King Gambler (1976)

King Gambler [賭王大騙局] (1976)

Starring Chung Wah, Chen Kuan-Tai, Chen Ping, Shut Chung-Tin, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wang Hsieh, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Teresa Ha Ping, Chui Ga-Lam, Wong Chung, A Mei-Na, Chan Mei-Hua, Liu Wu-Chi, Ma Chien-Tang, Chan Shen, Kong Yeung, Ku Wen-Chung, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Ling Yun, Shum Lo, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Wong Ching-Ho, Lau Luk-Wah

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: Super excited to see more Cheng Kang… and it’s a gambling movie!


There are many gambling movies from all over the world, but the Hong Kong gambling film is a beast all its own. I am a huge fan of this sub-genre of Hong Kong cinema, and of the filmmaker most associated with it: Wong Jing. Over the course of my chronological Shaw Brothers series, I’ve covered a couple of early gambling films (The Casino, The Gambling Syndicate), but those films feel like extensions of the traditional action genre more than they resemble what the gambling genre evolved into. King Gambler, on the other hand, is right on the money when it comes to tone and style. The film was clearly an influence on Wong Jing, as both directors showcase similar ideas and sensibilities in how they portray gambling and the people involved in the games. As such, I really enjoyed Cheng Kang’s King Gambler. Apparently 1976 Hong Kong shared my enthusiasm, too, because the film made #9 at the yearly box office (with only a couple of Shaw films doing better that year).

King Gambler is a structurally interesting movie. It begins by introducing us to the Sha family and how their mastery in sleight of hand and other forms of trickery were passed down from one generation to another. We then see a short game of mahjong, in which one of the Sha family members (played by Shut Chung-Tin) beats the young Peng Tian Shi (Chen Kuan-Tai). The resentment of being so resoundingly beaten does not sit well with Peng, and when the film flashes forward many years, Peng is now a wealthy casino owner known as The Card Tyrant. He has not risen above his feelings surrounding the Sha family, though. Peng offers an elder Sha (Wang Hsieh) a job, but he refuses to use his superior hearing skills to cheat for Peng. Retaliation comes swift and brutal, leaving the elder Sha permanently blinded. This is merely the first few minutes of the film; the prologue. The majority of the movie concerns itself with the young members of the Sha family and how they deal with Peng in the wake of this offense.

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The Lizard (1972)

thelizard_1The Lizard [壁虎] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Connie Chan Po-Chu, Lo Lieh, Yeung Chi-Hing, Goo Man-Chung, Lydia Shum, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Chan Ho, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wu Ma, Choi Yuen-Ping, Ma Chien-Tang, Chung Wa

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


Director Chor Yuen’s previous film in this review series was the multi-genre masterpiece Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, and with The Lizard he applies the same principles to different genres. The Lizard is a simple film on the surface, but once it gets rolling it reveals itself as a fairly dense hybrid film, mainly mashing kung fu together with comedy. There were Shaw Bros martial arts films that had some laughs prior to this, but none that go directly for the laughs throughout like The Lizard. So, at least in terms of the Shaw output, this is most likely the first attempt at a true kung fu comedy.

For this alone, The Lizard is notable and actually kind of subversive for its day; as Chang Cheh was pushing the martial arts genre forward into dramatic, male-dominated bashers with each subsequent film, Chor Yuen dared to go in a completely different direction. The Lizard takes a well-worn wuxia storyline (the tale of a Robin Hood-like masked figure) and transports it to the modern era. Chor Yuen then adds a couple tablespoons of romance, a pinch of thriller, a dollop of the casino film (actually outright stealing the ability to accurately hear dice rolling from The Casino‘s main character, who was also played by Yueh Hua), and a few sprinkles of wuxia so that his characters can leap around the wonderfully constructed Shaw Bros. sets.

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The Casino (1972)

TheCasino+1972-60-bThe Casino [吉祥賭坊] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Lily Ho Li-Li, Chin Feng, Chiang Nan, Fan Mei-Sheng, Tang Ti, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Chan-Kong, Sek Kin, Ma Chien-Tang, Yee Kwan, Yi Fung, Wu Ma

Directed by Chang Tseng-Chai

Expectations: Optimistic.

threehalfstar


The Casino was one of the earliest Hong Kong gambling movies. It’s not a full-on gambling film, though, it’s more of a martial arts/gambling hybrid. But don’t despair, that mix makes for some truly exciting, tense entertainment. At only 77 minutes, The Casino is jam-packed full of intense melodrama that never lets up. It’s definitely an unsung gem of this era of Hong Kong film, as prior to researching it for this review series, I had never heard of this one.

The film opens in the titular casino, following the frustrations of a down-on-his-luck gambler (Wu Ma) as he attempts to win at the dice game. He ultimately leaves with less than he came in with, as completely strapped for cash, the man offered up his hand as collateral for his final wager. Didn’t work out so well for him. On his way out of the casino, he runs into Luo Tianguang (Yueh Hua). Luo is suave and well-dressed, but he watches the fleeing gambler with a knowing look. I initially imagined that the tale might end up with Luo succumbing to the evils of gambling and ending up like this man he encounters at the start, but it isn’t like that at all. No, Luo Tianguang definitely has other things on his mind, and this quick glance of what gambling can do to people seems to steel his resolve.

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Master with Cracked Fingers (1979)

masterwithcrackedfingers_1Master with Cracked Fingers [刁手怪招] (1979)
AKA The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung, Little Tiger from Kwantung, Little Tiger of Canton, Snake Fist Fighter, Ten Fingers of Death, Marvellous Fists

Starring Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Kwan Yung-Moon, Chiang Kam, Tien Feng, Shu Pei-Pei, Chen Hung-Lieh, Dean Shek Tin, Hon Gwok-Choi, Ma Chien-Tang, Kwan Chung, Tai San, Hui Gam, Tiu Yun-Ban, Cheung Sek-Aau

Directed by Gam Yam

Expectations: Curious.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


Master with Cracked Fingers really has no place in the spotlight along with Jackie Chan’s proper films, but I thought it would be worth a look for a couple of reasons. It was a film always readily available during Jackie’s late-’90s period of high fame in the US, so there’s bound to be thousands of copies out there littering thrift store shelves. I also kicked off my Jackie Chan series with his first starring role, The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung, and since that’s the movie that’s getting cannibalized to make this one, I thought it would be an interesting endeavor to see how it was butchered, and perhaps if the added scenes made it better or worse. I enjoyed that film for what it was, but there was definitely room for improvement.

The changes made for Master with Cracked Fingers are interesting, and they are clearly made in the effort of transforming an early-’70s serious kung fu movie into a late-’70s kung fu comedy. In this way, the two films seen side by side are something of a quick and dirty history lesson on just how much the genre had changed over the eight years in-between the two releases. Now, instead of Jackie’s character merely practicing kung fu on his own or with his sister, he is trained by Simon Yuen himself! This is facilitated by a few added scenes at the beginning, with Jackie as a child of about eight or nine years old. Too poor to afford proper kung fu lessons, he enlists the help of an old beggar who promptly asks Jackie to meet him in the forest in the middle of the night. And what does he ask Jackie to do once he gets there? Take off all his clothes and jump into a burlap sack full of snakes and other scary critters, of course! Yikes!

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The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung (1973)

cub tiger 150 dpiThe Cub Tiger from Kwangtung [廣東小老虎] (1973)
AKA Little Tiger from Kwantung, Little Tiger of Canton, Master with Cracked Fingers, Snake Fist Fighter, Ten Fingers of Death, Marvellous Fists

Starring Jackie Chan, Chen Hung Lieh, Shu Pei-Pei, Tien Feng, Hon Gwok-Choi, Ma Chien-Tang, Kwan Chung, Tai San, Hui Gam

Directed by Ngai Hoi-Fung

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


So it begins. The long-awaited and exciting chronological review series of the films of Jackie Chan. Words cannot express how excited I am to finally do this, as Jackie Chan is simply one of the most important film figures to me as an audience member. He is single-handedly responsible for my Hong Kong movie obsession, stemming directly from the US release of Rumble in the Bronx, and his love and homage to Buster Keaton through his own crazy stunts led me to discover silent films and delve deep into classic cinema during my teenage years. I simply wouldn’t be the same person without Jackie Chan films (and Uncle Jasper’s friendship and well-established HK movie collection), so the series is loaded with a lot of emotion for me.

But much of that emotion will have to be held back until later films, as it took this Jacky a while to develop into the Jackie we know and love today. The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung was his first starring role, but it had something of a strange release. Filmed in 1971 when Jackie was a tender, stubble-faced 17-year-old, but held for release until 1973, The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung did not light the world on fire. In fact, its release in 1973 was supposedly so small and limited that many never saw it and it is regarded as one of the rarer Jackie Chan films. After he became a sensation in the late ’70s, the film was re-cut with brand new, non-Jackie footage to create the “new” film, Master with Cracked Fingers, and that’s the version most Chan fans have likely seen of the film. God knows it’s been on too many budget-priced Jackie collections to count. But this review is for the original release version, unearthed and released to DVD a few years back in absolutely horrific print quality. Good thing I cut my teeth on equally dodgy HK bootlegs!

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