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.

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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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The Kiss of Death (1973)

KissofDeath_1The Kiss of Death [毒女] (1973)
AKA Poison Girl

Starring Chen Ping, Lo Lieh, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chan Shen, Chiang Tao, Hui Siu-Hung, Lin Wen-Wei, Lily Chen Ching, Wong Hon

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: I don’t know. I don’t expect much fighting, that’s for sure.

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There’s just no way around it: The Kiss of Death is a sleazy movie. It begins with a horrific gang rape of our lead character Chu Ling (Chen Ping) by a group of local thugs who spend their days stealing jewelry and their nights raping women. While this is probably the most hard-to-watch scene in the movie, it is merely the beginning of the brutality these characters are in store for. I’m not much of an exploitation film fan so I didn’t go into this one expecting much, but I’m glad to say that there’s more here than simple shocks and gratuity. What really holds the film together is Chu Ling and her struggle dealing with her rape that opens the film.

The film is very fast-paced and wastes little time delving deep into her emotions, though. Thanks to the skills of director Ho Meng-Hua this merely means that many of her emotions are conveyed to us very quickly, and through the use of visuals rather than long, drawn-out scenes of dialogue. When we first meet Chu Ling she is working in a textile mill on rhythmic machines that pound in and out. After her rape, she’s unable to work on the machine without it reminding her of the previous night’s brutality, and she slashes the thousands of tight threads running through the machine. Her life has been shattered and she wishes for revenge.

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Gong Tau: An Oriental Black Magic (2007)

Gong Tau: An Oriental Black Magic [降頭] (2007)
AKA Voodoo

Starring Mark Cheng Ho-Nam, Maggie Siu Mei-Kei, Lam Suet, Kenny Wong Tak-Ban, Teng Tzu-Hsuan, Kris Gu Yu, Hui Siu-Hung, Jay Lau Gam-Ling, Kam Loi-Kwan, Fung Hak-On

Directed by Herman Yau

Expectations: Moderate. I love the black magic, and curious to see how a modern, CG-era film can bring the elements together.


Oh boy, did I have high hopes for this one. I may not have expected a whole lot, but I held onto the hope that a 2007 film could push the boundaries much further than an ’80s Shaw Brothers film could, and while that definitely could be the case overall, it is definitely not the case with Gong Tau. This is unfortunate because all the basic pieces of the black magic movie are in place, but instead of compiling them and assaulting the audience with wild, magical antics, Gong Tau instead chooses to try for a more realistic approach. While this might sound like it could take the black magic film into new and interesting territories, it just obscures the awesome of the magic and surrounds it with a whole lot of boring.

Gong Tau‘s story is remarkably similar to Bewitched, probably my favorite Asian horror film from what I’ve seen so far. A policeman travels to Thailand and has an affair, and when he has to return to Hong Kong, he promises that he will return. He doesn’t, and it sends his life into a spiral thanks to the girl’s connections in the black magic world. Kinda. This is one of the stories being told in Gong Tau, and it is ultimately the most important one, but before you get to it you have to wade through a bunch of meandering stuff that is of varying importance. Where the Shaw films presented the setup for why the magic is being laid on its victims up front and at the beginning of the tale, Gong Tau tries to layer it throughout and make it something of a mystery as to who is doing these things to the policeman’s family. While this may work for a first time viewer of a Chinese black magic film, I knew what was going on the whole time, so their obscure storytelling and pointless wondering led me to somewhere a black magic film should never venture: the land of boredom.

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