Winner Takes All! (1977)

Winner Takes All! [面懵心精] (1977)
AKA 泥鰍吃猛龍

Starring Richard Ng, Lok Shut, Rosalind Chan Yee-Hing, Tang Ching, Dean Shek Tin, Max Lee Chiu-Chun, To Siu-Ming, Addy Sung Gam-Loi, Lee Hoi-Sang, Ho Pak-Kwong, Karl Maka, Guy Lai Ying-Chau, Hon Kwok-Choi, Sammo Hung, Yue Tau-Wan, Peter Chan Lung, Hsiao Ho

Directed by Karl Maka

Expectations: Excited, but I don’t really know what to expect.


Winner Takes All! was independently produced, but it is the final film of 1977 that I’m covering as part of my chronological Shaw Brothers series. I chose to review it because it was widely successful in 1977, reaching #2 at the Hong Kong Box Office, incorporating comedy and kung fu in a way that would soon sweep the Hong Kong industry with the 1978 release of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. Upon watching Winner Takes All!, though, I realized that its place in Hong Kong cinema history is far greater than simply “doing well at the box office,” as it represents another step in the dominance of Cantonese cinema in the wake of Michael Hui’s successes. In the three years prior to this (1974–1976), a Michael Hui-directed movie — all starring himself and his brothers — dominated the top spot of the Hong Kong box office. Hui would again top the charts in 1978 with The Contract, but he did not release a film in 1977.

Richard Ng is one of Hong Kong’s most famous and recognizable comedians. I’ve seen him in so many movies, it almost feels like he’s always been around. He apparently started on the Hui Brothers TV show in the early ’70s, and received his first major film role in Michael Hui’s 1976 smash-hit The Private Eyes. 1977 was the year Ng was cemented into Hong Kong cinema history, though, as he starred in both the #1 film (John Woo’s The Pilferer’s Progress AKA Money Crazy) and the #2 film, Karl Maka’s Winner Takes All. Like this film, all of Michael Hui’s films were filmed in Cantonese, and along with Chor Yuen’s mega-hits The House of 72 Tenants (1973) and Hong Kong 73 (1974), they were the impetus for the industry to shift towards the Cantonese language. In addition, Hui’s directorial debut, 1974’s Games Gamblers Play, essentially saved Golden Harvest from bankruptcy and paved the way for comedy’s rise as a dominant genre in Hong Kong cinema, both coupled with kung fu and not.

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Hex After Hex (1982)

HexAfterHex_1Hex After Hex [邪完再邪] (1982)

Starring Lo Meng, Nancy Lau Nam-Kai, Lau Dan, Cheng Siu-Ping, Lo Yuen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lily Chan Lee-Lee, Lau Siu-Kwan, Law Ho-Kai, Yue Tau-Wan, Chow Kin-Ping, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Hex After Hex is the final film of the Hex trilogy (which isn’t actually a trilogy), and it’s surprisingly related in a very small way to the previous film in the series, Hex vs. Witchcraft. Like that film, Hex After Hex is more comedy than horror, but here the ratios have been further adjusted so that it’s almost all comedy for most of the movie. A lot of this comedy comes by way of ghost shenanigans, but there’s also a heavy dose of strange and wacky natural occurrences — for instance: Lo Meng lotioning up his nipples, or saving his blow-up doll from a building’s demolition. There’s so many quick little moments like this that I’ll need another run through the film to really appreciate them.

As you might expect in a film featuring such madcap energy, the story in Hex After Hex doesn’t matter much (to the viewers or the filmmakers). The film opens with Ma Su (Lo Meng), the muscular neighbor of the main character in Hex vs. Witchcraft, finding the same bag of golden jewelry that kicked off the supernatural hijinks in that film. Once again, the bag also contains the spiritual tablet of Liu Ah Cui, but this time Ma Su flatly refuses to marry the spirit. He has no interest in marrying a ghost and money does not persuade him. Not to be thrown out in the cold, the spirit of Liu Ah Cui decides to take over the body of a different neighbor’s girlfriend, Yeung Suk Yi (Nancy Lau Nam-Kai), and seduce Ma Su. It works, and they spend a good portion of the film moving from one problem to the next, the ghost graciously getting them out of harm’s way as only she can. A series of hijinks with a flimsy plot isn’t such a bad thing because it’s all fun, but I have to admit that without any sense of purpose it does get a little tiresome after a while.

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Hex (1980)

Hex+1980-2-bHex [] (1980)

Starring Tanny Tien Ni, Wong Yung, Chan Si-Gaai, Shum Lo, Lee Sau-Kei, Hon Gwok-Choi, Yue Tau-Wan, Chan Lap-Ban, Lau Yat-Fan, Wong Ching-Ho, Yau Chui-Ling, Wong Siu-Ming

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: High.

twohalfstar


Hong Kong horror films hold a special place in my heart, so it was with uncontainable glee that I started Kuei Chih-Hung’s Hex. But there were two flaws in my basic knowledge of the film that hampered my enjoyment a bit. First, I had assumed it was a black magic film set in the modern era, and second, Hex is way more laid back and reserved compared to some of Kuei’s other films (notably Bewitched and The Boxer’s Omen). Knowing these things would have helped get me into the right frame of mind for what is ultimately a Hong Kong version of the French classic Diabolique with a bunch of ghost hauntings and the parade of variously colored bodily fluids normally associated with the Hong Kong horror genre.

The film opens with a first-person camera introducing us to the setting of our film: a mansion owned by the illustrious Chan family. The narrator explains that when hard times fell on the Chans, they were forced to arrange a marriage for their daughter Chan Sau Ying (Tanny Tien Ni). Her new husband, Yeung Chun Yu (Wong Yung), comes to live at the family mansion, but prosperity does not follow. Soon they are down to one servant, and the marriage between Chan and Yeung is equally threadbare. They are locked into it, though, due to the marriage being drawn up under the feudal laws which do not allow for divorce. Chan has become horribly ill, and Yeung takes out all of his aggression on Chan and their servant. He’s an incredibly violent dickhead of a character, which always gets me excited for the tables to turn so that he can get his comeuppance.

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