Archive for Shaw Brothers

Fight Of The Day: Philip Kwok, Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng: The Magnificent Ruffians

Posted in Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Philip Kwok with tags , on August 20, 2016 by Michael S. Moore

Philip Kwok Week concludes with a some fantastic staff work vs. Lu Feng with help from Chiang Sheng in The Magnificent Ruffians. Next month we’ll devote a week to another one of the Venom Mob, so you’ll see Philip Kwok a lot more. Thanks to Bobthem00 for the vid!

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Review: Masked Avengers (1981)

Posted in Chiang Sheng, Chin Siu Ho, Philip Kwok with tags , on August 16, 2016 by Michael S. Moore

masked avengers 2

Starring Philip Kwok, Chin Sui-ho, Lu Feng, Wang Li, Chiang Sheng.

Fight Choreography: Philip Kwok, Sheng Chiang, Chu Ke

Directed by Chang Cheh

Masked Avengers begins as we meet an unfortunate bastard who runs into and is killed by a group of assassins known as the Mask Gang: a cult who kill for money but on top of that, for some odd reason that is never, ever explained or even gone back to later in the film, drink the blood of the men they kill. A group of warriors arrive in town to attempt to stop these killers and stay at a local inn, where they find themselves being spied on by the cook Gao (Kwok). They have a list of suspects, but Gao finds himself quickly moving to the top of their investigation (such as it is) as the top culprit to be one of the Mask Gang.

The warriors find themselves being picked off one by one as young Zeng (Sheng) Jun, one of their best fighters, befriends Gao, and together, begrudgingly, they get to the heart of the Mask Gang to find their leaders, but Gao holds a terrible secret, and even worse, one of the heroic warriors isn’t nearly as heroic as he appears to be…

Masked Avenger

Shaw Brothers silliness abounds, and that’s a really, really good thing. Philip Kwok is excellent as the mysterious Gao, and it won’t take long for anyone to figure out what he’s really up to. Chiang Sheng shows his normal comedy schtick, and does well with it, being youthfully exuberant and all Errol Flynn-like in the face of evil. Chin Sui-ho is great as the leader of the good guys, and I love the fact that the fan is far from the only weapon he carries, just the only one you see…The Mask Gang kills are treated like a horror film, and just like those movies there are some really good stealth kills, but c’mon, many warriors would have lived if they heeded this simple lesson:

“Don’t stand anywhere a goddamn trident can get thrown at you.”

There was one death that struck me as odd, when a captured Mask Gang member dies…by biting his own tongue out. Besides just being painful, I’m not sure how that kills you in mere seconds.

There is a second lesson this film tries to teach, and it’s actually pretty important:

“Showing off at the wrong moment will get your stupid ass killed.”

Oh yeah, and one last lesson that would’ve saved a couple of good guys:

“If you don’t see Gao move forward first, don’t be the first one to run ahead.”

In fact these guys are so “Star Trek Redshirts” that Gao pretty much just lets them run ahead of him, setting off whatever trap that Grants Painful Deaths. The final fights are the fast paced, acrobatic choreography you expect from the Shaw Brothers, and they do save the best for last. I have to admit, the leaders of the gang make their entrances like bosses:

Like. A. Boss.

Like. A. Boss.

The final boss fights are awesome, but really, the main baddie does mostly because he makes a really bad tactical decision that still has be baffled, but his death scene was really cool. Why oh why does everyone have to die with several tridents to the mid section in this film? Keeping in mind that Philip Kwok and other did the fight choreography is really impressive, and allows each of the main main characters a chance to strut their absolute best stuff, particularly with trident and fan work. Yeah, you gotta watch those dudes running around with fans…

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9

A good Chang Cheh film that’s not his best but really comes close, and Philip Kwok really gets to shine here as a hero. A fun film from start to finish!

The Water Margin (1972)

Posted in Chen Kuan-Tai, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Wu Ma with tags , on December 12, 2014 by Michael S. Moore

water margin

Starring Ku Feng, Chin Feng, Yueh Hua, Fen Mei Sheng, Ti Lung, David Chiang, Lily Ho, Cheng Lei, Lui Tan, Wu Ma, Wang Chung, Peng Peng, Lo Wei, Chen Kuan Tai, and pretty much anyone who has ever been in a Shaw Brothers film.

Fight Choreography by

Directed by Chang Cheh

THE MOUNTAIN BROTHERS ARE ALL HERE!

Those words reverberated through me at the age of eight, as this was the first martial arts film I over watched with my Dad, the first of many during Kung-Fu Saturdays, and I had visions of characters with such awesome names as Young Dragon, Red-Haired Devil and moves with names like the 13 Throws of Young Dragon, The Triple Kick Of Death. I had never seen anything like it. I found it so much more interesting than any cartoon or comic book at the time. Little did I know who much this film would help forge who I am today. So is it as good as I remembered it?

The film starts with introductions for each character, and dang it, it’s an hour into the film before they are done with them! It’s actually kinda funny and would make a great drinking game. “Drink every time you see a Chen or Feng on screen!” You’d be drunk ten minutes into the film!

We are introduced to the 108 bandits who are more freedom fighters than anything else: the Liang Shan fighters. We pick up where their leader, Chao Gai, is hunted down and killed by Shi Wen Gong for the Zeng Family, a powerful and corrupt family aligned with the government. The other LiangShan fighters vow vengeance, but first they must find a fighter who is the equal of Shi Wen Gong. They find such a fighter in Lu Chun I and his protege , Yen Ching but Lu Chun I is in trouble himself as he is betrayed by his wife and her lover, his own steward. The rest of the film deals as the fighters of Liang Shan take their revenge and save Lu Junyi as well…

The film itself it as epic a Shaw Brothers film as you’ll ever find. You’ll probably find every location on the Shaw Brothers lot has been used, casts of hundreds (cannon fodder baddies, but whatever) and colorful characters with names like The Timely Rain, Red-Haired Demon, Black Whirlwind, The Rash, The Pallid, and so so many more. The film mostly concentrates on Lu Chun I and Yen Ching, but that’s okay because everyone is larger than life in this film, and it reminds me of the American Film All Quiet on The Western Front, which starred most of the actors of the day. The deaths are all operatic and funny to watch as characters are skewered multiple times but have enough gumption to say something or do something before expiring, even with things like spears, arrows, and axes in their bodies! Chang Cheh is the best of the Shaw Brothers directors, and his skills are on full display here, using every camera angle and style in the book to deliver an epic film, at a time when “epic” and kung-fu movies were not synonymous.

watermargin1

The music deserves a mention here as well. It’s a different animal all together, and has some really funky themes, like the Chiga-Chiga-Cha! whenever Yen Ching shows up, and the soulful singing that occurs throughout the film. It all fits perfectly, but on paper you wouldn’t think so.

The fights are pretty good, but it’s the finale of the film where it all comes together and shines brightly. It’s all full of Shaw Brothers goodness. Ti Lung gets the most work here, and looks great doing it. It’s actually funny to see the Shi Wen Gong call out the moves for his students to watch out for…right before the move actually happens, which winds up killing his students! There are better fights in other Shaw Brothers films, but it’s the story, not the fights, that is the winner here.

I know this may be a biased review by me, but…

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 10

One of the absolute best of the Shaw Brothers library. Full of operatic acting and epic battle sequences and fights, Chang Cheh pulls out the stops to deliver an epic tale of honor, loyalty, and justice!

Review: King Boxer (aka Five Fingers of Death) (1972)

Posted in Bolo Yeung, Lo Lieh with tags , , on September 11, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Bolo Yueng, Chao Hsiung, Jin BongJin, Tien Feng, Chin Chi Chu, Chung Ku Wen, Chan Shen, James Nam (Kung-Hsun Nan)

Fight Choreography by Liu Chia Yung and Chen Chuan

Directed by Chang Chang Ho

The moment you hear the opening siren, you know that 1.)You heard this same siren to signal when Uma Thurman was going to go nuts on someone in Kill Bill, and that 2.) Damn does Tarantino have an original thought in his head? King Boxer is widely considered to be the film that started the kung-fu craze in the States that paved the way for Enter The Dragon, which followed the same year.

The film stars the great Lo Lieh as Chih-Hao, a martial artist whose training has gone as far as it can, and is sent with his friend Ta-Ming to study Kung Fu under Master Suen. Chih Hao travels to the town of Ko Kui, where the town is being run by a rich bastard Meng Tung-shan (Feng) and his even more bastard son, who, after witnessing a fight between a mongolian (Yueng) and the mysterious fighter Chen (Chu), are able to convince Chen to join them. No sooner does Chih-Hao arrive in town than he pisses off the gang controlled by Meng to save a local entertainer, Miss Yen. Soon he arrives, and after a year is allowed to fully train under Master Suen, who sees the promise the young Chih-Hao has, and teaches him the Iron Palm technique, so brutal it turns his hands red and anyone hit with a strike from his fists dies in what looks like a pretty painful death. Meng finds out, and tries to destroy the Suen school, and Chih-Hao with it, and mutliple betrayals leads to a satisfying and brutal climax…

The story here is what makes this film great. The fall of Chih-Hao and his betrayal at the hands of a friend, who pays a terrible price for his betrayal by having his eyes plucked out, and the final act, where revenge is paid out to different characters on several levels is classic in the way the plot is constructed as cascading events lead to this inevitable conclusion.  Lo Lieh, who had made a career playing mostly bad guys, is good here as the good guy Chih-Hao, and Tien Feng, always a great performer in Shaw Brothers films, is as good as always as the villainous Meng, especially toward the end when Meng makes a tragic mistake. James Nam is also good as the betrayer Han Lung, who pays a heavy price and becomes a sympathetic character who meets a tragic end with the woman he loves.

The fights here are actually not very good compared to many other Shaw Brothers film, but this truly a “blood capsule” film: whenever anyone is in their death throes they bite down on that capsule and let the blood flow from their mouths to simulate massive internal injuries. The choreography looks almost clumsy at times, as if the fights were put together quickly (they probably were). The camera work does a great job of framing the fights, and this film has no shortage of fights, even if they aren’t as good as they could be.

The final fight between Chih-Hao and Okada turns unto something we’ll see years later in The Matrix films as Chih-Hao starts punching through wooden posts and one strike sends Okada flying into a cement wall, causing a small crater. The effects bring a lot of fun to all of the fights, and could have come off cheesy but work well within the world they created. The camera work does a great job of framing the fights, and this film has no s

On a side note, Kill Bill uses the siren music and other notes from this film, and of course the eye plucking scenes.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9

King Boxer started the successful influx of kung-fu cinema into the United States, and internationally brought the Shaw Brothers film style to the masses, with a great story and hallmarks that would define old-school kung-fu films of the 70’s.

NEXT: Two brother battle it out in New Orleans in Brawler!

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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.

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.