Magnificent Bodyguards (1978)

MagnificentBodyguards+1978-25-bMagnificent Bodyguards [飛渡捲雲山] (1978)
AKA The Red Dragon, Master of Death

Starring Jackie Chan, James Tin Jun, Bruce Leung, Wang Ping, Lau Ming, Wong Gwan, Wong Kwan, Wong Chi-Ping, Lee Man-Tai, Chui Yuen, Luk Chuen, Fang Fang, Ko Keung, Wong Ching

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


Magnificent Bodyguards was the first Hong Kong film to be shot in 3D, and it never lets you forget that. It only takes 30 seconds for the first thing to be thrust directly at the camera, and this moment is but a drop of water in the tsunami of “things thrust directly at the camera” shots to follow. This might sound like a bad thing, and if you’re one to scoff at gimmicky 3D filmmaking then it definitely is, but I really enjoyed this aspect of the film. Kudos must be given to Jackie Chan for seamlessly working so many of these moves into his fight choreography for the film. I’m sure that was no small feat, and it really helps to spice up these fights.

“But,” you say, “a Jackie fight shouldn’t need spicing up with visual trickery!” And I would agree, but in Magnificent Bodyguards the fights, while good, are incredibly forgettable and without much passion. The actions are all performed well, and a lot of the choreography is well-done, but none of it feels especially exciting or interesting. I imagine this is the feeling non-martial arts fans have about every kung fu film. So while lots of individual moments within the choreography are good, the overall fights are largely uninteresting and pretty mediocre, except for those things coming at the camera, of course.

Continue reading Magnificent Bodyguards (1978) →

The Crimson Charm (1971)

936full-the-crimson-charm-posterThe Crimson Charm [血符門] (1971)

Starring Chang Yi, Ivy Ling Po, Shih Szu, Fang Mian, James Nam Gung-Fan, Ku Feng, Wang Hsieh, James Tin Jun, Chow Siu-Loi, Unicorn Chan, Hung Lau, Wong Wai, Lee Ka-Ting, Wong Ching Ho

Directed by Huang Feng

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


The Crimson Charm starts out innocently enough. A father and daughter stop at an inn for the night and are enjoying a meal when a group of obviously bad individuals come looking for a different father and daughter who have done them wrong. They murder the father they’re looking for and then the leader tries to rape the daughter, and that’s when our first father/daughter duo step in. They can’t stand to see such villainy, and their altercation results in the death of the bandit leader who’s also the son of the chief of the Crimson Charm Gang. The Crimson Charm Chief vows to take revenge and murder the entire Chung Chow Sword School. Seems a bit extreme, but then that’s just how the Crimson Charm Gang rolls. But when the gang comes to take that revenge, they aren’t as thorough as they set out to be. They leave three survivors, and those survivors vow to take revenge on the Crimson Charm gang!

It might sound a little convoluted but it never feels that way during the movie, and for a wuxia film this is one of the more direct plots. The Crimson Charm is very much a transitional film between the complex early wuxias and the simple, paper-thin plots of later kung fu films, and it plays rather well as a combo of both. The film has a nice flow to it, naturally taking us through the chain of revenge before dropping us into the main struggle between the survivors of the massacre and the Crimson Charm Gang.

Continue reading The Crimson Charm (1971) →

The Eunuch (1971)

Eunuch+1971-1-bThe Eunuch [鬼太監] (1971)

Starring Pai Ying, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Chung Wa, Yeung Chi Hing, Yung Yuk-Yi, Mang Ga, Wang Hsieh, Lo Wei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Hao Li-Jen, James Tin Jun

Directed by Teddy Yip Wing-Cho

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


Any fan of Hong Kong movies will know the significance of the eunuch in the Hong Kong cinematic universe. They often provide wuxia tales with a wild villain wielding powers untold, but I went into The Eunuch expecting it to be a little more reserved and toned down. There have only been one or two eunuchs that have shown up so far during the Shaw series, and if I remember right, they were all pretty disappointing. The eunuch in The Eunuch might not be the guy in The Heroic Trio or Tai Chi Master, but he is pretty dope, and he provides our heroes with a devious, dastardly villain to contend with throughout the film.

The Eunuch starts off with a bit of a bait and switch, though, as its story starts by introducing the title eunuch (played masterfully by Pai Ying) and showing us an assassination attempt on his life. It’s hard out there for a eunuch, but after he dodges this cheap shot, he seeks out the culprit (who happens to be the king, played by director Lo Wei) and ruthlessly kills him and his family. Even his young son is not safe, as the eunuch grabs him, flings him across the room and one of the eunuch’s henchmen slices open his body in mid-air. Moral of the story: don’t fuck with eunuchs. It’s truly gnarly, and it makes you feel bad for feeling bad about the attempt on this guy’s life. It’s a great switcheroo, and just as the eunuch thinks he’s sealed up the murder of the entire royal family, he realizes that the prince is missing, so the hunt is on!

Continue reading The Eunuch (1971) →

The Hand of Death (1976)

KMJ0246The Hand of Death [少林門] (1976)
AKA Countdown in Kung Fu, Dragon Forever, Strike of Death, Shao Lin Men

Starring Dorian Tan, James Tin Jun, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, John Woo, Chu Ching, Yeung Wai, Wilson Tong, Gam Kei-Chu, Ko Keung

Directed by John Woo

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


From what I could gather, The Hand of Death was actually made well before New Fist of Fury, but for some reason it didn’t get released until after. According to his autobiography, Jackie Chan had made this film and then moved in with his parents in Australia, taking jobs as a construction worker. Months later, he received a telegram asking him to be the lead in New Fist of Fury. His father allowed it on one condition: that Jackie had a two-year time limit to “make it,” or else Chan must come back for good. And two years after New Fist of Fury, Chan had indeed become a star. But not with this film (and also not with Lo Wei), so I’ll hold that story for later!

The story in The Hand of Death is simple, yet multilayered and oddly structured. At the heart of the film is the often-told struggle between the Shaolin Temple and the Manchu. In this version, an evil warlord names Shih Shao Feng controls the region with an iron fist (not a literal one), and his group of eight badass bodyguards. The Shaolin priests know that he is looking to intercept a man named Zhang Yi (John Woo) who holds a map important to the cause, and who must not be allowed to land in enemy hands. So they send Yung Fei (Dorian Tan) to save Zhang Yi and kill Shih Shao Feng. Along the way there’s a number of sidetracks and flashbacks as new characters are introduced, but that’s the gist of it. The way characters were introduced and given ample time felt like a wuxia film to me, while the rest of the film is definitely straight-up kung fu.

Continue reading The Hand of Death (1976) →

The Invincible Eight (1971)

TheInvincibleEight+1971-85-bStarring Nora Miao, Tang Ching, Angela Mao, Paul Chang Chung, Lee Kwan, James Tin Jun, Lydia Shum, Pai Ying, Patrick Tse Yin, Han Ying Chieh

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m eager to see the film that launched Golden Harvest.

threestar


Sometime in 1970, Shaw Brothers executives Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho left the company to start up their own. They hoped to create a studio that would breed creativity instead of stifle it like they felt the Shaw Brothers did, and thus Golden Harvest was born. Many others defected from the Shaw camp as well, and on this film some of the notable people include director Lo Wei and martial arts choreographers Han Ying-Chieh and Sammo Hung. This focus on creativity isn’t so much in evidence in The Invincible Eight, but it does show itself over the studio’s history. And it was ultimately this focus that also allowed Golden Harvest to woo a young Bruce Lee away from a potential Shaw contract, writing martial arts film history when, later in 1971, Lo Wei directed the classic film The Big Boss.

With the short history lesson out of the way, I can now focus on The Invincible Eight. I had high hopes that this film would continue along the path of Lo Wei’s previous film Brothers Five, delivering creative, incredible martial arts action well ahead of its time. It succeeds in being entertaining, and being a fun wuxia film, but innovative it really isn’t. The Invincible Eight feels like it was made by a newly formed, upstart studio, as every single aspect of the production is a step down from the Shaw films from the same era. The film has tons of positives in its corner, but it’s hard to get past the fact that it would’ve been a lot more thrilling had it been made under the Shaw banner.

Continue reading The Invincible Eight (1971) →

A Taste of Cold Steel (1970)

A Taste of Cold Steel [武林風雲] (1970)

Starring Chang Yi, Yau Ching, Essie Lin Chia, Shu Pei-Pei, Chen Hung Lieh, Wong Chung-Shun, Ku Feng, Wu Ma, Hung Lau, Simon Chui Yee-Ang, Fang Mian, Lee Kwan, Wang Hsieh, Lee Wan Chung, James Tin Jun

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng

Expectations: Moderate. I like Yueh Feng, but the last movie was disappointing.


A Taste of Cold Steel is, like its title suggests, about an amazing sword that everyone wants to get their hands on. As soon as they see the radiant purple glow that emanates from it, they will stop at nothing to have it. It’s a slight variation on the theme of the martial world fighting over a world-class sword, but A Taste of Cold Steel sets itself apart in a couple of interesting ways.

First, the blade actually glows purple every time it’s unsheathed on-screen. People’s faces and everything around them glows marvelously purple; this is definitely a candidate for Prince’s favorite martial arts film (if he engages in such primal pleasures as this). It looks to have been achieved with a spotlight carefully highlighting the sword, but most of the time you can’t really tell and it looks quite fantastic and realistic.

Continue reading A Taste of Cold Steel (1970) →

Brothers Five (1970)

Brothers Five [五虎屠龍] (1970)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Lo Lieh, Chang Yi, Yueh Hua, Chin Han, Kao Yuen, Tien Feng, Unicorn Chan, Wang Hsieh, Sammo Hung, Ku Feng, James Tin Jun, Lan Wei-Lieh, Chin Chun, Lee Wan Chung

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: High, Lo Wei’s been on a role.


As Lo Wei’s first film of the 1970s, Brothers Five comes off as the culmination of everything he had done prior. I said something similar about his previous film The Golden Sword, but this one seems to fit the bill even better. In terms of story, The Golden Sword struck the perfect balance between high-flying fights and martial intrigue, but Brothers Five sets its sights almost completely on delivering action-packed fight after action-packed fight. The film is chock full o’ fights, and while its story definitely suffers for it, no martial arts fan could deny the simple fun of watching a shitload of fights. And when those fights are choreographed by a young Sammo Hung finding his place in the martial arts film world, it’s even better.

I say that the story is thin, and that it’s the weakest point of the film, but Brothers Five does weave a very fun web of intrigue. Five brothers were separated at birth when the evil lord of Flying Dragon Villa murdered their father. The children’s caretaker sliced the backs of their left hands so that they would be able to one day reunite and take their revenge on the evil lord played perfectly by Tien Feng. The majority of the film is the brothers slowly coming together — usually by running into one another when they each venture to make a foolhardy assault on Flying Dragon Villa by themselves — so this means that a good portion of the runtime is devoted to something of a repeating cycle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun cycle and it’s enjoyable as hell, but when you have multiple fights occurring at the same location, it does begin to run together a bit.

Continue reading Brothers Five (1970) →

Subscribe via Email!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,593 other subscribers

Ongoing Series

Top Posts & Pages

My Top 10 Favorite Sam Fuller Movies
Four Riders (1972)
New Police Story (2004)
Something Just Right
Killers on Wheels (1976)
City Hunter (1993)
The New Shaolin Boxers (1976)
My Lucky Stars (1985)