Friday, October 28, 2016

Yagyu Secret Scrolls:Two Secret Scrolls aka Ninjutsu II (Yagyu Bugeicho: Soryu Hiken, 1958)

What's the good word folks?! Hai! Karate returns with a new flick, one that we promised a little while ago - Toshiro Mifune getting his ninja on in Yagyu Secret Scrolls Part 2! Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, the film also stars Koji Tsuruta, Yoshiko Kuga, Mariko Okada and Jotaro Togami. Without further delay, let's get down to dissecting this sequel from Toho Studios.

When the first film ended, it ended with Tasaburo(Mifune) and Princess Yu(Kuga) somehow extricating themselves out of a raging river after being chased there by Yagyu forces. In their possession? Two of the three Martial Chronicles, secrets that could destroy the Yagyu family and rattle Japan. Yagyu Secret Scrolls Part 2 begins a short while after these events, and opens with the remaining Yagyu members trying to find Tasaburo and the rest of his clan - as well as the scrolls. Meanwhile, Tasaburo and Princess Yu are living a tranquil life in the woods. Both have made it a point to give up the shinobi life and be with each other happily. But of course, THAT can't happen no matter how many embraces they both share. Why? Because not only are the Yagyu nearby, Senshiro(Tsuruta) is hovering around still on mission to get the well as another set of ninja.

Added to the mix is the son of the Yagyus who left home not wanting to be part of their deception and tyranny, and in the process of seeing his journey he stumbles upon a street dancer and singer in a town in the country. The dancer(Okada) reminds him of Rika, the maiden who tended to him and who he fell in love with in the first film - who he left behind. The singer invites Matajuro to travel with them. It isn't until they get to a local inn for the night where the singer reveals that he is a powerful and villainous monk, Hogen Tondo and that he has put Rika under a spell to control her. At that point, Senshiro infiltrates the inn and confronts Tondo. Meanwhile, Jubei Yagyu(Togami) is hot on everyone's trail. These parties all find themselves on a collision course to gain the ultimate power...

Yagyu Secret Scrolls: Two Secret Scrolls on a whole does drop off a bit from the first one. One significant improvement is the level of action. The fight scenes stick out mainly because of the attention to detail. Ninjas being ninjas, yo, Fire attacks? Got 'em. Magic monk wizardry? Got it. Reversible gear? Man listen. This is an Inagaki film, so you better believe that the sword duels will be laid out in thrilling fashion. The major group battles can be a little bit helter skelter, but it does work in the overall scheme.

Toshiro Mifune as a ninja is still an odd sight. This is the same cat that is a legend in film. Here, he seems to waver between being relegated to the background and then taking a commanding presence. It could have been due to schedule(he was already signed to do another Inagaki film, The Rickshaw Man later that year) or the script. Still, he was prominent enough to be the draw for the picture. Mariko Okada does steal the show in her role - her beauty and her acting in the "damsel-in-distress" role sticks to the lane but is imbued with a bit of stoicism. If you're looking for something slightly different, I would recommend checking out both films at once since they're fairly short. As an aside: these films would lead to spinoffs being made in both movies and television series, and would further cement the ninjutsu craze in addition to the Shinobi No Mono series that was being released around the same time. Yagyu Secret Scrolls: Two Secret Scrolls is available on DVD. RATING: 3 OF 5 DRAGON PUNCHES

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Magnificent Butcher (Lam Sai-Wing, 1979)

Hello all you fans of the martial arts movie genre! Hai!Karate returns with a new film for you to check out, and this one ranks among one of the best and the most entertaining of the lot - The Magnificent Butcher starring the great Sammo Hung!!! Also making an appearance is the legendary Kwan Tak Hing, as well as Yuen Biao, Lam Ching-Ying and Fan Mei-Sheng in this Golden Harvest feature. At the director's chair is the great Yuen Woo-Ping. There's some backstory to this feature, but we'll get to that shortly...

The Magnificent Butcher opens on a market scene as these flicks often tend to do. We come upon Butcher Wing(Hung) who manages to get into some hijinks as he makes his way throughout the market. But one of those episodes lands him in hot water with Master Ko Tan Bin(Lee Hoi-Sang) and his disciples. Master Ko, who is quick to anger, decides that this will be the chance he needs to give Master Wong Fei Hung(Tak Hing) his comeuppance. And there lies one of the most renowned scenes in kung fu movie history - Ko and Fei Hung's battle through a lesson in the "gentle" art of calligraphy.

Ko informs Wong Fei Hung of Butcher Wing's error and Wing is promptly punished as the master heads out of town on a trip to buy medicinal herbs. Meanwhile, a man by the name of Lam Sai Kwong(Chiang Kam) arrives in town with his wife Cheung Yuet Mai(Tong Ching) to look for his long-lost brother. Yuet Mai catches the eye of Tai Hoi(Fung Hak-On), the scurvy son of Master Ko. He hatches a plot and kidnaps Yuet Mai. Around this same time, Beggar So rambles into town - and I do mean ramble, as he falls out of a rickshaw. He happens upon a despondent Sai Kwong and promises to help him get his wife back. This soon leads to a run-in with Wing and Tai Hoi, who had deceived So into thinking Wing was the kidnapper. They wind up fighting - So giving Wing the business - and the truth is then revealed.

The brothers are reunited, and set out to get Yuet Mai back. But in the process, they unknowingly rescue someone else who Master Ko cherishes and set about a course of events that involve blackmail, murder and a eventual showdown between Butcher Wing and Master Ko. One that promises to be jam-packed with action!

The Magnificent Butcher is striking as a movie overall but can tend to be slightly plodding in some of the scenes. It's a real comedic vehicle and one that would lead to Sammo Hung gaining superstar power in Hong Kong cinema - and also spawn a few movies centering on his weight as a selling point. You do get a good grasp of his fighting prowess in the film in a comedic sense as well as the fight scenes thanks to good collaboration between he and Yuen Woo-Ping, especially the acrobatic elements. Now, I mentioned the fight scene between Wong Fei Hung and Master Ko. That scene pops so much because you have to take into account that Kwan Tak Hing was in his 70's and performed most of this scene without a stunt double. It was one of a handful of movies he did for the Golden Harvest studios, such as The Skyhawk which was reviewed here.That's not to say Lee Hoi-San was a slouch. He brings all of his skill to the foray from a lengthy career that saw him in various supporting roles including a highly visible stint at the Shaw Brothers Studios.(Side note - he originally was set to play a minor comedic role but in the second revision of the script, he was entrusted to play Master Ko.)

You may have noticed Beggar So is played by a different actor. Sadly, the man that made the role famous, Simon Yuen passed away right before production began. That prompted a script rewrite as well as re-casting, which brought veteran Fan Mei-Sheng into the picture. It adds another bit of fun to the film even though it must've been hard for Woo-Ping to see being that this was his father's famous role. Also in The Magnificent Butcher are decent turns by Yuen Biao and Wei Pak, formerly one of the Five Deadly Venoms. They get a bit of shine but not too much. This is strictly a Sammo Hung vehicle. All in all, you'll get a kick out of seeing The Magnificent Butcher. It's not a major must-see, but it's one all fans of the genre should peep.The DVD is widely available, and it is on YouTube. Bit of advice - look for the original version if you can if you want to avoid some bad voiceover work.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Yagyu Secret Scrolls aka Ninjitsu Part 1 (Yagyu Bugeicho, 1957)

Hello to all you fans of the martial arts movie world and others!! Hai!Karate comes back with a new review for you, a flick that caught my eye about 5 years ago. That movie comes from the great Toho Studios of Japan, known as Yagyu Secret Scrolls aka Yagyu Bugeicho!! (It's also known as Ninjitsu, which leads to some slight confusion. More on that later.) Released in 1957, this film features a powerhouse cast led by none other than the iconic Toshiro Mifune. Also starring Koji Tsuruta and Mariko Okada, this film is directed by the great Hiroshi Inagaki. The movie is remarkable for a number of reasons, mainly the face that we see Toshiro Mifune AS A NINJA folks. Mind. Blown. So let's get down to the nitty gritty on this picture...

Yagyu Secret Scrolls begins out in a plain with the looming sight of Mt. Fujiyama in the background. We see a samurai striding through cautiously before being attacked by another wearing a ronin-gasa who dispatches him easily. A woman and a young boy look on and prepare to join in but are stopped by a ninja in a tree who turns out to be Tasaburo(Mifune) who is in awe of the swordsman. His awe is justified as the man is actually Jubei Yagyu of the Yagyu swordmaster clan of the Tokugawa regime. After a brief confrontation, Tasaburo escapes in a burst of purple smoke. In the next few scenes, it is revealed that the "Martial Chronicles" are in danger. These three documents, held by three separate entities hold a vast array of information that could topple the empire and the Yagyus with it. One man, Fugetsu Yamada, wants the Chronicles to expose the Yagyus and save the nation from their machinations. Enter Tasaburo and his brother, Senshiro(Tsuruta) to execute the mission on his behalf to get the scrolls by any means.

From that point on, we are treated to a flurry of activity where each ninja goes on their mission -and wind up being involved with women that pose a bit of a risk to their goals and wind up putting them into conflict with each other. In Senshiro's case, he winds up being assigned to infiltrate the Yagyus, and Tasaburo gets to contact Princess Oki(Kyoko Kagawa).The two wind up in conflict, with Senshiro being opposed to Tasaburo's growing romance with the princess, choosing to focus on duty more. By the end though, both men have their eyes squarely set on the scrolls - and Jubei Yagyu.

(photo credit: Vintage Ninja)

Like I said before, Yagyu Secret Scrolls is an intriguing film. Seeing one of the most recognizable actors in Japanese film history as a ninja is slightly surprising, but is not totally unexpected. Mifune's martial skill was quite impressive throughout his career, thanks to the training he received from Yoshio Sugino, a master of the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū which is one of the oldest forms of Japanese martial arts dating back to 1480 by some accounts. By studying this form, Mifune had more than enough knowledge to look the part. By this time he had already become well known in Japan for portraying samurai or ronin especially in Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy where he played Miyamoto Musashi and Koji Tsuruta played his rival, Sasaki Kojiro. Mifune as Tasaburo brings all of the gruff charm you expect from the actor, with a little bit of tenderness as well. Tsuruta as Senshiro does display some cool and calculating moments here, and to see him and Mifune interact brings a stronger buttress to the film's plot. As for the ladies... well, the unfortunate part is that their characters are merely foils for the plot to move along. Princess Oki is confident but we see her being whittled down. Mariko Okada, who is highly regarded, is striking in her role but winds up taking a backseat to the action as well. I guess it was par for the course in those days with Inagaki.

A little earlier, I had touched upon the point of the film's title. The reason for that is, there's another film that was released that same year, by Toei Studios with the title of Ninjutsu Gozen-Jiai: Torawakamaru, The Koga Ninja. Toho may have wanted to avoid some confusion, hence the name of their films. That aside, Yagyu Secret Scrolls stands out because of the painstaking details with regards to the ninja. You see a great deal of their weaponry on display from the difference of shurikens to Tasaburo and Senshiro's different garb depending on the situation. Inagaki's film style also calls for a number of duels, and true to form, each is set up to provide some thrilling action. A tip of the hat goes to Jotaro Togami for his steely and ruthless portrayal of Jubei Yagyu, who comes off very Vader-like in his scenes. Overall, the film moves swiftly and packs a lot in without sacrificing too much. It's plain to see why Toho scrambled to make a sequel.(I'll get to that in the review for the next film.) For those who like their ninja action with a little less hokiness, Yagyu Secret Scrolls does the trick. You can grab a remastered DVD from the fine sites of Kurotokagi and JapaneseSamuraiDVD.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Dirty Ho (Laan Tau Ho), 1979

Welcome back, martial arts movie lovers! Today, I'm happy to jot down some words in praise of one of the best kung-fu comedies ever put together, from the Shaw Brothers Studios, Dirty Ho!!! Now I know the title alone is bound to make you collapse into some giggles a la Beavis & Butthead or make you think of an ODB refrain from his first album, but Dirty Ho is actually a loose translation from Cantonese. The more accurate title is "rotten head Ho" but that doesn't exactly move audiences into the theaters, does it? Anyway, let's dig deeper into this classic starring Gordon Liu, Wong Yue and Kara Hui, directed by the great Lau Kar Leung!!

Dirty Ho starts out with a highly entertaining opening credits scene introducing the two protagonists, Ho Chi(Yue) and Master Wang(Liu)displaying some excellent martial skills in back to back scenes. From there, the movie jumps to open in an opulent brothel in Canton. Master Wang is surrounded by a bevy of lovely courtesans, listening to music and drinking wine. He asks the madam about a special room for the night, allowing for the jump cut to show Ho Chi irate about being snubbed for the room. A back and forth ensues with both men trying to get the attention of all the women by showing off their jewelry - only thing is, Ho Chi is a notorious jewel thief. Their first encounter and the two that follow are all extremely hilarious and all end with Ho Chi somehow getting bested by the clumsiness of Master wang. Or so it seems...

Ho Chi finds Master Wang at the brothel again, after finding out that Wang took his rather large box of stolen jewelry and donated it to charity. He goes in to snuff Wang once and for all, even if he is in the presence of Tsui Hung(Kara Hui) who is innocently playing the lute. What happens next is another fisticuff-laden feast for the eyes as Ho Chi is thwarted by Tsui Hung - but it's actually Master Wang who beats Ho back by using her as a shield. In the aftermath, Ho Chi runs away once the authorities are called, but suffers a nasty cut on his head that grows worse by the day no matter how many patches of medicine he puts on it. He seeks out Master Wang who reveals that he gave Ho Ching the cut and wants him to be his disciple to keep him out of trouble. In turn, he'll give Ho the antidote over time. Ho Ching begrudgingly agrees to the deal. But both men are in for a hard road, because the other secret that Wang has been hiding is that he's really the 11th Prince of the ruling Manchu Empire, and that someone wants him dead enough to enlist the help of General Liang Jing Chieng, played by the legendary Lo Lieh! Through intricate plots and fights, Prince Eleven aka Master Wang trains Ho Ching in the fine arts of fighting well and being a gentleman - but can they both make it back to the palace in Peking in time for the Emperor's birthday so he won't get into trouble and most importantly, stay alive?

Let's make it plain - Dirty Ho is one of the best films of the genre ever made. I don't say that lightly. One has to consider all of the elements of this movie. First, this film was made during the time where Lau Kar Leung was at the top of his game in direction and fight coordination. Gordon Liu was THE star of the studios, just another role removed from the film that would forever immortalize him as the "Master Killer", Priest San Te in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin in 1978. Wong Yue was fast becoming a favorite of the studio as well, building off a steady stream of roles that showcased his innate comedic timing and fighting skill, most notably in The Spiritual Boxer. He and Liu had worked in a few films prior to this one, and their natural ease with each other shines throughout the picture. From the opening scene in the brothel, both men will have you in stitches. One prime example comes in the second scene where Ho Ching tries to get his merch back from Wang, only to run into a gang of disabled thieves known as the "Handicapped Devils". The one-liners are incredible:

Ho Ching: How come you use both arms?!

One Armed Handicapped Devil: I have to exercise both of them!

Ho Ching: You'll ruin your image!!

A good deal of Dirty Ho is the intertwining of witty slapstick with some elegant and spectacular martial arts. Yue's charming and precocious acting ability serves him very well here as "Dirty" Ho Ching, a thief who's nature inspires Prince 11 to take him under his wing. As Prince Wang, Gordon Liu keenly walks the line between being an effete jewelry merchant who loves wine and antiques and being someone who feels trapped by his lineage. In this way, he bonds with Ho Ching because he feels that he too is trapped in being someone he doesn't want to be. Their dialogue lays fine groundwork for the movie and some remarkable scenes. First, lets get back to the scene with Tsui Hung. Note that she takes quite a bit of punishment in the scene especially in her midsection. Kara Hui Ying-Hung, who'd go on to be an award-winning star in her own right, actually revealed in an interview on women martial arts stars that the particular scene needed more than one take. She had thrown up after the first one. In fact, it took close to FIFTY TAKES before getting the one you see in the film. Subterfuge reigns supreme as Ho Ching and Master Wang encounter baddies along the way, including an acrobatic showdown with recurring Shaw villain Johnny Wang Lung-Wei that will make your eyes pop out.

Dirty Ho is definitely one of those films I would recommend to anyone who's never seen a kung-fu flick before in their life. It's one of those movies that whenever I see it come on TV these days(thanks El Rey Network) that I will watch no matter what point it may be. If you've never seen it before, please remedy that. And if you want to see it again, it's now widely available thanks to Celestial Pictures right here and via YouTube.


Friday, July 29, 2016



What's good, fight film fans? It's been a little over a year since I last posted on this site, and left you severely hanging.

First off? I apologize, profusely. Life, as it has done in the past, had thrown me off a bit(new work clients, parting ways with old work clients, family strife & health setbacks). I want to send a shoutout to the folks and family that held me down during that time.

So Hai!Karate took a bit of a backburner. I do hope that there won't be another extended hiatus like this one. I will do my best to make sure there isn't. Now, I realize that I left off in the middle of an epic countdown. THE DIRTY 30. I'll be getting back on that, no question. And I'll be giving you the movie reviews you'll enjoy to the fullest. To those who've been waiting, thank you for your patience. For those who're intrigued and new to the site, I invite you to go back and check out previous posts and get comfy.

Let's get back to business, shall we?