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Ying xiong wu lei (1986)
Early and under-appreciated John Woo classic
Heroes Shed No Tears is John Woo's first action movie that has guns and is not a martial arts movie. Woo made A Better Tomorrow right after this. Eddie Ko leads a group of Chinese mercenaries that are to capture a drug lord from The Golden Triangle Area near the Vietnamese border with Laos and protect his family that live in a village near the border. Eddie Ko and his men also in addition to fighting the drug lord's men who are trying to set him free, they must also contend with the Vietnamese army led by a vicious colonel played by Lam Ching Ying. This is absolutely for the most hardcore of action fans. Heroes Shed No Tears is raw and nihilistic action at its finest. This is ultra violence with brutal shoot outs, bodies exploding, people getting impaled, chopped up etc. The acting performances are good, especially Eddie Ko who brings a lot of depth and emotion to his role. The action is incredible, but much more gritty than Woo's future efforts and the mayhem level is kicked to eleven. This gets compared to Eastern Condors sometimes, but this is way more unpolished and fierce. I would recommend this for fans of extreme cinema for sure. Plus this movie is very well made and ahead of its time.
Bin yuen sui yuet (1989)
A Killer's Blues is a very good triad/gangster movie starring Ti Lung and Lo Lieh. I would regard this as more of a drama than an action film, although the action scenes that are in the film are real well done and are more gritty and realistic than most films of this type. The film is never boring and the acting performances are excellent. Ti Lung is always great and while A Killer's Blues in not exempt from clichés in gangster films, Ti Lung's powerful performance grounds the film and gives it a lot of credibility as well. The support cast is also quite excellent with Olivia Cheng, Fennie Yuen, Mark Cheng and Roy Cheung. The plot is nothing new for gangster movies,but it is done well. The action scenes are part of the story and are not thrown in when they don't service the plot. The violence gets intense, bloody and brutal, but it is never gratuitous and builds to its furious climax. This draws a lot of parallels to the American western, where violence is the only way of life and even those who want to live peaceful lives must resort to those methods to survive. A Killer's Blues like many other heroic bloodshed films, it is very bleak and melodramatic. However, don't expect a non stop action, bullet ballet killfest. It is much less driven by action, but is a well done and powerful film that stars Ti Lung which makes this well above average. I would not regard this on par with A Better Tomorrow, but is way better than many of the imitators that get more props than this film.
Long man sha shou tze yo ren (1990)
Less than killer, falls flat
A Killer's Romance is a pretty poorly made action movie from Hong Kong that is based off of Crying Freeman(Japanese Manga). This also film tries pretty hard to emulate John Woo, but fails miserably with poor direction, bad editing, poor characterization and mostly lackluster action scenes. The romantic scenes between Simon Yam and Joey Wang are horrible and they seem awkward towards each other and possess zero chemistry. Speaking of which, check out the incredibly cheesy sequence where the couple go horseback riding, Yikes! I am not insulting the talents of Simon Yam and Joey Wang as they both are excellent in a whole lot of other HK movies, many of which are classics.(plus I always thought Joey Wang was one of the prettiest actresses in HK cinema) To put it mildly, A Killer's Romance is less than killer and far from the quality and class of The Killer which this movie attempts to rip off left and right. It should also be noted leading man Simon Yam was cast in John Woo's Bullet In The Head the same year. He had a supporting role in that film, but tears it up in that film with a memorable performance that nearly steals the show from the 3 leading actors. Overall, A Killer's Romance is a fairly poorly made heroic bloodshed movie that is barely watchable besides a few decent gory action scenes that rip off A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and every other movie like that. Nothing new to see here and surely not done well and not very exciting.
Sang sei kuen chuk (2000)
Decent action/ martial arts from HK, but not without its flaws
Fist Power is a fairly fast paced and action packed film vehicle for martial artist actor Vincent Zhao. However watchable, the movie is with not without flaws. The direction and editing is not the greatest and really sells the fighting talents of our hero short. The support cast(mostly utilized for comic relief) Sam Lee and good looks and love interest for Vincent Zhao, the very pretty Gigi Lai also appears. The legendary Cheng Pei Pei from Come Drink With Me and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon also makes a memorable, but brief appearance as Vincent Zhao's mom. The plot is driven and grounded by sympathetic antagonist Anthony Wong who is an ex British Marine that is trying to get back his son from the boy's biological father by holding up an elementary school. Anthony Wong's performance is about the only thing about this film that is excellent. But Fist Power is pretty decent for sure. While not a classic by any means, this should entertain most action fans for an hour and a half. I have not seen too many films with Vincent Zhao, but he is utilized much better in Yuen Woo Ping's True Legend. However, compared to a lot of stuff out there Fist Power is not bad at all.
Cung on zo (1993)
The dark side of Jackie Chan
Crime Story is a departure for Jackie Chan and at this point in his film career, it is one of his darkest, most serious roles. It is also one of my favorites and based off a real kidnapping case in Hong Kong. Jackie plays a stressed out, overworked cop that was recently assigned a kidnapping case. You will find very little comedy here, in fact Jackie does not even smile during the picture. The tone is very gritty and dark. Director Kirk Wong did an excellent job putting this together and the film is solid on every level and looks incredible. While this is a much more dramatic and realistic role for Jackie, Crime Story is packed with tons of action. The action is much grittier and more violent, lots of gunplay and explosions, but also lots of fights and insane stuntwork that one would expect from a Jackie Chan film. Jackie's performance is one of his best and most intense, also Kent Cheng is excellent opposite Jackie as corrupt cop and villain. Kent Cheng is one of the best character actors in Hong Kong and delivers in a wide range of roles. Crime Story was real different for Jackie at the time this came out and proves that he has range and ability as an actor. However, it would be some time until Jackie would do more material like this. Crime Story is still the favorite of these films and one that I highly recommend.
Ren zhe wu di (1982)
Essential ninja action, by far one of the best!
Five Element Ninjas is a Shaw Brothers classic towards the end of the era of Shaw Studio making feature films. This also is one of the best works from director Chang Cheh, although from what I have seen of his movies, they are all excellent and regarded as classics. Venom Lo Meng appears but this is more of a vehicle for Tien Chi Cheng and he does a good job as leading man. The fighting is almost constant and Five Element Ninjas delivers and then some with crazy, gory ninja action. This is probably the goriest film in Chang Cheh's filmography and if you are familiar with his work, that is saying a lot. This is also a very well structured film and has great camera-work, as well as lavish weaponry, costumes and great looking sets. In the early 80's, there was a whole slew of ninja movies from both the east and the west. However, for me Five Element Ninjas is easily one of the best because it not only delivers the goods, but is a very well crafted quality production. Five Element Ninjas is far above average and is a must for even the most jaded of martial art/action fans.
Shu shi shen chuan (1981)
Ti Lung and The Venom Mob fight ninjas
Ninja In The Deadly Trap is a pretty good low budget martial arts movie that is elevated by its all star cast of Shaw Brothers stars Ti Lung and 3 of The Five Deadly Venoms Kou Chui aka Phillip Kwok, Chaing Sheng and Lu Feng. Also appearing as head of the ninja clan is Yasuaki Kurata, who is highly respected and works frequently in Hong Kong movies. While this production is not close to to quality of a Shaw Brothers Production and is not in the same class as director Chang Cheh's similar Five Element Ninjas that came out around the same time, Ninja In The Deadly Trap will please most martial arts fans with lots of crazy ninja action and the excellent kung fu one would expect from The Venom Mob. This was directed by Phillip Kwok and is unknown to me if he choreographed the fights also, but the fight scenes are awesome. Ti Lung is very elegant and has a commanding presence as The General. Most of the Ninja stuff(with exception to some of the more over the top moments) are pretty accurate as far as weapons and the way they went about their business. I think that Five Element Ninjas is superior to this film in every way, but this movie has a better cast and is pretty entertaining and solid martial arts film in its own right. Also, for Venoms fans, this is I believe the only movie that Lu Feng has a completely heroic role. I guess the original title of this film was Heroes Defeating Japs, which is a pretty ridiculous title for all you anti pc film lovers out there. While I can't regard Ninja In The Deadly Trap as a stone cold classic, I did enjoy it and should please most fans of the genre.
Tie qi men (1980)
Classic Shaw Brothers kung fu, ,
Flag Of Iron is another impressive effort from the winning team of director Chang Cheh and The Venom Mob(of which 3 of the 5 Venoms appear here). This is an excellent kung fu film with great camera-work, costumes, sets and weapons. There are themes of honor, loyalty and righteousness that set our heroes into action. There is a skirmish between two kung fu clans that leave our main man Kou Chui(aka Philip Kwok) that has our homie leave town for a year for the heat to calm down. This is a planned betrayal for villain Lu Feng to become leader of the clan and unite both clans and take over the previous clan's nefarious gambling and prostitution racket. He even sends 10 killer's to take out our hero Kuo Chui, who mops the floor with all comers. He is joined by fellow Venom Chiang Sheng and spearman(The Rambler), a killer with a code of honor that lives in the local brothel. The three unite to confront evil clan leader (Venom Lu Feng) in an ultimate battle of kung fu carnage. There is betrayal, double crossing and some excellent, fast paced kung fu fighting with an impressive arsenal of weapons. The fight choreography is swift and precise with acrobatics, fists and feet with a variety of weapons that often ends up with a good amount of blood shed. Flag Of Iron is solid, action packed martial arts entertainment from the very reliable director Chang Cheh and Shaw Brothers Studio.
Li Xiao Long zhuan qi (1976)
"You're right, kung fu is better"!
Bruce Lee The Man, The Myth is probably the first martial arts movie that I remember seeing. I remember on Saturday afternoons after Saturday morning cartoons channel 29 had "Kung Fu Theater" and played all kinds of old school kung fu movies. This was one that they played a lot and is also my introduction to Bruce Lee. The film is chronologically correct, but for the most part the story and the amount of fights Bruce got in are greatly exaggerated or fiction. If you want to learn about Bruce Lee, there are some excellent documentaries and books to learn about the man and his life. However, Bruce Lee The Man, The Myth is a very entertaining film and everything I want in a classic kung fu movie. Even though Bruce Li is a Bruce Lee imitator, he is really good. While pretty much nobody was in the shape Bruce Lee was in, or had the explosive power that he had, Bruce Li was in great shape and possesses great fighting skills. Plus, he has plenty of charisma and kind of resembles Bruce Lee. The fights are incredible and there is a lot of them here. When watching foreign films, I normally prefer to watch them in its original language and subtitles. This is one notable exception and the ridiculous dialouge put this movie over the top with some truly memorable, hilarious dialouge that I find myself quoting all time. While the film is more fiction than fact, this is highly entertaining and has a larger budget than most of the other Brucespoitation movies that came out during this period. Shot on location in Hong Kong, the US and Europe, this is bar far the most well made of these films as well as a big personal favorite. For anyone that might remember The Headbanger's Ball on MTV in the 80's, you might recall them showing clips from this movie with SOD playing in the background. While I highly doubt Bruce Lee told everyone their martial arts are garbage, laughed at them and beat them up, Bruce Lee The Man, The Myth is a beautiful movie man and if you have'nt seen this, you are truly missing out.
Enter the Dragon (1973)
What else can be said about Enter The Dragon that has not already been said? I don't have the answer to that, but Enter The Dragon is a true classic and is in a class of its own. This is Bruce Lee's, first and last big budget international feature that went on to be a huge success and instant genre classic that inspired cinema fans and film makers for decades to come. Bruce Lee is in top form and in his own class of physical and fighting shape than anyone seen on the screen ever. Bruce is to enter a martial arts tournament on an island privately owned by a guy named Han. Han has his hands dirty in all kinds of illegal activity such as drug trafficking and prostitution. The authorities enlist the help of Bruce to obtain evidence on Han, so interested governments may act. There is no shortage of martial arts tournament movies, but Enter The Dragon is unique. The film is very colorful and stylish, with lush set designs and costumes. Enter The Dragon also has exceptional supporting actors John Saxon and Jim Kelly, who both prove to be great fighters with tons of charisma. However, this is Bruce Lee's show and there has never been anything like him. He displays searing screen presence, coolness and total intensity. Plus to watch Bruce fight,is truly amazing. The fights are all choreographed by Bruce and set a high standard for martial arts movies to come. The character and story development are excellent. Lalo Schifrin did a very cool and stylish score, that in my opinion is some of his best work. Robert Wall and Bolo Yeung are great heavies and both legends Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan appear as well. I always enjoyed Enter The Dragon and is absolutely essential for any fan of martial arts or action.