Return of the Dead (1979)

Return of the Dead [銷魂玉] (1979)

Starring Ku Feng, Wang Lai, Lau Luk-Wah, Yeung Chi-Hing, Yueh Hua, Chan Wai-Ying, Si Wai, Yuen Sam, Cheng Miu, Ko Hsiang-Ting, Cheung Ching-Fung, Choh Seung-Wan, Tai Kwan-Tak, Chan Shen, Chun Wong, Wong Ching-Ho, Lau Wai-Ling, Shum Lo, Fung Ming, Lui Tat, Wang Han-Chen

Directed by Li Han-Hsiang

Expectations: Moderate. Hopefully it’s as good as The Ghost Story or better.


Li Han-Hsiang followed The Ghost Story with another horror anthology nine months later: Return of the Dead. It is a much more conventional anthology, with a framing story bringing together three stories which would otherwise have no connection. Return of the Dead is also not a sexploitation film (although it does brush up against the genre in a couple of scenes), so overall I imagine it is a much easier to digest film for traditional horror audiences. The only problem is that Return of the Dead just isn’t as good as it ought to be. The stories are all entertaining and engaging, but they lack a bit of oomph to really send them into a territory that inspires love. I liked the film, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that there’s not a lot to hang any sort of recommendation on.

The framing story is relatively light, showing the protagonists of the individual stories explaining how they came to reside in the insane asylum they all call home. The first story is likely to be familiar to horror fans, as it is an adaptation of the time-honored tale, The Monkey’s Paw. Here the paw is a necklace with a charm depicting the three wise monkeys (See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil). Ku Feng and Wang Lai play husband and wife, with their son played by Lau Luk-Wah. Lau works at a local factory, while his parents have a small, but successful fermented tofu business. Ku Feng’s character has adopted the name Wang Zhi-He to help sell his goods, as the real Wang Zhi-He was the man who discovered and popularized bottled, fermented tofu. If you know the story of The Monkey’s Paw, you’ll know what comes next. It is a simple, but effective moral tale, and Li Han-Hsiang adapts it well.

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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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Kidnap (1974)

kidnap_1Kidnap [天網] (1974)

Starring Lo Lieh, Fan Mei-Sheng, Woo Gam, Tung Lam, Liu Wu-Chi, Lam Wai-Tiu, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Li Min-Lang, Fung Ging-Man, Chiang Tao, Wang Hsieh, Chiang Nan, Wang Lai

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: Very high. Been lookin’ forward to this one for a while.

threehalfstar


Kidnap opens by stating that it is a work of fiction, and that any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental. But this is not the case at all. The film is based on a series of crimes that occurred in Hong Kong between 1959-1962, and came to be collectively known as “The Strange Case of the Three Wolves.” The general points of this true story make up the framework of Kidnap (and its 1989 remake Sentenced to Death — one of the earliest Category III Hong Kong films), so I imagine the disclaimer is merely there to allow the filmmakers to embellish certain elements to make a complete and satisfying film tragedy.

Lo Lieh plays Lung Wei, a soldier struggling to get by as a gas station attendant. He’s sick of his place in life and the constant humiliation from his boss and others. His friends are in similar situations. Chao Hai-Chuan (Fan Mei-Sheng) is a make-up artist for the film industry, but it doesn’t pay enough to cover all of his family’s bills so he has a second job doing make-up at a strip club. He becomes known as Hair-Sticking Chao because he is often asked to glue pubic hair onto the girls. Niu Ta Keng (Tung Lam) is a truck driver, but he can’t hold down a job because of his volatile temper. Finally, Tong Hsiao-Chiang (Lam Wai-Tiu) is a gambling addict who is in deep debt, with no way out in sight. No word on what he does for a living, but I got the impression that gambling was pretty much all he did.

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Curse of Evil (1982)

curseofevil_1Curse of Evil [邪咒] (1982)

Starring Tai Liang-Chun, Ngaai Fei, Lily Li Li-Li, Lau Nga-Lai, Yau Chui-Ling, Eric Chan Ga-Kei, Wang Lai, Leung Tin, Angelina Lo Yuen-Yen, Wong Ching-Ho, Lau Siu-Kwan, Jason Pai Piao

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: The poster is great and I love Kuei Chih-Hung, so I have high hopes.

twostar


There is a lot to like about Curse of Evil and its twisted family dynamic and ultra-gooey FX work. Unfortunately, the film is pretty hard to penetrate as the story is muddled and the characters are hard to keep track of. For instance there are a couple of pairs of siblings, but they both dress in the same clothes. I wasn’t really familiar with most of the actresses either, so as much as I feel dumb to say it, they all kinda ran together. But honestly, the writing of the individual characters isn’t strong enough to distinguish them from one another, so that’s really the main concern.

The story is one that requires an in-depth explanation of the past to make sense, and since this one’s only 78 minutes long, that means Curse of Evil opens with a big ol’ info dump. There was once a wealthy family, the House of Shi, but tragedy struck and bandits killed 13 members of the family. Their bodies were thrown into the mansion’s dry well and ever since then the remaining family members (only a mother and her infant son) have been cursed by the angered Dragon King. We pick up the film 20 years later, as Madam Shi is celebrating her 50th birthday. But, y’know there’s that Dragon King curse, so her son, now 20 years old, dies, along with his wife. This leaves their two daughters to be raised by Madam Shi. At this point the film jumps another 15 years, when the daughters are about 20-ish. Phew.

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Back Alley Princess (1973)

BackAlleyPrincess+1973-4-bBack Alley Princess [馬路小英雄] (1973)

Starring Polly Kuan, Samuel Hui Koon-Kit, Lau Wing, Angela Mao, Lee Kwan, Tien Feng, Wang Lai, Tong Ching, Carter Wong, Wu Jia-Xiang, Han Ying-Chieh, Fung Ngai, Huang Chung-Hsin

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Hmm?

onehalfstar


Back Alley Princess feels like one of those movies that was popular in its day, but it’s hard for a modern viewer to see exactly why. It’s an odd mix of a light comedic tone, heavy drama involving a prostitution ring, and some martial arts action… none of which are of quality enough to stand on their own. Ordinarily a multi-genre film like this might have a story that strings it all together, but in the case of Back Alley Princess that didn’t seem to be too high of a priority (which is somewhat odd, because Lo Wei generally packs a lot of story twists and turns into his scripts).

What Back Alley Princess is full off is a whole lot of working-class strife. Chili Boy (Polly Kuan) — AKA Hot Pepper Kid in some translations — and Embroidered Pillow (Samuel Hui) are a team of con-men doing whatever they can to make a few bucks and survive on the streets of Hong Kong. This leads them to meet up with the martial arts troupe of Teacher Chiang (Tien Feng), who agrees to join up with Chili and Embroidered Pillow in the interest of making more money. But this isn’t really the foundation of a story, as the film’s main concern is seemingly to endear Chili Boy to the audience so Lo Wei can drive the point home how important family and community are to the individual.

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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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The Golden Sword (1969)

The Golden Sword [龍門金劍] (1969)

Starring Kao Yuen, Cheng Pei Pei, Wang Lai, Kao Pao-Shu, Lo Wei, Wong Chung-Shun, Yeung Chi Hing, Alice Au Yin-Ching, Lee Pang-Fei, Goo Man-Chung, Ng Wai, Lee Kwan, Go Ming, Law Hon, Ku Feng, James Tin Jun

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Optimistic. Lo Wei usually delivers something entertaining and different with his films.


I talk a lot about Chang Cheh’s prolific output of films, but Lo Wei was no slouch himself. The Golden Sword was Lo Wei’s third film released in 1969, and it is, at least for me, by far his best. Where Dragon Swamp and Raw Courage were both fun in their own ways, they feel like films that are just shy of realizing their true potential. The Golden Sword is Lo Wei finally putting all the pieces together to form a fun and vigorous wuxia film; I always knew he had it in him.

Two masked riders arrive at the Golden Sword Lodge and give the man of the house, played by Lo Wei, a small box. Upon seeing it, he gets on one of their horses and rides off into the night. Seven years and one awesome credits sequence later, the new chief of the clan is being appointed as they’ve all pretty much given up on finding Lo Wei. All except for his son, played by Kao Yuen, who decides he’ll venture out on his own to search for his lost father. Having scoured all the obvious places and local lands, Kao Yuen continues his quest in a snowy, mountainous region rarely seen in Shaw Brothers films, and here he meets Cheng Pei Pei disguised as a beggar. The fun begins here and really doesn’t let up until the standard Shaw Brothers “THE END” comes on-screen.

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