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 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.