Winner Takes All! (1977)

Winner Takes All! [面懵心精] (1977)
AKA 泥鰍吃猛龍

Starring Richard Ng, Lok Shut, Rosalind Chan Yee-Hing, Tang Ching, Dean Shek Tin, Max Lee Chiu-Chun, To Siu-Ming, Addy Sung Gam-Loi, Lee Hoi-Sang, Ho Pak-Kwong, Karl Maka, Guy Lai Ying-Chau, Hon Kwok-Choi, Sammo Hung, Yue Tau-Wan, Peter Chan Lung, Hsiao Ho

Directed by Karl Maka

Expectations: Excited, but I don’t really know what to expect.


Winner Takes All! was independently produced, but it is the final film of 1977 that I’m covering as part of my chronological Shaw Brothers series. I chose to review it because it was widely successful in 1977, reaching #2 at the Hong Kong Box Office, incorporating comedy and kung fu in a way that would soon sweep the Hong Kong industry with the 1978 release of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. Upon watching Winner Takes All!, though, I realized that its place in Hong Kong cinema history is far greater than simply “doing well at the box office,” as it represents another step in the dominance of Cantonese cinema in the wake of Michael Hui’s successes. In the three years prior to this (1974–1976), a Michael Hui-directed movie — all starring himself and his brothers — dominated the top spot of the Hong Kong box office. Hui would again top the charts in 1978 with The Contract, but he did not release a film in 1977.

Richard Ng is one of Hong Kong’s most famous and recognizable comedians. I’ve seen him in so many movies, it almost feels like he’s always been around. He apparently started on the Hui Brothers TV show in the early ’70s, and received his first major film role in Michael Hui’s 1976 smash-hit The Private Eyes. 1977 was the year Ng was cemented into Hong Kong cinema history, though, as he starred in both the #1 film (John Woo’s The Pilferer’s Progress AKA Money Crazy) and the #2 film, Karl Maka’s Winner Takes All. Like this film, all of Michael Hui’s films were filmed in Cantonese, and along with Chor Yuen’s mega-hits The House of 72 Tenants (1973) and Hong Kong 73 (1974), they were the impetus for the industry to shift towards the Cantonese language. In addition, Hui’s directorial debut, 1974’s Games Gamblers Play, essentially saved Golden Harvest from bankruptcy and paved the way for comedy’s rise as a dominant genre in Hong Kong cinema, both coupled with kung fu and not.

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The Iron-Fisted Monk (1977)

The Iron-Fisted Monk [三德和尚與舂米六] (1977)
AKA Iron Fisted Monk, San Te & Chong Mi-Liu

Starring Sammo Hung, Chan Sing, James Tin Jun, Lo Hoi-Pang, Chu Ching, Wang Hsieh, Fung Hak-On, Yeung Wai, Dean Shek Tin, Yen Shi-Kwan, Wu Ma, Casanova Wong, Eric Tsang, Chin Yuet-Sang, Chung Fat, Chiu Hung, Fung Fung, Lam Ching-Ying

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Interested to see this again.


Sammo Hung left the Shaw Brothers studio in the early 1970s to help kick-start Golden Harvest as an actor, stuntman, and action choreographer. Golden Harvest kept him very busy in the years leading to The Iron-Fisted Monk, giving him ample opportunity to hone his new skills and develop new ones simultaneously. I don’t know if Sammo finally felt he was up to the task of directing his own film in 1977, or if Golden Harvest finally relented to his requests, but the finished film demonstrates that Sammo was definitely ready to add a new feather to his cap. I first saw this film a few years ago when I watched my way through Sammo’s entire directorial filmography; at the time I thought it was a pretty good debut, but not especially great. At some level, I still agree with myself, but watching the film within the context of its Shaw contemporaries reveals it to be a more impressive movie than it initially appeared.

Chong Mi-Liu (Sammo Hung) is a mischievous student at the Shaolin Temple. He began studying there after Manchu thugs bullied his uncle and killed him. Chong was unable to fight them off, but thankfully the revered Shaolin monk San Te (Chan Sing) — the same character that Gordon Liu plays in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin — takes control of the situation and shows the thugs the power of Shaolin training. Chong is like many heroes out for revenge, though, and waiting for the completion of his training is just not an option. Chong remembers how Hu Hui-Chien — the folk hero Chi Kuan-Chun plays in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films — left Shaolin early, so he decides to do the same. For those keeping track of Shaolin lore, according to The 36th Chamber of Shaolin San Te was the monk who trained Hung Hsi-Kuan, so this and Chong’s knowledge of Hu would place this film sometime after the majority of the Shaw Brothers Shaolin films. The Chinese title of The Iron-Fisted Monk is a lot like those Shaw films, as well, simply stating the characters names: San Te & Chong Mi-Liu. Any disappointment about there not being an iron-fisted monk can be attributed to yet another misleading English title. Apparently, both characters are Chinese folk heroes (the original trailer states as much), but I couldn’t find any specific info on Chong.

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The Protectors (1975)

The Protectors [鏢旗飛揚] (1975)

Starring Lo Lieh, Chang Pei-Shan, Wang Hsieh, Yeung Oi-Wa, Lee Sau-Kei, Chan Shen, Dean Shek Tin, Wong Ching, Chan Chuen, Wong Ching-Ho, Wu Chi-Chin

Directed by Wu Ma

Expectations: Moderate.


As with quite a few of the films Shaw released in 1975, The Protectors was shot in 1971 and held back from release. The reasoning for this is up for anyone’s best guess, especially since it tells a complete, satisfying story with vibrant characters despite only running 62 minutes. Instead of making random speculations, I should focus on what’s here, and besides, The Protectors actually benefits from the extreme, barely feature-length brevity. It cooks the film down to its bare essentials, and since it’s a solid piece of work, it excels at entertaining in a way that only a good Shaw Brothers wuxia can.

The Eagle Escorts are known throughout the land as the security bureau to hire if you want to be sure your gold or silver arrives safely at its destination. The founder is aged and confined to his chair, but the company continues to thrive thanks to the skilled swords of Ling Xiao (Lo Lieh) and Guan Wang Long (Chang Pei-Shan). After another successful mission (that left tons of bandits dead on the trail), Ling and Guan return to headquarters. At the gate, welcoming them home, is Fang Yan Er (Yeung Oi-Wa), the object of Guan’s affection. She does not reciprocate these feelings, though, instead she is kind of infatuated with Ling. From his reaction, this is not the first time Guan has felt jilted, and this resentment is near the point of explosion.

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Lady of the Law (1975)

Lady of the Law [女捕快] (1975)

Starring Lo Lieh, Shih Szu, Chang Pei-Shan, Dean Shek Tin, Yeung Chi-Hing, Chan Shen, Tung Lam, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Ying Ying, Ma Lee-Sha, Tung Choi-Bo, Cheng Lui, Chiang Tao, Law Hon, Li Min-Lang

Directed by Shen Chiang & Stanley Siu Wing

Expectations: Moderate.


Like last week’s All Men Are Brothers, Lady of the Law was a film that was completed (or at least mostly completed) a few years prior to its release in 1975. For various reasons, the Shaw studio had lots of movies sitting around in various states of completion. Some saw feature release (like Lady of the Law), others were kept as shorts and released together as anthology films (such as Haunted Tales), while many others were simply left unfinished, never to be seen again. According to some magazine scans available on the ever-resourceful Cool Ass Cinema website, it appears that Lady of the Law was initially shot in 1971. It is my assumption that it began life under director Shen Chiang, with Stanley Siu Wing later coming around and finishing it up for release. I don’t know this for sure, but I’ve heard similar stories on other movies (like Curse of Evil) so there’s definitely some precedent.

Unlike a lot of movies with behind-the-scenes drama, Lady of the Law is an absolutely thrilling film packed to the brim with wuxia entertainment and excitement. Literally just a day or so before I watched this movie, I was thinking to myself how I hadn’t seen a Shaw Brothers wuxia in a while, and how much I missed them (since they kind of stopped making them during these years I’m going through now). And then BAM! in comes Lady of the Law to rock my world and remind me just how much I love these wonderful wuxias of the Shaw Brothers. Shen Chiang crafted a couple of great ones, like The Winged Tiger and Heroes of Sung, but honestly I think Lady of the Law is his best film.

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Young Lovers on Flying Wheels (1974)

youngloversonflyingwheels_2Young Lovers on Flying Wheels [電單車] (1974)

Starring Ti Lung, Rainbow Ching Ho-Wai, Helen Ko, Chin Chun, Chiang Nan, Dean Shek Tin, Lee Hoi-Sang, Lam Fai-Wong, Wong Ching, Lee Man-Tai, Lau Mei-Fung, Gam Lau, Wong Chi-Keung, Ho Pak-Kwong

Directed by Ti Lung

Expectations: Moderate. The title is fun and intriguing.

twohalfstar


Within mere seconds, Young Lovers on Flying Wheels has shown us both young lovers on the beach —  Song Da (Ti Lung) and Ye Wei (Helen Ko) — and a bunch of young riders zipping around on the flying wheels of their motorcycles. The tone is immediately light and a bit strange, as Ti Lung is wriggling on the sand to avoid Helen Ko’s kisses and eventually runs away and jumps into the ocean. OK, then! The title led me to believe this might be a motorcycle-themed delinquent youth romance picture to go along with the many films of Chang Cheh (and David Chiang’s The Drug Addict). It’s technically closer to those than any other Shaw films, but it lacks the hard-hitting drama necessary to pull that type of movie off. Ti Lung’s directorial debut is more of an action comedy with a moral, although without the drama the moral isn’t nearly as potent as it could have been.

Shortly after the beach shenanigans, Song Da and Yu Wei need to catch the bus back to town. They aren’t quick enough to make the big bus, and when the mini-bus comes around there just isn’t enough room for them both. Yu isn’t the kind of girl who likes to be kept waiting, so when a group of motorcyclists stop to help, she hops on the back of one of their bikes and rides off without Song Da. She’s a selfish girlfriend, pushing Song Da out of his comfort zone and influencing him negatively. Song Da is a dreamy, somewhat dense character, naive and looking for guidance. Watching Yu drive off with the motorcycle dudes, he dreams of one day having his own bike, and this dream quickly consumes him completely.

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The Bodyguard (2016)

TheBodyguard_1The Bodyguard [特工爺爺] (2016)
AKA My Beloved Bodyguard

Starring Sammo Hung, Jacqueline Chan Pui-Yin, Andy Lau, Feng Jia-Yi, Zhu Yu-Chen, Li Qin-Qin, Tsui Hark, Karl Maka, Dean Shek Tin, Tomer Oz, Du Yi-Heng, James Lee Guy, Sergio Deieso, Maksim Manylov, Avetyan Karen, Hu Jun, Yuan Ting

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Very high! I’ve been stoked for Sammo’s directorial return since it was announced a couple of years ago.

threehalfstar


The Bodyguard marks the return to the director’s chair of one of Hong Kong’s greatest treasures: Sammo Hung. It’s been 19 years since he released his last two films (Mr. Nice Guy and Once Upon a Time in China and America) on consecutive days in 1997, so to call The Bodyguard “long-awaited” is an understatement. The last time Sammo Hung directed a movie I was in the 10th grade trading 5th generation bootleg VHS tapes to see Hong Kong movies! Times have certainly changed, and as a result The Bodyguard is as much a modern film as it is a product of Sammo’s incredible experience and skill.

Ding Hu (Sammo Hung) was a decorated policeman in his day, but now he’s known as Old Ding to his neighbors. His health is failing him, specifically some form of dementia that is heavily affecting his short-term memory. His neighbor’s daughter, Cherry Li (Jacqueline Chan Pui-Yin), is the only bright spot in his life, but even her upbeat presence is a reminder of Ding’s painful past. Some years before, Ding was babysitting his granddaughter and she got lost, never to be seen again. His daughter refused to speak to him again, so he moved back to his hometown on the border of China and Russia. He bides his time there, waiting to die, living life without joy and with the memory of his granddaughter ever-present in his thoughts.

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Iron Bodyguard (1973)

IronBodyguard_1Iron Bodyguard [大刀王五] (1973)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Yueh Hua, Danny Lee, Lily Li Li-Li, Lo Dik, Tung Lam, Chiang Tao, Chiang Nan, Betty Pei Ti, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Ku Wen-Chung, Dean Shek Tin

Directed by Chang Cheh & Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: High.

threestar


Iron Bodyguard has all the pieces in place for a stellar martial arts drama like The Blood Brothers or The Boxer from Shantung, but instead we get a somewhat disjointed, start/stop flow that hinders much of any momentum that the film should contain. This leads me to consider that Pao Hsueh-Li was probably the primary director on set, but as usual with these suppositions of mine, I don’t actually have any evidence to back it up. There is a line in Chang Cheh’s memoir about how he would generally direct the more epic films, while the credited co-director would handle the smaller-scale works.

Chang specifically cites The Boxer from Shantung and Man of Iron working like this, so it’s not a complete stretch to think that may be the case here with a duo like The Pirate and Iron Bodyguard. There’s also the fact that in his memoir Chang talks a lot about always wanting to move forward artistically with every film, while Iron Bodyguard features a style that Chang Cheh was using a lot in his 1971 films. It’s also possible that both directors worked on it, as this film also bears the “Jointly Directed” credit like The Pirate did, and there are some suitably epic moments throughout this one. Who knows, but I do enjoy trying to figure it out the best I can.

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