The Drug Addict (1974)

drugaddict_1The Drug Addict [吸毒者] (1974)
AKA The Drug Addicts

Starring Ti Lung, Wong Chung, Louise Lee Si-Kei, Paul Chun Pui, Lo Dik, Chiang Tao, Lee Hoi-Sang, Fung Ngai, Ling Fung, Tang Tak-Cheung

Directed by David Chiang

Expectations: I’m curious to see how David Chiang is as a director.

threestar


1974 was a year of newfound freedom for the biggest stars in the Shaw stable. Chang Cheh established Chang’s Film Co. in Taiwan, and coinciding with that he gave his biggest stars a shot at directing their own films. The Drug Addict was David Chiang’s debut in the director’s chair, but if you didn’t know it, you might think he already had a number of films under his belt. It has its issues, but it largely overcomes them by delivering effective and engaging drama. Chiang went on to direct another 14 films over the next 21 years, so I think it’s safe to say that directing fit well with his personality.

The Drug Addict opens in a slum filled with fiending junkies and filth. Tseng Chien (Wong Chung) is a drug dealer delivering a package when a distraught and strung-out Kuan Cheng-Chun (Ti Lung) asks him to lend him some dope so he can get a fix. When asking doesn’t win Tseng over, Kuan turns to more violent methods. It’s nothing savage or with any real malicious intent behind it, his actions are driven by the intense desire to get a fix at any cost. Even when Tseng calls Kuan less than human and a dog, Kuan merely agrees, hoping that he might agree his way into Tseng’s generosity. Instead, the struggle represents the final straw that pushes Tseng into acting on his misgivings about his profession, so he takes Kuan by force, locks him in a room Man with the Golden Arm-style, and helps him get his life back as a martial arts instructor.

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The 14 Amazons (1972)

14amazons_1The 14 Amazons [十四女英豪] (1972)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Lisa Lu, Lily Ho Li-Li, Yueh Hua, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Chung-Shun, Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Wang Hsieh, Shu Pei-Pei, Wang Ping, Lau Ng-Kei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Li Ching, Tina Chin Fei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wong Gam-Fung, Betty Ting Pei, Teresa Ha Ping, Chen Yan-Yan, Lin Jing, Bolo Yeung, Goo Man-Chung, James Nam Gung-Fan, Tin Ching, Paul Chun Pui, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Chung Wa

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: Very high. This is one of the greats, right?

fourstar


The 14 Amazons is a true Shaw epic, bringing together a large ensemble cast and a well-known, classic Chinese tale just like The Water Margin had done a few months earlier in 1972. The two films are epics of different proportions, though, and feel almost nothing alike. Where The Water Margin is a small slice of a larger tale (and it feels it), The 14 Amazons feels meatier and more contained (even though it is also part of a larger story). But to compare the two films is wrongheaded, as they complement each other instead of being in competition.

The 14 Amazons is based on the Generals of the Yang family group of stories that have been passed down through Chinese culture since as early as the 11th century. The film specifically tells the story of how the Yang family defended the western Song borders from the invading barbarians from Western Xia. We open on the battlefield as Commander Yang Tsung Pao (Chung Wa) is wounded and cornered without many options. Understanding his fate, he sends two of his generals, Chiao Ting Kuai (Fan Mei-Sheng) & Meng Huai Yuan (Wong Chung-Shun), to travel home to inform his family of his death and to ask for more troops to be sent to the border. They comply against their wishes to stay and help him, and here the film introduces us to the titular female characters.

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Pursuit (1972)

pursuit_4Pursuit [林沖夜奔] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Wong Gam-Fung, Fan Mei-Sheng, Paul Chun Pui, Go Ming, Yeung Chi-Hing, Wong Chung-Shun, Chiu Hung, Lee Siu-Chung, Tong Jing, Shum Lo, Mang Hoi

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: High.

fourstar


Pursuit is a prequel of sorts to Chang Cheh’s The Water Margin, focused specifically on telling the story of Yueh Hua’s character, Lin Chong AKA Panther Head. Connecting your film to one of the greatest Chinese films of all-time is a tall order, but thankfully we have the talented, resolute hands of Cheng Kang guiding Pursuit. The film is supreme entertainment from start to finish, although the focus is more on heartbreaking drama than traditional Shaw Brothers action (though there is a good amount of that too).

Like many martial arts stories, a strong thread of brotherhood runs through Pursuit, but the main theme here is trust. The film opens many years before the events of The Water Margin, as Lin Chong returns home and happily greets his wife. He is a respected instructor for the Imperial guard, and everything in his life is seemingly perfect. Lin Chong accompanies his wife to the temple and runs into an old friend, Lu Zhishen AKA Flowery Monk (Fan Mei-Sheng). At this moment, Lin Chong decides that brotherhood is more important than escorting his wife, so he trusts that she will be fine while he shares a few drinks and stories with Lu Zhishen (who also appears in The Water Margin, portrayed by Pang Pang). Lin Chong’s trust in the good of man is misplaced, though, as he returns to the temple to find the son of the Imperial Commander, Gao Yanei, attempting to rape his wife. He stops Gao, but this also sets into motion the ruination of Lin Chong’s life as he knows it.

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The Water Margin (1972)

watermargin_10aThe Water Margin [水滸傳] (1972)
AKA Seven Blows of the Dragon, Outlaws of the Marsh

Starring David Chiang, Tetsuro Tamba, Toshio Kurosawa, Ku Feng, Chin Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yueh Hua, Wong Chung, Ti Lung, Lily Ho Li-Li, Pang Pang, Tung Lam, Wu Ma, Cheng Lui, Paul Chun Pui, Chen Kuan-Tai, Danny Lee, Wu Chi-Chin, Lee Hang, Lau Dan, Lei Lung, Zhang Yang, Leung Seung-Wan, Lo Wai, Lee Wan-Chung, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho, James Nam Gung-Fan, Lau Gong, Cheng Miu

Directed by Chang Cheh, Wu Ma & Pao Hsueh Li

Expectations: High.

fourstar


The Water Margin is a classic of Chinese literature, a novel written in the 14th century that has inspired and entertained the Chinese people ever since. That’s quite the run for a novel, and judging by the amount of quality storytelling in Chang Cheh’s The Water Margin, it’s with good reason. The novel, also known as Outlaws of the Marsh, is about a group of 108 men and women who came together at Liang Shan Mountain in an effort to fight the corrupt Imperial ruler. Chang Cheh’s adaptation attempts to bring a small slice of the overall story — chapters 64-68 — to the silver screen, focusing on the tale of how Lu Junyi the Jade Unicorn (Tetsuro Tamba) and his protégé Yen Qing (David Chiang) came to join the group. At the same time, Chang casts virtually every actor employed by the Shaw studio, resulting in a true martial arts epic that feels huge and sprawling. Certain characters might not get much screen-time or development — Chen Kuan-Tai is on-screen for less than 10 seconds, drinking a bowl of wine — but it is made very clear that this is a teeming world full of rich characters. We may not be privy to all the details, but you can rest assured that every character has a motive and a rich backstory.

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Mini-Review: Shinjuku Incident (2009)

Shinjuku Incident (2009)

Starring Jackie Chan, Naoto Takenaka, Daniel Wu, Chin Kar-lok, Xu Jinglei, Fan Bing-Bing, Masaya Kato, Jack Kao, Yasuaki Kurata, Lam Suet, Ken Lo, Kenya Sawada, Paul Chun

Directed by Derek Yee

Expectations: Moderate. Jackie Chan is always good.


It’s important to know going into Shinjuku Incident that it is not an action film. The DVD box will have you believe otherwise, but it is merely a ploy to get you to watch it because you like Jackie Chan and his action films. Thankfully I knew this, so my expectations were properly set for the crime drama that it is. It’s not without some limited moments of action as dictated by the story, but none of it is choreographed in any way, shape, or form like a martial arts film or even your standard Hong Kong crime action film. Shinjuku Incident shares more with Scarface or The Godfather than it does Police Story, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

With that out of the way, the film is a pretty good one. Directed by Derek Yee (star of one of my all-time favorite kung-fu films, Shaolin Intruders), Shinjuku Incident tells the story of Nick (Jackie Chan) who illegally enters Japan in an effort to better his life. He meets up with a group of friends already living there and together they struggle to survive in the harsh world of the Yakuza-controlled Shinjuku district. This early period of the film sets up the characters nicely, with their motives and struggles feeling rooted in reality. The film takes a turn at about the halfway point and becomes even more interesting by throwing Nick into a couple of sticky situations. Watching him react and seeing him make key decisions is where the film hits its stride, tying in earlier plot points and characters into its complex weave.

I’m pretty tired of crime drama these days as I rarely see anything that’s truly original, and Shinjuku Incident definitely doesn’t innovate in any major way, but it remains enjoyable throughout thanks to excellent acting from the entire cast. Jackie has a couple of actiony sequences and believably acts like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, struggling to hold his own against more seasoned fighters. Beyond the physicality though, Jackie brings a muted, thoughtful character to the screen that never ceases to be entertaining. The film also features some pretty good use of gore, which adds a lot to the visceral impact of the film.

Having recently seen The Town, I can’t help but compare the two similarly themed films. While The Town is more exciting, Shinjuku Incident is much more layered and full of character depth than The Town, and is a much more rewarding film for it. There are definitely better told crime boss tales, but Shinjuku Incident is still worth your time if you enjoy the genre and / or Asian cinema.

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