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


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