duel of Fist

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ching Li, Chan Sing, Ku Feng, Woo Wai, Parwarna Liu Lan-Ying, Wong Chung, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Tang Ti, Yau Ming, Lee Pang-Fei

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high.

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Duel of Fists is similar to The Anonymous Heroes in that it’s ultimately a minor Chang Cheh film, but that doesn’t stop it from being highly entertaining and interesting in its own right. Despite having a similar title to The Duel, the story in Duel of Fists is much more straightforward. But where Duel of Fists breaks ground and offers Chang Cheh another opportunity to step up his game is in its location shooting, taking the Shaw team on the road to Bangkok and offering up the exotic sights of 1970s Thailand to enthrall viewers. The film also explores the subculture surrounding the Muay Thai boxing circuit, becoming one of the first, if not the first, film to feature the style. I can’t find any information on any films prior to this that featured Muay Thai, but as info is hard to come by on these films I think it’s best to say it’s “one of the first” instead of making unfounded, broad claims.

The film opens at Songkran, the Thai New Year festival traditionally held from April 13th–15th and celebrated by throwing water on random strangers. We are given a taste of things to come, before being quickly whisked back to Hong Kong, where David Chiang plays a civil engineer. One day, his father confesses on his deathbed that he once had an affair with a Thai girl during one of his business trips, and he asks David to find his half-brother that he never knew he had. So off Chiang goes, and we go with him to experience the exotic culture and country, as well as a different breed of martial arts film.

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The Anonymous Heroes (1971)

AnonymousHeroes+1971-1-bThe Anonymous Heroes [無名英雄] (1971)

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ching Li, Ku Feng, Cheng Miu, Tang Ti, Yeung Chi Hing, Wong Ching Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Lee Wan Chung, Lee Sau Kei, Chan Sing, Cheng Lui

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate.

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One might expect illustrious director Chang Cheh to follow-up his incredible film The Duel with another thrilling tale of heroic brotherhood and bloodshed, but The Anon — OK, you got me. Yes, The Anonymous Heroes is yet another Chang Cheh film centered around heroic brotherhood and bloodshed, but this one is unlike anything he had directed previous, I promise! The themes may be similar, and huge Chang Cheh fans can probably guess the ending without seeing a frame of film, but The Anonymous Heroes is completely worth your time as it’s a hybrid of many different genres. Here we have gunplay, martial arts, heists, general action, comedy… it’s pretty close to everything Chang Cheh had done in his previous films, all rolled into one! What a value!

David Chiang and Ti Lung play a pair of brothers who don’t do a whole lot with their lives. Ti Lung spends his days stealing and gambling (with the help of Ching Li, a female friend), and is prone to bouts of anger. David Chiang enjoys stealing from the rich soldiers in town, and then spreading the wealth around by supporting the local shopkeepers and restaurant owners. One day, they attract the interest of a revolutionary, played by Ku Feng, who asks if they would help him to steal 3,000 rifles and 280,000 rounds of ammo from the soldiers. Since they have nothing better to do and it sounds fun, the brothers and Ching Li agree to help Ku Feng with the insane task of pulling off the heist.

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The Secret of the Dirk (1970)

The Secret of the Dirk [大羅劍俠] (1970)

Starring Ching Li, Chang Yi, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Tien Feng, Shu Pei-Pei, Wang Hsieh, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Wong Ching Ho, Chiu Hung, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low.


Hsu Cheng Hung apparently got with the program and finally delivered a compelling martial arts film! Throughout this series I’ve seen a number of his films (all of them up to this point, in fact), and just about every time I’ve been disappointed. As the genre slowly shifted focus from costume drama to action film, Hsu Cheng Hung films were generally throwbacks to the way martial arts films started, with songs and a general lack of excitement. He’s had a few moderately enjoyable movies, but The Secret of the Dirk is hands down the best film I’ve seen from him. It gives me hope that the films to follow will continue this forward momentum. If nothing else, I won’t start his next film with a resigned sigh and an, “OK, let’s get this over with” attitude.

I’m not going to break down the story beats here, because, like almost all wuxia films, it’s a needlessly complicated section of a larger narrative. The only things you really need to know is that 20 years ago some treasure was hidden and now the Black Tiger bandits want to find it. The people it rightfully belongs to are also on the hunt for it, as those who knew where it was are out of commission. This makes it sound like a true adventure film, which it isn’t, but that’s the basic narrative drive of the story. The storytelling gets a bit muddled during the first half because so many characters are thrown at you with little explanation, and I had a hard time keeping track of everyone. I thought one girl was a different character for about half the movie, and then when I figured out that she wasn’t, it also became clear that it didn’t matter.

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Twelve Deadly Coins (1969)

Twelve Deadly Coins [十二金錢鏢] (1969)

Starring Ching Li, Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Jeng Man-Jing, Fang Mian, Wu Ma, Lau Kar-Leung, Chiu Hung, Tang Chia, Lee Pang-Fei, Lee Ho, Lam Jing, Wong Ching Ho, Ho Ming-Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low, not a big fan of Hsu Cheng Hung.


This one goes out to all the melodrama fans in the audience. If you can dig it thick and extravagant, then Twelve Deadly Coins is gonna hit you right in the sweet spot. If on the other hand you favor a Chang Cheh style, balls-out action picture, then you’re going to be disappointed. It’s important to know this going in, and because of this, I was able to set myself up accordingly and have a good time with it despite my distinct preference for the action side of things.

Lo Lieh and Ho Ming-Chung play students of Tien Feng and his twelve deadly coin technique. Ho is too cocky for his own good when his master gives him the task to transport 20,000 taels of gold across country to pay the county for something I didn’t quite catch. Lo Lieh tries to help steer him in the right direction, fearing an ambush hiding around the next corner. Sure enough, as soon as they take the path Lo Lieh advises Ho not to, dudes in black burst out of the ground and assault the convoy. This leads them to immediately suspect Lo Lieh of being a traitor, and the real drama and intrigue begins.

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Twin Blades of Doom (1969)

Twin Blades of Doom [陰陽刀] (1969)

Starring Ling Yun, Ching Li, Chen Hung Lieh, Yau Ching, Cheng Lui, Gai Yuen, Cheng Miu, Lam Kau, Fang Mian, Hao Li-Jen, Lau Gong, Hung Lau, Lee Ho

Directed by Doe Ching

Expectations: Moderately high. The name sounds fun.


Just like Smuckers, with a name like Twin Blades of Doom, it has to be good, right? Unfortunately not, as this is one of the most disjointed, boring Shaw Brothers films I’ve seen in a while. It’s not for lack of trying, the film exhibits lots of potential for greatness throughout, but at every turn the filmmakers choose to go in exactly the opposite direction. A lot of what’s wrong with this film can be traced back to its director, one Doe Ching.

Doe was a very successful, award-winning director during the 50s and 60s, specializing in melodrama, comedies and musicals. By the time Twin Blades of Doom was made, those genres had all faded in popularity and the focus of the Shaw Brothers had shifted primarily to the wuxia pian genre of swordplay, revenge and martial struggles. Doe Ching was pressured into making a martial arts film by the Shaws and the result is Twin Blades of Doom. You never want to resign yourself into making a film without any passion behind it, so the lackluster results are understandable. On top of all that, Doe Ching was very ill with stomach cancer and actually had to leave the shoot mid-way through. The film was finished up by Griffin Yueh Feng (a very competent martial arts director), but even he couldn’t salvage the film. If all that wasn’t enough of a downer, Doe Ching died only four months after this film was released, making Twin Blades of Doom his final work.

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Mini-Review: King Cat (1967)

King Cat [七俠五義] (1967)

Starring Chang Yi, Kiu Chong, Pat Ting Hung, Lo Lieh, Carrie Ku Mei, Cheng Miu, Fang Mian, Yeung Chi Hing, Goo Man-Chung, Wong Chung-Shun, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lee Wan Chung, Tung Choi-Bo, Ching Li, Chin Feng, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low. Hsu Cheng Hung has burned me too many times.


King Cat is another of Hsu Cheng Hung’s opera action films and is probably the worst of the ones I’ve seen yet. It’s not that it’s poorly made or acted, it’s just boring. Mostly filled with scenes of talking officials and their swordsman bodyguards, King Cat should have been the fun assassin vs. assassin tale the script wanted it to be, instead of the slow-moving and tedious film it is. This is the type of movie I would gladly see remade if in the hand’s of a skilled team, because at its heart, it has good potential. You could probably say something similar about most of these really early Shaw Brothers films, but it is especially apparent on King Cat.

Chang Yi plays the King Cat, dubbed this by the Emperor after heroically saving the Empress from assassination. The guy deserved the title because in order to save her he caught an arrow mid-flight, leapt across an insane distance to thwart the assassin, and when some evil accomplices pushed the Empress off a balcony, he jumped to the street below to catch her as she fell. And what rescue like that would be complete without sideways wall-walking the saved girl back up to the balcony? King Cat is an understatement of how awesome this guy is. The problem is that after this awesome and daring sequence, the film languishes about as Kiu Chong, the Brocaded Mouse, attempts to sabotage the King Cat’s reputation because he feels threatened by Chang Yi’s new title. Y’see, Chong and his brothers make up the famous Five Mice of Xiankong Island and they don’t like cats poking their noses into their affairs. If nothing else, this film does offer up some great wuxia names!

The last half hour picks up a bit with a good, but much too short fight between Kiu Chong and Chang Yi, culminating in a wonderful set of traps. It wouldn’t be a Hsu Cheng Hung film without a bunch of traps! The final battle continues to feature various fun traps, and more of the extremely floaty wirework on display throughout the film. Each floaty jump is accompanied by a fluttering sound effect, which is fun the first few times, but thirty jumps later, it’s not quite the same. If you’re looking for a fun action movie, look elsewhere. King Cat has its moments, but they are very few and far between.

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