Rivals of Kung Fu @ ShawBrothersUniverse.com!

Hey there, Emuls-a-fighters, my latest post for the official Shaw Brothers site went up a few days ago! I re-edited my old review for Wong Fung’s Wong Fei-Hung film, Rivals of Kung Fu! Check out the updated version here and enjoy!

And if you’re looking to watch Rivals of Kung Fu, you can find it digitally on iTunes, Amazon Prime and other major digital stores.

Challenge of the Masters (1976)

Challenge of the Masters [陸阿采與黃飛鴻] (1976)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Kong Yeung, Lau Kar-Leung, Lily Li Li-Li, Lau Kar-Wing, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Chiang Tao, Wong Yu, Fung Hak-On, Wilson Tong, Shut Chung-Tin, Cheng Kang-Yeh

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Expectations: High. I love this one.


Challenge of the Masters tells the story of a young, headstrong Wong Fei-Hung (Gordon Liu). His father, Wong Kei-Ying (Kong Yeung), refuses to teach him martial arts, but that doesn’t stop Fei-Hung from attempting to learn and cajole his father’s students into accepting him as one of their own. His father believes him to be too undisciplined and temperamental to be a true practitioner of the martial arts, and true to form Fei-Hung’s headstrong nature gets him into trouble often. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if they kept it within the walls of their home, but Fei-Hung refuses to listen to reason and sneaks into the town’s annual competition between kung fu schools.

Lau Kar-Leung slowly builds the character of Wong Fei-Hung during this early phase of the film, as well as building up the martial world that surrounds him. Fei-Hung’s father is a teacher, but he is largely uninterested in the petty struggles between schools. He spends his days at home, living a quiet life of kung fu and pleasantries. Kei-Ying’s teacher, Lu Ah Tsai (Chen Kuan-Tai) similarly lives quietly outside the hustle and bustle of the town’s martial politics. They keep to themselves, but for some reason — perhaps old grudges — Master Pang (Shut Chung-Tin) and his school seem determined to undermine and devastate the Wong school at every opportunity. Meanwhile, Officer Yuan (Lau Kar-Wing) has come to town looking for the fugitive Ho Fu (Lau Kar-Leung), who has recently just arrived to visit Pang’s school. These sub-plots are part of Wong’s story of growth, but they also exist outside of it, showing us that the martial world is complicated and ever-moving.

Continue reading Challenge of the Masters (1976) →

Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Starring Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile De France, Jim Broadbent, Karen Mok, Ewen Bremner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sammo Hung, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Daniel Wu, Kengo Watanabe, Maggie Q, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Rob Schneider, John Cleese, Will Forte, Kathy Bates, Robert Fyfe, Ian McNeice, David Ryall, Roger Hammond, Adam Godley

Directed by Frank Coraci

Expectations: Low, but it has Jackie and an Arnold cameo, so…


I haven’t seen the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days since I was a kid, but my initial feeling was that it didn’t seem like something that lends itself to Jackie Chan. But this new version isn’t so much a remake as it is a complete fantasy/steampunk re-imagining with Jackie Chan’s style in mind from the genesis. A new sub-plot focuses on bringing Jackie’s talents to the forefront, and while it definitely isn’t the most inspired story line, it’s more than enough to entertain and justify the stunts and fights we all look for in a Jackie movie. Fans of the novel and the classic, Oscar-winning film will likely be disappointed by this re-telling, but I feel like fans of Jackie might really enjoy themselves if they click with the film’s comedic style (which probably skews a bit younger than Jackie’s other US films). I know I did, and to be honest I was expecting a total stinker!

Passepartout (Jackie Chan) robs a precious Jade Buddha from the Bank of England and is in need of shelter. He finds it with Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), an inventor with a rich, creative mind for science. Fogg lacks much life experience “outside the lab,” though, rarely venturing from his home. One of the few places he frequents is the Royal Academy of Science, where he’s regularly laughed at and thought of as an eccentric thinker who lacks the practicality to be useful to the field of science. In a bid to rid themselves of him, the head of the academy, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), bets Fogg that his calculation of being able to circumnavigate the world in 80 days is incorrect. The stakes are immense: if Fogg wins, he becomes head of the academy, but if he loses he must give up inventing for the rest of his life. Oh, and a bunch of henchmen are in pursuit of Jackie and his Jade Buddha the whole time, further complicating their travels.

Continue reading Around the World in 80 Days (2004) →

Rivals of Kung Fu (1974)

RivalsofKungFu_1Rivals of Kung Fu [黃飛鴻義取丁財炮] (1974)

Starring Shut Chung-Tin, Sek Kin, Lily Li Li-Li, James Ma Chim-Si, Bruce Le, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan, Cheng Miu, Kam Kwok-Leung, Kong Ling, Chan Shen, Lin Wen-Wei, Tong Chung-San, Keung Hon

Directed by Wong Fung

Expectations: Low. The title sounds good, but I’m wary.

threestar


Rivals of Kung Fu feels like a film that could have been made a few years earlier, especially in terms of how it focuses on story over action. Not that Shaw films of 1974 don’t have good stories, but Rivals of Kung Fu exhibits a unique quality that sets itself apart from just about every Shaw film I’ve seen. It is a cause-and-effect story that slowly moves forward on small details and slight misunderstandings, telling of a rivalry between your favorite Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung (Shut Chung-Tin) and nearby school leader Master Shen Chiu Kung (Sek Kin). It’s very deliberate and purposeful, and I don’t think it’s something that will appeal to everyone. There’s no action whatsoever until a little over 30 minutes in, and after that extended sequence, there’s not a lot that would fall under the traditional umbrella of what we think of when we think “action movie.”

The key to understanding this difference lies in the film’s writer/director, Wong Fung. By this point in his career, Wong had been active in the Hong Kong film industry for nearly 25 years. Many of those years were spent as a screenwriter on over 100 films, with around 40 of these scripts for the original Wong Fei-Hung film series starring Kwan Tak-Hing. Wong Fung directed a few of the later films in that series, as well! I haven’t seen any of those films, but it’s probably not a dangerous stretch to say that Rivals of Kung Fu is probably a stylistic continuation of the series. Also of note: Sek Kin seems to have been the villain in most, if not all, of those Wong Fei-Hung films, so his presence as the villain in Rivals of Kung Fu here is significant.

Continue reading Rivals of Kung Fu (1974) →

The Master of Kung Fu (1973)

masterofkungfu_3The Master of Kung Fu [黃飛鴻] (1973)
AKA Death Kick, Shaolin Death Kicks, Wong Fei-Hung

Starring Ku Feng, Chen Ping, Lam Wai-Tiu, Hui Siu-Hung, Wang Hsieh, Wong Hon, Chan Shen, Law Hon, Shi Lu-Kai, Yuan Man-Tzu

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Wong Fei-Hung! I’m stoked.

threestar


Wong Fei-Hung films will always hold a special place in my heart. In the late ’90s, when I was first getting into Hong Kong films and digging past the US releases of Rumble in the Bronx and Supercop, my friends introduced me to Once Upon a Time in China and Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master films. To hold The Master of Kung Fu up to these lofty standards is not fair, so purge those memories of Jet Li’s Shadowless Kick and Jackie’s drunk antics and let’s get down to business. Although, I will say that if I were to compare them, The Master of Kung Fu is much more inline with Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China, to the point that it could have been an influence on the later film.

The Master of Kung Fu begins with a New Year’s celebration, complete with a lion dance competition. The students of Wong Fei-Hung (Ku Feng) are clearly the better team, but Wong’s cousin Mai Gen (Chan Shen) tricks them into a fight, making Wong’s students lose the dance and forcing Wong to apologize publicly to Mai Gen. This might seem like kind of a petty move on the part of Mai Gen, but he does have a purpose.

Continue reading The Master of Kung Fu (1973) →

Quick Takes: The Dentist, The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself, Rise of the Legend

dentist_1The Dentist (1996)
threestar

Starring Corbin Bernsen, Linda Hoffman, Michael Stadvec, Ken Foree, Tony Noakes, Molly Hagan, Patty Toy, Jan Hoag, Virginya Keehne, Earl Boen, Christa Sauls, Mark Ruffalo, Lise Colleen Simms
Directed by Brian Yuzna

If there’s one thing that the majority of people hate, it’s going to the dentist. Now imagine visiting a dentist who just found out his wife is cheating on him, yanking away the last straw holding together his sanity. Sounds fun, right? Dr. Alan Feinstone has had a busy morning, so by the time he arrives at his office it’s a few hours late and the waiting room is full of eager patients. But he’s a professional, he can pull it together and get the job done. Or not. Feinstone’s lapse in sanity makes him kind of wig out when he’s looking at people’s teeth, seeing their mouths as festering maws of disease and decay in need of major restorative work. Corbin Bernsen is wonderfully deranged as Dr. Feingold, and the FX work induces so much intense mouth trauma that I felt like I was actually in the dentist’s chair myself. Especially effective are the large-scale models for the mouth interior closeups, allowing us to see every bursting root and tooth drilling in stunning detail. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it’s well worth a horror fan’s time.

dentist_2The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself (1998)
AKA The Dentist 2: You Know the Drill

twohalfstar

Starring Corbin Bernsen, Jillian McWhirter, Jeff Doucette, Susanne Wright, Jim Antonio, Lee Dawson, Wendy Robie, Ralph P. Martin, Clint Howard, Linda Hoffman
Directed by Brian Yuzna

The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself has what is perhaps the greatest, most pun-tastic sequel title of all time. The film doesn’t quite live up to expectations this brings, but it’s still a great sequel to the original film. While it continues to present a similar “festering mouths of bad hygiene must be punished” structure, the sequel actually goes off in a different direction that changes the tone. In the original film, Dr. Feinstone was progressively more and more batshit crazy, but in the sequel he has moments where we can sense the man underneath the madness. There are shreds of regret and thoughtfulness that endear the character, making you actually kind of root for him in this one. It’s not as effective a horror movie, but it is a great sequel that explores what makes the character tick.

RiseOfTheLegendRise of the Legend [黃飛鴻之英雄有夢] (2014)
threehalfstar

Starring Eddie Peng Yu-Yan, Sammo Hung, Wang Luo-Dan, Boran Jing Bo-Ran, AngelaBaby, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Feng Jia-Yi, Byron Mann, Wong Cho-Lam, John Zhang Jin, Julius Brian Siswojo
Directed by Roy Chow Hin-Yeung

There’s a lot of modern filmmaking techniques (such as quite a bit of CG, some Matrix bullet time, etc.) that should make me not like Rise of the Legend, but damn if I didn’t enjoy the hell out of this movie. This is the first Wong Fei-Hung feature film since 1997’s Once Upon a Time in China and America, but you should really do your best to put Jet Li’s interpretation of the character out of your mind before beginning this film. This is not your standard Wong Fei-Hung, instead it’s like a prequel of sorts (in a different way than Iron Monkey), and this version of Wong Fei-Hung bears little resemblance to the folk hero we’ve come to know and love. Has Wong Fei-Hung ever decapitated a guy on-screen? Well… he does in Rise of the Legend (and it’s quite a stunning decap, too). The more recognizable character does eventually emerge in the third act, and with it my big goofy grin also came to the party. Even the Wong Fei-Hung song made an appearance! The action is fun to watch, with great choreography by Corey Yuen and some really incredible wirework in spots. It’s a very visually modern film, and parts of the fights are awkward because of this, but the choreography shines through to entertain handily. Eddie Peng is great as a young Wong Fei-Hung, and Sammo Hung is his stalwart, badass self as the villain. Tony Leung Ka-Fai (AKA Big Tony) also plays a wonderful Wong Kei-ying amidst a superbly well-cast film. If you dig Wong Fei-Hung, I say check it out!

Drunken Master (1978)

drunkenmaster_2Drunken Master [醉拳] (1978)
AKA Drunken Monkey in the Tiger’s Eyes, Drunk Monkey

Starring Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Hwang Jang-Lee, Lam Kau, Linda Lin Ying, Dean Shek Tin, Chiang Kam, Max Lee Chiu-Jun, Yuen Shun-Yi, Fung Ging-Man, Tino Wong Cheung, San Kuai, Hsu Hsia

Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping

Expectations: High.

fourstar


To set the scene: Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, Jackie Chan’s first big hit, was released in March of 1978 and sent a shock wave through the Hong Kong martial arts film world. It became one of the most successful Hong Kong films of all time, out-grossing even the mega-popular Bruce Lee films. A mere seven months later came Drunken Master, the second of Jackie’s collaborations with director/choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, and it did 2½ times as much as Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow did at the Hong Kong box office. Boom! Not only was Drunken Master a mega-hit, it solidified Jackie Chan as a major player in Hong Kong film, it made drunken-style kung fu “a thing” in movies, and it further expanded the kung fu comedy genre that Yuen and Jackie had officially kicked off with Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Drunken Master is one of the hallmarks of ’70s kung fu cinema, and with good reason. It’s amazing.

The one aspect that’s lacking in Drunken Master is the story, but it is a testament to the strength of every other aspect that even though this flaw is very noticeable, it never detracts from the experience. In many ways, it’s kind of a re-hash of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, starting with a mountaintop fight scene where Hwang Jang-Lee takes on a fighter and mercilessly kills him with his amazing leg work. But instead of being a negative point, the re-hash is actually more of a distillation. Drunken Master takes everything that worked perfectly in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and perfects it even more, leaving out all the rest. Which, honestly, is that film’s relatively average kung fu revenge plot. “Who needs it?” they must have said, and I agree.

Continue reading Drunken Master (1978) →

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