Monday, October 27, 2014

The Shaolin Avengers (Fang Shih Yu Yu Hu Hui Chien, 1976)

Salutations Hai! Karate fans! For the next flick we're covering today, we've plucked one of the key films from the career of the late great Alexander Fu Sheng, The Shaolin Avengers!!! This is another saga directed by the legend, Chang Cheh. Fu Sheng also co-stars with Chi Kuan-Chun here as the heroic leads. The rest of the cast is a solid one, with Shaw Studio vets Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Leung Kar Yan, Venoms member Chiang Sheng as well as appearances by Lung Fei and Shan Mao. Let's break down this flick, shall we?

We begin in the midst of a furious battle as brothers Fang Shiyu(Fu Sheng) and Fang Xiaoyu(Tong Yim-Chaan) take on troops from the Manchu army and other fighters as the infamous priest White Brows(Chan Yi Lau) looks on. Aiding them in their fight is Hu Huigan(Kuan-Chun). We learn about the Fang's and Huigan's involvement to this point through lengthy flashbacks during this fight. Shiyu and Xiaoyu's father was killed by Lei Laohu(Fei) and his underlings in a contest designed to oppress the citizens. Shiyu and Xiaoyu undergo intense training under the tutelage of their mother, with Shiyu enduring a rigorous wine bath treatment that makes him invulnerable to weapons... except for one weak spot. Emboldened, Shiyu and Xiaoyu take their revenge against Laohu and his men in rapid action until this final battle to avenge the destruction of the Shaolin Temple. Huigan, whose father was also murdered, joins the brothers after being sent to the Shaolin Temple to become a better fighter. All three are locked in battle with White Brows and his men...what will the outcome be?

The Shaolin Avengers is unique for a couple of reasons. First off, it's actually a remake of a film Cheh shot two years prior, Men From The Monastery. The difference between that film(which Hai! Karate will cover in the future) and this comes down to execution of the plot and visual styling. Here, Cheh's usage of the flashback to establish story works well. You get to be one with Shiyu, Huigan and Xiaoyu this way. A similarity to Men From The Monastery seen here lies in the use of black and white film to illustrate the grit and drama of fight scenes, and then bright red to highlight a rather vicious demise. These sight cues add to the intensity. The fight scenes go from compact to flowing in terms of force. You'll get a kick" out of the duel Shiyu has with Laohu atop the Plum Lotus piles. Look out for cameos by future Venoms member Chiang Sheng and Ricky Cheng as this was one of their earlier flicks with Cheh. Alexander Fu Sheng comes into his own in this film, displaying all of the charisma and bravado that made him a rising star in Hong Kong cinema at this time. As Shiyu, he effectively shows off his dramatic range and some real prowess. In a contrast, Chi Kuan-Chun comes off as stoic with some shows of fire. This would be one of a few pairings he and Fu Sheng would have under the eye of Chang Cheh over the next few years. They do complement each other well. Bruce Tong as Xiaoyu is measured and solid in one of the roles that got him more light in Shaw Studio productions during this time. It's interesting to see Lung fei and Shan Mao in a Shaw flick; both were mainly veteran actors who worked with indie studios. They both serve well here. (Side note: White Brows is really an early iteration of the infamous Priest Pai Mei role that Lo Lieh would make immortal in the next 2 years.)

Bear in mind that there's going to be one or two things in The Shaolin Avengers that will be bugged out to you. One of which involves Shiyu's 'wine bath' training and that weak spot. When you find out where it is, you're going to cringe. Expect that cringing to increase tenfold by the time the flick's over. That's all I'm saying. Also, you may get a bit thrown by the movie's pacing due to the flashback cuts. But overall, The Shaolin Avengers is definitely a worthwhile movie to check out for Chang Cheh and Alexander Fu Sheng fans. You can get it via DVD and through iTunes.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Sprucing Up The Dojo Fall 2014

"Hai! Karate News Update?!! Hai! Karate News Update."

What goes on Hai!Karate fans? This is just a bit of a change of pace post, as we spruce up the old dojo and get set for the rest of the year. There's been some big news that has taken place and upcoming stuff we want to prepare you for, so cop a squat and read on...

1)The Shaw Brothers Library Lives On!!!

For those of you who have cable(so far it's Time Warner although there may be other carriers to come), you undoubtedly have been treated to some fine programming thanks to the new TV network by the famed director Robert Rodriguez, El Rey. El Rey has basically won the hearts of many by having access to the remastered Shaw Brothers library! Yes, that's right. That means a ton of the flicks you might have come up with and others you haven't seen are back on your TV screen. There's been a few that we've covered on this blog that have now aired in all their fast=paced & bloody glory already. Yes, El Rey is airing these films uncut to preserve the director's artistic vision. No quick jump edits here. Look out for their double features on Thursday nights as well as special Saturday showings and during the week. In addition to that, you can also get these movies from Shaw Brothers and Celestial on iTunes! Go cop them at There's close to 50 of them available with more on the way including favorites like King Boxer!!

(Photo Credit: Celestial Pictures Limited)

2)Expect more coverage of films from Japan, Korea as well as breakdowns of films known, not so known...and possibly better left alone.

Yeah, we're only getting started here at Hai!Karate. To that end, we're going to have some down periods here and there only because there's a TON of movies and research that go into these posts. We want your visit to the dojo to be informative and fun. And for you to check these flicks out...or not. Let's face it, this is a genre where there are some serious stinkers for every highly regarded project. So we're going to cover the chambara. We'll get into a Korean flick here and there. Even the oddities aren't safe. So make sure you keep coming back here and to check us out with the sensei, MASTERNEVER as well.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Eight Escorts(Ba Jue, 1979)

What's going on fight film fans? We've got another movie up for review here on Hai! Karate for you, this one starring veterans Ling Yun and Dorian Tan Tao Liang - Eight Escorts!!! They lead a fairly star-studded cast that features Lily Li-Li, Danny Lee, AND Michael Chan Wai Man. Now in addition to that, you've got Pao Hsueh-Li as director with I Kuang on the screenplay. You'd think this would make for a bang-up film right? Read on, dear reader, read on...

Eight Escorts begins with a rather lengthy credits scene - no doubt inspired by the Shaw Studios theme of elaborate movie intros that was a standard during the late '70s and 1980's. We then find Miss Wu(Hsu Feng) in the possession of a batch of treasure she recovered from her late brother's convoy that she needs to be protected on the way to Wuiyang. To this end, she enlists the help of Chin Kai Tai(Yun) and other fighters to protect the treasure from thieves. One masked bandit in particular with serious martial arts skill. Kai Tai hires seven other men, but a heavy air of suspicion grows - especially amongst them all. Who is the masked bandit? What is the secret Kai Tai has been keeping?

Okay, I'll just come right out with it: Eight Escorts is CONFUSING AS HELL on the first watch. The plot is convoluted, and you need to pay close attention. Part of the problem might be based on the version currently available as far as the dub sure, but you can't enjoy the flick as much if you don't know what's going on. It seems like they wanted to really focus on the action from all of the stars. It's a shame really. I found myself still a bit lost about a half hour in on first viewing.

It's intriguing that the film company in question managed to get all of this talent, mainly recognizable ones from Shaw here in this flick. But it is somewhat symbolic of the one-offs that were prevalent in martial arts cinema at that time. Ling Yun is his old charismatic self here, calm and assured in battle. Lily Li-Li gets down with some fights, and even shows off a more acrobatic side early on. Tan Tao Liang lives up to his 'leg fighter' legacy but in spotty fashion. Chan Wai Man gets some screen time but more towards the middle. But overall, Eight Escorts is a jumble. I can't really claim it as a memorable flick. For fans of the genre, it's worth a view or two at most but the value won't get you more than that.