Island of Fire (1991)

IslandofFire_1Island of Fire [火燒島] (1991)
AKA Island On Fire, The Prisoner, The Burning Island

Starring Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Tou Chung-Hua, Andy Lau, Jimmy Wang Yu, Yeung Hung, Jack Kao, Tu Fu-Ping, Chang Kuo-Chu, O Chun-Hung, Elsie Yeh Chuan-Chen, Chan Yin-Yu

Directed by Chu Yen-Ping

Expectations: Low.

onehalfstar


Island of Fire is such an oddly structured movie. It boasts a fantastic, all-star cast, but the way the story is crafted the characters never really come together to form a cohesive movie. Each character’s story could have been its own movie, but since this was a low-budget production hoping to capitalize on its cast, they just threw everything they had into it and hoped for the best. And by “everything they had,” I mean a bunch of recycled prison movie stuff, mostly from Cool Hand Luke.

The film begins with Wang Wei (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), a cop who witnesses the murder of his father-in-law. The culprit tries to drive away in his getaway car, but it explodes as soon as he turns the key. While investigating the crime and who this mysterious assassin was, the detectives discover that the man was a prisoner declared dead a little while back. So how does a dead inmate get out of jail to murder someone? Well, that’s what Wang Wei sets out to uncover by getting himself thrown into the prison.

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A Man Called Tiger (1973)

AManCalledTiger_1A Man Called Tiger [冷面虎] (1973)
AKA The Man Called Tiger

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Okada Kawai, Maria Yi Yi, James Tin Jun, Minakaze Yuko, Kasahara Reiko, Tien Feng, Kuro Mitsuo, Lee Kwan, Kam Shan, Han Ying-Chieh, Lo Wei

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: I hope have much hope for this, but I’m open to it.

twohalfstar


A Man Called Tiger is one of those old movies that you’ll either respect or hate. Its story is rather convoluted for something that should be fairly easy to convey in a martial arts picture: a man, in this case Jimmy Wang Yu, attempts to uncover the specifics of his father’s murder. But since this is a Lo Wei film, and from his Shaw Brothers wuxias I know he loved a good twisting plot, he has filled the film with other characters all searching for their daddies too. I’m not even exaggerating when I say there are no less than three fathers being searched for, and I’m not entirely sure that there wasn’t a fourth. All this crammed into a slim 76 minutes, too.

At least, that’s what I thought initially. I bought the film as part of Shout Factory’s Jimmy Wang Yu Collection, but prior to that being released I had also hunted down a VCD of the film. Completely unbeknownst to me, the VCD contained the full Hong Kong release version of the film, running 100 minutes. I queued it up in hopes that the missing 24 minutes would flesh out the missing father plots, and tie up some of those loose threads. The film definitely makes more sense at its full length, but it’s much slower, and one of the characters still appears without any explanation. Seriously, she first appears when she picks up Wang Yu as he is fleeing from a group of bad guys, and they clearly know one another. A few minutes later, she’s naked in a hotel bed declaring her love for Wang Yu. I don’t know who she is, but I think she was looking for her father.

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Fantasy Mission Force (1982)

FantasyMissionForce+1983-187-bFantasy Mission Force [迷你特攻隊] (1982)
AKA The Dragon Attack!!, Dragon Attack, Mini Special Force, Mission Force, Shadowman 2

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin, Suen Yuet, Ko Ling-Fung, Pearl Cheung Ling, David Tao Da-Wei, Mary Wong Ma-Lee, Adam Cheng Siu-Chow, Hui Bat-Liu, Fong Ching

Directed by Chu Yen-Ping

Expectations: Not much, I remember this one being really weird, though.

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I think Fantasy Mission Force shorted out my brain. I’m sitting here, wondering what to type, but instead of ideas forming and flowing, it’s more of a blank stare into the abyss. If my brain on Fantasy Mission Force were a sound, it’d be the sound of a robot who just had a big fistful of wires pulled out of his thingamajig and he’s about 0.3 seconds away from exploding in a shower of sparks and shrapnel. I just — What the fuck? Fantasy Mission Force isn’t even that weird of a movie, it just defies all logic, and any attempts to watch it as a “real” movie will be met with a similar response to my own.

Don’t believe me? Consider the scene when fiery bluegrass banjo plays while Chinese soldiers wearing kilts parade in formation in fast motion. Or when our band of misfit mercenaries encounter a jungle tribe of wuxia-inspired flying female fighters flinging fabric to and fro. Or the Japanese villains waving road flares while riding in ’70s muscle cars with spray-painted swastikas on the doors. And don’t forget the night they spend in the haunted house inhabited by hopping vampires. Fantasy Mission Force is just one big collective WTF for 90 minutes; it’s closer to a fever dream than anything that could be called a film.

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The Killer Meteors (1976)

KLRMTEORThe Killer Meteors [風雨雙流星] (1976)
AKA Karate Death Squad, Jackie Chan Versus Wang Yu

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Jackie Chan, Tung Lam, Lee Man-Tai, Ma Cheung, Phillip Ko Fei, Ma Kei, Lee Si-Si, Chan Wai-Lau, Weng Hsiao-Hu, Sit Hon, Lily Lan Yu-Li, Yu Ling-Lung, Henry Luk Yat-Lung, Wong Yeuk-Ping, Woo Wai

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


Right outta the gate: this isn’t a Jackie Chan movie. He plays a villain and has a couple of fights, but this is a Jimmy Wang Yu movie all the way. If you go into this movie expecting anything remotely similar to a Jackie movie, you’ll be sorely disappointed. So set your expectations to Lo Wei/Jimmy Wang Yu classic wuxia, and you should have a grand ole time like I did. My high assessment of The Killer Meteors will likely be an unpopular opinion, but I can only call it like I see it and I had a fantastic time watching this movie.

The Killer Meteors is about a martial artist so badass that other martial artists come and pay him tribute. He wields the infamous Killer Meteor, a weapon with unparalleled power that no living person has ever seen in action. This martial artist (Jimmy Wang Yu) is hired by Hua the Hearty AKA Devil Meteor (or Immortal Meteor, depending on the translation) to kill his wife. She has poisoned Hua and is refusing to give him his yearly dose of the antidote. Hua is sick of the games, so he sends in the one-man wrecking crew of Jimmy Wang Yu to settle the score. But as this is a wuxia in the classic sense, the final tale is not so cut and dry as that.

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The Chinese Boxer (1970)

The Chinese Boxer [龍虎鬥] (1970)
AKA The Hammer of God, Der Karate-Killer, Cinque dita di morte

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Chiu Hung, Fang Mian, Cheng Lui, Wang Kuang-Yu, Chai No, Kong Ling, Wong Chung, Chan Sing, Wong Ching, Tung Li

Directed by Jimmy Wang Yu

Expectations: High. You don’t enter the first legitamite kung fu movie without high expectations.


It’s not every day you get to witness the birth of a film genre, but The Chinese Boxer is just that. This is the first legitimate kung fu film, and boy is it a good’un. It definitely doesn’t reach the heights that the genre would later ascend to, but it is a stunning début for the genre and a highly influential film. While Chang Cheh brought martial arts into the republic period with Vengeance!, changing out the wuxia swords for knives and a bit of unarmed combat, Jimmy Wang Yu took it to the next level by completely removing the weapons all together (except for one fight where Wang Yu must battle multiple samurai).

The Chinese Boxer features a story you’ve heard a million times before if you’re a big martial arts fan, and this film is essentially the genesis of the trope: some assholes from one school decide to challenge another school, thus killing the master of our main character and setting him on the path to vengeance. While tales of rival schools are forever popular within the genre, my heart holds a special place for films that pit rival styles against each other, and The Chinese Boxer is — as far as I know — the first film to feature the eternal struggle between kung fu and karate. It may not feature any actual Japanese people playing the roles of the Japanese karate masters, and their fighting style may actually be closer to kung fu than karate in the choreography, but the idea alone of kung fu battling karate was enough to put a broad smile on my face.

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Wu Xia (2011)

Wu Xia [武術] (2011)
AKA Dragon, Swordsmen

Starring Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tang Wei, Zheng Wei, Li Jia-Min, Jimmy Wang Yu, Kara Hui, Yin Zhu-Sheng, Chun Hyn, To Ning

Directed by Peter Chan

Expectations: High, but still guarded.


It’s all in the title. By titling this tale by the name of an entire genre of film, the filmmakers involved immediately acknowledge that this is something of an homage. Of course, it’s an homage to wuxia films, specifically The One-Armed Swordsman and films of its vintage that came out of the Shaw Brothers studio. While Wu Xia does not take its cues directly from any one film, there are many elements at work here that would fit in beautifully to a late ’60s Shaw Brothers flick, so for someone like me who’s doing his own homage in review form, this is like a direct I.V. of awesome.

Donnie Yen plays Liu Jin-Xi, a paper maker in a small village. One day working on some paper windows, a couple of thugs enter the shop and demand money from the owner. Liu cowers in fear behind a counter until he decides to take action and do whatever he can to stop the violent outbursts of the two men. As a martial arts fan this scene is somewhat disappointing because we all know Donnie Yen is a total badass, but he spends most of the fight just holding on to the one guy’s midsection. Despite this, the fight is fun, although it gave me a bad feeling that Wu Xia would be yet another modern Hong Kong film where a martial arts star is placed into the role of a man who does not know, and does not over the course of the film learn, martial arts. So let me just say this: keep watching. You will be rewarded.

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Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969)

Return of the One-Armed Swordsman [獨臂刀王] (1969)
AKA One-Armed Swordsman Return, Le Bras de la vengeance

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Essie Lin Chia, Chung Wa, Cheng Lui, Hoh Ban, Tien Feng, Ku Feng, Tung Li, Tang Chia, Lau Kar Wing, Lau Kar-Leung, Yuen Cheung Yan, Ti Lung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wu Ma, Fong Yau

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High!


With the original One-Armed Swordsman in 1967, Chang Cheh re-defined what the martial arts film genre was and would be. Over the next two years, countless other films sought to capture audiences as Chang’s film had, but few other directors were able to harness the sheer energy on display in a Chang Cheh film. With Return of the One-Armed Swordsman, Chang doesn’t look to create a direct sequel, or one that feels in any way similar to the original. Instead he goes a completely different and incredibly over-the-top direction, resulting in one of the most fun martial arts pictures of the early Shaw Brothers era, and one that would again help re-define the genre.

The story opens with the one-armed swordsman Fang Gang (Jimmy Wang Yu) being invited to participate in a tournament held by the self-proclaimed Eight Sword Kings. He’s trying to leave the martial lifestyle behind him and live out the rest of his days with his lovely wife as a farmer, but we all know how that works out in films such as this. Master Fang is later visited by a group of swordsman seeking his help, as they know the so-called tournament is just a ruse to call all the sword clans together so that the Eight Sword Kings can murder the masters and take control of the region by force. Where your martial arts soaked 2012 brain might expect something of a tournament film after this setup, instead we receive something closer to a journey film where our heroes are sequentially ambushed and assaulted at every turn on their way to the “tournament.”

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