Archive for the Lo Wei Category

Review: Fist of Fury (1971)

Posted in Bruce Lee, James Tien, Lo Wei with tags , on April 23, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Bruce Lee Fists of Fury 3

starring Bruce Lee, James Tien, Jackie Chan (Stuntman)

Directed by Lo Wei

Fight Choreography by Han Ying Cheng

Fist of Fury came out the following year after The Big Boss, and proves to be a much better film in every conceivable way, finally showing the skills and talent that would define Bruce Lee for all time in a way that The Big Boss never could…

Bruce Lee plays Chen Zhen, a popular chinese hero who has been the subject of a few films, with a new one with Donnie Yen in production as we speak. The story begins with Chen’s return home after finding out that his Master, Ho Yuan-Chin, is killed while fighting the currently occupying Japanese, who stage matches to pit their karate to Chinese Kung-fu. Chen arrives just in time to attend the funeral, and there his emotions, like it will the entire film, get the best of him, and he throws himself on the casket, where the current headmaster of the school does the most cast-iron ballsy thing I’ve ever seen, knocking Chen out with a shovel. And I’ll bet no Japanese fighter thought to try that, because over the course of the film they’ll fail with everything else.

At the Master’s wake the next day, all goes peaches until a group of Japanese from the nearest Cobra Kai-wait, wrong film. But Martin Cove showing up would have been some kind of awesome. Anyway, the bad guys from the nearby Evil Dojo tm show up with a sign for the school that reads “Sick Man of Asia”. Now that is straight up gangsta, and requires ass-kicking on an epic level. Their rep Mr. Hu does this and slaps Chen not once-not twice-but three times! Chen was already pissed he got laid out by a shovel, and now this douche shows up and has the intestinal fortitude to slap him!

Bruce Lee Fists of Fury 1

This leads to the now classic fight as Chen shows up to kick ass and fight their Master, to see if he was really good enough to kill Master Ho. Oh he’s not. Not even close. Chen said he was the worst of the students, and I suppose from the standpoint of showing restraint and forgiveness, he’s right, but he did misrepresent himself, and I’m sure those fighters would’ve done much better had they known how good he really was. Cue laugh track here. After hearing about the beating his boys took, Master Suzuki, a giant eyebrowed dude, orders his men to go to the Chang Wu school and destroy it. Chen then shows the dangers of discrimation by beating down two Japanese guys who want him to crawl like a dog to get into some park or something, with no idea that doing so would immediately cause them to have emergency dental surgery performed on them to remove several perfectly good teeth. At the same time the Japanese attack the Chang Wu school, in a battle that is well done, much better than any non-Bruce fight in the Big Boss. Han Ying Chen does a great job of choreography this time out, and especially of using it to up the tension of the scenes. My only beef with this scene is at the end of this, when the Japanese master orders everyone to stop fighting, and they do. I would have thought that this would be the perfect time to get some cheap shots in if I were the Cheng Wu school. Chen shows up, evidently pissed that he wasn’t there to kick more butt, and feels horrible about it.

Soon Chen discover that the cook and servant were the traitors, poisoning the Master’s food right before the fight. You’ll notice the servant is played by the same guy who played the main bad guy in The Big Boss. Chen kills both men with punches so powerful that it evidently thrusts their innards into a pocket dimension.

This puts Chen on the run, foraging and living in the nearby forest, while Master Eyebrows spends the nights entertaining his new friend Mr. Petrov, who looks strikingly like either Ronald Macdonald or John Holmes. Of course this scene shows off the requisite naked woman. Following this scene leads to one of the most ill advised acts in history, as Mr Hu-you remember, the ass that kept slapping Chen at the wake-is captured by Chen for information, and Chen finally shows he learned something more from his Master other than killing proficiently, and lets Hu live, and Hu repays this act of generosity by trying to stab Chen in the back, and of course reflexes take over and Chen sends Hu into the next world, ensuring his brand of stupidity will no longer affect the gene pool any longer.

Next Chen goes all Mission Impossible here wearing disguises to spy on the bad guys in a scene both implausible and funny at the same, primarily for that reason, and I think the Lo Wei knew this too. Chen watches Ronald Mcd-I mean Petrov give a demonstration of his skill at hammering nails in boards with his hands and bending steel. Which is fine if your Bob Villa, but not so much if you fight guys named Bruce Lee.

Bruce Lee Fists of Fury 2

Chen goes to the Japanese dojo, unaware that most of the students left to kill off the Cheng Wu school. Stupidity runs rampant again as Chen tries to get the remaining students to leave peacefully, but they don’t, and Chen breaks arms, crushes heads and impales guys with their own weapons. He arrives to find Master Suzuki’s top guys, including Petrov, ready to take him on, and after he double taps the first guy in the nuts, turning him into the Lead Henchwoman, takes on Petrov in a good fight until Chen goes super speed on him, and dispatches him easily. The last fight between Chen and Master Suzuki is surprisingly weak compared to the fights before, mainly because it is very short.

(Note: At the moment Bruce kicks Suzuki out of the dojo, sending him through the wooden doors, Bruce noted that the stuntman he had been watching that day who did that was going to be special someday, because of the way he conducted himself and just seemed to have that something in the eyes. That stuntman? Jackie Chan.)

Meanwhile, the entire school is wiped out but for the Headmaster and a few of the students who drew the long straws and got to go looking for Chen Zhen. Chen is forced to turn himself in, but in a final act of defiance runs right at a group of soldiers with guns, and they fire, and thus ends the film.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) For his last film with Bruce, Han Yin Cheng does a great job this time out, even in the non-Bruce Lee fight scenes. I’m sure Bruce himself had a lot to do with that, but this contains one of the best, most classic fight scenes of all time.

STUNTS: (7) Better than the Big Boss by leaps and bounds. You could tell they were able to hire better stuntmen this time out, and with Jackie Chan being one of them, there’ s no way it could be as bad as the Big Boss. While no real large scale stunts here, the stuntmen act the punches and strikes well, and throw themselves about fairly convincingly.

DIRECTION: (7) Once again, much better as the fight scenes are well framed and move just as well. The story has better drama and characterization as well, and Lo gets the most from his actors. Truthfully, he got lucky with this one.

STAR POWER: (10) Unlike the Big Boss, this features Bruce fighting, fighting, fighting. More Bruce is never a bad thing, and this movie gives you your Bruce Lee fix. He does a much better job with the acting, except for the laughable romantic scene midway through the film.

FINAL GRADE: (9) A great film that defined everything that fans loved about Bruce Lee. Good fights and decent drama make this a winner. Only the final fight brings the score down a bit.


Review: Police Story (1985)

Posted in Fung Hak-On, Jackie Chan, Lo Wei, Maggie Cheung, Reviews with tags , , , on April 8, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jackie Chan, Bridgette Lin, Fung Hark-on, Maggie Cheung

Directed and Fight Choregraphy by Jackie Chan

It’s said that Golden Harvest studios is the house that Bruce Lee built. If that’s so, and I believe it is, then Jackie Chan furnished the place, as his reign as king of HK cinema truly started here, and you can’t find a better representation of everything JC stood for than this film right here.

After enduring failure after box office failure under the direction of Lo Wei, Jackie Chan was considered a bust, and his contract was about to expire with Lo Wei. At this time Jackie had made a bunch of horrid movies in an attempt to be Bruce Lee, like so many others of the time. With nothing left to lose, Jackie was given reign to do what he wanted with his last few films. The first result was Snake in Eagle’s Shadow, which was a modest hit, his first doing things with a bit more comedic flair. Then followed two major hits, Young Master and the classic Drunken Master. Both together turned Jackie Chan into a star. A slew of hits followed, like Project A, The Lucky Star series, and Wheels on Meals. In 1985 Police Story was released, and the international community discovered what would take many Americans much longer to figure out-Jackie Chan was in a class all by himself.

The film starts with a bang, as the police are in the middle of a sting operation to capture notorious criminal Chu, who arrives at a shanty town to engage in a drug deal. Jackie arrives on the scene as Detective Kevin (Ka-Kui) Chan. I like this character a lot, because he’s a different type of action hero. He runs like an energizer bunny, never willing to give in to defeat when he probably should, is not the best boyfriend in the world, a bit overconfident, kind of a jerk, at least to some people, and kind of has a Charlie Brown (why me?) complex. Not the average kung-fu hero. Anyway, before too long the sting goes awry, as you knew it would, and a fantastic action scene commences that in many films would be at the end of the movie is how it starts here, looking more like a John Woo film than a Jackie Chan one.

Soon all hell breaks loose, and an amazing car chase down the shanty town (it sits on the side of a big hill) that would be ripped off shamefully in Bad Boys 2 (Police Story still does it better, with a budget that probably was less than what Michael Bay’s production paid for Kraft services) kicks the film into high gear, and doesn’t rest until Kevin has chased the bad guy while using an umbrella to hang on to a speeding double decker, and fight on said bus, Kevin getting knocked off bus, and using his gun to finally stop the bus, sending two sorry bastards through the windshield of the top of the bus, careening head first into the concrete in front of Kevin in a scene you’ll cringe in pain at even as you rewind your player at least twice going “Did you see that shit?!”

After the opening things slow down a bit as we are introduced to the other characters in the film, Selina, a secretary for Chu who may or may not know about his drug-running, played with equal parts amazement at her situation and fear of what may come by Bridgette Lin. Maggie Cheung also checks in as Kevin’s long suffering (and at least through 2 more films after this one) girlfriend May. She’s equal parts his foil and the one person who understands him. Jackie and Maggie have a natural chemistry that plays well over the span of three films. Special shouts also go out to Bill “Uncle Bill” Tung as the assistant police chief “Bill”. He used to be a famous horse commentator that made the switch to films, and this was I think his first. He’s not really Jackie’s uncle, but has played one in so many of Jackie’s films that everyone simply calls him Uncle Bill. Bill passed away in 2006. I already miss the guy. Farewell, Uncle Bill!

Kevin soon has Selina in protective custody after arresting Chu after the shanty town scene, and what follows are comedy hijinks as Kevin, using his buddy Jaws (Mars, another JC regular) stage an attempt on Selina’s life to get her to cooperate. Things don’t go as planned as Selina knocks out Jaws with not 1, but 2 vases, and Kevin is forced to take her to his house.

After another amazing fight involving Kevin, a handful of thugs and 2 cars, Chu winds up getting off after his capture by Kevin when Selina sabotages her testimony, embarassing Kevin on the stand with some tricks of her own involving his tape recorder.

Not thinking that maybe-just maybe leaving well enough alone would be best for everyone, Chu decides to get revenge on Kevin by framing him for murder. The plan goes off without a hitch, although if that smug little bastard knew what was coming he may have opted to go on a vacation, somewhere like the Bahamas. Forever.

What ensues is a convergence of everyone on an unsuspecting shopping mall where Chu has his secret headquarters. Okay, they lose me a bit here. Why the hell would you place your evil headquarters between Lenscrafters and Ambercrombie and Fitch? Was office space that limited in Hong Kong? Of course, what does that say for the police? Or worse, mall cops? Did the group of well dressed drug dealers in the food court ordering Slushies not tip them off? Mall cops really aren’t worth a damn.

No sooner than can you say “property destruction” than Kevin and May arrive, following Selina as she tries to get the goods on Chu in his mall office, and Chu and his men discover her data theft when their magical Commodore 64 alerts them (I couldn’t use mine to spell my name right, and this one has security alerts and crap! WTF!). They show up to get Selina, unaware that Kevin is there too, with a bur up his ass to getting good old school fashioned vengeance using his fist on many faces.

The mall fight is the reigning jewel in this crown, and it doesn’t disappoint. I can’t begin to count the many moments when you wince as some poor jackoff gets his shoulder bounced off an escalator arm, or one gets dropped 3 floors down and has a wooden table at the bottom to break his fall. Kevin gets as good as he gives, getting punched, kicked, dropped 2 floors though a garden center, head smashed into glass, etc, culminating in a huge stunt involving sliding down a bannister wrapped in lights, going 4 stories down, his hands being burned by the lights as he goes. Don’t worry, you can’t miss it as it’s repeated twice more, for effect. Hell, if I did a stunt like that, I’d make your ass watch it multiple times, too.

For fans of Jackie who only really know him from his U.S. films will meet a side of Jackie they are unfamiliar with: Raging Jackie. This moment arrives when his character has taken enough shit from the bad guys, and decides to kick ass and win whatever way he can. He becomes a wildman, with the single minded goal of making sure that EVERY BAD GUY WINDS UP IN MORTAL PAIN AND IS PLACED IN TRACTION FOR SEVERAL WEEKS. This type of Jackie is prevalent in many of his 80’s films. Like Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk.

Police Story is an exciting entry that would influence an entire new generation of stars that would rule the Hong Kong action roost for the 80’s and most of the 90’s. If you want to start watching Jackie Chan films, I would highly suggest this film. One of the best martial arts films ever. Nearly a complete package.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The fighting in this movie was different from any other kung-fu movie at the time. Gone are the animal forms, replaced with a modern style of fighting with faster paced fight scenes.

STUNTS: (10) Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this. The stuntmen nick-named this movie “Glass Story” due to the many panes of glass they went through. Keep in mind, it wasn’t the normal candy glass used in films. It was a harder material that could simulate glass. What resulted was many cuts and gashes. The stuntmen performed well. I would ask you to place this next to The Big Boss and tell me whose reactions are better. The falls, hits, and so many, many “ouchy” moments that can’t be counted on one hand. Most of these guys never worked with Jackie again after this film. That’s the level of awesome we’re talking about.

DIRECTION: (7) Pretty good. Jackie knows where to place the camera for maximum effect, and how to let the camera linger just a second longer on stuntmen who were obviously hurt, just so you know what they just did was real.

STAR POWER: (10) Jackie brought all the charisma and obvious star power to the film, Maggie Cheung was new, but it was obvious she would soon forge her own stardom, which she did. Brigette Lin was the Meryl Streep of Hong Kong at the time, as also held up her end of the film. Did I mention Uncle Bill?

FINAL GRADE: (9) Fast paced action, comedy, and amazing stunts are what defined Jackie Chan, and few movies brought it all together in equal parts than this.

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Review: The Big Boss (1971)

Posted in Bruce Lee, James Tien, Lo Wei, Ying-Chieh Han with tags , on April 1, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring: Bruce Lee, Ying-Chieh Han

Directed by Lo Wei

Fight Choreography by Han Ying Chieh

A pretty standard kung-fu film whose star-the immortal Bruce Lee- raised it to legendary status. Meaning, if it weren’t Bruce’s first movie, it would be considered a giant turd of a film. This film rises and falls based on the charisma and energy that Bruce is able to bring. Luckily, he brought enough for everybody.

Bruce plays Cheng, a country bumpkin, the first of a few he would play, a pretty standard character type in many kung-fu films. This makes me think the city boys must be wusses, because the country boys are always badasses in these films. I mean, after they milk the cows and plow the fields they don’t have anything else to do…but to learn kung-fu ALL DAY LONG, EVERY DAY.

Anyway, the film opens with Cheng fresh off the boat, being taken to meet his cousin Hsu Chien, who has promised him a job and the local ice factory. No sooner is he off the boat before the first fight occurs…between Hsu Chien and a couple of bullies roughing up a kid. They chose this moment to tell the audience two very important things: 1) Cheng made a vow to his ancient mother never to fight-even when a poor 11 year old kid is getting the holy hell beaten out of him by two grown ass men, and 2) Until Cheng does something, you’ll have to endure fight scenes with Hsu Chien featuring the weakest fights ever committed to film. Eventually Cheng will do something, but it’s gonna be a LONG wait.

Soon Cheng is working at the factory, also known as ‘Bad Guy Central’ in dozens of martial arts films, where we are introduced to the prettiest bad guy I’ve ever seen. I mean, yes, he’s evil, I assume because he wears pink, perfectly ironed shirts the whole film. I never paid attention to his name, so we’ll call him Pink. He had outfits that would make Prince go “Hmm. I like.” This is supposed to be a badass villain?

Any way, what follows is a lot of Bruce Lee-look-isn’t-that-cute scenarios, showing him to be the bumpkin he is, and more fights featuring the weakest kung fu you have ever seen, which brings me to one of the most hated items in the movie- a jade pendant. This piece of jackassery is the reason Cheng doesn’t fight. Every time he starts to look as if he’s about to go allFists of Fury on someone, he looks at this thing and lullaby music starts playing, and he stops. Man, I bet real money if Mr. Han from Enter the Dragon knew that thing existed, he’d have wrapped 10 of those things around Bruce’s neck like Superman’s kryptonite.

Soon, the bad guys start killing Cheng’s new friends, by stabbing them, chopping them into pieces, and encasing said pieces in blocks of ice. That’s not a kung-fu film. That’s The Hills Have Eyes part 10! Okay, so the good news is that during a riot by Cheng’s coworkers, in an attempt to uncover what happened to the others, a factory thug accidentally rips off Cheng’s pendant, and suddenly, thankfully, Bruce Lee emerges, with the rage of his ancestors behind him, he annihilates several guys in mere seconds, spreading their teeth around the area like snow. I swear it was like a breath of fresh air on a perfect spring morning.

After this there is a bit more shenanigans, like “Look! Bruce Lee’s drunk! Isn’t that something?” and an excuse to show random boobies on screen, and soon enough, more of Cheng’s friends are killed, leading to the confrontation at the factory, where Cheng finally plays “where’s the bouncing fist” with a ton of guys, and single-handely reduces China’s population in one scene. This leads to his fight with Pink (who actually changes to a Yellow shirt), and if you thought Pink couldn’t fight…well, he can’t. Cheng dispatches him easily, and moves on like a video game to face-well, the Big Boss, the only guy in the film outside of Bruce who can actually fight.

Even here, it’s obvious that Cheng is light-years beyond the boss, but the boss puts up what’s actually a good fight-the best of the film. Cheng eventually kills the boss, gets arrested by the police (where were they the whole time?) and Bruce gets the girl, but will probably be executed for killing the equivalent of a small town population.

Not a great kung-fu film, but it did introduce the world to Bruce Lee, and hinted at the amazing things to come. That still has to be worth something.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (4) Han Ying Chieh’s fight scenes are incredibly weak. The only thing that remotely holds this up is Bruce himself, and I think he had a hand in the choreography of his own scenes. Luckily Chieh will only be with Bruce for 1 more film.

STUNTS: (3) This is also really weak. The stuntmen are horrible actors here, and their reactions to getting “punched” or “kicked” are laughable at best.

DIRECTION: (5) Nothing remarkable from Lo Wei here, which is pretty standard for him. Point and shoot. Nothing less-but not much more either.

STAR POWER: (8) As I said earlier, a by the numbers thriller that is only enhanced by the presence of Lee, who stalks the screen like a tiger, waiting to be unleashed. When he is, the movie takes off.

FINAL GRADE: (6) I know this is blasphemy to Bruce Lee fans, but except for Bruce, The Big Boss simply isn’t that good. Never fear, it gets better for Bruce. Much better.

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