Judgement of an Assassin (1977)

Judgement of an Assassin [決殺令] (1977)

Starring David Chiang, Chung Wah, Ching Li, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Wai Wang, Ku Feng, Wang Lai, Cheng Miu, Lau Wai-Ling, Ngaai Fei, Ku Wen-Chung, Ku Kuan-Chung, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chan Shen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei

Directed by Sun Chung

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


Judgement of an Assassin sees director Sun Chung re-inserting himself into the newly revitalized wuxia genre. He made one of my all-time favorite Shaw wuxias, 1972’s The Devil’s Mirror, but his filmography is devoid of wuxias up until Judgement of an Assassin. To say that I was eagerly anticipating this film is underselling it some, especially because the next year Sun went on to make The Avenging Eagle, a film I happened to catch in the theater some years ago and have been in love with ever since. Judgement of an Assassin had a lot to live up to, and it absolutely stood up to the challenge. It is a wuxia that feels unique amidst the vast Shaw catalog up to this point, and it is sort of a middle ground between the brooding darkness of Chor Yuen and the comic book sensibilities Chang Cheh brought to life in The Brave Archer. It is also a return to the general fun of early Shaw wuxias, but with all the excitement and thrills of 1977 choreography. Like previous Sun Chung films, Judgement of an Assassin has immediately endeared itself to me, and I see it becoming a favorite I’ll return to often.

Masked assassins raid the home of the Golden Axe Clan, but when the final blow is dealt to the clan leader, the assassin boldly states his name for the record. Surely, this has to be a setup, right? Who would do that? The named man is arrested for this crime and placed inside a spiked coffin designed to limit the prisoner’s movement and torture him simultaneously. He is taken to the house of Madam Fa (Wang Lai), who will preside over the grand hearing to determine his fate. The entire martial world converges on the trial, with some members utilizing the opportunity to jockey for power, while others attempt to uncover the truth of the murder on their own. Like any good wuxia, Judgement of an Assassin is filled with many colorful characters, but here the main character is actually the martial world itself. It’s a great choice to tell this particular story, though I can see some not connecting with it if you’re looking for a more conventional film.

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Jumping Ash (1976)

Jumping Ash [跳灰] (1976)

Starring Josephine Siao Fong-Fong, Ga Lun, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Chan Sing, Nick Lam Wai-Kei, Lee Yin-Ping, Wu Fung, Lo Hoi-Pang, Lee Chi-Chung, Cheng Chi-Tun, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Cheung Sek-Aau

Directed by Josephine Siao Fong-Fong & Po-Chih Leong

Expectations: Very interested. Don’t know what to expect, though.


Jumping Ash was a huge hit in its day, reaching #3 at the 1976 Hong Kong box office, but unfortunately I watched it faded, full-screen and dubbed. Hopefully it can be restored in the future and seen by fans in its original format, because in addition its success, Jumping Ash was also highly influential. It exhibited all the qualities of the Hong Kong New Wave, a few years before it really began in earnest. Some cite Jumping Ash as the first film of the New Wave, while others list it as a stylistic forerunner, but no matter what you call it, it’s a film that feels ahead of its time and far closer to what Hong Kong cinema would become than what it was in 1976. It’s hard to know from my position in 2018 America, but it also seems like it has its finger on the pulse of Hong Kong at the time, set in specific locations during May 1976 and then released just a few months later in August 1976.

Defining the style of the Hong Kong New Wave is a tricky thing to do. Like many film movements, it was something that happened organically and was only named and grouped together later on. Basically, the new crop of filmmakers in the late ’70s/early ’80s redefined what Hong Kong movies were, eventually taking over the industry from the fading studio-based model of Shaw Brothers. Location shooting and experimentation became the norm as this new generation of filmmakers put their artistic stamp on their films. Much of the previous generation thought of their work as nothing more than a job, so the emergence of singular talents like Tsui Hark, Ann Hui or Sammo Hung left a limitless impact on the industry. The films of this era firmly re-established Cantonese filmmaking as the dominant force of Hong Kong cinema, resulting in films that better reflected Hong Kong culture and society. It is also in this era where the genre-blending and multi-tone films took hold, bringing Hong Kong into what I consider its best and most fruitful period. This, too, is present in Jumping Ash, which deftly mixes drama, action and comedy on a moment’s whim.

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All Men Are Brothers (1975)

All Men Are Brothers [蕩寇誌] (1975)
AKA Seven Soldiers of Kung Fu, Seven Blows of the Dragon II, Seven Kung Fu Assassins

Starring David Chiang, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chen Kuan-Tai, Wong Chung, Danny Lee, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yue Fung, Ti Lung, Chu Mu, Tin Ching, Tung Lam, Chen Feng-Chen, Bolo Yeung, Lau Gong, Wong Ching, Chang Yang, Betty Chung, Ku Feng, Tetsuro Tamba, Chin Feng, Chen Wo-Fu, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan

Directed by Chang Cheh & Wu Ma

Expectations: Super high! A sequel to one of my all-time favorite Shaw films? Yes, please!


The Water Margin is one of my all-time favorite Shaw Brothers films (along with all of Shaw’s other films based on the classic Chinese novel —  Delightful Forest, Pursuit, and to a lesser extent The Amorous Lotus Pan and Chang’s segment in Trilogy of Swordsmanship), so All Men Are Brothers had a lot to live up to. The key to my immense affection for each film lies in how they all carry their own style and are therefore able to stand on their own in companionship with the other films, like the 108 Liang Shan bandits themselves. All Men Are Brothers is another very welcome addition to this lineup, taking its own path along the way to dramatizing a section of the illustrious book.

All of the previous films dealt with chapters from either the beginning or the middle of the book, but All Men Are Brothers seeks to tell the end of the tale. It takes material mostly from Chapters 90–100 (out of 100 total chapters), which deal with the redemption of the outlaws through their struggle to defeat the rebellious Fang La and his generals. A couple of flashbacks tell earlier tales to provide some character depth, and the film opens with Yan Qing’s procurement of the bandits’ pardon from the emperor (which is detailed in Chapter 81), but the film is mostly concerned with bringing everything to a close.

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Project A II (1987)

ProjectAII_1Project A II [A計劃續集] (1987)
AKA Pirate Patrol 2, Project B

Starring Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Rosamund Kwan, Carina Lau, Lam Wai, Bill Tung, Kwan Hoi-San, Regina Kent, Wong Man-Ying, Chris Lee Kin-Sang, Tai Bo, Mars, Ben Lam Kwok-Bun, Ken Lo, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Wang Lung-Wei

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: The only thing I remember is the redone Buster Keaton stunt. I don’t even remember if I liked the movie or not!

threehalfstar


The perennial question, “Is it better than the original,” always surrounds any discussion of a sequel. In the case of the Project A films, this is not an easy question to answer. The two films are markedly different from one another, with the most defining difference being the absence of Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao from the sequel (they were off making the awesome flick Eastern Condors). This allowed Jackie to branch out the sequel’s story in wildly different directions than the original film, and in a lot of ways it makes for a better, more diverse piece of entertainment.

The choreography is certainly more refined and representative of the “Evolved Jackie” that took shape in Police Story and emerged fully formed in Armour of God. There are certainly instances of Jackie’s defined style earlier, but starting with Police Story the elements come together to create the earliest examples of the quintessential Jackie Chan film. In Project A II, the fights are funny and almost constantly thrilling, without a single moment of wasted movement, and the circumstances under which Jackie finds himself fighting are truly inspired (such as the incredible sequence when Jackie is handcuffed to Chun (Lam Wai)).

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Black List (1972)

U89u7doBlack List [黑名單] (1972)
AKA Ninja Terminator, Ninja Heat, Ninja Blacklist

Starring Chan Sing, Henry Yu Yung, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Si Ming, Louise Lee Si-Kei, Fong Yau, San Kuai, Gai Yuen, James Yi Lui, Lee Man-Tai

Directed by John Law Ma

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Black List has the distinction of being one of the top 10 grossing films of 1972 in Hong Kong, but I had a hard time seeing why it would have been so popular. To think that this mediocre film did better than many of the Shaw films, even exceptionally good ones, is hard to fathom. Black List does have a somewhat ahead-of-its-time gritty vibe thanks to the location shooting, something that virtually none of the Shaw films of the era have, so maybe that helped. Golden Harvest was also becoming highly successful around this time by utilizing similar, location-based filming methods. I imagine Chan Sing was something of a big star at the time as well, as he had featured in many Shaw films by this point and had starred in fellow top 10 film The Good and the Bad in the same year.

Black List has one of those ultra-simple storylines that is setup within the opening minute or so. We see Zhao Ying-Long (Chan Sing) released from prison, and his brother Zhao Ying-Hu (Henry Yu Yung) is outside the gates awaiting his arrival. After an embrace, Ying-Hu hands Ying-Long a piece of paper and tells him that over the last six years he has uncovered the men responsible for framing him and sending him to prison. Ying-Long vows to kill every last one of the sons of bitches on his “black list,” and that’s about 95% of the story in the film.

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The Good and the Bad (1972)

TigerVsDragon+1972-76-bThe Good and the Bad [餓虎狂龍] (1972)
AKA Kung Fu-The Invisible Fist, Kung Fu-The Invincible Fist, Tiger Vs Dragon, Death Rivals of Shaolin, Dragon and Tiger Ways

Starring Chan Sing, Yasuaki Kurata, Wong Yuen-San, Gai Yuen, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Chiang Nan, Irene Ryder, Hon Gwok-Choi

Directed by Ng See-Yuen

Expectations: I don’t know anything about this one, but I’m very excited for some reason.

threestar


A bit of context: I’m watching The Good and the Bad and one other (Black List) before I jump back into my chronological Shaw Brothers project and start 1973. (Oooo, it’s so close I can taste it!) These two films were in the Top 10 Hong Kong Box Office for 1972, and I figured they’d add an interesting context to what else was going on in 1972 HK other than Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest/Bruce Lee films that I’ve already seen. I also plan to do this for all future years as well, but in chrono order along with the Shaw films. There’s actually not too many of these, so it only adds a few films to the series while presumably expanding my view of the time (and hopefully also adding to my enjoyment!). After watching The Good and the Bad, all I can say is, “So far, so good.” It delivered on both entertainment and contextual standpoints, so I am happy with my decision to go ahead and tack these extra films on.

The story in The Good and the Bad is as generic as “Kung Fu vs. Karate” plots come. Japan sends in a super badass karate master spy (Yasuaki Kurata) to help take over the docks in Shanghai. China sends in a super badass kung fu master spy (Chan Sing) to stop him. That’s it. If you want more than that, there are lots of movies that will do you a solid. But The Good and the Bad makes up for this lack in story with fights. Lots of fights. No, scratch that — LOTS OF FIGHTS.

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Dragon Lord (1982)

DragonLord+1982-54-bDragon Lord [龍少爺] (1982)
AKA Dragon Strike

Starring Jackie Chan, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Suet Lee, Mars, Tien Feng, Paul Chang Chung, Tai Bo, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Anna Ng Yuen-Yee, Cheng Mang-Ha, Wu Jia-Xiang, Fung Fung, Ho Gaam-Kong, Whang In-Shik

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Moderate, but hopeful. I’ve somehow avoided seeing this until now.

twohalfstar


Every review of Dragon Lord written years after release probably calls it “the transitional film,” but I don’t care. Dragon Lord is Jackie Chan’s transitional film, bridging the gap between his early wuxia/kung fu comedy period and the death-defying stunts that would define his later work (and career). The end fight of Dragon Lord is really one of the first glimpses of the Jackie Chan that everyone knows, i.e. incredible choreography that seamlessly integrates the environment, crazy stunts that make you gasp and good ol’ fashioned fightin’. It’s just that Dragon Lord, being the transitional film, isn’t all that great on its own.

The main reason is that its story is a disjointed mess. So when I read that they began shooting the film without a script, and only a slight story gestating in Jackie’s head, it made perfect sense. A good portion of this movie is unrelated to the other parts in terms of story, so it’s best to try and watch the scenes for what they are instead of what they aren’t. For instance, there’s an extended sequence of Jackie and his buddies playing Jianzi, an Asian shuttlecock game played without hands like soccer. Being a Jackie movie there’s tons of fun choreography mixed into the game, and it’s an interesting scene to watch just on a human movement level. Does it relate to anything in the story, though? Nope, not really at all. But it does have the distinction of inspiring Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer, so that’s something.

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