Archive for January, 2012

Review: Blood Brothers (1973)

Posted in Chang Cheh, Chen Kuan-Tai, David Chiang, Ti Lung with tags , , on January 30, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Kuan Tai Chen, Ti Lung, David Chaing, Ching Li

Fight Choreography by Liu Chia-Liang, Tang Chia

Directed by Chang Cheh

Chang Cheh is widely considered the “Godfather of Hong Kong Cinema” and for a good reason. He’s had over 100 films within the Shaw Brothers stable, and helped to create the Shaw Brothers “brand”, making some of the most recognized old school kung fu films out there, but few costumed epics are as dark and unforgiving as Blood Brothers.

David Chiang and Kuan Tai Chen star as Chang Wen Hsiang and Huang Chang respectively, two thieves during the Ching dynasty who try to rob the wrong man in Ma Hsin I (Ti Lung). Ma’s kung fu turns out to be far better than they expected and so they decide to team up with Ma to defeat some of the other bandit gangs and bring them under their banner, or more to the point, Ma’s. The seeds of evil are planted as Ma begins to covet Huang’s wife Mi Lan (Ching Li) who also falls in love with Ma. Ma decides to take the officer’s exam to gain more power as an official, and has Chang and Huang watch over the gang until he calls for them. Some time later finds Chang and Huang being called to take the gang to Ma, who will now make the soldiers for his army. Ma still covets Huang’s wife, without Huang noticing, and Ma hatches a plan so that he and Mi Lan can be together forever with unforeseen and tragic consequences…

One note: This is one downer of a film, a greek tragedy in many respects. It’s dark and only gets darker, mainly due to the performances of the leads. Ti Lung, in one if his few villain roles, really does a fantastic job as Ma Hsin I, an ambitious man who wants to climb higher and higher, and isn’t afraid to step on his friends to do so. He never sees himself as a villain, but as a man who believes that he is deserving of anything he tries to attain. Kuan Tai Chen probably had the easiest role as happily ignorant Huang Chang, a fun loving man who doesn’t truly understand the depths of his wife’s and Ma’s betrayal of him until it is far, far too late. David Chaing also gives one of his best performances as his cousin and friend, and the one who figures out what is going on and is too late to stop it. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders as the film progresses, and his burden is painted all over Chaing’s face in every scene.

The genius of the film rests with the fact that we know early on Ma’s ambitions in regards to Mi Lan, but the suspense is in waiting for the dominoes to fall as Chang and Huang realize what’s been happening, and what their response will be to their betrayals. Chang Cheh’s cinematography shines in freeze frames and quick zooms that never takes us away from the action. The fight choreography is good but not great. The fights are mostly weapon fights, but what sells them are the actors. Of all of them Kuan Tai Chen has the best fights, particularly toward the end. The final fight of the film is also good but better fight choreography can be found in other films, but the acting during the final fight is exceptional. both David Chiang and Ti Lung sell those scenes as two men who know that no matter what happens the endgame of the fight will remain the same, but it doesn’t matter.

Blood Brothers is a look into a bond between men that is destroyed by one brother’s envy. One of Chang Cheh’s best.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The fights are good and carry the story along. The weapon scenes are done well, as are the giant battles between any of the main stars and the cannon fodder.

STUNTWORK: (8) Also good work by all involved. The giant battles really show the dedication of these guys to making it all look good. Especially scenes where they roll down hills, and they do this a few times.

STAR POWER: (10) David Chaing, Ti Lung and Kuan Tai Chen reached new heights of stardom after this film, and cemented their place as Shaw Brothers stars.

FINAL GRADE: (9) Blood Brothers is a film that features good fights, but the operatic story and acting are what make this movie a martial arts classic.

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Review: Gallants (2010)

Posted in Chen Kuan-Tai, Lo Meng (Turbo Law), Sui-Lung Leung, Wai-Man Chan with tags , on January 26, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Siu-Lung Leung, Kuan Tai Chen, Teddy Robin Kwan, You-Nam Wong, J.J Jia, Wai-Man Chan, Jin Auyeung, Lo Meng (Turbo Law)

Fight Choreography by Yuen Tak

Directed by Kwok Chi-kin, Clement Sze-kit Cheng

After watching the dreadful Choy Lee Fut film, I began wondering what happened to Hong Kong martial arts cinema. With the exception of Donnie Yen it appears that kung-fu films that aren’t giant special effects wire harness spectaculars no longer exist in China. Yes, martial arts films are flourishing in other countries, but Chinese cinema, once known for the Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan seems to have left films of that style behind. And here we have a film that reminds us of what kung-fu films used to be, and may never be again…

Gallants begins as the narrator introduces us to Cheung (You-Nam Wong) a clumsy office drone working for a real estate agency who has no prospects whatsoever. He’s unmotivated, no self-esteem, hated by everyone, and did I mention clumsy? After spilling coffee on his boss and being verbally abused by him Cheung is sent to settle a property dispute in a small village. Little does he know that the tea house in question is owned by two martial arts pupils Dragon (Kuan Tai Chen) and Tiger (Siu-Lung Leung) who converted their old dojo into a tea house while waiting for their Master Law (Kwan) to wake up from his thirty year coma. Rival Master Pong, who owns a modern day martial arts training facility, wants control of the dojo to expand his school, and one of his students, Mang (Auyeung) was an old childhood rival of Cheung. Things get even more complicated when Master Law awakens from his coma and, not realizing how much time has passed, mistakes Cheung for one of his pupils, and begins to train him and his real former students kung fu, so that they may enter a martial arts contest to win glory for the school, but it won’t be as easy as that…

Much of the film centers on the two old students, played to perfection by old Kung-Fu film stalwarts Siu-Lung Leung (Kung Fu Hustle, 10 Tigers of Shaolin) and Kuan Tai Chen (5 Deadly Venoms, Blood Brothers). They play the old men as still young inside, but at the point where age has taken much of their skills away, but they can still kick a lot of ass and do, but the crux of their characters is the devotion they show Master Law, by remaining with him for all of these years as opposed to going out and getting lives of their own.  Teddy Robin Kwan is great as Master Law, a master whom, despite his penchant for wooing women and remembering what time period he’s living in, still has the pulse of his students and has one last lesson to teach them about life as a kung-fu fighter. Lo Meng (5 Deadly Venoms, The Kid with the Golden Arm) really brings out the old school flavor as Jade Kirin, the main thug of the film. You’ll recognize his boss Master Pang (Wai-Man Chan, who played Tiger in Project A2). All of the old men are veterans of the Shaw Brothers and Jackie Chan-era HK films, and for good reason. The scenes involving Cheung aren’t that interesting, as he becomes a better person, but we never really see how, nor are we told enough about his backstory. He’s merely a go-between for the audience into this world where old school kung-fu fights never really disappeared.

The fights are great, even better when you remember that the men fighting are old guys in their sixties and seventies. My favorite fight is the second fight between Tiger and Jade Kirin. The fight choreography is fantastic as both men show speed and power despite their ages. The group fights that Dragon gets into are also well done, and all of them evoke a time and fight choreography that has been given over to the Tony Jaa’s of the world.

So what does Gallants really say about this? Perhaps it’s saying that the time period has finally passed from China, just like westerns have for the States. You’ll see an occasional throwback film like Gallants, but as these men get older and pass away so too does those kinds of films. The baton has been picked up by other countries, but never again will an age like that come to China, which makes a film like Gallants all the more special.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Every fight was well done, and it was great to see such old kung fu veteran actors still able to pull the moves off. Evocative of both Jackie Chan fight choreography and that of the Shaw Brothers films.

STUNTWORK: (7) There aren’t too many stunts and they aren’t crazy ones, but what was there was done well.

STAR POWER: (9) Their stars may have faded, but these old veterans are still special to those of us who watch their films!

FINAL GRADE: (10) A great but bittersweet film that shows us what Hong Kong cinema used to be and may never be again, and gives us great performances across the board.

Review: The Avenging Eagle (1978)

Posted in Alexander Fu Sheng, Dick Wei, Ti Lung, Wang Lung Wei with tags , , on January 23, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Wang Lung, Dick Wei, Ku Feng

Fight Choreography by Tang Chia and Huang Pei-Chi

Directed By Sun Chung

From the house of Shaw Brothers comes another revenge martial arts film, but with a twist midway through the film that is telegraphed, but no less engaging because of its portent. Two Shaw Brother stalwarts head up yet another great cast…

Ti Lung plays Chik Ming Sing, a member of the Iron Boat Gang and one of their best fighters, part of a group known as the 13 Eagles. He was raised to be an assassin since he was a young orphan taken in by Yoh Xi Hung (Ku Feng), a brutal man who craves more power and uses his assassins to get it. When we meet Chik he is running from the other assassins, and meets a fellow on the road named Homeless (Fu Sheng) who helps him fight off several of the assassins trying to kill him, and in between fights we are told in flashback why they are hunting Chik and why Chik ran away, wanting to change his life. Homeless is trying to kill Yoh Xi Hung for reasons that are revealed toward the end of the film. Chik and Homeless band together to end the Iron Boat Gang once and for all, but Homeless hides a secret that may pit both men against each other once Yoh is defeated…

Operatic. That is the best way to describe this film. This is something that almost could’ve been done as a stage play. The story does a good job of parsing out information regularly but not intrusively, as each time they go into a flashback I found myself more and more interested in what really happened to Chik, and how Homeless plays into the greater scheme of things. It all makes the final fight all the more engrossing as the “twist” is made known to Chik, and while the audience already knows it, we wait in anticipation of what Chik will do when he finds out.

Ti Lung does an excellent job portraying the dark and tortured Chik Ming Sing, who wants to atone for his sins, but at the same time isn’t really interested in dying. This may be Ti Lung’s best acting performance, and he puts his all into the character. Alexander Fu Sheng is…well, in many respects the same kind of smartass character he plays so well, but even here he has a dark aspect that is missing from most of the characters he plays, adding to the overall darkness of the film. Wang Lung is a badass as always, but doesn’t really get much to do here since he’s really main Flunkie number 1 in this flick.

The fights take on the operatic nature of the story, as there is mostly weapon fighting that are very dramatic in execution. The first fight involving Chik and Homeless versus a group of Eagles was well staged, but had interesting moments where the camera went into a freeze frame. I’m not sure what the purpose of it was, and I never understood what effect they were looking to achieve, but it happens only a few times in the film and doesn’t really deter any of the fights. The second fight as the 13 Eagles attack Yu Fai town is epic in nature and well staged as the fight carries across the entire town, and the camerawork is flawless and not once was I confused by where everyone was at. The highlight of this scene is a fantastic fight between Ti Lung and his 3 section staff versus a spear fighter. The choreography is some of the best I’ve seen using those weapons. I love Dick Wei, but I loved the way he got taken down by Fu Sheng even more. It was so simple and quick I laughed out loud when it happened.  All of the fights are good, but more because of what they mean to move the story along, which is the main difference between many Hollywood martial arts films and Shaw Brothers films. The fights are part of the story, and move the story along, not hindering it, or stopping the proceeding to “see a fight scene”. This film marries story and fighting as well as any SB film has.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) The fights are incredibly well done and feature a myriad of weapons that don’t get a lot of play in martial arts films. It all ties into the overall tone of the film perfectly. Ti Lung and Alexander Fu Sheng really shine in all of their fights.

STUNTWORK: (8) The stunt work rocked in this film. The stuntmen didn’t overact or react too badly, and really acted their death scenes with aplomb (much like a stage play). There wasn’t too many falls, but the ones that were there were executed well.

STAR POWER: (10) Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Ku Feng, with smaller parts by Dick Wei and Wang Lung? All at the height of their popularity during the Shaw Brothers era.

FINAL GRADE: (9) A great revenge story featuring the best performance of Ti Lung’s career, and Alexander Fu Sheng gets to show he can act too. Wall to Wall fights that will have you on the edge of your seat. Required viewing.

 

Review: Black Dynamite (2010)

Posted in Michael Jai White, Roger Yuan, Ron Yuan with tags , , on January 11, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Tommy Davison, Arsenio Hall, Phil Morris, Roger Yuan and James McManus

Fight Choreography by Ron and Roger Yuan

Directed by Scott Sanders

“ Who the HELL is interruptin’ my Kung Fu?”

“Donuts don’t wear alligator shoes.”

“First lady, I’m sorry I pimp-slapped you into that china cabinet.”

There is so many quotable lines I could spend the entire review listing them. Suffice to say that Black Dynamite, the brain child of Michael Jai White, was royally screwed by Sony Pictures Classics, which picked up the film after it built up buzz on the festival circuit. The biggest crime was perpetrated by giving this film a limited released before kicking straight to video, but thanks to the Cartoon Network not all is lost…

Black Dynamite kicks off with his brother Tommy (speaking with a Shakespearean stage voice) getting killed during a drug buy as he is outed as being an informant. Black Dynamite (MJW) finds out, and vows to get his revenge on all those involved in his death. He gets his best friend, the always rhyming Bullhorn (Minns) and a local pimp named Cream Corn (Davison) to help him on a crusade that begins with revenge but then becomes a race against time to stop Fiendish Dr. Wu (Yuan) from hatching his scheme to…and I’ll leave it at that. I won’t spoil the fun surprises that await you, and there are some crazy surprises as the film goes to 10 and then dials up the insanity to a 12.

The story is absolutely crazy, going from what seems like a simple street revenge story to something completely insane, but how it gets to that point is perfectly believable as the story builds to a point that anything less would’ve been disappointing. The dialog is fantastic, even as some of it calls for the actors to literally “read” the script. You’ll see what I mean. The pimps, bad guys and others are fantastically realized, with names such as Tasty Freeze, Chocolate Giddyup, Mo’ Bitches, and Chicago Wind. Don’t forget Captain Kangaroo pimp. I can’t believe I just said that.

The heart of the film rests with the direction and actors. Scott Sanders does a masterful job of realizing the script, which is a love letter to blaxploitation films, which in the hands of a lazier director would be simply an Airplane-style spoof. Sanders set out to make a film that showed all of the low budget mistakes that made those films special. The microphone seen just above the actors head, terrible acting (in many blaxploitation films they literally had to get people off the street to act, and it shows) Perhaps the best written scene in the film is when Black Dynamite and his friends figure out the villain’s plans on a chalkboard at a pancake house.The film grain, edits, sets, costumes and music are so authentically 70’s that if you showed this film to someone that didn’t know any better they would think this were an actual 70‘s blaxploitation film.

Michael Jai White is perfect as Black Dynamite, a complete badass who romances the ladies when he isn’t kicking ass, he sells it the entire way, no matter how ridiculous things get. He yells his kiai like Jim Kelly does when he fights. Byron Minns does a fantastic Dolemite impersonation, and Roger Yuan plays an over the top Fiendish Dr. Wu, and he would’ve been perfect in a James Bond film. You can tell everyone had a blast playing their characters, especially Tommy Davidson as Cream Corn, and James McManus as…well, you’ll see who he is, and he plays his character perfectly in the most insane moment of the film.

The fights are fantastically done. They reflect the time period, but even though they should normally look bad like a Dolemite film, well this is MJW and that ain’t happening, ya dig? MJW’s fight scenes are all well done, from the first fight in his home to his battle versus Dr. Wu and then the final fight that has to be seen to be believed. They reflect the 70’s style of fight choreography and Ron and Roger Yuan pull it off perfectly. Each fight escalates perfectly from the fight that came before.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The fight choreography fits perfectly with the time period and are both cheesy and complex at the same time. Ron and Roger Yuan do a great job of pulling it off and keeping both cheesy and exciting. And yes, in this world Abraham Lincoln knew Kung-Fu.

STUNTWORK: (9) The stuntmen overreact when they are hit or shot, and take unrealistic spills for the hits they are given. In other words, they were note perfect with the time period. It can sometimes take more effort to overact these kinds of scenes than you may think.

STAR POWER: (9) MJW, Tommy Davison, Arsenio Hall, Roger Yuan and Nicole Sullivan all do a great job, but this is MJW’s film through and through.

FINAL GRADE: (9) Black Dynamite is a fantastic ode to 70’s blaxpoitation films that celebrates what made those films fun and empowering at the same time. A terrific film you’ll be quoting long after you watch it. Can you dig it?

Review: Forced Vengeance (1982)

Posted in Chuck Norris, Richard Norton with tags , on January 2, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Chuck Norris

Fight Choreography by Aaron Norris

Directed by James Fargo

Chuck Norris stars as Josh Randall, a military vet now working for Sam Paschal, a Jewish casino owner in Hong Kong. Josh does work getting folks who owe Sam money to pay up. In most other films a character like this would be the villain, but here he’s the good guy. He has a smoking hot girlfriend Claire, who lives with him on a boat, and life seems to be good. And then once you remember this is a Chuck Norris film called Forced Vengeance, you just wait for things to head south, and they do really fast as Sam’s son David tries to make a deal to merge the casino with a local casino baron and member of a secret organization called Osiris. When Sam refuses, of course he and his son are killed, and Randall finds he has to protect the only other owner, Sam’s daughter Joy. Randall and Joy, along with Claire find themselves on the run until an ambush causes Randall to go on the attack, and now he’ll have to kill his way to the leader of Osiris to stop them once and for all.

Forced Vengeance plods along at the beginning until Sam and David are killed, then the film moves faster, but you’ll have to deal with bad acting until them. Chuck is…well, Chuck, and he’s not a good actor but he has a screen persona that works well in this. The women are there mostly for eye candy, and work well for that, but they don’t anything else but run around with Chuck bra-less and scream a lot. The villains are cookie cutter and the steps they take to kill Joy and Randall doesn’t seem to match with their ambitions.

The fight choreography is not too imaginative, and has no flow or any real complexity. Aaron Norris keeps things simple, and even the best fight toward the end between Chuck and a nameless thug is pedestrian at best. I take that back. The best fight is a fight we never really see as Chuck fights a guy that we only see as their silhouettes near a neon sign. Most American fight choreography of the early 80’s were like that, but there are still ways it could’ve been done better. Little did anyone in the United States know that at the time Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung were redefining what fight choreography was and could be.

Forced Vengeance is a mediocre film that doesn’t seem to aspire to be anything more. It isn’t even a good showcase for Chuck Norris’ skills.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (3) Barely passable, but then again I’ve never been a fan of Aaron Norris’ fight choreography.

STUNTWORK: (5) The stuntmen don’t really have to do much here. They take a few spills, but not much more than that. Their stuntwork matches the film’s ambition.

STAR POWER: (7) Chuck Norris, and that’s it. Still potent, however. It must be the moustache. Richard Norton has a small role, but no martial arts.

FINAL GRADE: (5) Forced Vengeance is an average film that has no ambition except to be a by the numbers action film with Chuck Norris as the star. Chuck is the only thing quality about this film.