Saturday, March 30, 2013

Snake In The Eagle's Shadow (Se Ying Diu Dau, 1978)

Right now, we're going to talk about the great Jackie Chan in one of the films that made him a box office star on the rise, 'Snake In The Eagle's Shadow'. The film also stars Hwang Jang Lee and Yuen Siu Tien, beloved worldwide as the original 'Ol'Dirty Bastard' or Sam Seed. This is also the first picture ever directed by Tien's own son. His name? Yuen Woo Ping. Thought that might ring a bell for you.

The film opens with a standoff on a lonely hill. Shang Kuang Yin(Lee) has tracked down another member of the rival Snake Fist clan, who he has sworn to eradicate as the master of the Eagle Claw. He dispatches him in short order, but not before finding out there are a few others left, especially Pai Chang Tin. We then find ourselves at a kung fu school watching orphan Chien Fu(Chan)being picked on by the teachers and students. He's basically a walking punching bag. Enter Pai Chang Tin(Tien), a beggar looking for a place to stay. He and Chien Fu become friends, and Chien hides him in the school. When the old man sees him being bullied, he teaches the orphan the Snake style footwork to help him avoid attacks. Chien Fu defends himself, but is hurt again. He finds Pai, now in another hiding spot and asks for help. The old beggar agrees, so long as Chien doesn't call him sifuor 'master'. A attack by the Mantis school on Chien Fu's school leads to a brawl, and Chien Fu defeats the Mantis master. But in the process, Shang Kuang Yin observes and sees something familiar which leads to a final showdown...

'Snake In The Eagle's Shadow' is a MUST-SEE film for any martial arts film afficionado. We get to see Jackie Chan at the beginning of his stardom in a vehicle that firmly placed him there. Prior to this, Chan was under contract with famous director Lo Wei, who was trying to make him the next Bruce Lee. (An example of this was New Fists of Fury.Heh.)Producer Ng See Yuen saw Chan's potential when he cast him in Drunken Master, which proved to be a smash hit. 'Snake In the Eagle's Shadow' has some terrific action scenes all around. A lil bit of trivia for the gamers out there: the training scenes from this flick got recreated for supercop Lei Wulong's ending movie scenes in 'Tekken 3'. Chan's final fight with Hwang Jang Lee is nothing short of thrilling. It even cost Jackie a tooth; see if you can spot the gap in his teeth in the final fight. Yuen Siu Tien is excellent as the old beggar, with a few classic comedic lines here and there. You've even got a missionary in the picture with a, 'suspect' sword. You'll see what I'm talking about. Hwang Jang Lee plays the baddie role well, right down to the silk Hammer pants. Put 'Snake In The Eagle's Shadow' on your viewing queue as soon as possible.

Station identification #1

What's happening? This is just a little quickie post to say two things. First, I've been getting great feedback on Hai! Karate from different folks and I'm glad that people are digging this blog. I'm going to make a concerted effort to keep it going for you. Thanks so much! And second, I'm getting set to also include some movies some of you may NEVER have seen or heard of. Which is totally okay 'cause I think you should see them if possible and because they're that dope. Expect some ninja flicks, some samurai gangster flicks...we're just getting started!! As an example, the still above is my man Ken Takakura from 'The Yakuza' in 1974. So, stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Angry Guest (Nyn Haak, 1972)

Okay folks, the next flick up for review here on Hai!Karate is 'The Angry Guest', featuring the star tandem of Ti Lung and David Chiang reprising their roles in the sequel to 'Duel of Fists'. Call it bowing to the success at the Hong Kong box office, or the Shaw Studios' penchant for churning out movies at a high rate in a year, but it's remarkable that they had these two films released so close together.

'The Angry Guest' gives you a quick recap of the first film in the opening credit montage. Fan Ke(Chiang) and Wen Lieh (Lung), having reunited, are back in Hong Kong with Fan Ke back at his construction site and Wen Lieh teaching at the school. Qianreng, or the big boss Giant who was vanquished at the end of 'Duel Of Fists', is in a Thai prison but escapes. He does so and is informed that HIS boss in Tokyo wants the brothers to join his organization and that they're going to kidnap Wen Lien's girlfriend(Ching Li) to force their hand. Qianreng seeks his own revenge, and the brothers soon find themselves caught up in drama that takes them from Hong Kong to Tokyo and back again until the final showdown.

Chang Cheh this time around basically makes this a film that delivers on action and more action. But he does so with a plot that almost goes all over the place and stays there. Don't be surprised if you find yourself lost watching this. You also have to suspend some belief watching this; I still don't understand how a man with a ginormous steel cane is popping in and murking folks and GETTING AWAY clean like he was Jesse Owens. Plus, Chang Cheh himself fills in as the big baddie in Tokyo. Right down to the rotting teeth in his mug. Seriously, you'll see that mess for yourself. That said, there's a lot to enjoy in 'The Angry Guest'. Ti Lung and David Chiang are at their charismatic & ass- kicking high here. This film also marks the first time Japanese martial artist star Yakasaki Kurata would work with the Shaw Brothers, here playing a conniving villain. You also get to see Bolo Yeung in a prominent role here, still swole up but with a low cut. As usual with a Chang Cheh picture, romance isn't a factor so Ching Li and Fong Yan-Ji who plays Akiko, the Japanese judo fighter and love interest(sort of) of Fan Ke don't factor too much except for an unfortunate scene near the end of the flick. All in all, 'The Angry Guest' is a brisk sequel, one that fits in with its predecessor even if it takes time to follow along.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Drug Connection (Du Hou Mi Shi, 1976)

Next flick up for grabs here at Hai!Karate is a little number known as 'The Drug Connection' from the Shaw Brothers Studio. Funny thing is, you won't see it marketed under that name. Instead, you will note that the poster above calls it 'The Sexy Killer.' Why? For a couple of reasons, which I'll break down real quick. 'The Drug Connection' stars actress Cheng Ping, whose career was exemplified by playing roles of tough and attractive women who didn't mind baring flesh here and there, sometimes in 'sexploitation'roles.

Cheng Ping plays Wan Fei, a nurse who finds out that her sister has been seduced into crippling heroin addiction and thusly, the world of sex trafficking. She desperately wants revenge, against the advice of her policeman friend(Yueh Wah) so she decides to get justice her own way in vicious, bloody style by posing as a high-end escort in order to infiltrate the mob in Hong Kong. If all of this sounds really familiar, it should: this is, in effect a wholesale remake of the smash hit 'Coffy' with Pam Grier done three years earlier.

The thing is, 'The Drug Connection', takes a good deal from 'Coffy', but there are distinct differences between the two films in delivery. Like the movie title disparity for example. Shaw knew that they needed audiences for this picture, and that sex sells. So they let 'The Sexy Killer' title stick to this movie as a reference point. Also, this film has a LOT more in the way of action, and of course, nudity and soft-core sex which was the studio's other profit-generating genre of film at that time. Just peep the opening scenes where Wan Fei's sister gets turned out. When I first saw it, I thought it was gonna be straight sleaze out of the gate. Cheng isn't Pam Grier, no, but she's got enough sex appeal and enough of a mean streak for this role. Possibly more. But her acting is nowhere near Pam's here. Also, being a 'Coffy' remake, 'The Drug Connection' does suffer from director Su Cheng's wild angles, as if he was on a bristol cream bender with the cinematographer in the editing room. It is an unabashed exploitation flick with a good dose of kung fu all around, especially with the big boss and an S&M episode that is going to make you rub your eyes. 'The Drug Connection' is a bowl of sex, up and down acting, outlandish scenes and bloodshed with an anti-drug message. I think. And a nutty credit scene!!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Na Cha The Great (Na Zha, 1974)

This review post is dedicated to another Shaw Brothers flick, one that dips into Chinese mythology, "Na Cha The Great" with treasured Hong Kong idol Alexander Fu Sheng in the title role. This is one of the vehicles that saw Fu Sheng rise in stardom and earn a big share of Shaw's profits in the mid 1970's.

The basic story is a re-telling of how the ancient Chinese deity Na Cha came into existence. Na Cha(Fu Sheng) is the mischievous, irreverent son of a major warlord in the heavens who likes to sneak out of his Taoist lessons and roam the earth among the humans. At first, he's unaware of the people's suffering under corrupt rule and the heinous deeds of other gods, mainly two nephews of Lord Ao-Guang, king of the seas. When Na Cha finally has had enough of the injustice, he takes action and kills the two evil gods. Unfortunately, Ao-Guang is outraged and threatens to destroy the village and townspeople Na Cha has befriended unless Na Cha takes his own life as penance. Na Cha does so and is revered as a real hero. He also becomes reborn as a god of justice, complete with the Fire Wheel to fight not only Ao-Guang, but his own father.

"Na Cha The Great" overall is a decent flick, not a particularly standout one. For a noble god in the making, Na cha seems to be a straight up stumblebum. Some of the special effects can be a bit cheesy, like the fight beneath the ocean. You can tell they shot that in front of some gigantic lobster tank somewhere. The plot is uneven, and the storytelling is sparse. Chang Cheh was concerned about the action, and that is part of the movie's saving grace. Fu Sheng's fight scenes are crisp, and the final fights he has are epic. The special effects as far as his Fire Spade and Flying wheels will get you hyped. 'Na Cha The Great' isn't really a must see, but one you should check if you're an Alexander Fu Sheng fan.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Delightful Forest (Kuai Hao Lin, 1972)

Get ready for some raw action with "The Delightful Forest"!!! This joint stars screen legend Ti Lung and is adapted from the classic Ming Dynasty novel, Tales Of The Water Margin. It's also directed by Chang Cheh, so you KNOW it's going to be wild for the night. The film begins with Instructor Wu Song(Lung) on a mission to avenge his brother's death at the hands of his sister-in-law & her lover, Ximen Qong. They mention briefly that he was attacked and in the process, killed a tiger bare-handed. Yes, you read that right. He finds Ximen Qong in a tavern and after a rough fight, kills him. The constables come and he confesses. After sentencing, Wu Song is escorted to prison while locked up in a giant placard. He & his guards stop in at an inn, drink and eat without realizing they've been drugged by the waitress. He winds up being attacked by the waitress, who is joined by her husband. They then reveal that they were admirers of Wu Song and befriend him. Wu Song is just charismatic like that. So much so that he even befriends the son of the warden at his prison and agrees to take out a corrupt official, which leads to a whole lot of bloodshed.

"The Delightful Forest' is a GREAT film. It is actually part of a series of films in the Shaw library dedicated to tales from The Water Margin. Lung would later reprise this role in 'The Water Margin', 'All Men Are Brothers', and 'Tiger Killer'. Be warned; if you're squeamish, the last fight scene is gory with a capital G. It's kind of a light precursor to that last scene of Takashi Miike's 'Ichi the Killer'. Here's a bit of trivia - the music in this film is actually Ennio Morricone sound cues from 'Once Upon A Time In The West'. Ti Lung plays Wu Song well, in all of his drunken & brash glory. Any time a film has a Youtube video dedicated to its kill count, you know you're in for wild times. 'The Delightful Forest' is delightfully full of rip-roaring action for your lazy afternoon movie viewing!

Cheng Pei Pei "The Queen Of Swords"

Cheng Pei Pei, for the casual fan of martial arts films, gained major attention with her role as Jade Fox, the villainous swordswoman in Ang Lee's 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' back in 2000. But that role was just the latest and greatest high point of a storied career for the actress regarded as "The Queen of Swords". Born in Shanghai, China, Pei-Pei parlayed her six years of ballet training into entering the Shaw Brothers' performing arts training course. With that, she was now ready to be an actress for the studio, her first role being in 1964's 'Lover's Rock.' Her first significant role was playing a male scholar in 'The Lotus Lamp' in 1965. A year later, she would claim critical international stardom for the first time as Golden Swallow in King Hu's 'Come Drink With Me.'

With that role, Cheng became a leading star for Shaw in movies as the dashing, virtuous and fierce heroine who could wield a sword and make her fights look like poetry. She even got the chance to rely upon her dance expertise in a few musicals for Shaw, 'Hong Kong Nocturne' and 'Blue Skies' being the most notable. But the times changed, and with it her leading stature. She was stifled as directors sought to soften her once powerful characters; it's known that she chafed at the direction of Chang Cheh when filming 'Golden Swallow', a film meant to be the sequel to 'Come Drink With Me' but one that saw her title character overshadowed by Jimmy Wang Yu. Fed up and looking for a change, she wound up leaving Shaw in 1971 and moved to America and was married. She did, however make two films for the Golden Harvest studio in 1973, both tough finds today. That led to her working in television mostly until Ang Lee's casting of her as Jade Fox.

Today, Cheng Pei Pei is still working, and her daughter, Eugenia Yuan has gained some success as an actress herself both in Hong Kong and internationally, her most recognizable role being in 'Memoirs Of A Geisha'. I will say that every Cheng Pei Pei film I've seen has been highly enjoyable. She's an actress that emotes wonderfully and has a distinct charisma that lingers long after you've watched her. Be sure to stick with Hai! Karate for more on her films.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Duel of Fists (Quan Ji, 1971)

The great Chang Cheh and Shaw Brothers gives us the next film up for review, 'Duel of Fists', starring Shaw icons David Chiang and Ti Lung as long-lost brothers. The film opens on a huge crowd in Bangkok, Thailand as they celebrate Songkran, the New Year's Festival with lots of water being thrown about. We then cut to Hong Kong and see Fan Ke(Chiang) hard at work on a construction site as lead engineer. He gets summoned back to his home, also a martial arts school and is ambushed by a student. Fan Ke takes him out, while his father watches. His father has him meet a business partner from Bangkok. We then cut ahead to Fan Ke being in the office and getting word that his father's gravely ill. He rushes to the hospital, and before he dies, his father tells him that he has a brother, Wenlie(Lung) in Bangkok who he must find. And so Fan Ke is off to find his Wenlie, and both men get embroiled in a situation involving murder and corruption in the world of Muay Thai boxing that threatens their lives.

'Duel Of Fists' caught my attention for many reasons. The first being that it's a Chang Cheh flick just as he was approaching the apex of his storied directing career. His calling-card themes of fraternal love, honor and brutal violence and fighting are in full display here. And with regards to love interests, they are present and not so much in the background as they would be in other films by Cheh. Ching Li, a veteran actress plays Wenlie's girlfriend from the same slums they grew up in. And Fan Ke's lady is played by Pawana Chanajit, a Thai actress who was known as 'The Pearl Of Asia'. She caught my attention real quick in the film, let me tell you. Another thing to note with 'Duel of Fists' is, there's going to be a couple of things that make you scratch your head. The first being when Fan Ke gets to see a framed photo his dad has of Wenlie when he was 10. Why does the lil homie in the picture have an anchor tattoo on him in the picture and it never faded or changed size as he grew older?!! Another thing is, the fashions. Bear in mind that this is a real '70's flick, so you are going to see some wild-ass clothes on David Chiang and others. Here's a little bit of fun you can have: count how many people are rocking daishikis in the film. Also, note how Fan Ke meets Mei Dai(Pawana) and gets a ride and gets to DRIVE HER CAR with no problem. You know that wouldn't fly today, if ever.

All that aside, 'Duel of Fists' is a great flick despite the choppy continuity. You get to see Chiang and Lung really deliver some quality beatdowns here. Also, this was a milestone for Shaw Brothers and action movies in general in the fact that it was the first depiction of Muay Thai anywhere. You can tell that Chang Cheh and Lau Kar Leung, the fight choreographer took great pains to recreate the feel of a Muay Thai stadium. It also led to more films incorporating Thai boxing into their plots. (I'll be writing more on this in later posts.)'Duel of Fists' was so well received that it even had a sequel, 'The Angry Guest' a couple of years later. Definitely worth a watch.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

It's 3 P.M. Saturday Afternoon...Where Were You Then?

(image courtesy of

Like many of you out there, 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon meant one thing and one thing only: you were probably parked in front of your TV set, anxiously anticipating when the Saturday Afternoon movie was about to start. for me and many others in NYC, it was on WNYW, Channel 5. It would be years later before I realized this was nationwide. But it was a treasured part of my childhood, as important as G.I.Joes and coloring books. It was EVERYTHING to catch that next flick, almost a religious experience if you will that began with this...

How could you NOT be amped with something like that? It got you keyed up for whatever flicks were to come on. Wasn't until later that I found out the music cue was actually from 'Grease'. That theme will forever be linked to 3 P.M. on a Saturday for me. And I'm glad other websites like DVDDriveIn and folks on Youtube feel the same way. Even the GZA had the theme music as a lead in to a track on his 'Pro Tools' album. Ah, memories...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Hapkido (He Qi Dao,1972)

Angela Mao takes center stage in another box office smash for Golden Harvest, 'Hapkido'! If someone asked me which of her films they should watch off the bat, this would be in the top three without question. The film also stars Carter Wong(his debut film as an actor) and Sammo Hung, with Whang In Sik, Pai Ying as standout supporting roles. You even have Wei Ping Ao, famous for getting his ass whooped in two Bruce Lee films in a role as a sniveling supplicant. And in what would be a regular thing, Jackie Chan appears here as a stuntman and takes some harsh blows. Corey Yuen and Yuen Biao also have cameos here, but they're quick.

The film opens on a pastoral setting in a Korea occupied by the Japanese, circa 1934. Yu Ying(Angela), Fan Wei(Sammo), and Kao Chung(Carter) are having a picnic as another group has fun nearby. The fun stops as three Japanese men enter and start degrading the revelers. The main bespectacled Japanese guy goes and hits on Yu Ying, who is in Korean hanbok(traditional dress). She lets him know that she is Chinese, and his reply is that Japan will soon rule China as well. Which then leads to Fan Wei snuffing him, resulting in a brawl that leads into the opening credits. Nice action segway. We find out that all three went to Korea to study Hapkido from their teacher, played by famed Korean Hapkido expert Ji Han Jae. After an appraisal of all of their skills, he bids them farewell and they return to Guangzhou, China to set up the Eagle School, teaching hapkido and providing free medical care to the community. But, they run afoul of the Japanese Black Bear school due to a mishap and Fan Wei's run-ins with their students. Things soon come to a head and Yu Ying must lead the way to end the Japanese tyranny.

Hapkido is a thrilling action set piece. Granted, there are a few things with the movie that aren't the best. First, this would be one of those movies that relied on anti-Japanese sentiment that was first displayed in 'Fist of Fury'. While it's not rabid, you can't miss the depictions of Japanese being lecherous or the slurs. Also, Carter Wong makes his debut here, but seems real wooden with his dialogue. But he shows that fighting skill that led him to a long career. (And if you check the trailer, note that Golden Harvest may have gotten carried away with describing his skills.)The fight scenes are magnetic, with Angela delivering some serious beatdowns. There's one in particular where she breaks out that iron rod you see in the picture above. That will make you wince. And the last fight scene is especially bloody, grindhouse style. Even Sammo's scenes are no joke, giving hope to pudgy cats across the globe, feel me? In short, Hapkido is a great flick with repeat value and worth you hitting up the Web to get a DVD copy.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Thunderbolt (1973)

The legendary Angela Mao gets top billing here in this Golden Harvest film from 1973. Also starring regulars James Tien and Pai Ying, it's a classic wuxia film of betrayal and vengeance.

The film starts out with Lung Chu (Mao) practicing her skills as her clan brothers, Cheng Yen Chieh(Tien) included look on. Chieh and the chief discuss the recent attempt to grab a treasure map tattooed on skin, broken up among four people. At that moment, Hung Wei (Ying)shows up and gets into the good graces of the Dragon Clan, only to demolish them. See, Pai's a member of the Black Tiger clan, and very fearsome with his spinning wheel technique. After all of this, he manages to turn the remaining clans against Chieh and Lung Chu. Both swear revenge and Lung works hard to master the deadly Thunderbolt palm to fight Hung Wei.

Now, I'll tell you flat out that this is one of those Angela Mao films that doesn't show a whole lot of her, even though she got top billing. But she makes up for that with her fighting scenes, especially her swordplay. The film can drag here and there plotwise. It's worth noting that not only has this been reputed to be the most physically demanding role with regards to wire work for Angela, she did this film right after being in 'Enter The Dragon' and she wound up suffering an injury during filming that left her in the hospital for two weeks. Also, Chen Kuan Tai, the famous Shaw Brothers actor did all of the fight choreography for this film. Another Shaw Brothers alum, Jason Piao Piao has a significant role here as the henchman to Hung Wei. Finally, you may recognize some of the theme music throughout; it's lifted from the score to the James Bond flick that premiered that same year, 'Diamonds Are Forever.' All in all, a decent watch for Angela Mao fans.

Angela Mao, 'The Lady Whirlwind'

Being that it is Women's History Month here in the US, it seemed like the perfect time to honor arguably the greatest kung fu actress ever, Angela Mao, the 'Lady Whirlwind'!! Most of the world first got to know her as Su Lin, the doomed sister of Bruce Lee in "Enter The Dragon"(1973). But that was part of a busy career for the Taiwanese-born star, a career which includes many memorable fight scenes that will have your jaw drop.

She started training as an actress from the age of 5 in an opera school, normal for that time. Her classmates included notable stars like Judy Lee and James Tien. At the age of 19, she was discovered by director Huang Feng and was then signed to a deal with Raymond Chow's Golden Harvest Studios. Her first film was The Angry River, and this began a slew of notable films such as Lady Whirlwind, Hapkido, Broken Oath, The Tournament and others. Angela's beauty was as striking as her fighting prowess; she learned hapkido and taekwondo under her trainer/co-star Whang In Sik as well as being proficient in wushu and other forms. But, as much as she gained great fame, she wasn't immune to the pitfalls an actress would encounter. For example, you know what she got for her prominent but brief role in 'Enter The Dragon'? A whopping 100 US dollars. Probably far less than her male counterpart would get. Also, some of the films she appeared in never really let her display the full range of her skills, a fate that also befell stars like Chang Pei Pei and Lily Ho before her.

Make no mistake, even the most casual of fans should get a chance to catch her films. Her skills are extraordinary. In The Tournament, she not only manages to kick ass using traditional Chinese boxing, but also competes in the Muay Thai ring in Bangkok!! Her acrobatic prowess is also a sight to behold. Check out one fight clip below to see what I mean:

Angela retired at age 30 to focus on her family, and has only made a few cameos since 1980. But due to her appeal, a good deal of her films are now available to the general public on DVD and online as well. Keep checking back here for more posts on Angela and her films!