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Wow I just deleted some REALLY old websites of mine. Just try takeshikitano3 on Twitter.
Fei long zhan (1976)
Interesting focus on a villain (minor spoilers)
I saw this earlier today thanks to the El Rey network, since they have been showing some of the best Shaw Brothers movies for months, but I'd already seen every one they've shown, except for one, The Dragon Missile. The name comes from these 2 dragon-shaped blades that Lo Lieh uses -- when thrown like boomerangs, they easily behead opponents and always come back. The movie felt different from most others in the genre (well, from Shaw) in that Lo Lieh is the main character but also pretty much the main villain. He performs some horrific acts that can't really be forgiven. He shows a little bit of hesitation but ultimately kills anyone his master tells him to because... well, just because it's his job. He never asks forgiveness for doing his job. His master sends out a half dozen other killers to keep an eye on him during a very important mission, and to kill him once he completes it, but ultimately who is the lesser of the evils doesn't matter much since a pair of heroes will enter the story and it becomes about Lo Lieh trying to survive their quest for revenge against him. Revenge which would be quite appropriate.
As much as I've been enjoying revisiting these Shaw Brothers classics on El Rey, I've seen the big ones and they've mainly been showing the big ones. They recently acquired 200+ more to add to the channel and I can't wait. I know there will be more interesting ones like The Dragon Missile out there that I haven't seen yet.
Very intense, dark action/horror
There is no general theatrical or digital release date yet for Raze (as of this post), so I can't tell you when you might see it, but it's worth a look for fans of horror or, well, tournament fighting movies. This movie is very lean. It doesn't include anything it doesn't need. Women who are athletic or who have some sort of fighting experience are being kidnapped, held in some hidden underground prison, and forced to fight to the death, for the entertainment of rich folks of course. If the women lose or refuse to fight, their closest loved ones will be killed. Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn are the cheerfully creepy married couple running things. Zoe Bell, also a producer, is one of the fighters, killing to help protect a daughter she hasn't seen in many years. Other fighters include familiar faces like Rachel Nichols, Tracie Thoms, and Rosario Dawson. It's very dark, and brutally violent, but not exploitative. It's not "sexist sh1t!" as one unhappy viewer shouted at the director and star after our screening (though he still stayed for the entire film). I couldn't say anything about the most surprising or rewarding bits of the movie without major spoilers, so let me just say do NOT be deterred by the low IMDb rating. It's a good one!
Rope a Dope (2013)
Might be the funniest short I've ever seen
We come to The Stunt People for their incredible action skills (and they are certainly on display here), but Rope-A-Dope is extremely funny. I was thrilled to see this at Ric Meyers' annual kung fu panel at San Diego Comic-Con this year, and Eric Jacobus was in attendance to present as well. His performance is flawless and I can't wait to share it with everyone else in anticipation of the huge laughs it will no doubt earn.
I can't help but mention Groundhog Day when describing this short. Instead of using an endlessly repeating day to win Andie MacDowell's heart, The Dope is suffering from a series of annoyances and frustrations ending with an attack from a local gang. He becomes determined to figure out how best to deal with this gang.
Bian di lang yan (2011)
Quite the excellent war-sniper-thriller thing!
I was lucky enough to see this film at its Chicago premiere courtesy of the Chicago Cinema Society. Don't know too much about director David Wu, except that he's edited some of the best action movies I've ever seen. The action touch was quite apparent here in Cold Steel. A young man somehow able to avoid the war raging in his country is recruited by the Chinese when they discover his skills as a sniper and need his help in the face of an ongoing Japanese invasion. The action is fast-paced, intense, and extremely well cut together. When at one point the lead character jumps off a roof into a neighboring building's window, a stunt cameraman follows RIGHT behind him in a nice first person view. I have never seen that before. Things slow down a bit halfway through for a romantic subplot, but it doesn't get too corny. And that's saying a lot considering this came from Hong Kong. You can do better for story or drama, but the flaws are minimal and the action is great as a sniper-thriller.
Tai fong siu sau (1982)
One of Sammo Hung's best movies!
Look, Hong Kong comedy can be really, really weird and awkward and hokey. In a way I've had to get used to it for the movies I watch, but in this movie it's so well done that this might be the funniest HK movie I've ever seen. It's a Sammo Hung movie all the way (star and director) and he never disappoints. This is easily one of his best movies. It's also fitting this features Richard Ng, possibly the funniest actor I've ever seen in an HK movie. This is more than a comedy though. The action is truly A-level and will not disappoint. Some really great stuff that I haven't seen before. Just as an example, for both the comedy and the action, loved the entire nightclub sequence early in the movie.
Fei hu wai chuan (1980)
A classic from Chang Cheh and the Venoms!!
Not sure why I'm surprised I enjoyed this so much. I love the Venom Mob movies and this was one of the best. There is a lot of plot thrown at you up front and I was definitely confused, though I suppose this is not rare for Chinese kung fu movies that want to dig in right away and not take the time to slowly set everything up. Actually, this movie was over two hours long, so there was definitely a lot going on! No need to dig into the plot where others here have. I just wanted to mention a few things.
Primarily I was overjoyed by Chin Siu-ho's performance as the lead character. I know him for Fist of Legend and Tai Chi Master, and wouldn't have thought of him as being a Shaw era performer. He was only seventeen years old when he did this! He was spectacular, and was one of my favorite performances to date of the typical young, overeager kung fu master who's emotions lead before his brain and skill. He did his fair share of laughing and boasting and rushing into danger, but had just enough patience to keep him from being annoying (I'm looking at you, Disciples of the 36th Chamber, grrr...). This was a very early performance in his career and I had no issues seeing him supported this time around by legends such as Lu Feng, Philip Kwok, and Chiang Sheng.
Lu Feng was a hero for once, and Chiang Sheng was a villain. Loved that. Philip Kwok did what he always did. Loved the action, the love story, the battle between the poison experts -- there was a lot going on and once I wrapped my head around it, I was thoroughly entertained!
Bi xie jian (1981)
Another fine Venom Mob movie
After watching the rather silly 36th Chamber trilogy this weekend, it was refreshing to finally see The Sword Stained with Royal Blood, which represents what I loved best from the Shaw Brothers era. Chang Cheh was by far my favorite director, the Vemon Mob folks were so extremely talented, and I loved the more serious and great stories that were being told in their movies. The story seems to jump around a lot early on, but it all comes together quite well by the end. Kuo Chui carries the film as usual and is excellent. Loved the sequence early on of him discovering the cave, though I have no idea why he went there in the first place. A lot of great action and I still just think these are so well made and better than the rest. Though I admit I'm pretty crazy about all the Shaw Brothers movies.
Pi li shi jie (1985)
Quick note on a late-era Shaw Brothers spectacle
So, I liked the film, but it was a very frustrating experience. I love Liu Chia-Liang, I really do. And I liked Gordon Liu returning to the role from the first film. And Lily Li is always good. But I HATED the main character of Fang Shiyu. I get that a lot of these movies had that wild, uncontrollable, disobedient young hero, but this one went too far and I was actively rooting for his death. I'm not going to say this was actor Hou Hsiao's fault. Good lord was he a great fighter. I just think it's hard for a character like that to be likable to me. You know who always did it just right for me? Alexander Fu Sheng. He mastered that kind of role. And I guess since I liked the two early 90s Fong Sai-Yuk movies with Jet Li, I thought he did that particular character well. But I just wanted to rip my hair out here! AHHHHHHH!!!! But, some super smooth action, some great group fighting scenes towards the end, and I always feel it's a treat when Liu Chia-Liang gets in front of the camera for one of his own movies. So I'd still recommend this for fans of the genre/era.
Ma Yong Zhen (1972)
Sort of a big deal and worth seeing
This is basically a kung fu Scarface type of story. Chen Kuan Tai gets an "Introducing" credit in what I believe to be his first starring role. He was great, and gets even better in future movies. David Chiang has a key role and as always was the coolest guy on screen. The version I saw was uncut, which is my favorite word for movies, though it did feel a bit long. I don't think anything was worth cutting out though. I feel sorry for those stuck with a version shorter by a half hour. My favorite supporting actor of the era, Ku Feng, was in this too, but if I told you I watched 2 Shaw Brothers movies today and he was in both... well, this shouldn't be a surprise. That guy worked his ass off and the odds of such an occurrence are quite high!
Chu Liu Xiang (1977)
Another Shaw gem
Clans of Intrigue is an excellent suspense-mystery with all the high stakes action you would still expect from a Ti Lung-starring Shaw Brothers film. Here he plays a well known rich thief, blamed for the murder of the leaders of the region's three largest kung fu clans. He is given one month to track down the real killer to save his life. Yueh Hua is excellent as a monk you meet early on who turns into the most interesting character in the film. Wish I could say more about him. And one of my absolute favorites, Ku Feng, shows up for a few sequences as well. The sets they use are just gorgeous, especially near the end. Some GREAT surprises along the way. I've seen a few of the collaborations between director Chu Yuan and star Ti Lung and hope there are more out there. At the very least I have a few more from the director on my shelf awaiting a viewing.