Tuesday, July 14, 2015



Yep, had a bit of a slight hiatus but because you have been patient, here's the next installment of THE DIRTY 30!! Thirty of the best fight scenes in martial arts cinema according to Hai!Karate! Judging from the response we got, it appears we're on the right track. If you missed out on it(and shame on ya if that's the case), check out the first installment right HERE.So let's get into these next scenes posthaste - but first, a reminder of the criteria is below:

CRITERIA: For the scenes making this list, there's a couple of factors. The first being, standalone quality. How do they hold up if taken out of their picture and seen by itself? The second factor is, how finely choreographed it is. The third? The overall wow factor. That zone you get into when seeing these scenes and how it sticks with you.

25)Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang Opening Credit Scene

Even the most casual of martial arts movie fans will instantly find themselves hyped up beyond belief once you hear the first notes of the music accompanying this scene. It's one of THE best opening film scenes of the genre, and one that is a calling card of the Shaw Brothers Studios worldwide. Now of course, when you got the VHS version stemming from what was televised stateside, you were missing about 15 or so seconds. That time included the title and opening movements of the Shaolin monks before the rogue Wu Tang monk engaged. And of course who can forget one of the ultimate lines ever uttered in the genre:


24)Angela Mao In The Muay Thai Ring, The Tournament

This gem got covered at length here already but the scene of Angela whooping natural ass in the ring - as a woman - earns a spot on the list because of its historical impact and because hey, it's another way for her to flex on her opponents. Observe:

23)Jet Li's Drunken God Fist, Last Hero In China

Jet Li, the man, the legend. One of the pre-eminent talents in kung fu cinema to have ever graced the screen. In this film, he takes on a role he's most beloved for in the genre, that of the legendary hero Wong Fei Hung. Now of course, this is a kind of a standalone picture from the Once Upon A Time In China series that he did with famed director Tsui Hark initially. But in this film, with Yuen Wo-Ping at the helm, Jet gets to really work his creative side. Hence the scene where he becomes the "Iron Rooster." All of that is a prelude to his final fight against the corrupt magistrate Lui Yat Siu, played by Alan Chui Chung-San. Fei Hung gets his feet severely damaged by a cunning trick by Yat Siu, and so to turn the tide in his favor he downs a huge jug of wine. Which is out of character for Fei Hung, who's sworn off drinking. But what ensues is a brusque, yet well-crafted final fight scene that fully takes advantage of Jet Li's incomparable acrobatic ability and fighting prowess - with a little shit-talking thrown in for good measure.

22)Jackie Chan Vs. Benny "The Jet" Urquidez, Wheels On Meals

Listen. There's a couple of you so-called Jackie Chan fans out there who haven't even heard of this scene. Yes, there are - trust me, I've gotten one or two gray hairs out of being frustrated at their lack of knowledge. But all that aside, this is one of those fight scenes that makes you really wonder how hard that Jackie and Benny went at each other. I mean, the sheer force of the blows that get landed in this scene still make me yell at the screen every time I see it. One of THE best mixed-martial arts battles ever put on screen in the 80's era. But hey, check it out for yourself and see if I'm lying. Oh and at 1:51 - JEEEBUS

21)Sammo Hung Vs. Yuen Wah, Eastern Condors

Eastern Condors is one of my favorite martial arts flicks in that it showcases the great talents of Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao in a contemporary setting along with having quite a few WTF moments throughout the movie. You also can't beat the cameos. But anyway, this film about Asian prisoners-of-war enlisted to help the U.S. blow up a secret arms cache in Vietnam to gain their freedom is really off the chain. And this final fight between Sammo's leading man and the villainous Viet Cong general played by veteran actor Yuen Wah is a fine blend of slapstick and deadly serious battle that uses everything in the ammo dump. And to be clear - Sammo's long tradition of demanding realness in these scenes will make you truly wince a couple of times while watching this fight. You'll also ask how Wah's suit managed to stay without sweat stains as long as it did up until near the end.

That's it for now Hai!Karate fans...until the next installment, walk good!!!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

THE DIRTY 30: NUMBERS 30 to 26!!!

AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW SH-(in Big Daddy Kane voice)

What's happening martial arts film fans?!!! I know you're excited as I am for the beginning of this highly important chapter in Hai!Karate history right about now!! We are all set to begin the countdown to the baddest, most brutal, supremely elegant and down right heroic list of the greatest fight scenes every martial arts fan should know and love. To state again like I have before...this list is a rebuttal to the wacktacular 'lists' that have popped up in recent months. Will we miss one or two? Perhaps. Will we make this list a hipster-esque notation of scenes that land somewhere between too obscure or not enjoyable? NOPE. Will we pay homage to some of the best fighting to have been captured onscreen? YUP. So without delay, let's break down how this will work. We're counting from number thirty all the way to number one. Five scenes per post. Hai!Karate is drawing on a good deal of films that have been seen, and there's no restriction in terms of region or nation that the films were produced in. Now if you have some beef towards the list at anytime, guess what? That's cool. 'Cause good debate on a good subject broadens the community and only promotes the work of these fine actors and studios. So now that the semblance of a disclaimer is in, let's start the show...

CRITERIA: For the scenes making this list, there's a couple of factors. The first being, standalone quality. How do they hold up if taken out of their picture and seen by itself? The second factor is, how finely choreographed it is. The third? The overall wow factor. That zone you get into when seeing these scenes and how it sticks with you. That said, here's numbers 30 through 26...

30)Final fight scene, King Of The Kickboxers, 1990
There's a few of you out there outside of the die-hard fans who have even HEARD of this flick. That said, it'll be a shock once you sit down and partake of this Seasonal Films-produced movie from 1990. And for those who've only associated Billy Blanks with the Tae-Bo craze he helped launch, you'd be in for a surprise as well. But this scene with Loren Avedon and Blanks makes the list on a combination of highly technical and brutal fighting and the pure arcade fighting game WTF-ness. Basically, Jake Donohue's(Avedon) an NYPD officer who is on special assignment in Thailand and events lead him back to the country to face his brother's murderer and supreme villain Khan(Blanks). The whole thing is just meta because Donohue is investigating murders committed by Khan in movie fight scenes. So we get to this final fight, which is deep in the Thai jungle, in a giant bamboo dome surrounded by tribesmen. With three stages of bamboo platforms. Over water. With bamboo stakes. I mean, the fight scene alone is over 10 minutes and is a rollercoaster of feels. Avedon and Blanks throw DOWN on all the platforms, and you really see their skills on full display. And you even get extra bugface from Blanks at the most inopportune of times, but it makes for great action shots like the one below. When you see this flick, tell me it wasn't the inspiration for one or two Capcom fighting game levels.

29)Final scene, Kung Fu Vs. Yoga(Lao Shu La Gui), 1979

Let's state this upfront - this film is on the lower scale of martial arts films in terms of production and you might get thrown off when you sit down to watch it. It's dubbed in a haphazard way, the comedy can be womp-womp worthy at times. So why is it on the list? The final fight scene where Tiger(Chin Yuet-Sang) and Wu Shing (Alan Chung San Chui)confront the yoga master Singh(Dunpar Singh)to steal his ruby to finish a quest. The scene lasts close to ten minutes, and it's one of the most unique scenes ever in action movies due to Singh's completely fantastic flexibility. I mean, the man is OFF THE CHAIN. It's the first time and I do believe the only time the full potential of yoga has been put to work in an action film in an authentic manner. Don't believe me? Peep it for yourself in this clip that merges the two previous encounters in the film with the final scene.

28)Frank Dux Vs. Chong Li, Bloodsport, 1988
This was THE film that launched Jean Claude Van Damme into superstardom for a few years. And a huge reason why lies in this fight scene between our hero, Frank Dux(Van Damme) and Chong Li(Bolo Yeung Sze). Now of course, you can ask whether Dux was shamming the world about his exploits, but the fact remains that Bloodsport is an undisputed cult classic. Think about that final scene - it's so full of late '80's synth-rock schlock but it still doesn't take away from how compelling that fight scene is. It's got it all - high drama(Dux losing his sight due to some crushed sulfur tablets) and triumph on a get-the-fu**-outta-dodge level(Van Damme leaping a silk gi-clad official still makes me laugh out loud in an unbelievable manner) and Bolo's yells and faces just add extra oregano man. I mean, I'm sort of surprised that there isn't a Bolo Yeung facial expression montage reel on YouTube somewhere. And if you find yourself chanting "Kumite" by the end of this post, well...I rest my case.

27)Leung Chang Vs. Ngai Fei, The Prodigal Son, 1981
Fans of Hai!Karate already know about this because of the previous review done right here. But for the newcomers, this scene is listed due to the skil exerted by Yuen Biao as Leung Chang. Biao was steadily adding to his reputation as the best if not one of the best acrobatic kung fu actors, and this final fight scene in one of the genre's most critically acclaimed films is proof. It's no wonder that Biao, director and co-star Sammo Hung and co-star Lam Ching Ying got top honors that year for their fight choreography in this film. The final fight is an exhibition of sheer fury via Wing Chun; indeed, Ngai Fei's demise also ranks as one of THE WORST defeats in kung fu cinematic history. You'll wince when you see it for real. But it's a fitting end to a great fight scene in one of the best films of the genre.

26)Gloria Hendry Vs. Pinky's Men, Black Belt Jones, 1974

Gloria Hendry is often not given her due but this Black woman was baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad, man. And she gave the film a decidedly extra level of realness thanks to her first action scene in the Jim Kelly classic. From the moment she challenges Pinky's minions by undoing the bottom two buttons on her dress and slips out of her platform heels, you knew someone's ass was going to get mollywhopped. Even her trash talk, although derisive, was fierce. When you see her effortlessly take out five dudes in this scene, you are so caught up in how flawless it is that you don't realize ITS UNDER THREE MINUTES. It just truly underscores how great of a film Black Belt Jones was, Blaxploitation era classification or not.

Thanks for catching the first installment of THE DIRTY 30!!!! If you dig what you've seen so far, join us again for the next five brutal, bodacious, bold and bad-ass fight scenes on the list!!!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

THE DIRTY 30: Best Of The Rest.

What's happening Hai!Karate fans?!!! We're basically entering the summer and we know that everyone is still staggering in some way after Memorial Day over here. So a little while back, I made it a point to announce that Hai!Karate was going to do its own 'top listing' of fight scenes any martial arts film fan should check. For those who missed it, peep it right here. And just as you cannot put forth a gorgeous smorgasboard of a meal without an appetizer, it was fitting that we start off with a little bit of the best of the rest. Just to get you into what we're trying to do here. So without further delay, let's break it down:

The Kitchen Scene, Fist Of Fury, 1972

Whether you call it The Chinese Connection or by its actual name, Fist Of Fury, the 1972 Bruce Lee flick is regarded as a classic in the genre. The second film in Lee's career for Golden Harvest, Fist Of Fury has inspired a few remakes and has stuck with fans because of the sheer electricity of the fight scenes. And of course, there is the comedy within the film. Even the unintentional. Which brings us to the scene where Cheng Zhen discovers that the two cooks in the school were in cahoots with the Japanese and - shocker - they are Japanese. Now he makes quick work of them both, but this scene sticks out on two levels. One, the raw power of Cheng Zhen's punch dealing a lethal blow to the cook and much like a favorite meme involving Beyonce, very much on the beat. The second level is the laugh factor that I know wasn't director Lo Wei's intent. But the English dub is off the chain. And I KNOW doggone well at least one of you has mimicked Bruce's lines before - "so why did you kill my teacher then...so why did you kill my teacher WHYWHYWHYWHYWHY?!!!!!"

Mas Oyama versus the bull, Karate Bullfigher, 1977

The first film in Sonny Chiba's trilogy-long ode to the great Kyokushin Karate founder Masutastu Oyama is commonly known to Western audiences as Champion of Death. The original title stems from the fact that Oyama was known to fight bulls head-on - and WIN. In this flick, Chiba as Oyama does so as a way to protect the villagers in a coastal town near where he trained. I mean...on the surface it seems ridiculous. But when you stop to consider that Oyama did this on the regular, you have to admit that he was a straight up badass. And that Chiba is in his own right for even recreating the event. It's full of bloody action, brief but it does make the overall film that much more entertaining.

Final Scene, Treasure Hunters, 1981

This is a largely forgotten comedic entry in the career of the late Alexander Fu Sheng. The movie involves two hustlers who get involved with a Shaolin monk played by Gordon Liu as they search for a legendary treasure. This final fight scene played up Fu Sheng's remarkable fighting abilities to the hilt, and co-star Cheung Chin-Pang...bless him..keeps up as best as he can. It's slapstick Shaw Brothers style with a nod to Buster Keaton. And makes for an uproarious laugh towards the end.

David Chiang, Cecilia Wong & Lily Li-Li versus Wilson Tong, Shaolin Mantis, 1978

This is one of several fight scenes placed at a crucial point in this action drama from the Shaw Studios. Wilson Tong was well regarded as a veteran by this point, and as such was the main man behind the fight choreography for this film. It's a tense three-on-one battle involving broad staffs and a spear. Wai Fung & Gi-Gi's fight for freedom, aided by Gi-Gi's mother is like the steady climb of a rollercoaster - you know the drop is coming, but you aren't sure when. And in this scene, Tong makes sure to keep you on edge. It's also worth noting that this scene put him in great favor with the studio to seize his own motion picture directing career.

Sho Kosugi & Keith Vitale Biker Fight, Revenge Of The Ninja, 1983

This was back when the ninja/karate craze in the U.S. had its first jump-the-shark moment. Ninjas had gotten some allure thanks to Sho Kosugi's key role in Chuck Norris' The Octagon. Lee Van Clief got into the act too. So much so that Hollywood put some money up to get films like this made. BUT - you had to have white stars. It's not a knock on Keith Vitale whatsoever, he had some verified skills as a former karate champion. This was one of the films where you found yourself asking, 'why did they front on Sho Kosugi SO COT DAMN MUCH???!!!' This fight scene has all of the surface clashes you'd expect - bare knuckle brawling versus Eastern fighting methods, polished and unassuming heroes up against pot-bellied and dusty biker villains. And it's at a playground, and you know that means more ways for baddies to catch bad ones!!(Side note: peep the one dude with the 'rising sun' t-shirt near the beginning of this scene. To me that sums up Hollywood board meetings on this kind of stuff. "Hey, we've got a Japanese fighter - let's place a WWII influenced logo t-shirt on a guy, go ALL the way with this!!!)

So now that you've had the chance to get a feel for what The Dirty 30 could be like with these morsels, stay tuned as we begin the countdown next month!!!

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Weird Man (Shen tong shu yu bao xiao wang, 1983)

Howdy Hai!Karate faithful!!! As you well know, we strive to cover martial arts films in their glory - and also in their shame and schlock. The next film we're going to chop it up about falls more towards the latter than the former in this regard. And that film is The Weird Man, straight from the latter days of the Shaw Brothers Studio motion picture era!! The film stars Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi, Jason Pai Piao. Chu Ko and Wong Lik at the forefront of the cast. The director is none other than the renowned Chang Cheh. The film is apparently based on the ancient Chinese historical novel, Romance of The Three Kingdoms. The novel itself is a chronicle of events surrounding the fall of the Han Dynasty and the three super-states Cao Wei, Shu Han and Eastern Wu that rose to power afterwards starting in 169 A.D. to 280 A.D. The film is supposed to be Cheh's own vision of those events. But after seeing the film, I wondered about his sight for real. Before I get into that, let's dive into the plot shall we?

The Weird Man begins with court intrigue as Prime Minister Cao Cao (Pai Piao) plots to assassinate General Sun Ce(Chiu Gwok). But his plans are discovered by Taoist priest Zuo Ci(Kwan Feng). It would seem that it is too late, as Sun is ambushed in the forest but SOMEHOW survives a mess of arrows to the chest. As he is brought home to recuperate, Zuo Ci goes to Master Yu Ji(Tien-Chi) who is in seclusion with his six students. At Zuo Ci's request, Yu Ji goes out among the people of the countryside. Yu Ji knows that doing so will bring about his death, but it is ordained. He enters the city and performs miracles, extracting poison and illness from people by touch alone.(Apparently both are Nickelodeon styled green slime.) General Sun hears that the people have proclaimed him to be God, and so orders his beheading. Magistrate Xu Gong(Lik) implores him to hold off, and Sun does - only if he can bring the rain. Yu Ji is imprisoned on a bale of hay in the square. He brings the rain down, but Sun orders him beheaded anyway. Magistrate Xu goes to the 6 disciples and tells them where his body is. They retrieve it, and let it float inside of a milky pool within the temple where it JOINS with his decapitated head. Yu Ji then tells the disciples that his spirit is still in limbo, and that they've been betrayed by Xu Gong. And so, he sets forth as a spirit warrior with an impish side to set things straight...

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd that's about the time that things go off the road, Sega Outrun style. Master Yu Ji becoming this hyper-athletic fighter using the general's wife to seduce the general, complete with baby oil. BABY OIL. The film basically becomes a mish-mash of comedy, intrigue with action that has a tinge of slapstick. Add some wild special effects like heavy mood lighting, and radio serial music cues and The Weird Man...just gets weird. Now if you get a chance to watch the dubbed version, the dialogue essentially makes Yu Ji out to be like Jesus Christ. I don't know if that was the aim of Cheh and the team behind this flick had that intention, but for a good part of the film Yu Ji does look like an Taoist Jesus complete with the hair. Or like one of The Wild Samoans from the WWE days with lap band surgery. But that's not even most of the confusion. The film seems to focus on the mischief Yu Ji's soul gets into, especially with the general's wife and her sister, even to the point of having Tien-Chi dress as them both. And General Sun, who's supposed to be heroic, becomes a villain and yet is still a heroic figure to be pitied? Huh? Cheh was truly all over the place with this picture. Tien-Chi at this point was essentially in the mode where he was the star, but wasn't really considered leading man material all the way, save for his sharp turn in Five Element Ninjas. Here, he gets to show off his comedic skills and some solid fighting chops that kept him working for years. One smart move was making him the action choreographer; he emphasizes a lot of his acrobatics, and makes those scenes engaging. Chiu Gwok as a lead...nah. He was more of a role player and it showed here.

All in all, The Weird Man is one of those latter Shaw-era films that was all about special effects and the idea of throwing actors and a script together and making it stick. Or trying to. And it didn't help that Cheh's style of directing and making films showed its age in a bad way. This is one of those films that you can watch once and(if you get through it)never need to see again. It's available on DVD and online.


Friday, May 8, 2015

The Blazing Temple (Feng Shiu Shiu Lam Chi, 1976)

What's good, good people?!! Hai!Karate returns with a burning classic in the genre of martial arts films, The Blazing Temple!! The 1976 flick is a cavalcade of stars including Chang Yi, Carter Wong, Judy Lee and Kam Kong, and is directed by the noted Joseph Kuo!

The Blazing Temple starts out with a slight bit of confusion; we see the film open on the emperor(Yee Yuen) and his entourage. He's just been informed that the 8 Swordsmen, along with other members of the Shaolin Temple, are training heavily to take down the Manchu Empire. This of course enrages his highness, who all of a sudden gets ambushed by Miss Yu(Lee) who swears to take his head in response to his decree to eliminate her entire family for conspiring with the rebels. Cue throwdown. We then jump to the Shaolin Temple and find the rebels joking with each other and discussing how they came there during a lull in training. Of course, this gets interrupted by the Manchu forces surging to attack. And what an attack it is; the entire temple is assaulted, and we see various disciples trying to save precious Buddhist texts. Word gets to the chief abbots, and they press the remaining disciples deep in the catacombs to train harder. The supreme abbot, even though there is a secret tunnel to freedom, demands that the only way out for them is through...the Bronzemen!!!

The disciples begin the process of trying to break through the Bronzemen and the rest of the trials, but the supreme abbot is chastised by others for being so stubborn to stick to tradition in a dire time. He relents, and goes to the tunnel only to find it blocked by a massive boulder. He makes the supreme sacrifice, and the 8 Swordsmen leave to go find the emperor and assasinate him. But the fight won't be easy - twists and turns beset them, especially the fact that there could be a traitor in their midst. Can they succeed against the cunning of Emperor Yungzheng and the Manchu forces?

To be real, The Blazing Temple is good, not great. It stands out because it's one of the few films if not the only one, to actually make the destruction of the Shaolin Temple a central setting within the film. Others, you see a glimpse of the chaos or it's spoken of and not really drawn out with the exception of Shaolin Abbot three years later. Kuo, who would go on to helm other classics like The Mystery Of Chessboxing, does okay here. The action scenes are crisp and increase in brutal effect as the film goes on.(Side note - cats catch severe bad ones starting with the Bronzemen sequence.) What had me flip was Judy Lee basically being at the start of the picture and then she makes no real appearance UNTIL THE FINAL FIVE MINUTES. I wasn't overly mad at her entrance though, that wire-fu was serious. Chang Yi puts in good work here, displaying a lot of emotion. If you've read this blog from jump, there's times where I've called him too damn stoic. Not here though, you get tears and everything from him. Carter Wong as Siu is the hidden gem of the picture. This was the beginning of Carter's prime in Hong Kong cinema, where he could be counted on to deliver solid performances that caught the audience's eye. And here he makes sure not to oversell his acting, and to also be thoroughly acrobatic with his fighting. Which is probably why he got the prominent spot on most DVD covers of the film. I do believe that this is one of those flicks that anyone who's a martial arts film fan will want to see if they haven't already just to add to their knowledge. The Blazing Temple is available on DVD, and online if you don't want to pay the freight.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

That Daredevil Fight Scene Tho'...

What's happening folks? For this post on Hai!Karate, I wanted to touch on the explosive success of Netflix's latest series, the highly anticipated new TV entry from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Daredevil. Now, if you haven't watched ANY of the series yet, I am inclined to post this for your benefit so you can click away and I don't have to hear any nonsense:
Now that that's out of the way...Daredevil has been getting rave reviews from almost everyone I've talked to. From the inspired casting of Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock to Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, to the dialogue, to the plot twists - the series is one of the best to break out of the gate in quite some time. Does it help that the full season uploading policy by Netflix gets more viewers? Probably. But I think that the same accolades would be in place if this was set up week by week in traditional form. The series is a gritty crime drama, hard-nosed to the point that you can smell the musky damp air of Hell's Kitchen at night. Of course, the major draw of Daredevil are the fight scenes. The first episode alone had me on the edge of my seat with every second of those battles. Major props have to go to the entire stunt team and their fight choreographer, Philip J. Silvera, whose work was recently on display in Thor:The Dark World and The Dark Knight Rises. Which brings me to the bit that has captured the imagination of many: the fight scene at the end of episode 2 where Matt goes up against the Russians for the first time. That scene is the centerpiece of "Cut Man", an episode that lets viewers get even more of the complexity of Matt Murdock's background. I've seen some commentary from a couple of bloggers about how that it's the greatest fight scene EVER. *record scratch*

Some of you need to have a seat and sit the next couple of plays out.

Listen. The fight scene is a thing of beauty. It is a testament to the work of all involved. But you CANNOT sit there and pull a generational amnesiac move and proclaim it as the 'best fight scene ever.'Do you understand how stupid that sounds, given the history of martial arts cinema? It's symptomatic of the thinking and writing I've been seeing these past few months in terms of kung-fu flicks and related movies. You know what I'm talking about - those lists by other magazines and websites. Lists that are as suspect as Donald Trump doing the Cupid Shuffle on Dr.Martin Luther King Jr's birthday. More on that in a sec. The fight scene in 'Cut Man' was brolic beyond words, no question. But you don't get that fight scene on an American television show without acknowledging the heavy influence from three distinct areas. First, the Indonesian martial arts/crime thrillers The Raid and The Raid 2. Second, Tony Jaa and his output of films from Thailand. And lastly, District B13 and the rise of parkour. All of those elements are at play in that scene, done in one long contiguous take. If you were on the fence about the show from the first episode, that moment was the one that pulled you in all the way. But let's keep it funky. That scene's greatness should not get put on a pedestal above the countless other moments in martial arts movie history. And yes, you can make that statement and not be a 'hater' or whatever else you pop-culture crazed mofos with no sense would say. Which leads me to the next decision...

Hai!Karate is going to do it's OWN LIST. Yes, I'm tired of these cat-in-the-hat ass lists from folks that haven't appreciated or seen the full scope of the movies. The list will contain thirty entries, counting down to number one, split into three posts. That's going to take place over the course of the next month, with alloawances for other work I've got going. SO...if you're a fan of this blog, tell a friend. Tell ten. Because we plan to GO IN.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Tournament (Zhong tai quan tan sheng si zhan, 1974)

What's going on, folks?!! We've got another veritable must-see film here for you on Hai!Karate...one of our favorites over here and a choice one for Women's History Month. On the screen tonight? The Tournament, starring the legendary Angela Mao Ying!!! This picture also boasts a who's who of kung fu movies, such as Carter Wong, Sammo Hung, Whang In Sik and others. This film is chock full of hardcore action with some great twists, so let's dive right into it!

The Tournament begins with a shady deal going down in the streets of Hong Kong. Apparently, bookies in Bangkok, Thailand need someone to go fight there. They strong-arm one guy into doing it over some gambling debts. But first, he has to clear it with his master as is customary with all Chinese boxing associations. Master Siu-Fung(Got Heung-Ting)gives the okay for him and his son(Wong) to go to Thailand to enter a Muay Thai contest - without the knowledge of the boxing association. Both men go, and get the ever-loving crap kicked out of them. An onlooker tells the association, who mostly disavows Master siu-Fung for 'disgracing Chinese boxing.' The backlash wrecks his name, and ruins the arranged marriage of Lau Siu-Fung(Mao Ying) and the son of a fellow master(the smarmy Chiang Nan). Despite some comfort and support from the association president(Guan Shan), the master is so despondent that he commits suicide.

Distraught, Lau takes it upon herself to restore the honor of her father along with her brother, and so they both make the decision to go to Thailand. This goes against the wishes of the association, who try to stop her to no avail. In other words? She DESTROYS all of them. Soon after, they hit Bangkok and begin to train for combat in the Muay Thai ring. But intrigue in Bangkok complete with run-ins with the gang responsible for the mess along with trouble at home thanks to a Japanese karate master(In Sik)hellbent on seizing the Siu-Fung residence to be his own dojo, makes for a daunting series of battles ahead for Lau Siu-Fung...

Honestly, this film is major on so many levels. For starters, it's yet another Hong Kong martial arts film that would incorporate Muay Thai as a main part of the story. Prior to that, you only saw it in Duel Of Fists and The Angry Guest from Shaw Studios. It would lead to Muay Thai being a concrete part of martial arts cinema going forward. To that end, the biggest revelation is when Lau Siu-Fung takes it upon herself to learn the art. And that leads us to another big moment...

Angela Mao with SHORT HAIR. Now, this may not seem like much, but at the time it was revolutionary. There were films where women took on men's roles, it was quite common. But in this role, Angela's short cut was striking.(And it didn't distract from how lovely she was - first reaction I had was oooooooooh-WEE when I saw it).Striking because over the course of the film, Lau redefines herself immensely. She begins the film as a dutiful daughter, willing to be in an arranged marriage with someone who isn't realllllllllly a good match for her, to a fierce fighter who in effect supplants her brother as the master-in-charge. It's a bold plot even in an era where it was seemingly progressive for women in cinema. This gets underscored by her actual Muay Thai training and being in the ring - she addresses the Thai press in a smart blouse and slacks, and carries herself with the utmost confidence. Angela's fighting skills are put to great usage in The Tournament. One standout fight besides her Muay Thai match is when she goes toe to toe with veteran actor Wilson Tong on the fixed poles. It's HER FILM from the moment she begins her first scene, full of steely determination, impressive fighting and charm that truly mesmerizes. I mean, Carter Wong gets shunted aside rather quickly, which is a bit surprising but when you consider Angela's prowess, not that much.

The Tournament does have its odd points - Whang In Sik raids the Siu-Fung house with a burly white dude in tow(George Yakirian) in a slightly laughable way. Then you have the abject dismissal on the part of the association against Siu-Fung - it's like, wouldn't you ASK why he did what he did in a heavier investigation? Also, the gang business in Thailand is a bit of a minor thing in the second half of the film. There's even a 'meta' moment involving Golden Harvest Studios themselves. But if it's brutal action you want, the fight choreography by Sammo Hung gives that to you in spades. (Side note: Sammo would outfit actors with shin guards and demand that they deliver full-on kicks to give off that extra realness, as was custom in shooting these films.) THe Muay Thai scenes are done really well, with a keen technical eye. It's also interesting to note the different players in the picture - you can spot a young Yung Biao here and there in the film(Side note:he actually did double for Angela in a couple of acrobatic scenes). I highly recommend The Tournament for all martial arts film fans, as yet another example of how thoroughly bad-ass Angela Mao Ying truly was. It's available online and on DVD!


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Queen Boxer (The Avenger, 1972)

What's good people? Hai! Karate comes back with another madcap martial arts film to cover, and being that it is Women's History Month, we're going to get into a key film in the career of the Iron Phoenix, Judy Lee aka Chia Ling!! The film? Queen Boxer!! This flick comes to the public straight from the independent Fung Ming Motion Picture Company. Now there's a couple of reasons why this film gets a look here, and we'll cover those soon. But first - the action!!

Queen Boxer begins with a fighter by the name of Ma Yu Chen who heads to a restaurant to settle a score with the big boss(Lee Ying) and his gang of cutthroats. Now cutthroats as a term applies 'cause after Yu Chen wrecks the squad on hand, he somehow gets ambushed and winds up dead in a gruesome manner. It turns out that this group happens to be the infamous Axe Gang of Shanghai. And on their rampage, they happen to massacre a family. But what they didn't plan on was, that one member of the family would get wind of this - and seek revenge.

Ma Su Chen(Lee) arrives in Shanghai after a slightly drawn-out intro complete with a jacking of Issac Hayes' 'Shaft Theme'. It's not the only bit of music that was boosted, as we'll get to. Su Chen comes to rest at a rice bun shop run by Fan Kao To(Peter Yang Kwan), a local who is fed up with gangs trying to terrorize folks to the point where he refuses to pay protection. As he stands up to the Axe Gang subordinates, Su Chen winds up fighting off one or two of them herself, performing a bit of instant dentistry in one case. Kao To winds up running a casino due to his stance, and he and Su Chen wind up teaming up to fight the big boss and the rest of the Axe Gang for some overdue justice.

I won't lie to you - Queen Boxer does have some snooze-worthy parts to it. Lee gets introduced early, and doesn't have much major action until nearly halfway through. Now - she DOES thoroughly bust some heads in this flick. Lee proves exceptional when it comes to handling knives, as evidenced in one scene where she catches a blade and whirls to take out someone in a fluid motion. She stands out in this picture, and while it's not hard to do given the cast(Yang Kwan is aight, but no one else really grabs you), the film does stand out because of her. The action director, Wu-Min Hsiung, more than likely just told her, 'we're going to really highlight how fierce you are - so go get em!' This sentiment was probably shared by the director, Florence Yu Fung-Chi - who also happened to be the producer. She and the Fung Ming company would have this as their only spark of notice, a spark that got snuffed out quickly because of some fibs being told. First one? The film got advertised as a 'sequel' to Shaw Studios' Boxer From Shantung, which starred Chen Kuan-Tai and was a hit that same year. Another aspect was how Judy Lee got her Western moniker. Apparently, Fung Ming(which was owned by both Fung-Chi and Peter Yang Kwan)was looking to maximize their profits with the film. That's why they jacked music not only from Issac Hayes, but also from Shaw flicks and others. It explained why, according to legend, they shot the film in ELEVEN days. And it also was the motive behind making Chia Ling as Judy Lee in order to pass her off as the iconic Bruce Lee's sister in promotions for the film. When the jig was up, Judy wound up being the scapegoat and drew the wrath of those fooled in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Now it is up for debate whether the film company did this on purpose. In any event, Judy dealt with the situation as best as possible. A tough thing when it is your first film. As for Florence Yu Fung-Chi, it was her attempt to be a major director and producer, a tough go for a woman - this was the time where women didn't have the higher prominence outside of acting, not until Mona Fong's rise with Shaw Studios a couple of years later. Not even her prior work as a minor role actress could help further her ambitions in that sense.

Or should we say, second? Because Lee's first film is listed as Escape, and there's not too much more info to be found about this film made in the same year by the same company with Yang Kwan in the lead. Lee was only eighteen, and in this film, she shows off the first glimpses of a fighting style that combines raw power with crisp and graceful presence that would ensure Lee's popularity and be a trademark for the rest of her acting career. She'd be part of the new wave of fierce heroines in martial arts films of the 1970's that would include Angela Mao, Nora Miao, and Li Ching. But for Judy, a good deal of her roles would resemble what you find in Queen Boxer - straight roustabout beatdowns. For those who want a film with a loose plot and a chunk of bloody action, check this out with a bag of popcorn to kill some time and to get some knowledge on how the Iron Phoenix got her start.


(German trailer)