Project A (1983)

projecta_9Project A [A計劃] (1983)
AKA Super Fighter, Pirate Patrol, Mark of the Dragon

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Wong Man-Ying, Dick Wei, Tai Bo, Mars, Kwan Hoi-San, Lau Hak-Suen, Wong Wai, Lee Hoi-Sang, Hon Yee-Sang

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Super high. I haven’t seen this in forever, and I remember it as one of my favorites.

threehalfstar


While there were a few great Jackie Chan movies before Project A, this film marks the beginning of the true “Jackie Chan-style” Jackie Chan movies. Jackie’s movies are known for featuring incredible stunts & amazing fight choreography tied together with a fun, comedic bow, but none of the films prior to Project A truly exhibit this in the way that later films have made us expect it from him. So, even if it was just an OK movie, Project A would be notable. But it’s not “just OK,” it’s a load of fun with some of the most impressive stunts you’ll ever see.

It’s the early 1900s or so, and pirates are a constant threat off the coast of Hong Kong. The coast guard has been unable to capture the pirates, and their efforts have cost the police force much of their budget. On the eve of the coast guard’s full-scale assault on the pirates, the rapscallions blow up their ships. Somehow these wretched pirates must be stopped! It’s a fun premise, and it allows Jackie, Sammo and Yuen Biao tons of opportunities to shine. The setting is unique and makes the film feel fresh and very different from other Hong Kong films.

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Duel for Gold (1971)

duelforgold_1Duel for Gold [火併] (1971)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Wang Ping, Chin Han, Lo Lieh, Richard Chan Chun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lee Pang-Fei, Chung Wa, Tong Tin-Hei, Yeung Chak-Lam, Wong Wai, Law Hon, Lee Siu-Chung, Lau Kwan, Unicorn Chan, Simon Chui Yee-Ang

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: I’m so excited.

threehalfstar


In his first film with the Shaw Brothers, director Chor Yuen emerges immediately as a new force in the genre, painting visual pictures and telling a thrilling story unlike anything seen yet in the Shaw Brothers catalog. Duel for Gold was by no means his first film (he had already made 67 films since starting directing in 1957), and his experience behind the camera elevates this wuxia heist yarn to excellent heights. It is held back by some average choreography throughout a good portion of the film, but you can’t win them all. I especially look forward to his next film, The Killer, which features Yuen Woo-Ping’s first choreography work for the Shaw Brothers (working alongside his brother Yuen Cheung-Yan, already a Shaw Brothers choreographer).

But before we get too deep into the fights, Duel for Gold‘s story is equally important to its success. Written by the ever dependable Ni Kuang, Duel for Gold is exactly what it sounds like, a duel among thieves and the security force of the Fu Lai Security Bureau for 100,000 taels of gold. The film opens as the credits come on-screen over slow-motion shots of battling heroes. But the focus is not on these warriors, instead the camera is focused on an incidental item in the foreground: a barren tree branch; a broken, bloody gravestone; the swaying grass. In between these shots are a bunch of quick cuts of the battle’s aftermath, of the carnage wrought by expertly handled swords and greed. And then the voice of a narrator directly addresses the audience, telling us that we’re right to assume the film is about men dying for money, and that what we’re seeing is the ending to the tale, but to indulge him as he tells us the story of how we got there.

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The Crimson Charm (1971)

936full-the-crimson-charm-posterThe Crimson Charm [血符門] (1971)

Starring Chang Yi, Ivy Ling Po, Shih Szu, Fang Mian, James Nam Gung-Fan, Ku Feng, Wang Hsieh, James Tin Jun, Chow Siu-Loi, Unicorn Chan, Hung Lau, Wong Wai, Lee Ka-Ting, Wong Ching Ho

Directed by Huang Feng

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


The Crimson Charm starts out innocently enough. A father and daughter stop at an inn for the night and are enjoying a meal when a group of obviously bad individuals come looking for a different father and daughter who have done them wrong. They murder the father they’re looking for and then the leader tries to rape the daughter, and that’s when our first father/daughter duo step in. They can’t stand to see such villainy, and their altercation results in the death of the bandit leader who’s also the son of the chief of the Crimson Charm Gang. The Crimson Charm Chief vows to take revenge and murder the entire Chung Chow Sword School. Seems a bit extreme, but then that’s just how the Crimson Charm Gang rolls. But when the gang comes to take that revenge, they aren’t as thorough as they set out to be. They leave three survivors, and those survivors vow to take revenge on the Crimson Charm gang!

It might sound a little convoluted but it never feels that way during the movie, and for a wuxia film this is one of the more direct plots. The Crimson Charm is very much a transitional film between the complex early wuxias and the simple, paper-thin plots of later kung fu films, and it plays rather well as a combo of both. The film has a nice flow to it, naturally taking us through the chain of revenge before dropping us into the main struggle between the survivors of the massacre and the Crimson Charm Gang.

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Death Valley (1968)

Death Valley [斷魂谷] (1968)

Starring Yueh Hua, Angela Yu Chien, Chen Hung Lieh, Lo Wei, Wong Wai, Chiu Hung, Lee Kwan, Han Ying Chieh, Ng Wai, Cheung Hei, Wong Ching Ho, Lee Sau Kei

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate, I enjoyed the previous Lo Wei film I watched The Black Butterfly.


This one kind of snuck up on me. My thoughts about it kept evolving as I watched, starting at “This is OK,” then moving on to “This is pretty good,” until finally settling on “Hey, this is coming around nicely. Well done, Lo Wei!” And it’s mostly due to the well-developed, enjoyable characters that populate the film. I don’t say that very often with these Shaw Brothers movies and in the grand scheme of things the two main swordsmen characters aren’t very deep, but they are both intriguing and fun to follow around as they move through the adventure. That’s about all you can ask from a genre film character and these two guys (and a whole host of fun supporting characters) really brighten up what is otherwise a rather average movie.

At the plot level, Death Valley is another in a long string of mistaken identity films, with one righteous hero being mistook for one stone-faced bandit and vice versa. The catch here is that prior to the mistaken identity hijinks, the two characters meet and strike up a brotherly friendship. Suddenly as the two men are thrown into situations where they are thought to be the other, they learn about who the other man is and weigh this information against what they experienced firsthand. It makes the proceedings much more interesting than they have a right to be and how well it all works is a credit to the strength of Lo Wei’s storytelling abilities, both behind the camera and with the pen.

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