Archive for the Chaing Tao Category

Review: Five Shaolin Masters (1974)

Posted in Alexander Fu Sheng, Chaing Tao, Chang Cheh, Chi Kuan-Chun, David Chiang, Fung Hak-On, Gordon Liu, Lar Kar Wing, Lau Kar Leung, Leung Kar Yan (Beardy), Meng Fei, Ti Lung, Tsai Hung, Wang Lung Wei with tags , , on December 5, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring David Chaing, Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Wang Lung, Gordon Liu, Liang Chia-Jen (Beardy), Meng Fei, Chi Kuan-Chun, Fung Hark On, Chiang Tao, Tsai Hung

Fight Choreography by Lau Kar Leung and Lar Kar Wing

Directed by Chang Cheh

The name Shaw Brothers has long been synonymous with kung-fu films and for good reason. Run Run Shaw and his brother Runme forged martial arts films into what they are today, and really created the studio system for them in Hong Kong. For that alone we should all bow down and worship them…forever. Not all of their films were great, and many were not good in relation to the fact that they churned out what seemed like hundreds, but when they struck gold boy did they ever, and directors like King Hu and  Chang Cheh are many of the reasons why, and in 1974 Chang Cheh got together an all star cast in a film about Shaolin revenge that thrills with wall to wall action…

The story opens during the Qing Dynasty, where the Manchus attacked the Shaolin Temple and kills everyone there–except five of them, of course. The opening escape of the Shaolin is a thrilling way to showcase the cast while rolling the opening credits at the same time. We are introduced to: Hu Dedi (Chaing), the leader of the group, the young idiot Mao Chao-Hsing, Tsai Te-Chung (Lung), Fang Ta-Hung (Fei), and Li Shih-Kai (Kuan -Chun) as they are the last to escape the temple, and are pursued by a cast just as good as the heroes, led by Chiang Tao, the always dependable Fung Hark-On, Tsai Hung, Beardy, and Wang Lung. Now if that’s not an all-star group of villains I don’t know what is.

The Five Shaolin are good, but not good enough to defeat the Emperor’s men, and they go into hiding, meeting up with other Shaolin who have taken to hiding in an attempt to regroup and attack the Emperors’ men. This is tougher than it seems as some of the Shaolin and the local rebels have ideas of their own, and there is even a shaolin traitor who ratted them out to the Manchus, Ma Fu-Yi (Wang Lung). Hu Dedi tries to garner the support of Chief Gao, leader of a group of rebels, but Gao has a little bit of bitch in him, and decides he wants Hu to kill the local magistrate, who just happens to be the very badasses that the Shaolin ran away from in the first place. Compounding matters is Mao “I’m the young idiot of this film” Chao-Hsing, who in his bravado and yes, idiocy, gets captured but not before finding the Shaolin traitor. Hu Dedi and Chief Gao rescue him, but it costs Gao his life. Reunited with the other Five Shaolin Masters, they go to train, and plan to take on the Manchus in a fight to the finish…

Five Shaolin Masters has that familiar theme that runs through many Shaw Brothers film of brothers-at-arms and the bonds of fellowship even as Chang Cheh throws so many martial arts fight scenes into this film that it would satiate even the most ravenous kung-fu film buff. The acting runs the gamut, but each actor more or less plays their best character-type: David Chaing as the stoic hero, Ti Lung as another stoic hero, Chaing Tao as a villainous douchebag, and Fung Hark-On as the bad guy badass. The only problem I had was with Alexander Fu Sheng, who always looked as if he was too hot, and never really bothers to wear a shirt, which he seems to opt out of for any film he makes. C’mon Alex, those abs aren’t that great! His character irked me the entire film, which may have been the intent, as he acted like a knucklehead, and an overconfident knucklehead at that. I’m convinced Cheh knew this as whenever Fu Sheng fights he gets some children-sounding music that seems to say “ yes, he’s the comedy relief of this film”. Gordon Liu has a cameo, and looked like he stumbled on set from a different film, and they just decided to use him in this one.

The camera work is great, and captures the fights in all of their ShawScope glory, of which there is many. The slow parts aren’t very long, and the fights, from the opening to the end, escalate the complexity and astounding choreography perfectly. Lau Kar Leung was always one of better choreographers from the Shaw Brothers stable, and he shows why. The villains are damn tough, and the fights show this appropriately, and the choreography flows brilliantly so that at all times you know what each fighter is doing and more importantly why, rather than being a bunch of pretty movements. My favorite fight? The fight that begins to save Mao. Beardy really shows his stuff here, as does Wang Lung. The Final fight is–I have trouble choosing one over the other, so I won’t! The final fight does have one of the most painful kills ever committed to films. Gentlemen, you may want to look away at that part. You’ll know what I mean.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Lau Kar Leung does some of his very best work here, and is nothing short of tremendous, and with so many fights, they all move the story at the same time giving something different each time.

STUNTWORK: (9) The stuntmen bring some great stuntwork and falls, and yes, even their overacting for their death scenes has a brilliance all their own. Kudos to the poor bastard at the beginning of the film who rolls himself down a fight of concrete stairs. I hope they bought him a beer.

STAR POWER: (10) Are you kidding me? Check that cast list again!

FINAL GRADE: (10) This is one of the best of the Shaw Brothers output. An average story surrounded by tremendous martial arts fight scenes and stars. A must see for any martial arts film enthusiast.

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Review: The Fists of Bruce Lee (1978)

Posted in Bruce Li, Chaing Tao with tags , on April 11, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Bruce Li, Lo Lieh, Chiang Tao, Chuan Yuan

Fight Choreography by Fei Lung Huang

Directed by Bruce Li

There are some actors who can become directors, and show an entirely new side of themselves, and show that they too have a vision and something to say within their films. They aim for greatness and reach it. Many martial arts stars have gone behind the camera to produce some interesting films, and even interesting failures. This…IS NOT ONE OF THOSE FILMS.

The movie opens with a “what the hell is this?!” moment, as we see a bunch of dudes I can only assume are the bad guys, primarily because Chaing Tao is there, and he’s usually a bad guy in most films he’s in, like this one . One old dude gets pissy when some young women tells him to take his pills, and so far we don’t know what the hell that means or who they are, and we see that just outside the mansion some poor bastard trying to sneak around, not knowing the woods he’s walking through are full of traps using yard equipment they MacGuyver up to jack any dude who sneaks around. Sure enough one of the traps get him, and then we cut to the opening credits during which Bruce Li shows off some Wing Chun moves with a blue background behind him and his training partner. Afterward, a women walks in to give him a telegram. I was flabbergasted to note that the women never questioned why the hell they chose to practice in a room the color of a smurf. I wondered more about what the rest of his house looked like rather than the nondescript telegram he receives.

The telegram gives Mr. Lee a mysterious message that leads him to take a plane flight to Hong Kong, where he is met by Mr. Outpuss, whatever the hell that name is, who takes him to the Hotel Kowloon, but Lee soon discovers the he and the men with him are not the men he was meant to see, therefore they earn a beat down in the hotel hallway.  What kills me is that after he beats them up, he leaves to find out what’s going on, rather than question the two unconscious a-holes lying on the ground in front of him! Lee goes to a nightclub, where he meets his real contact, but that’s short lived as his contact is killed while Lee was checking out a suspicious character in the club.

After this we learn that Lee was summoned to Hong Kong by his agency to spy on Master Pol, whose life is in danger from two drug cartels who want a list Po has of each member of each cartel, and Lee infiltrates Master Po’s home to find this list and somehow protect Po and his daughter by posing as a security specialist.

That night Lee gets attacked for reasons I still can’t fathom as he goes to meet one of the drug cartels. He defeats his attackers easily, and hears the offer the cartel makes to him so he will get Po’s list from him…by force. Lee wants to think it over, and the cartel leaders aren’t really keen on that, and sends a group of guys to teach him a lesson, and he beats the tar out of them until one guy gets the bright idea to toss some chalk dust in Lee’s face to blind him. They star giving Lee the business, but he’s then saved by…I shit you not, Napoleon Dynamite. No joke, a dude who looks like Napoleon Dynamite flies in and beats the tar out of Lee’s attackers. He and his mates are part of the rival cartel, and Lee agrees to help them kidnap Po’s daughter so he’ll give the list to them. He agrees with them, and uses both cartels to destroy one another until Lee is left to finish off the leaders of both cartels in a fight to the finish.

First off, after this film was over, I still didn’t know what the hell I watched. Not that I’m a fan of exposition, but if any film needed it, this one did. Both cartels make decisions that would lave you scratching your head, double-crosses and fake deaths, and all for this list that makes me go “so what the hell was the point with the list?” By the end of the film both cartels have had nearly ever member killed, which makes that list a little irrelevant now.  And one other note, as one cartel lord proves, guys with pot bellies really should not try to rock the tight turtleneck shirt. That is a lesson well learned in this film. Unfortunately it’s the only one.

I wish I had something nice to say about Bruce Li’s direction, but I can’t do it. This is a terribly directed film, starting with the acting, which is about at the level of a junior high school stage production. I don’t know what producer though it would be a good idea to let Bruce direct this film, but that jackass was probably living under a bridge after this disaster of a film came out. The editing is terrible, cutting entire bits of dialogue out, and the soundtrack uses the tracks from other films like Enter the Dragon and the James Bond theme. I know the film had a small budget, but damn, can a brother get some synthesizer or piano in here? Yes, the Average White Band was good, but c’mon! The story is even worse, as characters aren’t fleshed out, and we have no idea why the cartels make the decisions they do, and why Lee even cares. There is also this insane-ass twist involving one of the villains towards the end that will make you go WTF?! Nothing in the film would lead you to believe this was coming, and it just feels like it was shoehorned in at the last minute.

The one saving grace should have been the fight choreography, but my goodness, it was terrible. The movements are slow and plodding, and underwhelming and I know Bruce is better than that, ‘cause I’ve seen it in other films.  The best martial artist in the whole film…is Napoleon Dynamite. He actually brings some energy to the proceedings, and the best fight in the film is between him and Bruce Li. Their movements really “spoke” to each other.

Bruce Li deserves recognition as something more than a Bruce Lee clone, but this film is incredibly forgettable and won’t help him shed that label.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (2) Except for Napoleon Dynamite, it was terrible. No excitement, no innovation, and mostly no heart from the performers. There was no imagination to any of the fights. Just dreadful.

STUNTWORK: (4) Bad stuff except for some good acrobatics.

STAR POWER: (3) Bruce Li and Chiang Tao. Not nearly good enough to save this mess of a film.

FINAL GRADE: (2) This is one terrible Bruce Li film that sorely needed a budget and a good writer. Hopefully Li will not direct again. Save your eyes and money and avoid at all costs. Yikes!

Review: Blind Fist of Bruce (1979)

Posted in Bruce Li, Chaing Tao, Simon Yuen, Tiger Yueng with tags , on March 14, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Bruce Li, Simon Yuen, Chiang Tao, Tiger Yuen, Lau Chan

Fight Choreography by Lui Han Ming

Directed by Kam Bo

After Bruce Lee died, Hong Kong cinema scrambled to replace him, and by that I do mean literally replacing Bruce, with a succession of actors who looked a little–or a lot–like Bruce, and could portray his attitude. They were never chosen to play a character, they were chosen because they could imitate Bruce. Bruce Li was one of the best of these, and perhaps his career would have been better if he had been able to forge his own identity, instead of being known forevermore as a Bruce Lee clone. Movies like the Blind Fist of Bruce shows that he could have been so much more.

The film opens as a group of baddies show up at the police headquarters of a small town and insist on speaking to the Captain, and of course his officers refuse, and proceed to take an butt-kicking from a group of guys who must have the phrase “fresh off a cop’s ass” tattooed on their forearms. The Captain reveals himself, and starts jacking up the gang before their leader Wei (Tao), who beats the Captain to death. This first fight is fairly slow and plodding, and I can only imagine it was done to make Bruce Li’s fights look better, but that’s hardly needed.

Meanwhile, two thugs show up to the local bank owned by Yeh Chen(Li), a good and fair banker who shows up with his two teachers to teach the thugs a lesson. When his teachers appear, if you watch enough kung-fu films then you know Yeh’s in deep shit. Whenever you see Lau Chan in a film you know what’s gonna happen, and if you can’t place the face here it is:

You now know two things: a) this asshole will betray the hero at some point, and b) he’ll get killed (usually by a kick or punch to the chest) and explode a blood capsule in his mouth, a really big one, and bleed profusely from the mouth as he dies, which he does to perfection in pretty much every film you ever see him in.

Okay, back to the film. Yeh does beat the two thugs, and we find out later that his two teachers are fake kung fu masters who pay to have random guys get their asses kicked by Yeh so they look like they are teaching him the good stuff, when he isn’t learning shit.  (You may recognize this as being a similar plot to Yuen Biao’s Prodigal Son) So of course the baddies show up, and when Yeh tries to fight them they beat the tar out of him, and then the gang proceeds to take over the entire town. While training in more fake kung-fu, because Yeh is both smart and dense at the same time, sees one of his teachers getting schooled by a blind old beggar (Simon Yuen) but doesn’t yet see this as proof that his teachers aren’t for shit. We then see the beggar defending his niece from Wei’s  two douchy sidekicks, and the blind beggar beats them up in a fun fight, even though we know that the person fighting is a stuntman and not Simon Yuen, who is the father of legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping. Simon sells everything in the scenes right before and after a fight, and that’s good enough. There’s a reason why he’s the quintessential Kung-Fu teacher in so many martial arts films.

Yeh goes back to get a rematch with Wei, and this time gets beaten so badly he is forced to sign his bank over to the gang, and fires his two teachers, who then go to Wei to join his gang (Lau Chan=betrayal. Check.) Yeh goes to the beggar and is able to convince him to teach him kung-fu, and he does so, but little does Yeh know that the real boss of the gang, Tiger, has a history with the blind beggar, and so the stage is set for revenge left, revenge right, everywhere revenge!

This is what I call a blood capsule kung-fu film, meaning that the fights can go on for days and you know when someone is actually dead for good when they bite down on that blood capsule and the blood free flows from their mouth. That’s like an indicator that yes, that dude is finally dead. The film starts out slowly and doesn’t really get going until the beggar shows up, but that’s to be expected since Bruce Li’s first few fights are fought as a guy who is learning fake kung-fu. Once he does learn from the beggar the fights get pretty good. Not as brutal as a Bruce Lee film but not that graceful, the fights do march to the beat of its own drummer thanks to Lui Han Ming’s fight choreography, which seems to have different tempos for each fight, and gives each of them a satisfying finish, which is something considering that there are a ton of fights in this film!

Bruce Li shows off great skills, and while he looks like Bruce and acts like him, Li doesn’t really try to fight like him, except in moments here and there. Chaing Tao, a veteran of many kung-fu films, does a great job as the Tiger’ second in command Wei, as does Tiger Yueng, who shows off some great forms as the main baddie.

Blind Fist of Bruce is a satisfying revenge film where everyone get’s what’s coming to them, and when the bad guy is killed they roll credits. No aftermath stuff, he dies, and it’s done. Fast food Kung-Fu at it’s best.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Due to the story constraints the fights are stilted in the beginning, but hits everything right the rest of the way.

STUNTWORK:(8) Simon Yuen’s stuntman deserves a raise, and everyone does a great job. Lau Chan is money in the bank. Viva fake blood capsules!

STAR POWER: (8) Bruce Li’s appreciation is starting to grow as his old films are revisited. In many ways Li carried the torch until the next wave of martial arts stars.

FINAL GRADE: (8) Bruce Li was never able to escape being seen as nothing more than the best of the Bruce Lee clones, but he has made few decent martial arts films that show that he could have been so much more.