Foxbat (1977)

Foxbat [狐蝠] (1977)
AKA Operation Foxbat, Nato Code Name MIG-25

Starring Henry Silva, Vonetta McGee, Rik Van Nutter, Roy Chiao, James Yi Lui, Melvin Wong, Wong Hung, Nick Lam Wai-Kei, Phillip Chan Yan-Kin, Tong Chung-San

Directed by Po-Chih Leong

Expectations: High. I liked Jumping Ash, and this one’s on Blu-ray!


In 1976, Po-Chih Leong co-directed Jumping Ash, a film often cited as the beginning of the Hong Kong New Wave. The film was a big hit, and so the following year Leong made Foxbat. The film is interesting in many ways, perhaps most because it is a Hong Kong production shot in English and featuring an international cast. This sort of thing had been done prior by Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, but those I’ve seen have all been co-productions with a Western-based film company. Foxbat was made fully independently, so it carries none of the baggage that studio-based co-productions generally have; it is a film with a singular vision executed with style and confidence. Like Jumping Ash it exhibits many hallmarks of the Hong Kong New Wave films, specifically a noted influence from European and American films, location shooting, and the multi-tonality that would come to define Hong Kong filmmaking during the ’80s and ’90s.

The story of Foxbat is based in current events of the time, taking the defection of Russian pilot Viktor Belenko as its jumping off point. On September 6, 1976, Belenko landed his MiG-25 Foxbat jet at the Hakodate Airport in Hokkaido, Japan. The film begins here as well, showing us the defection with scenes shot at the actual Hakodate Airport where it happened. From here the fiction begins, with multiple groups desiring the chance to study the Russian fighter jet. The CIA send Mike Saxon (Henry Silva), a James Bond-style operative, and he captures all the pertinent info via his photographic fake eye. He hides the film inside a candy so it can pass unsuspected through customs, but things get hairy when a goofy Chinese cook, Cheung (James Yi Lui) mistakenly eats the candy!

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The Valiant Ones (1975)

The Valiant Ones [忠烈圖] (1975)

Starring Pai Ying, Hsu Feng, Roy Chiao, Han Ying-Chieh, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Ng Ming-Choi, Sammo Hung, Hao Li-Jen, Lee Man-Tai, Yuen Biao, Yeung Wai, Lau Kong, Wu Chia-Hsiang, Chiang Nan, Chow Siu-Loi, Chao Lei

Directed by King Hu

Expectations: High. King Hu!


I enter each unseen King Hu film with equal amounts of trepidation and delight. I’ve loved every one of his films that I’ve seen, so I guess I’m worried that the spell will break and I’ll hit one that just doesn’t do it for me. The Valiant Ones is not that film; it’s a stone-cold killer of a movie. It’s a real shame that a film as good as this one is languishing in obscurity, but that’s how it goes. If nothing else, it allows me to dream of a future restored edition that will continue to raise King Hu’s status among fans of world cinema. No matter how low-res and full of video noise the old master is for The Valiant Ones, the power of King Hu’s filmmaking overrides it all to entertain as only he can.

The Valiant Ones tells a story of pirates and the chivalrous knights tasked with stopping their pirating ways. According to the film’s intro, Japanese ronin teamed up with bandits in the 13th Century to create fearsome pirate bands that tormented the land and sea. The Valiant Ones is set in the 16th Century, when the pirates had multiplied to the point that the government lost any kind of control over the regions they inhabit. There have been multiple attempts to eradicate the pirates, but it has always proved unsuccessful. Now a chief of a Southern clan needs to reach the capital and must be escorted through the pirate-infested land. For this task, General Yu Da-You (Roy Chiao) assembles an experienced team who are up to the challenge, including a husband and wife duo (Pai Ying and Hsu Feng) who are lethal and absolutely unstoppable.

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The Fate of Lee Khan (1973)

The Fate of Lee Khan [迎春閣之風波] (1973)
fateofleekhan_2

Starring Li Li-Hua, Pai Ying, Tien Feng, Han Ying-Chieh, Hsu Feng, Roy Chiao, Angela Mao, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Wei Pin-Ao, Wu Chia-Hsiang, Ng Ming-Choi, Lee Man-Tai, Chiang Nan, Woo Gam, Gam Dai

Directed by King Hu

Expectations: Super high. I’ve been very eager to continue exploring King Hu’s filmography for a while now.

threehalfstar


The Fate of Lee Khan is a fantastic film, hidden in the shadows of other, more well-known King Hu films. I’ve never heard anything about this movie, but yet it is an incredibly solid and effective piece of filmed martial intrigue. It’s similar in a lot of ways to Dragon Inn, but that is hardly a complaint. It is a true joy to watch as a world-class director returns to a smaller scale story after opening up the genre in ways previously unknown in A Touch of Zen. I need to re-watch Dragon Inn to confirm this, but it seems as if King Hu’s storytelling ability has matured a lot since that film, and the economy with which he delivers an intense, compelling story in The Fate of Lee Khan is a masterful achievement. The inn featured here is also a vibrant center of the region, as opposed to the desolate way station of Dragon Inn.

The film opens by setting itself in the context of history. Our story is set in the late 1300s, during the Yuan Dynasty established by the Mongolian leader Kublai Khan. The Chinese people, frustrated with political corruption and oppression, organized a revolt under the lead of Chu Yuan-Chang. But as we’re told in the intro, the war is not just fought on the battlefields, but also through the devious methods of espionage. Lee Khan is a powerful man in charge of the Yuan spy activity, and at the outset of the film his sister and trusted advisor manage to secure a war map detailing the movements of Chu’s forces. The rebel spies refuse to let the map go easily, so when word comes that Lee Khan is coming to the Spring Inn, forces from both sides gather there to decide his fate.

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Enter the Dragon (1973)

EntertheDragon_2Enter the Dragon [龍爭虎鬥] (1973)

Starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Sek Kin, Robert Wall, Bolo Yeung, Ahna Capri, Angela Mao, Betty Chung, Geoffrey Weeks, Peter Archer, Hao Li-Jen, Roy Chiao, Lau Wing, Sammo Hung, Stephen Tung Wai

Directed by Robert Clouse

Expectations: High. I love this movie.

threehalfstar


There’s no doubt of the legendary, iconic status of Enter the Dragon. Bruce Lee will always be in the American cultural consciousness and Enter the Dragon will always be the movie most associated with him in the West. It also gave us Jim Kelly, and Bolo got his badass name from his character in the film. I love the movie; I watched the film many times in my youth and to this day I have that poster to the right on my wall. But I must say, watching Enter the Dragon within the chronological confines of my Shaw series definitely made me look at it differently.

I don’t know that I ever considered just how American this movie is. It’s shot in Hong Kong and it features a plethora of Hong Kong actors and stuntmen, but it never once feels like a Hong Kong film. It’s a martial arts film with the full weight of Hollywood behind it. The version on my DVD has a couple of Bruce Lee’s philosophical scenes added back into the film, and the fact that these scenes were originally cut speaks volumes. To the general American audience (and apparently to director Robert Clouse), the martial arts are simply about fighting, and the philosophy is something you can lose without sacrificing the integrity. Of course, the philosophy is a HUGE part of martial arts, so it’s great that they put the scenes back in.

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Dragons Forever (1988)

DragonsForever_1Dragons Forever [飛龍猛將] (1988)
AKA Cyclone Z, Action Hunter

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Deanie Ip, Pauline Yeung Bo-Ling, Yuen Wah, Roy Chiao, Crystal Kwok Gam-Yan, Benny Urquidez, Billy Chow Bei-Lei, Lee Ka-Ting, Phillip Ko Fei, James Tin Jun, Tai Bo

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: High. Can’t wait to see the Jackie/Benny the Jet re-match again, and find out about all the stuff I completely forgot about.

threehalfstar


Dragons Forever is the final film to feature the Three Brothers (Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung & Yuen Biao), and in many ways it feels very knowledgeable of this. It often pits the brothers against each other (to wonderful results), perhaps bringing on-screen the off-screen tension due to creative disputes. It sees the return of the Wheels on Meals heavy, champion kickboxer extraordinaire Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, for a re-match. Its title has nothing to do with the movie, instead referencing the brothers themselves and their enduring friendship. Dragons Forever is a victory lap for the fans, sending off the brothers’ film collaborations at the height of their careers. As a fan you can’t argue that they didn’t deliver enough after so many movies throughout the ’80s, and since they were all capable of headlining their own films at this point in their careers, the idea of “One more Three Brothers film!” is a wonderful way to say goodbye to a very fruitful relationship. Would I like them to get back together and do another? Yeah, I wouldn’t mind that in the slightest, but there is something to be said for exiting the game at the top.

Jackie Chan plays Jackie, a sleazeball defense lawyer who handles cases for despicable criminals and womanizes every chance he gets. Sammo is something of a con-man. We first meet him selling weapons out of a duffel bag, but soon Jackie directs him to set his sights on the owner of a fishery (Deannie Yip). Jackie’s client owns a chemical factory that is polluting the fishery’s water, and he’s hoping to discredit her in any way he can to win the case. Yuen Biao is Jackie’s crazy friend, who he employs to place a bug in Miss Yip’s apartment, again to gather information to help build his case. Against type and tradition, the three brothers are all on the wrong side of this tale, so initially you can’t really root for them like you normally would.

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The Protector (1985)

protector_6The Protector [威龍猛探] (1985)

Starring Jackie Chan, Danny Aiello, Roy Chiao, Bill Wallace, Moon Lee, Victor Arnold, Kim Bass, Richard Clarke, Saun Ellis, Ronan O’Casey, Patrick James Clarke, Sandy Alexander, David Ho, Peter Yang Kwan, Sally Yeh

Directed by James Glickenhaus

Expectations: Jackie Chan, American style.

twohalfstar


Like all of Jackie Chan’s American films, The Protector is a much watered-down version of the amazing action star. But in terms of his “first wave” of American films in the ’80s, The Protector is easily the best and most “Jackie” of the bunch, making it quite an entertaining film as long as you also like the general ’80s action genre. And who doesn’t?

The Protector opens in New York, as some Mad Max rejects re-wire a stop light in order to rob a semi-truck full of computers. Don’t worry about remembering this because none of it matters. It’s merely a setup to introduce us to New York cops Billy Wong (Jackie Chan) and Michael, who respond to the call. They chastise the Texan truck driver about stopping for a red light during the night in the Bronx. But the cops should’ve taken their own advice, because when they end their patrol shift by knocking back a couple of brews at the local bar, the place is robbed by a bunch of armed gunmen. Jackie’s partner is murdered, so he gives chase by land, sea and air (kinda), resulting in the murderer dying in a ball of fire and boat debris, and Jackie being given a more ho-hum job of working security at a party.

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A Touch of Zen (1971)

touchofzen_2A Touch of Zen [俠女] (1971)

Starring Hsu Feng, Shih Jun, Pai Ying, Tien Peng, Cho Kin, Miao Tian, Cheung Bing-Yuk, Sit Hon, Wang Shui, Roy Chiao Hung, Han Ying-Chieh, Man Chung-San, Sammo Hung

Directed by King Hu

Expectations: High.

fourstar


A Touch of Zen starts off innocently enough, but by the end of the film the viewer has journeyed through religion, the soul and the more standard martial intrigue you were probably expecting. It is a martial arts film wholly unlike any I’ve ever seen, coming years ahead of its time and eschewing nearly all the general ideas of entertainment that martial arts films are usually built upon. A Touch of Zen is a wuxia film with higher aspirations. It is a fascinating, pure example of film as art, and like any good work of art, true understanding only comes with extended thought and multiple viewings. This is the type of film that people spend their whole lives in awe of; its power to provoke thought while also engaging the more primal needs is unique and unparalleled.

A Touch of Zen is partially based on the story The Gallant Girl (or The Magnanimous Girl) from Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, and it is here that the film draws its initial characters and setting. Ku Shen-chai (Shih Jun) is a scholar living in the derelict Ching Lu Fort. He studies not for wealth or status, but for personal gain and knowledge, much to the chagrin of his mother who thinks a man over 30 should be married and on his way to a lucrative career. Ku’s stall in the nearby town, where he paints portraits and does calligraphy, just doesn’t fit the bill in her eyes. So when a young woman and her elderly mother move into the nearby general’s mansion that has stood uninhabited for many years, Ku’s mother immediately thinks of joining the two families.

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