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Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

Born to Defence

Wednesday, December 30th, 2020

Recently I was a guest on the podcast Postcards From a Dying World, and the topic of the episode was the films of Jet Li. I’d actually been meaning to rewatch some of Li’s movies, and this pushed me to fill in a few of the ones I hadn’t seen.

BORN TO DEFENCE seemed like an important one, because it’s the only movie Li has directed. It was released in 1986, when he was in his early twenties, only his fourth movie and first without SHAOLIN in the title. Credited as “Jet Lee,” he plays Jet, a hero of WWII who opens the movie flipping and flying through tanks, explosions and machine gun fire. It’s cool but it made me think “Oh shit, I hope this isn’t a war movie.”

Never fear! The war ends and he comes home to Qingdao. Things have changed (there are orphan children for sale on the street – uncool) and his fellow vets are disgusted to find that nobody gives a shit about what they did, giving all the glory to the American sailors who are still stationed there and lording over everybody. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Sorcerer and the White Snake

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

After I watched DR. WAI IN “THE SCRIPTURE WITH NO WORDS” for the specific reason that it was a Jet Li movie directed by Ching Siu-Tung, I realized I should watch the more recent movie that fits the same description. THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE (2011) is another fantasy martial arts romance, outlandish in a different way than the other one because it’s based on a Chinese legend about animal demons.

Li plays the titular sorcerer, a truck trying to carry explosives across a shaky rope bridge, and of course Whitesnake play themselves, performing many of their hits as well as debuting songs from that year’s album Forevermore. At least I assume that was what Ching intended, but he caved to the bean-counters, so instead Li plays a skilled Buddhist demon hunter called Abbott Fahai, and early in the movie we are abruptly confronted with the sight of two beautiful human lady torsos with scale-covered breasts and giant snake body lower halves, rolling around sexily on top of each other. It’s one of those things where I’m kind of icked out by it but also very happy for whatever number of people there are out there who are into snake ladies and are sorely underserved by mainstream cinema. Merry Christmas, you pervs.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Dr. Wai in “The Scripture With No Words”

Monday, December 14th, 2020

I’m going to be on a podcast soon where the topic of the week is Jet Li movies. There are still many I haven’t seen, so I wanted to fill in a couple of blanks before recording. DR. WAI IN “THE SCRIPTURE WITH NO WORDS” from 1996 seemed like an important one to get to because it’s directed and choreographed by the great Ching Siu-Tung (his directorial followup to WONDER SEVEN, although he choreographed A CHINESE ODYSSEY: PART ONE – PANDORA’S BOX in between). He’s perhaps best known for directing A CHINESE GHOST STORY and action-directing A BETTER TOMORROW II, SHAOLIN SOCCER and HERO, but I also love his outlandish, heightened style in movies like NAKED WEAPON and one of Seagal’s weirdest, BELLY OF THE BEAST.

In the epic opening scene I was ready to get seriously Ching Siu-Tunged… there’s like a hundred guys pulling a giant mechanical ox that looks like a He-Man vehicle, and the guy driving it goes rogue and makes it fart a fire ball. But I quickly found that Ching’s usual fantasy historical period setting of The Martial World is a story-within-a-story, intercut with the marriage troubles of its supposed author, filling his martial arts adventure fiction with childishly autobiographical symbolism where he’s the hero and his wife is the villain. (read the rest of this shit…)

Millionaires’ Express

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

THE MILLIONAIRES’ EXPRESS (also called SHANGHAI EXPRESS, originally 富貴列車, or FORTUNE TRAIN according to Google Translate) is a 1986 Sammo Hung directing and starring joint all-star period comedy.

In the tradition of LICENCE TO KILL it opens with a fight in snowy Russia, as Sammo’s character Ching Fong-Tin is caught trying to steal from Russian soldiers and they force him to wear women’s underwear and do a sexy dance for them. He kind of pulls a Bugs Bunny, leaning into it, and manages to escape with an impressive window leap while the cabin explodes, but is then captured by a mountain-trapper-looking CIA agent called Fook Loi (Kenny Bee, THE SPOOKY BUNCH), so there’s more fighting. They end up rolling down the hill and making giant snowballs. (read the rest of this shit…)

Naked Killer

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020


NAKED KILLER (not to be confused with NAKED GUN or NAKED LUNCH) is a 1992 Hong Kong action movie, one of the good ones that colors outside of the lines of reasonableness. An unhinged plot, extreme behavior and acrobatic, sometimes gory action make it fun, especially since those qualities tend to overlap.

The film’s central theme is a collision of violence and sexuality – the female lead is an assassin trained to seduce men and then kill them, the male lead is a cop who has been impotent since accidentally shooting his brother to death. It’s kind of a romance, and how’s this for a meet cute? Tom (Simon Yam, BULLET IN THE HEAD, LARA CROFT is the TOMB RAIDER in THE CRADLE OF LIFE) and Kitty (Chingmy Yau, LEGEND OF THE LIQUID SWORD) are in the salon getting their hair cut at the same time. Another hairstylist is hitting on Kitty when his pregnant girlfriend comes in to confront him. Kitty pretends to take his side until she attacks him with a cigarette and stabs him repeatedly in the groin with his scissors. Tom chases her and she steals his gun, which triggers his trauma and makes him puke, so she feels sorry for him and gives it back. This story would make an amazing wedding toast! (read the rest of this shit…)

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…)