Friday, July 25, 2014

A Man Called Tiger (Leng Mian Hu, 1973)

What's going on folks? Hai! Karate is back once again with another martial arts film for all you fans of the genre. We're taking a look at another Jimmy Wang Yu picture from 1973, A Man Called Tiger!!! This Golden Harvest film also stars James Tien, Tien Feng, Maria Yi, Okada Kawai and Yuko Minakaze. Lo Wei is in the director's chair and does a bit of double duty acting as well.

A Man Called Tiger opens up rather quickly as Ayako(Kawai)sings before a packed nightclub crowd in Kyoto, Japan. Among the listeners is Chin Fu(Yu), a Chinese cat just enjoying the vibe. He's a magnet for the ladies; he turns away a free drink and Ayako comes up to him and asks him if he's seen her father. Part of the reason she came to Kyoto from Hokkaido was to find him since he went missing. She goes back to sing and is beset by a gang of thugs looking to extort her for yen. Chin Fu intervenes, gets slapped and lays on one of the wildest-ass slaps I've seen. When YOU see it, you'll know what I'm talking about. He escorts Ayako out and the same thugs surround them on the street but before they get to really tangle, Chin's landlady, Li Hua(Minakaze)rolls up and gets rid of them. She drops them back to the hotel and proceeds to come on to Chin who in the span of 3 minutes, is smoking a loosie while flexing his arms with an exercise bar then swigging a beer. I.SHIT.YOU.NOT.

Li Hua has ties to Shimizu, who appararently is a local Yakuza oyabun(boss). It was his thugs that Chin beat up, but Shimizu offers him the position to be his right hand man. Pretty charitable. See, Shimizu has been dealing with competition from another boss, Yamamoto(Feng). And he sees Chin as the perfect weapon to get some payback. It isn't long before Chin gives beatdowns to Yamamoto's men with crew in toe. This rampage brings him across an old friend, another Chinese named Lin Hui Ming(Tien) who wont pay up. He smashes all the thugs until Chin Fu gets into it with him in a wild contest. Chin beats him, and lets him off. Later, he sends Ayako over with money to help him. Strange? Not until Ming and Chin meet. It turns out that they both had the same teacher - Chin's father. And that Chin's father had allegedly gambled away the overseas fund money and committed suicide in disgrace. Chin doesn't buy and so all of this is an extreme infiltration job to find out what exactly happened. In the process, he'll get help from Ming and others, but each move takes him that closer to being found out.

And just when you thought things couldn't get even more twisted up, while Chin gets a helping hand from yet ANOTHER woman(seriously. she gets played by him and still helps him escape. take THAT Breezy),it turns out that there's more to the beef between Shimizu and Yamamoto than he realized. It brings in a young woman named Emi(Yi)and may include not only her father, but a certain singer's missing father. The suspense builds in ambush after ambush until a final bloody showdown at a high-stakes gambling match. Who survives?

A Man Called Tiger is notable for fans of martial arts flicks for a couple of reasons. First off, this was intended to be Bruce Lee's next picture after Fist Of Fury, known in the West as The Chinese Connection. But it wasn't to be due to the falling out Bruce had with Lo Wei, leading to his staunch refusal to work with Wei ever again. Lee then formed his own company, Concord Productions and went on to make The Way Of The Dragon. And you know how that went. Wei, looking to get this film made tapped Jimmy Wang Yu for the lead. More to Mr. Wang Yu later on. Another point is that this film was shot entirely on location in Kyoto, Japan. You don't get that sense being that most of the film is shot on indoor sets save for a few exterior scenes that include a car chase. The big notable point is that this film was looking to draw upon Wang Yu's box office appeal from his days doing spy flicks for Shaw Studios. (That period was brief, and inspired entirely by the James Bond craze that swept up the world in the 1960's.)And when you watch this movie, you see how Wang Yu kind of plays into the aloof ass-kicking hero who's a 'babe magnet'. Now does he pull it off? Barely. Especially when you get to the scenes with Liako, one of Yamamoto's women. That whole kissing scene will make you go WTF? Going back to the locale of the film, it's also interesting that Wei chose to cast local Japanese actors and actresses. Okada Kawai is the most recognizable face among the bunch. She was a film veteran, with a role in Foundry Town(1962) that was a Cannes Film Festival entry. Kawai also starred in one or two TV series. She's now a known businesswoman throughout Japan.

The film is a bit rushed. Trying to cram an intricate plot in is one thing, but some of the jump cuts are a bit haphazard. But given that Bruce dropped out and Wang Yu stepped in, it may have been a matter of getting the film done in time and in accordance with studio budget. But the fighting action is great! Han Ying-Chieh, who was also a key player in this movie and is a recognizable villain, handled the fight choreography very well here. One scene that will get you to bug out is the cable car scene. Yes. There's an extended fight scene on a cable car high over Kyoto. Yes. A cable car. Now of course, this predates a similar scene in the James Bond flick Moonraker by three years. What gives this scene the edge? Jimmy Wang Yu JUMPS OUT OF THE CABLE CAR. See it for yourself. The other fight scenes have a compact electricity to them. There's also a bit of familiarity to them. Unfortunately one of those scenes involves James Tien at the end. The acting overall is aight. Wang Yu softens a bit here and there but remains in a mode where he's Sooperman Lover(shoutout to Redman)one moment and a whirlwind of kicks and punches the next. James Tien does all right here in his limited moments. Lee Kwan gets maybe ten minutes tops as the bartender in Ayako's club. Which is fine 'cause as I stated in the last post, it's part of his portfolio. Okada Kawai plays a bittersweet role as Ayako with a slight touch of innocence. Tien Feng as Yamamoto looks like a slick gangster, although his cigars in the movie are comical as hell. If you ask me, A Man Called Tiger is an okay flick with enjoyable action and a decent enough plot to follow along. It's available now via Fortune Star DVD and VCD and online if you can find it.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Tattooed Dragon(Long Hu Jin Hu, 1973)

Salutations people! Get ready for another foray into the world of fighting flicks here on your favorite place to chop it up about them, Hai! Karate!! Next up is a Jimmy Wang Yu piece from 1973 called The Tattooed Dragon!! The revered Lo Wei directs here, and the film also stars James Tien, well-known role actor Lee Kwan and Sylvia Chang.

The Tattooed Dragon starts out overlooking a stretch of temple ruins somewhere in Thailand. We see Dragon(Yu)scampering over the ruins, running, running through the ruins to....what? We don't know because this goes on for the first couple of minutes. Then we see him come upon a group of dudes who look rough & scurvy gambling. Standing on top of a tall wall, he takes a brick and hurls it at them. After some words, and a brisk leap into their midst, he takes them on and proceeds to give out lumps but dashes away after taking the money from the refugee fund they stole back and makes a perfect swan dive through a hole in the wall to...somewhere. Why? 'Cause we gotta get to the opening credits, of course.

Leung manages to make it to a martial arts school to rest and try to heal from his wounds during the night. But the next day however, the robbers arrive and confront the school members in a brawl until Dragon awakes and steps in. However, after again beating down the main robber, he catches a blade deep into his thigh. But he escapes again, leaving the head of the school to cover him. Which earns him a mollywhopping. We cut to a farmer named Yeung (Sam Hui) and his dog, Lonnie. They lead a simple life, and it's one that might change if Ai Hsiang(Chang)gets her father to agree to their marriage. But as they talk, Yeung slips away in a quiet moment out of nervousness. He gets back and Lonnie comes to him to relay something strange at the river. Yeung finds Dragon unconscious on the riverbank. He gets his friend(Kwan)to help, and Ai Hsiang also gets involved.

Yeung reveals himself to be a fighter, actually training for a local Muay Thai bout with Kun. Kun wins money on Yeung's fight and gets the gambling bug. Remember this, we'll get back to it. Meanwhile, the robbers return to their boss, Leung(Tien) who takes the news of their defeat in a classy way. He then lets them in on his plan to build a casino in the town and capitalize on minerals there. They go ahead and build to huge crowds - which include Ah Kun. Uh-oh.

Why uh-oh? Well, if you're familiar with Lee Kwan, you know that homeboy is usually in a film for one of three things: comic relief, to move the film in a dramatic and downward spiral, and to meet a graphic demise. And so, we see Kun gamble and get into a rut. A rut that leads him to try to get credit, and leads him to get the deed to his house and land to get more money, even slapping down his wife IN FRONT OF THEIR KIDS. His wife then makes a drastic move which leads Ai Hsiang's dad to go to the casino to break things up. He gets beat up for his trouble. By this time, Dragon is healed up fully and agrees to infiltrate the casino with Yeung. They do and bust up the joint, grab all the cash and deeds and get to re-distributing to the people. Which doesn't sit well with Boss Leung at ALL. So he sets out to take revenge on Dragon and sets in motion a showdown for the town and its money.

The Tattooed Dragon is okay to a degree. It's interesting to see Jimmy Wang Yu in this because while he's doing this film in the midst of his tenure with Golden Harvest, it's a role that sees a bit of humility involved. I mean, the dude gets his ass handed to him early on which isn't new but it's how it happens. He hasn't been in a situation like this since the One Armed Swordsman days. Still, he gives his beatdowns with precision, and his final fight with Tien, while quick to the point of nearly being anti-climactic, has some flair to it. James Tien as a villain is meh. Yeah he gets a sneer here and there but overall he's just lounging around in clothes and patting the behinds of his two escorts. Sam Hui does okay as Yeung, a simple farmer trying to help Dragon. And that's the whole thing - the film is basic. By this time, Lo Wei had the rep of phoning some films in as a director, letting his star be the one to carry the flick. In watching, you may find yourself lose interest here and there. Even the dog, Lonnie shakes things up a bit doing his best Lassie impression but it's not much. As far as the fight choreography, it looks like it was just a matter of sticking to close quarter combat and nothing too acrobatic save for a moment here and there. The blood and gore is as minimal as the rest of the film overall. Bottom line, The Tattooed Dragon may be a film you just see for some Jimmy Wang Yu and not much else. You can find it online...


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

When Taekwondo Strikes (Tai Quan Zhen Jiu Zhou, 1973)

What's good people? We've got a film to match the scorching heat out there on Hai! Karate for you today! And that film is... When Taekwondo Strikes starring the fierce Angela Mao!! The film also stars Korean martial arts legends Jhoon Rhee, Whang In Sik, Sammo Hung & Carter wong among others. This Golden Harvest production is directed by Huang Feng from 1973.

When Taekwondo Strikes opens up in a Korea occupied by the Japanese, possibly during the early part of World War II. Jin Zhang Zhi (Wong) is being chased by a band of Japanese who corner him and reveal that they know he works with the resistance. Jin flees to find refuge in a Catholic church run by Father Lu Yi(Andre Morgan). Yes, his name is credited that way as an approximation of 'Lewis'. It may also be a rare for other reasons I'll get into a bit later on here. The thugs confront Li Jun Dong(Rhee) who is a caretaker at the church, but is secretly THE leader of the patriotic resistance, the Resurrection Movement with a bounty on his head, and a Taekwondo grandmaster. Taekwondo at this point is strictly forbidden. He gets slapped around, but is saved by Jin and a white student of his named Mary, who is the niece of Father Lewis. This sets off a whole debate between he and Jun Dong about the better path of resistance. Soon though, he and Mary and Jin have to flee as the Japanese thugs will soon return. And they do, with Sammo Hung at the helm. Jun Dong comes back to thrash them all and reluctantly leaves Father Lewis behind. Turns out all the trouble was caused because Jin was looking into the Yokohama School kidnapping Korean girls to be sold into slavery as comfort women. Jun Dong goes to the restaurant that Huang Li Chen(Mao) and her mother owns. Li Chen is Chinese, but supports the rebels being raised in Korea most of her life. She goes to find Father Lewis at the church but has to fend off the Yokohama thugs laying in wait, which she does viciously, killing one of them. This sets off the thugs who make her a target.

Li Chen is assailed by the secret police about her fighting, and she consents to go to the police station. Pretty soon though, she's trailed by more thugs who she takes out easily. This makes them MORE mad and they wind up lashing out by capturing Jun Dong and striking against Li Chen in a way that makes her furious. The stage is then set for Li Chen, Jin and Mary to rescue Jun Dong from the clutches of the Japanese, led by Whang In Sik!!

When Taekwondo Strikes is a tried and true classic kung fu fest that manages to keep together a few moving parts with proven tropes. It's an interesting script by Huang Feng in that the movie does involve Western characters having an influential role. While this reflected the times in Asian cinema, (quite a few Japanese movies were boasting Westerners in their own films then)it was still a point of curiosity to see that take place. It gets even more so when you consider Father Lewis and Mary Lewis. Father Lewis was played by Andre E. Morgan, and this was the first of his TWO acting roles. He'd go on to have a close relationship with Raymond Chow, enough to executive produce a Jimmy Wang Yu pic, The Man From Hong Kong as well as being a production manager for a couple of films. Even more curious is the presence of Anne Winton, who plays Mary. This was her only acting role ever. Turns out she was one of Rhee's students. Not much else can be found about her, save for this clipping below(credit to HKMDB):

This leads us to Jhoon Rhee. This was Rhee's only picture, but it is a calm and calculated performance that speaks to the master's sense of nobility. I mean, the man is breaking people down IN CHAINS in the final fighting scenes. Rhee is best known as the father of Tae Kwon Do in the United States after coming here in the 1950's. He became close with and taught Bruce Lee the art. Grandmaster Rhee learned directly from the creator of the martial art form himself, Choi Hong Hi, a South Korean military general. The 10th degree black belt has gone on to be a highly regarded teacher with Muhammad Ali and other notables as his students at schools nationwide. Here in the film though, his prowess is undeniable. As for Angela Mao, she's stunning. She displays a range in her fighting in this movie, and as the film ramps up so does her attacking. Which is great when it comes down to her and Whang In Sik. Whang is sporting the rugged beard and high-flying kicks to match. Seeing him go toe to toe with both Mao and Rhee is the highlight of the film. Winton does okay as a fighter here, and Carter Wong is seen in sparse moments. Sammo pulls double duty as a sinister thug and action choreographer, and does well at both. Look out for a couple of familiar faces here in Gam Kei Chu, Wilson Tong of Shaw Studios fame, Chin Yuet Sing (you can't miss him with that face) and Yuen Biao as an extra. Also, even though I've made mention of it, see if you can spot the Marvin Gaye sample. When Taekwondo Strikes is a must-see film for any martial arts fan for both the sake of action and for the strength of Angela Mao. It's out on DVD and online...