Chinatown Kid (1977)

Chinatown Kid [唐人街小子] (1977)
AKA Chinatown Kung Fu

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Sun Chien, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Lo Meng, Jenny Tseng, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Siu Yam-Yam, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Yeung Chi-Hing, Wong Ching-Ho, Lo Dik, Chiang Nan, Yue Wing, Wang Han-Chen, Ku Kuan-Chung, Teresa Ha Ping, Kara Hui, Tsai Hung, Wong Lik, Chiang Sheng, Dick Wei, Wang Ching-Liang, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Lu Feng, Chin Chun

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Interested to finally see the longer cut.


Chinatown Kid is a great Chang Cheh film with a strong following, but it’s one of the few films that had a restoration tarnish its legacy. The story goes that when Celestial went to their Shaw archives to remaster Chinatown Kid, the only print they found was an alternate version that was much shorter, featuring re-shot scenes and a unique ending. This was back in the early 2000s, so at this point, nearly 20 years later, it’s probably safe to say that this shorter version is the only one that will ever be officially released by Celestial. It’s unfortunate because it’s almost assuredly not Chang Cheh’s original cut, but it is better than nothing. For this review, I watched the film twice: once with Celestial’s shorter version (which I’ve seen before), and once with the Venomsfan custom edit that combines a full-length VHS with a couple of extra scenes only found in the Celestial cut.

The story remains fairly constant across the two versions. Tang Dong (Alexander Fu Sheng) is an illegal immigrant who has just arrived in Hong Kong to help his aging grandpa. Finding a job is a struggle without a Hong Kong ID card, but Tang Dong is resourceful, street smart, and willing to work hard to make ends meet. He is largely driven by a materialistic desire to have cool stuff (like a digital watch), but he’s a nice guy at heart. Meanwhile in Taiwan, Yang Jian Wen (Sun Chien, in his debut role) has just returned home from two years service in the army. He shares Tang Dong’s willingness to work hard for his goals, but his family isn’t poor, and he is more book smart and responsible. Both characters end up in San Francisco by very different means (one studying abroad, the other running from the law), and they quickly befriend one another while working at a restaurant.

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The Brave Archer (1977)

The Brave Archer [射鵰英雄傳] (1977)
AKA Shaolin Archers, Kung Fu Warlords

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Tien Niu, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Ku Feng, Ku Kuan-Chung, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Danny Lee, Li Yi-Min, Dick Wei, Lau Wai-Ling, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chu Jing, Yue Wing, Chan Shen, Fan Mei-Sheng, Suen Shu-Pau, Tsai Hung, Lam Fai-Wong, Lo Meng, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Lu Feng, Chiu Chung-Hing, Chow Git, Kara Hui, Yu Hoi-Lun, Wang Ching-Liang, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Lee Siu-Wah

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. I’ve wanted to see this one for a while.


Sometime during the Jin-Song wars, two heroes of the Song dynasty are living with their wives in a quiet corner of the world. They’ve sworn their newborn children to be blood brothers, and when a wandering Taoist visits, he names the boys — Yang Kang & Guo Jing — and inscribes their names onto small swords. Unfortunately, this happy opening quickly turns sour when Jin soldiers attack and kidnap Yang Kang and his mother. In the wake of the skirmish, the Weird Seven, a group of powerful martial artists, take in Guo Jing and his mother, agreeing to raise the boy as their own. The Taoist promises to monitor and train Yang Kang, and in 18 years’ time, they will all meet up to see which boy possesses the superior kung fu. It’s a great setup for the film, but don’t get too attached. It does not resolve in this film at all, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun on the journey that The Brave Archer provides. This is a different sort of wuxia, unique from Chang’s previous genre-defining work or Chor Yuen’s genre-redefining films.

I’ve heard a lot about The Brave Archer over the years; everything from “It’s great” to “It’s awful,” and everything in between. I arrived to the movie with my own baggage, as well. Knowing that this was Chang Cheh’s first film back in Hong Kong after the artistic freedom he experienced in Taiwan, and that in his memoir he states, “the five years of my second spell at Shaws warrant little mention,” it’s hard not to come into The Brave Archer with the idea that Chang was frustrated with the situation and the state of the Hong Kong industry. Having been the leader of the charge in the action genre for so many years, to now be relinquishing that title to Lau Kar-Leung and Chor Yuen (and those not at Shaw like Sammo Hung, and later Yuen Woo-Ping and Jackie Chan), make it a distinct possibility that he was coerced into making a wuxia — a genre he felt was tired and had reached its pinnacle with Golden Swallow — to satisfy the fanbase revitalized by Chor Yuen’s films. I have a feeling that’s only partially true, though. Chang also talks in his memoir of his great friendship with Jin Yong, so I can imagine Chang choosing the project and feeling a personal responsibility to do the work of his friend justice.

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Hex After Hex (1982)

HexAfterHex_1Hex After Hex [邪完再邪] (1982)

Starring Lo Meng, Nancy Lau Nam-Kai, Lau Dan, Cheng Siu-Ping, Lo Yuen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lily Chan Lee-Lee, Lau Siu-Kwan, Law Ho-Kai, Yue Tau-Wan, Chow Kin-Ping, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Hex After Hex is the final film of the Hex trilogy (which isn’t actually a trilogy), and it’s surprisingly related in a very small way to the previous film in the series, Hex vs. Witchcraft. Like that film, Hex After Hex is more comedy than horror, but here the ratios have been further adjusted so that it’s almost all comedy for most of the movie. A lot of this comedy comes by way of ghost shenanigans, but there’s also a heavy dose of strange and wacky natural occurrences — for instance: Lo Meng lotioning up his nipples, or saving his blow-up doll from a building’s demolition. There’s so many quick little moments like this that I’ll need another run through the film to really appreciate them.

As you might expect in a film featuring such madcap energy, the story in Hex After Hex doesn’t matter much (to the viewers or the filmmakers). The film opens with Ma Su (Lo Meng), the muscular neighbor of the main character in Hex vs. Witchcraft, finding the same bag of golden jewelry that kicked off the supernatural hijinks in that film. Once again, the bag also contains the spiritual tablet of Liu Ah Cui, but this time Ma Su flatly refuses to marry the spirit. He has no interest in marrying a ghost and money does not persuade him. Not to be thrown out in the cold, the spirit of Liu Ah Cui decides to take over the body of a different neighbor’s girlfriend, Yeung Suk Yi (Nancy Lau Nam-Kai), and seduce Ma Su. It works, and they spend a good portion of the film moving from one problem to the next, the ghost graciously getting them out of harm’s way as only she can. A series of hijinks with a flimsy plot isn’t such a bad thing because it’s all fun, but I have to admit that without any sense of purpose it does get a little tiresome after a while.

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Hex vs. Witchcraft (1980)

HexVersusWitchcraft+1980-3-bHex vs. Witchcraft [邪鬥邪] (1980)
AKA Evil Fighting Evil (Literal Translation)

Starring James Yi Lui, Jenny Leung Jan-Lei, Booi Yue-Fa, Cheung Miu-Lin, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lam Fai-Wong, To Siu-Ming, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Wang Lai, Chan Shen, Ng Hong-Sang, Yeung Hung, Fong Ping, Chan Lap-Ban, Lau Yat-Fan, Lo Meng

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


The Hex series is an interesting one, mostly because it’s not really a series in the traditional sense. The tone in Hex is nothing but serious spooks and specters, so the shift to wacky ghost comedy in Hex vs. Witchcraft is a bit jarring and unexplained. And if my information is correct, the final film, Hex After Hex, is even more wacky (which means, based on Hex vs. Witchcraft, it’s going to be VERY WACKY). If this holds true, it seems the Hex series kinda resembles the Evil Dead series’ approach to tone, with the exception that only the second and third Hex films share actors or relate to one another in any way.

Hex vs. Witchcraft is set in modern Hong Kong and our “hero” is Cai Tou (James Yi Lui), a man as unlucky as they come. He’s a compulsive gambler, but like most movie gamblers that aren’t the God of Gamblers, Cai is in deep debt to the local gangster, Brother Nine (Chan Shen). Without going into detail, eventually Cai finds himself married to Liu Ah Cui, the dead daughter of an old man who came to his door after Cai found a bag of gold jewelry that also contained the woman’s spiritual tablet. If I didn’t cut to the chase a bit I’d have to use two or three paragraphs to have the story progression make sense, and that’s neither necessary or fun.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Chinatown Kid (1977)

Chinatown Kid [唐人街功夫小子] (1977)

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Sun Chien, Shirley Yu, Susan Shaw Yin-Yin, Kuo Chui, Lo Meng, Wang Lung-Wei, Jenny Tseng

Directed By Chang Cheh


 

I’m afraid that this review was a little bungled from the start. This is what happens when you wind up with a bad copy of a film slated for review and are left with no alternatives but to move ahead…

Any true old school kung fu movie fan has no doubt been in sustained elation since the Shaw Bros catalog had been obtained and dramatically restored by those fine folks over at Celestial Pictures almost ten years ago now. It’s been a nice decade of film viewing for fans of the legendary studio, no longer forced to waddle through 7th generation muddy pan & scan copies of their favorite martial arts classics. It’s a win-win situation for all parties involved, as I think nobody can complain about the work done on preserving the integrity and beauty of these fine films.

Then we have Chinatown Kid, which proves to be the proverbial one that got away when this whole deal went down. Not to say that the film doesn’t look amazing, the restoration here is every bit as beautiful as Celestial’s other remastering efforts. The problem is that Celestial went through its arduous, painstaking lengths only to wind up remastering THE WRONG FILM!

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Ip Man 2 (2010)

Ip Man 2 [葉問2:宗師傳奇] (2010)

Starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Lynn Hung, Huang Xiao-Ming, Fan Siu-Wong, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Darren Shahlavi, Kent Cheng, Lo Meng

Directed By Wilson Yip


The original Ip Man was a bona fide classic, and a successful attempt at elevating the famous teacher of Wing Chun kung fu to folk hero status. Now he can join the ranks of Wong Fei-Hung, Fong Sai-Yuk, and Hung Si-Kwan by having endless films and cash in attempts made that peddle bogus, fictionalized accounts of his life and rape his good name for some of that good ol’ box office cheddar. I guess those are the perks that are in store for folk hero cardholders. And what better place to begin the shameless plundering than in the original’s much-inferior sequel, Ip Man 2. Ip Man 2 was a little better back when it was known as Rocky IV, and even then it wasn’t that great. We have Donnie Yen returning as Rocky Balboa, Sammo Hung as the aging martyr Apollo Creed, and overacting meathead Darren Shahlavi as the murderous boxer Ivan Drago.

Remember how classy Simon Yam was in the original Ip Man? Looking all Howard Hughes and shit in his fancy dinner jacket and business suits? He even played a big part in saving the Ip family from death by smuggling them into Hong Kong. Well in Ip Man 2, he’s been reduced to a jabbering retard with a voracious appetite for roast duck. In fact, Ip Man 2 is rather good at taking the carefully developed characters of the original and either reducing them to bit parts or tossing them to the wayside all together with brief appearances that are instantly forgotten. I would have preferred to not see them at all this time around if it meant preserving the integrity of the original.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Gallants (2010)

Gallants [打擂台] (2010)
AKA Tiger & Dragon Reloaded

Starring Chen Kwan-Tai, Bruce Leung, Teddy Robin Kwan, Wong Yau-Nam, JJ Jia, M.C. Jin, Susan Shaw Yin-Yin, Lo Meng

Directed By Derek Kwok, Clement Cheng


My interest in Gallants was initially piqued after hearing that it marked the big-screen return of Shaw Brothers veterans Chen Kwan-Tai and Lo Meng. Then after learning that ex-Bruce Lee clone Bruce Leung starred alongside as well, nothing short of a ShamWow™ could mop up my steady stream of drooling anticipation. It was an instant sell. After finally getting a chance to see it, the novelty of seeing all of my favorite old-school kung fu heroes together again pales in comparison to the fantastic inspiration and brilliant testament to the fighting spirit that this film delivers. I am in love with Hong Kong cinema again and all I want to do is run outside and jump-kick garbage cans for the next three hours.

Equal parts Rocky, The Karate Kid, and Cocoon, Gallants is as inspirational as these films yet manages to remain a loving product of its homeland. Anybody with even a vague interest in the martial arts will be glued to the screen here, and old school Shaw Brothers fans are especially in for a treat. But what Gallants has to say is transcendent of simple setting and surface visuals. Yes this is a film about the martial arts and the perseverance of the fighting spirit. But even more so, this film deals with everything from courage, redemption, dignity in old age, to the convenient and flashy repackaging of honored philosophies in order to make a quick buck. The rewards that can be reaped from this film are virtually endless. You can cram a theater full of viewers into a screening of Gallants and nearly every person could take away something a little different.

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