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Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Wira

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

WIRA (translation: HERO) is a really good 2019 martial arts movie that’s available on Netflix, and maybe my first Malaysian film? It cold opens with a brutal women’s M.M.A. match that will be an important inciting incident, but you don’t really know the context yet, so instead it works to establish the movie’s level of action reality: somewhat grounded in real moves and sweat and blood, but moving through them very fast, and with absolutely thunderous punching and slamming sounds. Like somebody is gonna get their head knocked off. Reminded me a little bit of the UNDISPUTED sequels, with less spinning in the air.

After the credits we meet a male hero, Hassan (Hairul Azreen, a Taekwondo black belt who’s been acting for a little over a decade), a former elite super duper commando motherfucker drifting back into town after many years, a bag over his shoulder, getting hassled by a cop (Henley Hii) like he’s John Rambo. That’s only one of the beloved action traditions he follows – we also learn that he’s a legendary underground fighter. The aforementioned cop is actually an old friend giving him shit, and Hassan ends up going along with him when he arrests some young guys for fighting. On the way to jail they realize who Hassan is and try to get a selfie with him from the backseat of the police car.

And one of them asks, “You want to avenge your sister, don’t you?” (read the rest of this shit…)

A Hard Way to Die a.k.a. Sun Dragon

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

After seeing the 1977 Bruce Li movie SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU and wondering about his young African-American co-star Carl Scott, I decided to watch this 1979 followup which comes up under both A HARD WAY TO DIE  and SUN DRAGON on Prime. I guess if I had to pick, the latter comes closer to having something to do with the movie.

This is another Hong Kong production from the same director as SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU, Hua Shan (THE SUPER INFRA-MAN), but the interesting thing is that it was filmed in Phoenix, Arizona. You don’t see that every day. Unfortunately, it’s a period piece, so they stay away from urban areas and just shoot in, like, a strip of ugly grass, or a gravel pit. The Hong Kong setting of the other one was far more interesting to look at. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020

The second movie in the SISTER STREET FIGHTER series is from the same director, Kuzuhiko Yamaguchi (KARATE BEARFIGHTER), and screenwriters, Masahiro Kakefuda (KARATE FOR LIFE) and Norifumi Suzuki (KARATE BULLFIGHTER), and came out the same year (1974). It’s mostly a retread of the first one, but the story is much tighter and faster, so its a great time.

After the traditional hero-doing-katas-in-front-of-blank-backgrounds credits (lots of nunchakas and split screens) we find ourselves in an alley in Hong Kong, where a well-dressed gang have cornered a guy and are stabbing him. Koryu (Etsuko “Sue” Shihomi) steps out of a door, casually eating an apple and wearing her blue suit with the red dragon embroideries to chase them off.

It’s too late to save the man, but he tells Koryu “You have to tell Professor Enmei Oh” and plucks out a false eyeball with circuitry and microfilm inside. The professor (Hideaki Nagai, Ultraman) explains that the dead man was Hong Kong police detective Kidai Sha, who has been investigating the kidnapping of the professor’s daughter Birei (Hisayo Tanaka, THE GREAT CHASE), coincidentally a high school friend of Koryu. The photos show Birei at a place in Hong Kong called Osone mansion, where “many martial artists are gathered,” kind of like the evil mansion in the first film. Also, the late detective had a plane ticket to Hong Kong in his pocket, so the professor asks Koryu to please take it and try to save his daughter. Mission accepted. (read the rest of this shit…)

Soul Brothers of Kung Fu

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

We’ll get back to Summer of 1985 soon, but it’s time for a kung fu break. SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU is a 1977 movie that I never heard of until Quentin Tarantino mentioned it a couple times on the Pure Cinema Podcast. He also said that RZA liked it, and when I noticed the poster for it on a background for RZA’s 36chambers film screenings it reminded me to look it up.

It’s available on Amazon Prime, but be warned that it’s dubbed and with a garbage transfer. Tarantino has said he prefers to watch movies of this era dubbed, but he’s probly seen it projected on 35mm with an audience, which I’m sure makes it more fun. At home streaming it’s amusing, but doesn’t strike me as the classic he considers it.

According to the Hong Kong Movie Database this is also known as LAST STRIKE, KUNG FU AVENGERS, INCREDIBLE DRAGON or TIGER STRIKES AGAIN. The Chinese title, 被迫, seems to translate to something like COMPELLED or FORCED. But calling it SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU emphasizes the presence of African-American newcomer Carl Scott, marketing it for the largely black audience for kung fu movies in the U.S. at the time. Though the poster says “Bruce Li and Carl Scott are the SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU,” the movie focuses more on the relationship between the two Chinese leads, so I thought they were probly the “soul brothers,” bonded like brothers. In their souls. (read the rest of this shit…)

Shaolin and Wu Tang

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

SHAOLIN AND WU-TANG a.k.a. SHAOLIN VS. WU-TANG is the 1983 directorial debut of Gordon Liu, made right before THE 8-DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER. Liu also co-stars as the young representative of Shaolin in the titular rivalry. It’s an independent production (distributed by Hing Fat Film Co.) but feels very much like Liu’s Shaw Brothers movies, maybe partly because it’s produced and choreographed by 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN director Lau Kar-leung.

Jun-kit (Liu) and Fung-wu (Adam Cheng, ZU: WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, SEVEN WARRIORS) are the respective top students at Shaolin and Wu Tang schools in the same city. Although their masters (Han Chiang and Hoi-San Kwan) have a bit of a rivalry when they run into each other in town, their students laugh it off and hang out at the brothel together. But they make the mistake of sparring there, showing off their abilities in a friendly competition. Word gets to the local Qing Lord (Wang Lung Wei, MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, THE BOXER’S OMEN, THE SEVENTH CURSE), who says “If what you say is true, the Shaolin and the Wu Tang could be dangerous,” as famously sampled by Wu-Tang Clan on “Bring Da Ruckus.” So he decides he must learn both styles to protect himself. (read the rest of this shit…)

Drunken Master II

Monday, May 11th, 2020

When we last saw Wong Fei-hung (Jackie Chan), he was a bratty kid always getting in trouble, getting disowned by his martial artist/physician father Master Wong, trained in drunken boxing by Beggar So, learning to fight really well if he has access to a gourd he can use to get blitzed out of his, you know, gourd.

Now its… I’m not sure how long later. But it’s the early twentieth century. There are cars and shit. Though he’s presumably an adult, he still lives with his parents – now played by Ti Lung (A BETTER TOMORROW) and Anita Mui (RUMBLE IN THE BRONX) – and fucks around and gets in trouble constantly.

When DRUNKEN MASTER came out in 1978, Jackie was just beginning to explore his comedic approach to kung fu movies, and it established him as a major movie star in China. Sixteen years later, when DRUNKEN MASTER II (a.k.a. THE LEGEND OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER) came out, Jackie and martial arts cinema were in an entirely different place. Jackie had moved over to Golden Harvest, directed ten movies, started the POLICE STORY and ARMOUR OF GOD series, even done a few American movies. And then he returned to the famous folk hero character in the only time he was ever directed by the great Lau Kar-leung (EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN, THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, HEROES OF THE EAST, DIRTY HO, THE 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER, TIGER ON BEAT). But they fought about the shooting and fighting styles and Jackie took over to direct the final fight that the movie’s best known for. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sister Street Fighter

Friday, May 8th, 2020

I’ve reviewed and enjoyed Sonny Chiba’s three STREET FIGHTER movies (THE STREET FIGHTER, RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER and THE STREET FIGHTER’S LAST REVENGE), so now it’s time to get started on the SISTER STREET FIGHTER quadrilogy. It was marketed (at least in the U.S.) as a spin-off of the other series, but star Etsuko “Sue” Shihomi is not playing her character from THE STREET FIGHTER, or her other character from THE STREETFIGHTER’S LAST REVENGE, and Chiba is in it not playing “Terry” Tsuguri. There’s no narrative connection, but it is in a similar vein of funky contemporary karate blast full of fun comic book gimmicks, cool ‘70s fashion and exaggerated violence.

Shihomi (GOLGO 13: ASSIGNMENT KOWLOON) plays Koryu, a Hong Kong martial artist who gets sent to Yokohama to search for her brother Mansei (Hiroshi Miyauchi, Kamen Rider, Go Ranger, Spider Man, REBORN FROM HELL II: JUBEI’S REVENGE), a narcotics agent who disappeared while undercover in a heroin smuggling ring. Kuryo has other family there. She beats up some assholes in front of her restaraunteur uncle (Hiroshi Kondo, GRAVEYARD OF HONOR, WOLF GUY), who is delighted that she’s “still a tomboy,” and cousins (Tatsuya Nanjo [TOKYO DEEP THROAT] and Nami Tachibana), who ask her for lessons and tell her she’s famous in Japan as the Hong Kong Martial Arts Champ. (Nobody else seems to recognize her.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril

Monday, May 4th, 2020

LONE WOLF AND CUB: BABY CART IN PERIL is #4 out of six LONE WOLF AND CUB films, and comes pretty directly out of the stories from the late Kazuo Koike’s manga about the former Shogun’s-executioner who was framed by the god damn Yagyu Clan (fuck those guys) and now travels Japan with his young son Daigoro, working as a freelance assassin along his “Demon’s Path” toward vengeance and damnation. He usually ends up doing something very honorable that seems a little more like redemption, but he doesn’t see it that way. He thinks he’s the devil. This was before heavy metal, too.

This one’s kinda got an A and B plot. One of them (take your pick which letter it is) involves the badass Oyuki (Michi Azuma, who played a different character in BABY CART AT THE RIVER STYX – they should do that in more American movie series), a former “sword mistress” gone rogue so she can avenge her former mentor for raping her. One of her trademarks is to cut off the top knots of all the motherfuckers who come after her, which in their culture seems to be even more humiliating than when Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake used to badly shave the heads of those he defeated in the ring. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rumble in the Bronx

Monday, April 20th, 2020

In February of 1996, when RUMBLE IN THE BRONX was released in the U.S., it was an event. I don’t know if it was the zeitgeist or a concerted marketing effort or what, but it came along at the exact right moment for Jackie Chan to achieve his dream of hitting it big in the States. He’d tried twice before with American movies filmed in English: Robert Clouse’s THE BIG BRAWL a.k.a. BATTLE CREEK BRAWL in 1980 and James Glickenhaus’s THE PROTECTOR in 1985. Neither caught on. But he finally did it with a re-edited and dubbed version of one of his Hong Kong movies.

For some of us, we’d had a few years of fiending to see and learn about whatever Hong Kong action cinema we could. Trying to find rentals or bootlegs of subtitled John Woo, maybe Ringo Lam, THE HEROIC TRIO, FONG SAI YUK, THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR, or anything Jackie.

Most of those were about a certain poetry, a certain vibe, a mix of style and cool and honor and brotherhood and violence that seemed thrilling compared to what we got at home. But the excitement of Jackie was entirely about the miracle of human movement. A guy who can flip and run up walls and jump off buildings and onto or over moving vehicles. A daredevil and a silent comedian and a kung fu master all rolled into one. He wasn’t cool in the same way that Chow Yun Fat was. He was kind of a dork. But also a god. (read the rest of this shit…)

Supercop 2

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

As I believe I’ve made clear in many reviews over the years, as well as this week’s Profiles in Badass column on Rebeller, I’m aware of Michelle Yeoh’s wide range of talents and accomplishments. I love her most for the movies that really showcase her fighting and her swagger, like WING CHUN, and YES, MADAM!, or her fighting and her regret, like CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, and the totally-worth-checking-out straight-to-Netflix sequel, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY. I also very much admire her dramatic acting chops from AH KAM to CRAZY RICH ASIANS. Still, the timing of my specific movie-watching path, discovering Hong Kong action in the ‘90s, means that I will always think of her as Michelle “jumped a motherfucking motorcycle onto a motherfucking train in SUPERCOP Yeoh. That’s just a fact. (read the rest of this shit…)