Friday, August 15, 2014

The Flying Guillotine (Xue di zhi, 1975)

What's happening?!! On this edition of Hai!Karate, we've got a veritable classic in the house for you to be schooled on. That classic is none other than The Flying Guillotine!!! This entry from the Shaw Studios features one of their greatest stars, Chen Kuan Tai. Co-starring veterans Ku Feng, Frankie Wei-Hung, Norman Chu Siu-Keung and a young Wong Yu, this film is directed by Ho Meng Hua with I Kuang on the screenplay tip.

The Flying Guillotine begins in the reign of the Ching Dynasty in China. Emperor Yung Chung(Kong Yeung) despises the Han people. So much so that he's issued a decree demanding death to anyone who opposes him. Two senior officials who intervene on behalf of the Han people are soon marked for death. Emperor Chung charges chief Xin Kang(Feng) with their executions, but not to arouse suspicion. Xin Kang plots and schemes until a child's game gives him the idea for a perfect weapon - the flying guillotine! Xin Kang demonstrates how the guillotine can be used to kill from a great distance. Emperor Chung then tasks him to create a special force of killers to train and use this weapon for his orders. Xin Kang gets together 12 men for this force, and soon his prized pupils turn out to be Xu Shangkun(Wei-Hung) and Ma Teng (Kuan Tai). Shangkun secretly resents Ma Teng all while trying to get in good with Xin Kang. Now in this mix, a fellow assassin Xie Tianfu (Yu)begins to question why the emperor would need such killing machines to keep traitors in line when no one dares oppose him? Ma Teng soon finds himself asking the same questions, wondering about the emperor's tyranny.

Those questions grow louder as Ma Teng begins to see just how corrupt and merciless the emperor really is. His conscience eats at him, and his fears aren't helped by Xie Tianfu's growing status of suspicion and Shangkun's own malicious plots. Ma Teng makes the decision to follow his conscience and defy the emperor; but that decision means Shangkun and the other Flying Guillotines are soon hunting him down!

The Flying Guillotine is one of Shaw Studios' best films of the 1970's without question. I mean, you're talking about a film that gets referenced heavily to this day. Ask the Wu-Tang Clan. And it is so without many fighting scenes involved in the picture. This doesn't mean that the violence is limited. Neither man nor beast is spared from the weapon's wrath; there's a kill count of TWENTY-FIVE here. All in particularly gory fashion to make you get the chills. The film packs plenty of action and suspense and rolls in a way that's compelling. Chen Kuan Tai was in his prime with the studio here, and usually he played the stoic and sometimes brash hero in his roles. Here, he gets to display a tremendous amount of range as Ma Teng, loyal to the empire. Unquestioning. But his morality comes into play, especially when it comes to Xie Tianfu and his ultimate fate. Even as he's on the run and encounters a performer(Lau Ng-Kei)who he eventually marries, the emotional complexity never seems to waver. And it adds to the richness of this film. Ku Feng's own role lets him show his versatility from the obedient to the merciless. Frankie Wei-Hung is at his smarmy best here, playing Shangkun with all the utter GREASINESS he can muster. You really find yourself rooting for his rat bastid ass to get his 20 minutes into the flick. As for Wong Yu, this was one of his more early standout roles. He had come to be a big name thanks to his turn as the lead in The Spiritual Boxer, Shaw's first real 'kung fu comedy'.(Side note: his first ever role was in Deadly Buddhist Raiders, three years prior.) The Flying Guillotine did so well that it not only guaranteed a sequel the next year, but it led to Jimmy Wang Yu making his cult classic Master Of The Flying Guillotine that same year and a subsequent in-house knock-off, The Dragon Missile. For all those lovers of martial arts films, The Flying Guillotine is a must-see and if you have seen it, worth it's repeat value.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Bloody Fight (Xue Dou, 1972)

Hello fight film fans!! We've got a rare one for you here at Hai! Karate: The Bloody Fight!!! This flick is from 1972 and comes from the little-known Guangming Film Company. The Bloody Fight stars Pai Ying, Tang Ching, Goo Man Chung, Alan Tang, Ingrid Hu and Pawarna Chanajit. In the director's chair for this one is Ng Tan.

THe Bloody Fight begins somewhere in the hills of Northern China. There's a Japanese fighter by the name of Chen Chang(Ying) who is going around challenging kung-fu masters and dispatching them in merciless fashion. Although that's not totally clear at first; when the film gets out of the credits sequence, you see a Japanese fighter lounging in the grass after slaying a couple of people. How do we know this? 'Cause there's bodies in the distance when he gets into it with a Thai boxer and Ka Wa(Chanajit). He turns out to be one of a group of fighters, with Chen Chang at the head of a group that also has his two lieutenants, Shen Ta Kuei and Yung Yen Nan. If you recognize these two, your eyes aren't fooling you; Ta Kuei is played by the great Chen Kuan Tai and Yen Nan is played by veteran actor Eddy Ko. They are the advance group that arrive at the school of another master. He is thengiven a death match challenge by Chen Chang. They have a spirited battle that takes them throughout the hills until Chang delivers the death blow.

Master Shi, on his deathbed, asks Shi Yang (Hu)not to seek revenge but instead to go to her uncle, another kung fu master by the name of Master Shi(Cheung). Master Shi is hard at work training visiting Thai boxers, one of whom fought earlier in the first scenes. Shi gets a visit from Chen Chang along with Ta Kuei and Yen Nang and they immediately challenge the Thai boxers. This fight comes to the attention of Chen Wa(Tang) who gets taken away from an arm-wrestling match(yeah you read that right)with a local drunkard, Chi San Hau(Ching). San Hau and others go to watch the match. In short order, the Thai boxers get lumped up and one gets his head cracked like an egg in brutal form. Chang and Shi take their fight off the school grounds. BAD MOVE. 'Cause Chang gets wild with kick after kick, until that final snap collision in air.

Master Shi lies unconscious, and the beating he takes stirs something in San Hau. See, Chi San Hau behind all that drunkenness is in fact a highly skilled boxer. He challenges the Japanese in his local tavern. They take him up on it and fight in the mountains. San Hau takes out Ta Kuei but gets snuffed by Chang when he goes through a dizzy spell. Meanwhile, Ka Wa's brother dies and Master Shi awakens. Chen Wa, his son, vows with him that the Japanese will never take over. They then set a plan of action with Shi Yang, Ka Wa and Chen Wa training to defeat Chang and the other Japanese fighters.

Shi Yang has something else on her mind. She keeps thinking about her father throwing out another prized pupil of his years earlier. One guess who that is. And so, she sets out to find him during their training for the ultimate bloody fight to stop the Japanese oppression once and for all!!

The Bloody Fight DOES live up to its name, if only towards the end. Overall, the film is regarded as an old-school classic. It's not a stinker, but it's also not fantastic as the Crash Masters release info would have you believe. For one thing, the movie starts out a bit jumbled. Ka Wa and her brother just get into the fray without no lead-in convo outside of a few words. Now, there is a theory out there that this film was made in response to the overwhelming success of the Bruce Lee flick Fist of Fury, released not only the same year, but no less than THREE WEEKS before this film was released. I can see that for a couple of reasons. One being that the Guangming Film Company was tiny at best and wanted to make some waves. This would explain why this was their next to last film ever made. Out of TEN films total. It's also interesting in how this film brought together talent both on the rise and established from Shaw Studios. Tang Ching was a couple of years removed from his matinee idol status with Shaw in doing this picture. Chen Kuan Tai was on the verge of breaking out as one of their major bankable stars of the 1970's. And Goo Man Cheung had done many films with Shaw.(Side note: Cheung would follow this picture up with his turn in the iconic King Boxer. That film was released TWO weeks later than this one.)Lastly, the anti-Japanese sentiment was rising as a theme in Hong Kong cinema more openly now. Never mind that Japanese stars were filming there and vice versa. Pai Ying does okay here as the snarling and cool villain. Alan Tang in a team-up with Tang Ching is also a bit of foreshadowing that I Kuang and Shaw Studios would observe and implement in at least one of their later flicks in terms of style. As for Ingrid Hu, her fighting is adequate. It's good to note that she and Parwarna get a good deal of mixed screen time especially on the action tip. For Parwarna it's also interesting that this is a heavy action role for her; she was more of a vivacious and beautiful lead acting figure as we featured in another post here. That said, she does get her share of lumps. The fight scenes are crisp even when they're sprawling all over the set. They make up for a choppy plot. If you want to catch the classic in some downtime, The Bloody Fight is available online and in DVD but you'll have to hunt for it.


Friday, August 1, 2014

The Dragon Missile (Fei Long Zhan, 1976)

What goes on folks?! Hai! Karate returns with another flick up for review for all of you who love martial arts movies! For this go-round, we cover a flick from the Shaw Brothers Studios featuring the legendary Lo Lieh, The Dragon Missile!! The film also stars Tony Lau Wing, Nancy Yeh Nan-Si, Ku Feng, and Terry Lau amidst a full cast. Ho Meng-Hua sits in the director's chair for this one. This flick has been getting some notice of late, and it should - for reasons both good and not so good.

The Dragon Missile begins with Si Ma Jun(Lieh) demonstrating the fearsome capabilities of the Dragon Missile. It's basically a flying guillotine but in dual form that has a boomerang effect that sends it on its killing ways, then brings it back to the thrower. We get past the credit scene and find ourselves in a stately mansion where the lord(Feng) is dying from some sort of illness. Before we get sympathetic though, the lord orders three aides to be beheaded just for suggesting he make arrangements after his passing. The lord gets Dr. Fu(Hao Li-Jen) to inform him that in order to live, he needs to get the Longevity Rattan, have it be burned to ashes and then made into a powder. Only then can he live. But Dr.Fu doesn't grovel enough to the lord's liking, so he has Si Ma Jun kill him right outside. Then he sends him out to get the rattan.

Now if you've kept up so far, you would think that Si Ma Jun could be trusted by this lord. NOPE. He orders Chief Yang(Man Man)to send six other assassins out with Si Ma Jun to keep an eye on him. Yang in turn tells them that if they get the rattan from Sima Jun and give it to him, he will reward them greatly. All of them relish this, none more than Miss Sha(Lau) who apparently was related to Wolverine from the X-Men in some form given her unique skill.

They all set out for the only place to get the rattan, from the herbalist Tan. Tan however refuses to give it to them being that the lord is unjust. Si Ma Jun and the others kill him and his aide and take the rattan. Tan's daughter Tan Li(Nan-See)arrives too late and vows revenge. The group stop on the road where Si Ma Jun beats up Miu Fei(Fan Mei-Sheng). He gets the rattan stolen from him by a tree-hopping bandit. This turns out to be his classmate, Tieh Er Long(Lau Wing). Si Ma Jun heads to Er Long's house, and they shoot the breeze along with Er Long's mom. Si MaJun comes back secretly to get the rattan and winds up fighting his mom who's not bad with her skills. But she winds up a victim, and Er Long and Tan Li wind up teaming up for revenge. (Side note: He did her DIRTY.)

Si MaJun is beset on all sides, and winds up having to fight off not only Er Long and Tan Li, but the other killers. This becomes a big storm of intrigue until Si Ma Jun gets the rattan to his lord, only to find that due to a mishap where the rattan got wet, it becomes useless. The lord, infuriated, orders Si Ma Jun beheaded. And the loyal killer now becomes a fugitive, on the run until the ultimate showdown. Can the Dragon Missile remain invincible?

The Dragon Missile is B-movie status when you really get down to it for good and bad reasons like I said before. The plot is as chopped up as an egg salad with no real taste to it. Ho Meng Hua keeps things moving at a detriment to the film. Exhibit A? The fact that throughout the entire movie, the only characters who get any sense of character outside of being one-dimensional are Si Ma Jun, Er Long and Tan Li. In that order. THAT'S IT. No other info on the killers. Mind you, we don't even KNOW the lord's NAME. For the whole flick! The film is a rush job. This is due to the fact that Shaw Studios was at this time dealing with the fact that they were no longer top dog in the cinema world. They were trying to keep up with Golden Harvest and another studio from Taiwan, First Films, who happened to be making a picture that ripped off their hit from 1974 that Meng-Hua directed, The Flying Guillotine. That movie would star & be directed by the rapscallion actor Jimmy Wang Yu, known as Master of The Flying Guillotine, and become a cult classic. In fact, THAT film ran the same week as The Dragon Missile, forcing the Shaw entry to only run one week and leave the theater in defeat. Wang Yu had a habit of copying his competitors' flicks with his own movies and this time it paid off big. It stung more because you can see that Shaw put some money into their film despite it being lackluster overall.

For instance, the weapon itself is exemplary in its creation. It's the centerpiece of the film, and would be an inspiration for future films to employ such wicked weaponry. It even had its own slick leather holster. That said, it might be your only reason to catch this movie. I mean, Lo Lieh was okay as Si Ma Jun. He manages to let him be more than a loyal killer with his acting especially in the last 20 minutes being on the run. Tony Lau-Wing was coming into his own as an actor with Shaw Studios. This was his third picture with them, building off of his stellar turn in The Big Boss. (Side note: he was working on two other pictures in addition to this at the same time.)He'd go on to be an iconic figure for them in their later years. Nancy Yen Nan-See? There's only one word for her: MEH. She had some chops, but no real appeal. Straight wooden. Even Terry Lau as Miss Sha looked like she was just going through the motions. The fighting is decent but barely so. You may get a bit dizzy with the plot if you step away, be warned. There's no real bloodshed, unlike the movie that inspired it. And the jumping plot is going to make you scratch your head. There's one or two moments where you will get the feeling like, 'let's just get this paycheck and go party, bump all this.' Ultimately, The Dragon Missile is something to see for the actual weapon itself and mot much else. It's now available on DVD and if you've got the El Rey Network.