Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Knight Errant (Ying xiong ben se, 1973)

Next up for all you martial arts movie fans out there is a gem from 1973 featuring the main man Jimmy Wang Yu, Knight Errant!! This flick from the First Films studios also stars Kurata Yakasaki, Shen Mao, Lung Fei and Tse Gam-Guk along with others, most notably Blacky Ko. (yeah, that name would stand out.) In the director's chair on this picture is Ting Shan-Hsi.

Knight Errant opens with a flashback scene set in 1937 during the latter years of Japanese occupation of Taiwan. We see someone behind a shoji screen kneeling, and a mother and three young boys with her on the other side of it. In dramatic fashion, the figure raises a katana blade and sticks it into their belly. After a few jump cuts to the mother & children, we find ourselves outdoors in the present day. A mature woman dressed as a karateka(Gam-Guk) is issuing orders to three men. She's billed as 'The Lady With The Iron Fists!' and nothing else throughout the picture. The training sequence sets up the opening credits full of high-flying kicks and cascading music. If that opening music gets you REALLY hype when you hear it, there's a reason. The track is actually soul legend Solomon Burke's 'Cool Breeze' for the Blaxploitation classic of the same name starring Thalmus Rasulala. And it's also the basis for 'Apollo Kids', the bangin' classic by Ghostface Killah. (Side note - Curtis Mayfield gets sampled in this flick too early on.) It turns out that the three men, Tetsuro(Kurata), Masaki (Fei) and Takito(Mao) are those same three boys we see earlier. And they've been pushed to the limit training for one reason: revenge.

The Lady With The Iron Fists sits the three down after another session in the dojo where she shows exactly how tough she is. By having four of her students hold her down by each of her limbs and another student jump up and down on her STOMACH. Mind you, the dude doing this isn't tiny by any stretch. She tells them again that their mission is to avenge their father's seppuku & their mother's later suicide. See, their father was one Captain Mishima, who commanded a prison in the area. He captures a spy, Kebu and sets the order for execution. But Kebu escapes with the help of rebels and a man under Mishima's command, Lin Ming Cheung (Ngai So). The uproar caused Mishima to resign and take his own life. His wife then followed after. The plan is then set in motion for the three to hit Taiwan and find Ming Cheung and kill him. At this point, we find that Ming Cheung owns a small restaurant, and helps to take care of his two sons, a cousin and a daughter who's blind. Enter Lin Huo-Shan(Wang Yu), the eldest son who is a well-meaning cab driver who always winds up in a fight. And these fights wind up being a real drain on the family's savings, which are sorely needed to help repair his sister Yueh Fung's (Chen Ying Fung)blindness. Huo-Shan also tries to keep up his relationship with his girlfriend in the midst of all this when the three brothers come to town. And then things really get complicated, leaving Huo-Shan no choice but to get involved and settle things once and for all.

Knight Errant is an interesting flick. For one, this comes at the beginning of Wang Yu's newly-found independence. Prior to this, he was a box-office star in Hong Kong with Shaw Studios. But due to his desire to be paid more, Wang Yu broke his contract with Shaw. That led to him being unable to ever make a movie in Hong Kong going forward. Taiwan then became a major backdrop for all of his films. What makes this movie stand out during this period before his later hits is that for one, it shines a light on anti-Japanese sentiment that was rising steadily in these films in conjunction with World War II. But it does so as a key part of the plot without diving into stereotypes. Outside of Huo-Shan stating he hates the Japanese midway through the flick, the sentiment is very light. Wang Yu is gold here, giving some warmth as a dutiful son trying his best. There's also comedy at work here(keep an eye on the scene where he rescues his girl in a restaurant) both intentional and unintentional. See the pic below:

Yeah, that's Huo-Shan RUNNING OVER The Lady in his taxi as part of the final fight of the movie. I would've loved to have been a fly on the wall and have heard how they came up with this. It does give one slight pause that he'd do that to an older woman or a woman period but that got put aside 'cause she was a villain and as such, could be dealt with in any fashion. Putting that aside for a bit, the rest of the cast does well here. Kurata does make for a charismatic villain, and Lung Fei and Shan Mao do well here too. Mao actually stands out in another respect; he basically is known for being highly exaggerated with his facial expressions and movements in his film career. Here, he kind of gives way to Gam-Guk in that arena. Gam-Guk in this film is striking because she's the ultimate villain of the film, but we don't know how she got into the boys' lives. Also, she heads up her own school. Gam-Guk would only be in five films total in her career, with this and Kung Fu Mama being the highlights. According to some scant research, she was also a herbologist in addition to acting. She is quite formidable in this flick. Don't believe me? Peep how she comes back AFTER GETTING RUN OVER to give Wang Yu a two-piece. The action is brutal without being too bloody and makes Knight Errant more than a standard revenge fight flick. Go peep it when you can, it's actually on the 'Net now!

RATING: 4 Dragon Punches Out Of 5

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Avenging Eagle (Long xie shi san ying, 1978)

Next up here on Hai! Karate is the dramatic brawling flick, The Avenging Eagle! This Shaw Brothers joint features two of the studio's top male leads, the venerable Ti Lung and the late Alexander Fu Sheng. Also rounding out the cast are veteran Shaw stars Shih Szu, Ku Feng, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei and Dick Wei among others. The film is directed by Sun Chung and Ni Kuang provides the flick's screenplay.

The film opens with Black Eagle Chik Ming Sung(Lung)wandering through a desert patch, parched and exhausted. He falls off his steed and is soon rescued by another stranger, Double Sword Sleeve Cheuk Yi Fan(Sheng). Sung is uneasy at first, but Fan's wit and easy-going nature makes Sung drop his guard a bit. Well, that and the three killers who drop into the abandoned villa they're resting in. Fan observes that Sung not only knows them, but they know him too. After dispatching all three, they ride off and Sung spills the beans. He's one of the Thirteen Eagles, the assassins of the notorious Iron Boat Gang. The gang, led by Yoh Xi Hung(Feng) was formed to be ruthless killers for Hung from childhood onward. Hung spared no rod and certainly showed no love. Sung was one of his prized men. But after he and other Eagles went after a royal treasure protected by a great hero who laid a beatdown on him before his demise, Sung passed out in a forest glade. He's rescued from death by a kind man and taken into his house in a secluded valley. There, Sung is able to heal, and see the merits of kindness and honor. And he also falls in love with the man's sister, Miss Fung(Szu) who is more than willing to reciprocate. But, Sung returns to the gang and instead of quitting, is forced to go on another job. A job that entails the murder of Devil's Plight Wang An - the same man who rescued Sung. He tries to stop his brother assassins to no avail, and Miss Fung is murdered, dying in Sung's arms. This shatters him and when Yoh Xi Hung sees this, he goes ballistic. Sung then fights off the clan and flees. Fan hears this and then reveals that his family was the one slaughtered by the Thirteen Eagles. Both men become tenuous allies with one goal: smash the Iron Boat Gang and kill Yoh Xi Hung!

The Avenging Eagle is a compelling kung-fu movie for a number of reasons. For one, it's a very good story that Ni Kuang puts forth here. Savagery and justice and finding redemption are juggled as themes here. Sun Chung in the director's chair keeps things going at a great pace, even with one or two slow moments. This film marks a period where he was really in his zone with regards to action flicks, and it also was a film where he got to finally push the envelope with shooting on Steadicam. Chung was regarded as Shaw Studios' pioneer in this, and it shows up here in the crisp wide angle views as well as the multiple fluid action scenes. As for the leads, this film was the third film they had done together to that point. But it's a treat to see Ti Lung and Fu Sheng really stand out in this film as true equals. Fu Sheng by this time was a fast rising star; young and handsome, he was a prize for Shaw. Lung was, by this time, already a well-respected veteran actor with several stellar roles. He fit the role of the wandering swordsman very well. The chemistry between them is gripping. Ku Feng as the villainous Yoh Xi Hung is real GREASY. And when he busts out the golden claws for the final battle? You can't tell me Ghostface Killah didn't get the idea for the eagle gauntlet he used to rock from this film. I admit, Shih Szu as Miss Fung deserved a little bit more fleshing out in my opinion. But she did her job as the doomed romantic foil. Her role leads me to another key point about The Avenging Eagle; Chung packed a LOT into a flick just under 90 minutes. You won't be wanting for good fight scenes here. Some scenes will have you locked in, like the scene where Fan and Sung face off against Vulture(Lung-Wei) to turn the tables on the gang. (By the way, I wonder how much laughter ensued with his makeup job. You'll see what I mean.) Chung adds to the fight's energy with a few freeze frames and slo-mo shots. Not enough to be overkill, and just a tad to add some spice.

The Avenging Eagle is without a doubt a really good martial arts film. And recently even more validity to that statement came in July of this year when there was an announcement by both The Weinstein Company and Celestial Pictures was made. They are joining forces to remake two classic Shaw Brothers films from the 1960's and 1970's and one of them will be The Avenging Eagle. It really isn't hard to see why; the flick is a must see for all true fans of the genre. It has great fight scenes. Enough drama to tie everything together. And the outfits are really funky. I can say that you can't go wrong watching this flick.

RATING: 4 Dragon Punches out of 5

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chinese Hercules(Ma tou da jue dou, 1973)

Next up for you kung fu movie fanatics here on Hai! Karate is a little number from 1973 that packs a wallop!! The film is called Chinese Hercules, starring Michael Chan Wai-Man, Yang Tze - better known as Bolo Yeung, Kong Faan, Kong Do and Gam Dai among others. Huang Ta is the director for this picture. I Kuang is the man behind the screenplay. Now, you might be a tad confused by the above images. Part of that is that this film actually has THREE different names. I'll get into that later on, though.

The movie opens with our hero Lee Hsi(Wai Man)training hard one night. He's interrupted by a young woman who he likes(Faan)who is a bit concerned about his excessive training. He tells her it's because he can't stand being trash-talked by her brother(Do) who studies in the same school for being an orphan and for associating with her. They leave the school together and are confronted by her drunk brother, who decides to pick a fight with Hsi. Hsi fights him off - well, he beats the daylights out of him. Dude then pulls out a knife and Hsi finishes him off, killing him. Frightened and dismayed, Wei runs off to the seaside, and smashes his hand with a large rock vowing never to fight again. Of course these vows have as much life span as a Kardashian marriage. Hsi takes a fake name and finds work on the docks. He deals with an abusive boss, but earns the respect of his fellow workers. He's sorely tested to use his fighting prowess but resists, even when beaten by the ruthless syndicate that runs the docks. Soon dock workers who resist are found dead, and the boss calls in the 'Chinese Hercules', Bolo himself to smash them. Hsi finds himself facing an uncertain future unless he summons his vast strength to fight the killer and face his past, which comes back in a surprising way.

Chinese Herculeswalks that fine line between being very compelling and not even worth it. But it does so ably. Give credit to Ta Huang for keeping the film moving at a neat pace, enough so that the film doesn't drag on. Also, he did have a decent enough eye to work in a couple of different angles that make some scenes pop better. Corey Yuen is the action director here, and he makes the fight scenes here slightly jarring because of how violent they are. Cats catch BAD ones here. Case in point? One of the workers decides to go up against the syndicate boss in his own home. After fighting the boss, he winds up being flat out beaten to death without any ceremony. You even have a random trollop smoking a cigarette with a look on her face like, 'he aint dead YET?' Overall Yuen does infuse a fluid and rhythmic element throughout . Wai-Man as the hero here is solid. He gives off a measured amount of emotion without being melodramatic. And his fighting skills are swift and strong. You can see his Hung Gar skills put to good use in this flick. As for Bolo, he gets to be the killer movie baddie, bulging muscles and all. Now, he's not in this movie for more than MAYBE 20 minutes. But you get all of the Bolo sneers and flexes that he's known for in that span of time.

So, as far as the name of the flick itself. Well the movie was made by Hong Kong Kai Fa Pictures, a smallish studio. They put this film out first under the title of A Duel In Harbor. There were a couple of alternate titles, the most common one being Freedom Strikes A Blow. But soon after this flick was released, Enter The Dragoncame out worldwide sparking the West's kung fu craze. Bolo was one of the memorable villains, and when National General Pictures got the film rights to distribute this picture, he was the most recognizable. So they marketed the film playing on another B-movie trope of the 'Hercules' variety that was popularized by those movies of the 1960's. Hence, Chinese Hercules complete with the cheesy tag line. If you want a decent martial arts flick with some crisp action that won't put you to sleep, Chinese Hercules is worth a go.

RATING: 3 Dragon Punches out of 5

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Black Butterfly (Nüxia Hei Hu die, 1968)

This go-round on Hai!Karate, we cover a Shaw Brothers joint from 1968, "The Black Butterfly'! This swordplay epic stars Lisa Chiao Chiao, Yueh Hua, and Ku Feng among a full cast. Lo Wei directs and also stars in this picture.

The Black Butterfly, played by Chiao Chiao, is actually less of a terrorizing figure than the initial appearance of her caharacter portrays. She's actually a Robin Hood type of character, robbing oppressive fat cats to give money to the poor disaster victims. By day, she's Kwan Bao Zhu, daughter of well known swordsman Gold Sword Kwan Yee(Tien Feng). Matters get a bit complicated because of the appearance of Liu Xi Xang(Hua), out to find a band of robbers in the town. The robbers are after the Butterfly after she got them for their gold a while before. The local magistrate is also after the Black Butterfly, and thinks that Drunken Beggar Loong San Fong(Yeung Ching Hing) is the culprit. San Fong is Bao Zhu's kung fu master, on account of Kwan Yee's unwillingness to teach his daughter any of his own skills because, she's a woman. (hrm.)San Fong is also an expert who poses as a drunk for a very good reason, explained later in the film. And Xi Xang, who Bao Zhu likes, is then coerced to hunt the Butterfly down by her dad. All of this intrigue leads the Black Butterfly into a face-off to clear her father's name and restore order to the town.

The Black Butterfly should be a real good film. But, truth be told, it can bore you. Part of it may do with the fact that being a wuxia film, that style focused more on having an operatic feel to scenes. Another element may be that it shares similarities to a film by Chor Yuen, The Black Rose, three years earlier, and that there may have been another flick done in 1960 under the same name with Lo Wei as director, although there's no real body of facts to confirm the latter. Chiao Chiao does well here, her fighting scenes conducted with flair and a good amount of force. She was one of the up and coming actresses Shaw was looking to make a star in the same vein as Ivy Ling Po and the late Linda Lin Dai. Yueh Hua plays to the vest as the strong, young hero Xi Xiang. A little too much. And that seems to bring up another thing - this film was laid out in cookie-cutter fashion. Lo Wei does have to be commended for making this picture more enjoyable. His work with the cinematography lends some thrill to the film, like when Black Butterfly skips over a lake like it was nothing. It makes the one or two instances where the wire work wasn't up to snuff easily overlooked. (Side note: look out for Sammo Hung in a low-tier role in this picture.) The Black Butterfly is one flick that might just be reserved for the real buffs of martial arts epics and not for the casual viewers out there; fair but not too great.

Rating: 2.5 Dragon Punches out of 5

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Executioner (Chokugeki! Jigoku-ken!, 1974)

Hai!Karate roars back again with another flick for your viewing pleasure. This time we take it to Tokyo, Japan with a flick from 1974, The Executioner! This film from Toei stars the brawling legend himself, Sonny Chiba! Also in the cast are Eiji Go, Yutaka Nakajima, Makoto Sato and Yasuaki Kurata. Teruo Ishii is in the director's chair.

The Executionerstarts out with the former police commissioner of Tokyo, Mr. Arashiyama(Ryo Ikebe) and his niece, Emi (Nakajima)set out to create a team to fight crime. A team of highly skilled criminals. The trio is comprised of Ryuichi Koga(Chiba),a ninja turned private eye and enforcer for hire, Takeshi Hayabusa(Sato), a former police detective turned assassin and Ichiro Sakura(Go), a karate expert and top-notch pervert supreme. These three are then tasked to take down a Yakuza big by the name of Mario Mizuhara who is set to enlarge his drug empire outside of Japan. Pretty simple, yes? But that's the only simple thing about this flick. As the three meet after Koga breaks Sakura out of a prison death row, it turns out Arashiyama resigned due to a botched bust of a drug mule for Mizuhara that left six cops dead. And their supervisor, Hayabusa, fired. All together, the three are in this job until the end, with a little help from Kurata.

The entire picture is a barrel of utter batshit comedy, violence and action. I'll say it again: BATSHIT. Because in some instances that just fits. The first time I saw this flick I was thrown for a loop 10 minutes in. To start with, Ryuichi's ninja training and then his rebellion against his grandfather over joint dislocation? An ill sequence due in no small part to Chiba's excellent skill, being a 4th dan master of ninjutsu. It gets into the violent very quickly with Hayabusa's first appearance though. First off, dude enters a bedroom and interrupts a crime boss basically deep in a game of hide-the-salami with a young lady. After the boss pays him six million yen NOT to kill him, three more than his original contract, Hayabusa murders him anyway. And then proceeds to smash the dead guy's woman RIGHT NEXT TO HIS BODY. He's also got this crazy, Richard Widmark laugh that makes you laugh with him and then stop because you realize how wild he really is. As for Sakura, he's basically the perverted comedy relief. His facial expressions alone make him look like he'd be the type to get thrown out of a women's dressing room with a mirror in his hand. The chemistry is a solid one, and that's what keeps you interested in the midst of all the violence. And it wouldn't be a Sonny Chiba flick without it. There are a couple of moments where it is not for the squeamish. And one or two moments where it just gets out of control. (Look at how the trio go after the Yakuza henchmen IN THEIR BEDROOMS.) There's also a great deal of sex and nudity. This is the time where Japanese cinema wasn't just crossing the line as far as that went, but literally tearing it to shreds. The "pinky' era was firmly built from the mid 1970's.

Teruo Ishii played a hand in this matter. It's been said that Ishii hated working on martial arts movies, preferring to work on films with dark themes and a bit of erotica involved as well. Some refer to him as the father of the ero-guro style, or 'erotic-grotesque' in Japanese cinema during this time period. There are flashes of that in The Executioner but nothing on par with his other films. The action is frantic but magnetic. It's a plus to see ninjutsu and karate at work on the same side in this film. A lot of the fight scene choreography is due in part to Chiba and the Japan Action Club which he founded in 1970 for stunt actors. (A lil bit of trivia for you - the younger Ryuichi Koga we see in the beginning of the flick? None other than Hiroyuki Sanada. This was his first motion picture role.) Yasuaki Kurata also got to do some of the choreography, which made for another good change of pace as far as style was involved; he involved more of a back and forth whereas with Chiba there was sheer force and brutal conclusions. All in all, the film makes for some good entertainment even if there's moments that make you go 'WTF'??(Like the one scene with the lone brother and his lady - they didn't have to do him like that.)It got enough success to have a sequel quickly filmed and released so that says something. If you want some real knockdown drag out martial arts action Chiba style one afternoon, check out The Executioner. And mind the splatter.

Rating: 4 Dragon Punches out of 5

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Association (Yan ku shen tan, 1975)

We've got a doozy here on Hai!Karate for you fine folks! This next review is dedicated to The Association, courtesy of Golden Harvest from 1975. The main stars are Angela Mao Ying and Byong Yu, with Tanny Tien Ni, Sammo Hung, Whang In Sik present as co-stars. The famed Cheng Chang Ho is in the director's chair for this one.

The film starts out ominously at sunset, with Fan Ying(Mao Ying) being led to a post by a few policemen, in front of close friend and fellow kung fu student Detective Wang(Yu). As she is tied to the post for execution, we get to flashback to how she got there. Her father is the local militia commander, who has been bedridden due to serious illness. A rival general, Choi(Chiu Hung) tries to get him to sign over command to him, but is rebuffed. A local shopkeeper tries to strongarm him for owed money, but instead goes after and rapes his wife. Fan Ying comes in and summarily murders him, and Wang arrives too late. The flashback ends when Fan Ying is shot dead by the firing squad. Wang, thank to information given by Fan Ying, begins to investigate Choi despite being confronted by his lieutenant (In Sik). The discovery of a dead girl with a half-aborted child leads him to look into a welfare administration in town that isn't what it seems. And this puts him on the hunt to get rid of the evil doers once and for all...with some unexpected help.

That help comes in the form of Fang Hua who may look familiar to you. That's 'cause she's ALSO played by Angela Mao. Lui is out to avenge the late Fan Yin, who was her sister. Together they go up against the Overseas Club, Choi and the rest in some real bone-breaking style.

The Associationis a solid bit of martial arts action, but there are a few things you gotta get past to fully enjoy it. First thing? Byong Yu. When I first saw this flick I thought he was Balki Bartokomous from 'Perfect Strangers' long lost cousin. I think that this film was the beginning of Golden Harvest's search to find 'the next Bruce Lee'; after all, he had been a true gem for them and there were SO many guys out there who were trying to be that next star. Yu even has the standard white tee/black pants and slippers combo Bruce rocked in The Big Boss. He does an okay job here, but this would prove to be Byong Yu's first and only motion picture role by all accounts. Again, he's cool here though. He even holds his own with the powerful Whang In Sik, not an easy task at all. The second thing is, the whole soft-core porn feel in certain parts of the flick. Bear in mind that this was the mid 70's, and more Hong Kong and Taiwanese studios were getting more daring with the nudity and sex. But I could have done without that scene with the lecherous shop-keeper pulling a haphazard chicken wing on a sofa being that long. And when they get into the Association's ritual with young girls and OHMIGOD WHY IS THAT RUGGED WHITE CHICK DANCING IN RED GAUZE LIKE SHE'S LADY GAGA'S AUNTIE?? (Excuse me, I had to let that out.)

Outside of those instances, the film is satisfying. Angela Mao doesn't get a great deal of screen time in this picture, but when she's involved, it is DYNAMITE. Exhibit A is when Fang Ying assaults the shopkeeper. She knocks the lining out of his backside something fierce. As Fang Hua, she gives an extra edge. She doesn't hold back. Tanny Tien Ni provides a bit of sauciness as a widow involved in money laundering who has rather hot dreams. Sammo Hung plays Yu's second in command, Tiger in a bit role. Actually, there's a couple more cameos in here thanks to Carter Wong and the old drunk Chef himself, Simon Yuen as Wang and Fang Yin's sifu. The action scenes are brisk, thanks to the joint direction of both Sammo and Whang In Sik. What The Association is, is a crime melodrama with some high action and a few 'what the hell' parts but overall, not a bad way to spend an hour and a half.

Rating: 3.5 Dragon Punches out of 5

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Finger of Doom (Taai Aau Chi, 1972)

Since Halloween is not too far away, it looks like it's as good a time as any to chop it up about this next flick here on Hai!Karate! The film? Finger Of Doom from 1972 starring Ivy Ling Po and Chin Han and directed by Pao Hsueh Li.

Finger Of Doomstarts out with four hero swordsmen set up and turned into living zombie slaves by Kung Suen Mao Neong(Park Yi-Jyeon), a renegade from a particular cult that uses sorcery and a technique known as the 'Finger Of Doom' to enslave people. Kung Suen's mission? To dominate the martial arts world. The cult's matriarch sends her sister(Ling Po)out to stop her & execute her if necessary. And so, she goes after thieves and bandits to make them her slaves who'll carry her around in a coffin as Meong has done. Meanwhile, Heaven Sword(Han) and his brother Earth Sword(Chen Feng-Chen) are hiding out in an abandoned villa, on the run after witnessing the murder of a famous martial artists & his entire clan. Heaven Sword doesn't want to look for trouble, but their third brother gets set up by an Chang; the same man who works for Kung Suen. This winds up putting Heaven Sword and Kung Suen's sister together to stop a common enemy in a final blood-curdling showdown.

Finger Of Doomis the fifth film from Pao Hsueh-Li, who had gotten his start with Shaw Brothers after being in Taiwan first. He's known as one of the key men behind the look and feel of Shaw films in the 1970's with his cinematography, which comes into excellent play here. The fight scenes aren't too overpowering visually but they flow very well. He makes it a point to buttress the protagonists with good framing. There's a bit of mystery with the coffins and the walking corpses, but nothing too gory like later Shaw horror pieces. Ivy Ling Po stands out strikingly here as the big sister of the Finger Of Doom clan. By this point she was a veritable movie star and this marked her 18th year in acting. She uses her smirk to perfection here, and the chemistry between Han and her helps to to drive the film right on through its slow points. With regards to Kung Suen, the actress Park Ji-Hyeon is an intriguing case. A native of South Korea, Park was implored to come to Hong Kong to establish herself as an actress with both comedic and dramatic range. She wound up working with Shaw Studios and this film got her a lot of admiration from director Chu Yuan. He then offered Park a pivotal role opposite Shaw beauty Lily Ho in his upcoming film, Intimate confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. But it never came to pass, as Park encountered visa problems which limited her to only have three films under her belt, Finger Of Doom being the last. The role went to Betty Ting-Pei and the rest became history.

This movie is interesting, but it does tend to slightly drag a bit. Part of that is due to a lot of dialogue to set up the action. But overall it's entertaining and has enough chills and intrigue to keep you fixated throughout.

Rating: 3 Dragon Punches out of 5

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Skyhawk (Huang Fei-hong xiao lin quan, 1974)

Next up here on Hai! Karate is a gem from 1974 that marries the old and new in Hong Kong cinema, The Skyhawk. The film stars the legendary Kwan Tak-Hing, Carter Wong, Sammo Hung, Nora Miao, Whang In Sik and Lee Kwan among others. Now this film is remarkable because of the main star, Kwan Tak-Hing himself. When I say legend to describe Tak-Hing, it fits like a pair of new shoes. The man was a well-known Cantonese Opera star in the late 1920's & 30's BEFORE getting into films and the role that would define him for generations, the doctor/martial arts hero Wong Fei-Hung. See, most now associate that role with Jet Li because of the 'Once Upon A Time in China' series. But THIS is the man that started it all. The Skyhawk is another in the series for a new generation, being that his last film as the hero prior to this was in 1970.

The flick opens in the back country of Thailand. Skyhawk(Tak-Hing) and Fei Fei(Hung) are on the way to visit Skyhawk's friend Chu for his birthday. Behind them on the road is Little Lion(Wong) who gets run up on by five dudes from a school for martial arts who have a beef with him. He makes short work of them. They then run back to a temple and get their master, Kwok(In Sik). Kwok basically goes with them, finds Lion and kicks the living crap out of him. Skyhawk and Fei Fei find him and take him along to Chu's. Chu happens to be a labor leader at the local factory. His daughter (Miao) takes a liking to Little Lion right off. Fei Fei has ties to the town as well; his sister runs the big restaurant in town along with her husband(Kwan). Trouble starts to rumble when Chu butts heads with Mr.Ku(Chiu Hung)over the workers, leading to Ku basically killing to get the workers under control. Kwok winds up aligning with Ku after his beatdown of Ku's men who were trafficking young girls to Japan. Fei Fei's brother in law has a SERIOUS gambling problem and winds up in trouble with Ku, who covets his wife. All of these conflicts bring Skyhawk to the brink, and goes against his normal ways of seeking peace and harmony. Ultimately Skyhawk rises to battle - but at a great cost.

The Skyhawkcaused a stir because of its violent and bloody scenes. This was opposite of what one used to see in previous Wong Fei-Hung films, but it reflected the influences both from the time period as well as the director, the renowned Cheng Chang Ho. Ho actually made this film a reunion of sorts for cast members from the film that made him famous, King Boxerin 1972. Chiu Hung, Gam Kei-Chu and Yau Lung all play significant roles here. Also, credit Sammo Hung for great action directing because the fight scenes pulsate, especially the final showdown between Skyhawk and Little Lion vesrus Kwok and Ku. Tak-Hing, though advanced in years by this time, gets to show off the skills that made him famous in a convincing way. Carter Wong is brash and full of intensity here(look for the scene where he surprises Yau Lung. I guarantee you'll burst out laughing.)

The Skyhawkis an entertaining, quick film. Trust me, it's under 90 minutes. There's a good balance of action and drama although it can get a bit melodramatic here and there. Some of the night scenes will be hard to view at times on the available print through Fortune Star. While that works against Cheng Chang Ho, it's the only issue he has. The direction is great here; fans of aerial kung-fu will love some of the scenes here where Whang In Sik is involved. Nora Miao is essentially a side character here without a lot of involvement. The Thai backdrop does provide a nice setting, but you will find yourself making comparisons to The Big Bosshere and there. The story line doesn't do much to dissuade them either. But this is still a must watch film, especially to see the great Kwan Tak-Hing in action. (There's still an effort to get many of his films made available to a wider audience. 144 of them to be exact.)

RATING: 3.5 Dragon Punches out of 5