Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Girl Called Tigress(1973)

(props to Pulp International 2nd photo!)
What's happening?! Today's post on Hai!Karate brings us an under-the-radar kung-fu movie featuring the sharp-kicking Polly Kuan, A Girl Called Tigress!! This film from 1973 comes to us courtesy of First Films. Also starring in this picture along with Polly is Japanese legend Yasuaki Kurata, and trusted role actors Kam Kong, Shen Mao and Blacky Ko.

The film starts off, as so many of these do, in a medium-sized town. Miss Shi(Polly) meanders through town as a traditional song plays in the background.(more on that in a bit.)She goes to a teahouse to eat some buns, and is accosted by two ruffians who want to sample her instead of the menu. Miss Shi takes them out rather quickly and sets out on the road. The two pop up again, this time with friends. Miss Shi takes them all out before being spirited away by a stranger(Kong). He takes her to his inn & gets her a room. She then has some tea brought to her and once she drinks it, she passes right out. At that moment, Chao Kun(Kurata) barges in with his minions and takes her to his villa. She's still asleep when Kun's wife comes downstairs to see what all the fuss is about. And surprise, surprise...she looks JUST LIKE Miss Shi. She implores Chao Kun to not harm her, & he then gets her back to the inn where she wakes up to see her friend. It turns out Miss Shi is looking for her lost sister. And she's now in a three-way struggle between Chao Kun, who's the local big boss and a rival and her new friend. And what of her sister?

A Girl Called Tigress is an okay film. And I stress okay for a couple of reasons. For one, Polly Kuan does her thing in this film. This was her entry into what's referred to as the 'basher' genre which focuses on just having fight scenes with a ton of kicks & punches with no regards for continuity. It was notable because prior to this, Polly was well known for her turns in a few wuxia films, one of which was the great director King Hu's 'Dragon Gate Inn'. She shows off great fighting chops here(stands to reason since she's an accredited black belt in taekwondo and was highly skilled in other arts). She moves effortlessly in her fight scenes and is rivaled only by Kurata in yet another of his villainous roles. Although I'm not quite sure what director Wong-Cheung Hong was going for with having Kurata just sprawl all over a chair in early scenes. Maybe that's where Rick Ross got it from. Kam Kong does okay here as the assisting hero. This was one of his earlier roles in Taiwanese and Hong Kong cinema, so there is a bit of newness to his look. The plot is jumbled up, a sacrifice to really focus on the fighting scenes. And those are good but not overwhelmingly so. Now there are a couple of flaws to knock here. For one, that song heard in the first opening scenes? It's a straight jack of the opening song from the last Chang Pei Pei film for Shaw Studios, The Shadow Whip. Also, if you listen carefully, you can hear Pink Floyd in a fight scene. First Films, like other studios, weren't shy about jacking for beats at all. Word to Ice Cube. Still, A Girl Called Tigress is a film to catch if only to appreciate how Polly Kuan further cemented her role as 'The Phoenix' in Hong Kong Cinema. Check it out on the web if you've got an hour to burn.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Shaolin Hand Lock (Shi Zi Mo Hou Shou, 1978)

What goes on folks? Hai!Karate returns with another flick for your pleasure! This one is a relatively undiscovered gem from the Shaw Brothers Studios, Shaolin Hand Lock!! The film is rich in talent, with David Chiang starring alongside the great Lo Lieh and macho action star Chan Wai-Man! Representing for the ladies are Chen Ping, Shum Lee-Mei and Kara Hui. Role actors Chen Shen and Dick Wei also pop up here. And in the director's chair for this film is the famed Ho-Meng Hua.

Shaolin Hand Lock starts with Li Bai (Wei)observing his son Ching Yang(Chiang) and daughter Meng Ping(Ping)training hard outside of their home. Li Bai takes a moment to talk to them both about his lethal technique, known guessed it, the Shaolin Hand Lock. He also shows both of them the protection he has against the one flaw in the technique being exploited. The kids leave and his servants go to prep lunch. At that moment Fang Yu Biao(Shen) shows up to relive old times. See, Li Bai was a smuggler back in the day. And his old partner wants him out of the way. Fang then rubs out Li Bai who tries the Shaolin Hand Lock, but doesn't have on his gear. He dies, and Xiaofeng takes out the servants. Ching Yang and Meng Ping rush home to find the bodies. A witness tells Chingyang where to find Xiaofeng. Who by the time he finds him, is off on the next boat to Bangkok, Thailand. Chingyang goes off, but not before burying his father and telling his sister to stay behind 'as it's man's business.' Chingyang arrives in Bangkok and finds Fang curled up with an escort in a brothel. Chingyang yokes him up and forces Fang to confess that he was under orders by Lin Hao(Lieh), who is a very wealthy and influential man in town. He then breaks his neck and plots out how to get close to Lin Hao.

Chingyang also finds out that there's a shipment that Lin Hao is expecting, which is guarded by his daughter Lin Ai(Lee-Mei). Chingyang then disrupts and steals the shipment. He then goes to Lin Hao and brings back the goods but not before going toe to toe with his right-hand man Li Kun Shi(Wai-Man). This leads Chingyang to be one of Hao's main men. Of course, this puts him under heavy suspicion by Kun Shi. Lin Ai also keeps an eye on him, but out of faint romantic interest. Of course, this intricate bit of deception faces a lot of peril and questions. For one, why does Lin Hao detest his wife, Blind Mama Li(Karen Yip)? What will Chingyang do to throw Kun Shi off the trail? What will he do when Meng Ping shows up? How will he defeat Lin Hao?

Shaolin Hand Lock is an interesting flick that doesn't get a lot of talk directed this way, and that's a shame. That's not to say that it's a cinematic standout. The plot does stretch itself thinner than Kelly Ripa's arms. I mean, how tight of a villain can you be if you've got more holes in your security than a honeycomb? Also, there's a certain twist with Lin Hao and Blind Mama Li that smacks of soap opera. Put that on the screenwriter Ni Kuang who usually didn't get that far off the path. Also, Shum Lee-Mei as Lin Ai? This was her only film role ever, and sadly we can see why. She kind of fades into the back a lot. But cheesy elements aside, there's a good deal to enjoy here. The fight scenes are crisp, fast-paced and compelling. Let's also not forget abundant. They pop up every few minutes so you can't get too bored. David Chiang is on his charismatic game here, but does employ good emoting as Chingyang. Lo Lieh as Lin Hao is calculating and sneering as the villain. Plus that Brylcreem job that's his hairdo works for him. Chan Wai-Man does well as Kun Shi and it's good to see how he and Chiang spar against each other. Meng Ping however is, outside of a quick action scene, just relegated to a foil. It went against her rise at that time in the studio for both action roles and those that leaned a bit on the cheesecake side. The rich settings of Bangkok add a nice touch to the film, especially the reliance on the many boats and the ruins. Ho-Meng Hua keeps the film going nicely at an even pace. You don't feel like anything is rushed, even if there are one or two moments where you could use a bit more character development. Some trivia for you: Karen Yip as Blind Mama Li would star here in her next to last feature before retiring. One little tie in with Chan Wai-Man is that they both starred in flicks set in the Scandinavian country of Denmark. In the same year. Odd, huh? Kara Hui plays one of the servants who gets offed in the early part of the film. This would actually be one of a couple of roles that she'd take on her eventual path to Hong Kong cinema stardom.(Her breakout role was her third, in 1977's The Brave Archer.) If you're looking for a film to just chill with for a little bit, Shaolin Hand Lock will do just the trick.