Mini-Review: The Knight of Knights (1966)

The Knight of Knights [文素臣] (1966)

Starring Lily Ho Li Li, Kiu Chong, Cheng Lui, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lily Li Li-Li, Chen Hung Lieh, Lee Ying, Tang Ti, Feng Yi, Lee Wan Chung

Written by Chang Cheh

Directed by Hsih Chun

Expectations: Low.


The Knight of Knights features an early take on martial arts chivalry with its multi-layered story of evildoers masquerading as monks capturing women and raping them and the men that do what they can to stop them. It’s no surprise to see that the script comes from legendary director Chang Cheh, who worked and re-worked the martial chivalry plot throughout his career. Unfortunately Chang Cheh does not direct here, the duties falling instead to Hsih Chun. Hsih Chun’s work is capable but does nothing to excite or intrigue the viewer. Enjoyment of The Knight of Knights comes strictly from your love and tireless desire for old Shaw Brothers movies and their reused sets and gory dismemberments.

Yes, within the first three minutes there are two severed limbs and a sword slicing a guy’s face down the middle, so at least the film delivers on that promise. Kiu Chong is good as our main hero, but the real star of the show is Tang Ti who plays the Abbot of the temple and the leader of the raping villains. His on-screen presence is full of vigor and charm, made even more exciting by his final duel with Kiu Chong. The fight is short, and it may be kind of sloppy, but when Tang Ti controls his breathing to enlarge himself and starts leaving handprints in the bricks, you can rest assured that there’s a smile on this reviewer’s face. In the end that’s what really matters, no? Recommended to kung fu junkies looking for an origin movie to all those other chivalrous kung fu tales.

Uncle Jasper reviews: Executioners from Shaolin (1977)

Executioners from Shaolin [洪熙官] (1977)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Lily Li Li-Li, Lo Lieh, Wong Yu, Kong Do, Cheng Hong-Yip, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung


Another month, another film from the Shaw Bros Shaolin cycle… Except this time we have Shaw’s other prolific director at the helm. While many associate the Shaolin cycle with Chang Cheh, Lau Kar-Leung inherited the mantle in this stellar 1977 effort, which further chronicles the life of Chinese folk hero Hung Si-Kwan, played as usual by the magnificent Chen Kuan-Tai. But this film differs greatly from the concise, historical-based efforts of Chang Cheh, who placed the focus on patriotism and brotherhood against the occupying Manchu forces. Lau Kar-Leung, ever the cinematic ambassador of Chinese martial arts, instead shifts the focus to Hung Si-Kwan’s development of his renowned style, Hung Gar kung fu.

Let’s face it. Lau Kar-Leung made films for kung fu nerds. (This review will also be geared towards that crowd, so don’t feel too bad if a lot of this technical / historical gibberish leaves you scratching your head.) Don’t get me wrong, the classic revenge tale that this film tells can be appreciated by even your most casual movie fan, but to really reap the benefits of what Executioners has to offer it helps to understand some of the finer points of kung fu styles and martial technique. Hung Gar is comprised of both tiger and crane techniques. The tiger being a powerful external style based primarily on brute strength while the crane relies more on deft movements and pinpoint accuracy. Executioners from Shaolin tells what I’m assuming is a mostly fictional tale of how the tiger and crane styles became united under one banner.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Challenge of the Masters (1976)

Challenge of the Masters [陸阿采與黃飛鴻] (1976)

Starring Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Chen Kuan-Tai, Lau Kar-Leung, Kong Yeung, Wong Yu, Lau Kar Wing, Lily Li Li-Li, Fung Hak-On

Directed By Lau Kar-Leung


I was a little nervous on revisiting Challenge of the Masters after such a long time in-between viewings of it. It’s a film that I have a long history with since copying it off of a well-worn VHS copy back during the infancy of Blockbuster Video. Yeah, that’s how we did shit back in the days before digital distribution, instant streaming, and the rise of the World Wide Web. Back then, I had no idea what the deal with the Shaw Brothers was. I recognized Gordon Liu in a couple of other films, but directors, actors, and choreographers meant very little to me at the time. I just knew that when I saw that big, fat SB shield accompanied by the thundering fanfare, it was going to be a higher grade kung fu film than I was used to getting. Challenge of the Masters wound up becoming my favorite martial arts film of the Shaw Bros studios. Now revisiting it 17 years later, I can safely say that is an accolade which still stands.

The film is an “origin story” of sorts to the character of Wong Fei-Hung, whom Gordon Liu plays masterfully here. Jet Li did such a good job of making him seem like a righteous and invincible badass in the Once Upon a Time in China series, that it may come as a shock here to find the character portrayed as a clumsy, unsophisticated, buffoon of sorts, prone to bouts of self-pity and frequent temper tantrums. This is all for the sake of the film however, as Challenge of the Masters presents the ultimate journey in martial arts cinema by taking the “unteachable” teenage Fei-Hung and details his transformation into China’s most well-known folk hero.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Oily Maniac (1976)

Oily Maniac [油鬼子] (1976)

Starring Danny Lee, Chen Ping, Lily Li Li-Li, Wa Lun, Wong Hap, Tung Lam, Ku Feng, Lau Wai-Ling, Angela Yu Chien

Directed By Ho Meng-Hua


 

This story is a rewrite of a Nanyang tall tale. It bears the moral that justice does prevail.

It also bears the moral that sexually frustrated polio victims / oil slick monsters do not take kindly to rapists, rape victims, or loose women wishing to be raped. The Oily Maniac is like a delirious cross between The Toxic Avenger, Death Wish, and Psycho. Danny Lee plays Ah Yung, a man rendered virtually impotent by his exposure to polio years prior. Now hobbling along on crutches, he is rejected by Yue, the woman he had long been carrying a torch for. In classic Shaw Brothers melodramatic fashion, he leaves her home amidst poring rain, turning back to steal one last glance through her window only to find Yue half-naked making love to her virile new partner.

Sent into a rage filled shitstorm, Ah Yung visits his uncle, who is on death row about to be executed the following day. He reveals an awesome back tattoo to Ah Yung, which he demands be copied down on paper, as it is a secret recipe for a spell which can grant superhuman strength. The woefully pathetic Ah Yung figures he has nothing to lose, picks up a pickaxe and begins digging away in the middle of his living room, which was built on a sacred burial ground or something. He proceeds to sit in the large hole, which instantly fills up with oil, transforming him into… The Oily Maniac!

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Uncle Jasper reviews: The Young Master (1980)

The Young Master [師弟出馬] (1980)

Starring Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Tien Feng, Feng Feng, Wei Pei, Shih Kien, Lily Li Li-Li, Hwang In-Shik

Directed By Jackie Chan


Dogged for years by contractual obligations and careless mismanagement of talent, Jackie Chan finally broke free of the substandard Lo Wei cycle of pictures in 1980 and began his long-term partnership with Golden Harvest. Chan was able to impart at least marginal creative input into the Lo Wei films, separating himself somewhat from the pack, but it was only after finding total freedom with The Young Master that the public first got a glimpse of his unique take on kung fu films, done “The Jackie Chan way”. No longer would we be forced to waddle through total misfires like The Killer Meteors, or face frustration by “almost there” glimmers of hope like Spiritual Kung Fu. No longer stifled by studio politics, Jackie was able to create a film on his own terms, finally unleashing the storehouse of talent that would pave the way for one of the great bodies of work in martial arts cinema.

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The Magic Blade (1976)

The Magic Blade [天涯明月刀] (1976)

Starring Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ku Feng, Tang Ching, Ching Li, Lily Li Li-Li, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chan Shen

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High.


My expectations for this were just soaring after watching Shaolin Intruders. The two films have absolutely nothing to do with each other except that they’re both Shaw Bros. pictures and Tang Chia choreographed the fights, but you could connect most any Shaw Bros. film with that logic. Needless to say, I was let down. The Magic Blade is an interesting movie as it doesn’t really contain a magic blade. You might expect there to be one in a film titled The Magic Blade, but not in this film. There is the rather neato blade that Ti Lung uses throughout the film, but magic isn’t exactly the adjective I’d use to describe it. It’s on a harness attached to his arm that allows it to spin when he wants it to, but it isn’t really used all that much in the film so don’t get too worked up about it. This is possible magic blade candidate number one. Number two is where I’m placing my money though, as the film revolves around everyone trying to get a hold of it. The weapon in question is the mysterious Peacock Dart, a weapon so powerful that — well, I’ll let them explain it.

“The Dart when hurled, emits mysterious and beautiful rays, and the victim dies in a mysterious way.”

“And no one is immune to it.”

After which the dart is thrown, resulting in multiple explosions of light and smoke that very conveniently kill only the hero’s enemies. No one is immune to movie logic either I guess. Anyway I don’t mean to complain, that shit was fun to watch.

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