Monday, 30 July 2007

We Are Going to Eat You (1980)

Chinese title: Hell Has No Doors.

Is this horror flick any good? That depends on your taste. Do you have a taste for cannibalism? I don't find cannibals tasty. In fact, people don't taste good in general (I heard). Cannibals probably taste more gamy than your average white collar type because cannibals are bred in the wild while the office workers are quite domesticated, especially those work from home. Their rumps are extra soft from all that sitting.

Cannibals probably taste - I say 'probably' because I haven't tasted myself -  more like chicken and crocodile while your typical white collar folks taste more like beef. My point is, if you're putting off by my writing, you haven't passed the test for viewing this movie (you get a F-). It's a black comedy with lots of slapstick, sexual and gallows humour. It also has plenty of martial arts action throw into the mix for good measure. The horror isn't too gross. Some decapitation and dismembered limbs here and there, and tastefully done (well, taste is relative). Nothing too excessive as it's a Cat 1 movie (going by this poster), and made in 1980.

We're Going to Eat YouBut if you're a great fan of Tsui Hark, and you had a swarm of butterflies flapping in your stomach right now because of what you've just read, just open your mouth and set them free. Here's a tip to get around the problem. Just watch the movie and have some vomit bags (and butterfly net) handy.

Minus the horror (like actors with interesting faces, and the girl holding the beating heart in her hands), it's really not that much different from early Jackie Chan's movies, say Drunken Master (1978). The slapstick are similarly acrobatic and broad (not as broad as Chan's). The similarity in choreographic slapstick is hardly coincidentally as Yuen Brosthers are responsible for both the actions in both movies.

Despite its flaws, it's an unqiue piece of HK cinema.

Warning: this horror flick can cause extreme boredom to hardcore gore-hounds.

The Sword (1980)

This wuxia is made at a time when SB was winding down its studio, which was best remembered the world over for their wuxia flicks, and to a small extent, Huangmeixi. So a new wave of new wuxia directors will be making their presence felt in this new era without SB.

Patrick Tam is 1 of those new wave of directors, including stalwart like Tsui Hark. And this is his debut film. So it would be tempting to compare it with the works of wuxia old hands from SB. This film shared similarity with Chor Yuen than Chang Cheh or King Hu's wuxia. If he's 10 yeas older, I imagine he would appear some of the role that Ti Lung played in Chor Yuen wuxia flicks.

This film's sentimental, and moody - an atmosphere enhanced by its slowing theme song, and the haunting Kitaro's sympathiser music (from memory) were being played softly in the background continuously. Adding to the music, and soft warm tone colour, and the longing glances, it all combines to gives it a sense of yearning that could never realised, a sense of loss, and regret of our lead played by Adam Cheng and his childhood love. All this is befitting for a wuxia romance, which wasn't really fully developed by  SB.

Adam Cheng played in many wuxia role, I find him so fitting for these period costume genre as if he is (or is it was?) a ancient Chinese swordsman who walks straight into the studio set from a time machine. Even his Chinese name sounds like somebody from the ancient past (the way Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee look like some 19th century Londoners to me).

Monday, 9 July 2007

The Magnificant Butcher (1979)

English title: The Magnificant Butcher.

The Magnificant Butcher (1979)Sammo Hung played Lin Shirong (Lam Sai-Wing), who was 1 of Wong Fei-Hong's student. Wong Fei-Hong on the other hand was played by Kwan Tak-Hing, who had played this role back in the times of B&W talkies, and had made Guinness Book of World Records for the longest running movie series of Wong Fei-Hong.

Although he only played a cameo role here, he acted in the famous calligraphy fighting scene. He was 74 when he was in this movie. And you had to be impressed by his stretching at his age.

Yuen Biao also had a cameo role, and put in some fighting in the final duel.

This scene is undoubtedly inspired by the kind of style of 'play' kungfu originated or at least popularised by Dirty Ho (1976) (also included in this list). This is the 'play' kungfu style that the 2 martial participants disguise their fighting with some everyday activities like drinking, greeting, or in this case writing calligraphy.

This is the 1st movie that shot Sammo Hung to fame.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Heroes of the East (1978)

Chinese Title: Chinese Husband.

Heroes of the East (1978) I have little doubt that this kungfu flick is inspired by Bruce Lee's The Chinese Connection. Before Bruce Lee, the HK film industry shunned away from political controversy/sensitivity. Bruce Lee's movie The Chinese Connection changed that. Not many such movies were made, if any. But after The Chinese Connection, more of movies that appeals to the national pride was made. This 1 is much more conciliatory in tone (as well as somewhat more light hearted than the Bruce Lee's movie). Still, I think this is a good idea. Otherwise, it would be the same movie.

Despite the many similarities of these 2 cultures in the Far East, this flick highlights the cultural differences between Chinese and Japanese from wedding to martial arts.

In their wedding, the Japanese bride wears white, symbolises purity. While Chinese wear white robes during funeral ONLY according to tradition because colour represents festivity. Traditional Chinese brides wear red in wedding. The Japanese bride then refuses to kneel as Chinese couple would during wedding. On the other hand, Japanese bows a lot in everyday life while Chinese only bows during formal occasions. And so forth.

The Japanese national martial arts like judo, and karate are characterised by efficiency, effectiveness, economy, and power. In fact, Bruce Lee's style has more in common with the Japanese martial arts than the Chinese ones. While Chinese martial arts are characterised by huge variety of styles. So for every Japanese martial art, there's always a style to overcome it. This is fine in principle. In reality, who could have possibly mastered all these different styles like our hero (played by Gordon Liu) in 1 day?

Oh well, it's only a kungfu flick...and an interesting 1 that explores these differences that you would want to know, but too afraid to ask. Who says kungfu flick isn't informative or educational? They should make more martial arts movies like this.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

The birth of this and a few SB's early kungfu flicks since Bruce Lee's death were a direct result of the Bruce Lee Effect. SB were merrily making wuxia flicks until Bruce Lee came alone, and changed their game plan. No, wuxia genre wasn't dead yet, but was quite wounded, and had to take some bed rest while the kungfu genre went to work, and Gordon Liu was the 1st on SB's kungfu payroll.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Unlike wuxia films that required more and more wires over the years, Bruce Lee Effect brought the wire-fu back down to earth. This is the old school what-you-see-is-what-you-get martial art choreography with very limited wires are used (this movie may not have used any).

In a way, it's a step backward, and looking like the wuxia in the early 1960s, except that the action sequences are much more sophisticated, fast, and explosive.

Another major difference is that the kungfu genre usually uses the body as weapon rather than swords. But it may use anything else that they could get their hands on as weapons. It just doesn't restrict to swords. For example, Bruce Lee trademark weapon is his nunchucks. This is both liberating for the genre as well as the martial art director.

And this flick isn't just about kungfu, but how to achieve it in the fabled 35 Chambers in the Shaolin Temple (my tour guide never showed me any of the chambers. No tips for her!). With so many martial arts flicks since this movie that it may come as a shock to audience that this is in fact the 1st major movie about Shaolin kungfu!  There may have been movies where Shaolin Sect played a part. But this movie is the 1st where Shaolin plays not only a majot role, but a title role. This movie paved way for the very successful The Shaolin Temple (1982). And many more that followed.

This movie had also cemented Gordon Liu's status in the SB's kungfu genre, as well as its director Liu Chia-Liang as the next generation of martial arts actor/director after Bruce Lee. In fact, Gordon Liu's movie career only started the same year as Bruce Lee's death.

This was the reason why Tarantino wanted Gordon Liu to appear in Kill Bill, the way Ang Lee wanted Cheng Pei-pei to appear in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, they both were the pioneering action stars in kungfu and nuxia sub-genres respectively. Tarantino actually wanted Bruce Lee, who was truly the father of the kungfu genre, but that wasn't possible.

While Jackie Chan's early successes had strong support from director Yuen Woo-ping, Gordon Liu's early successes had similarly help from director Liu Chia-Liang. Those director-actor relationship was crucial for their mutual successes. Much like singer and song writer. The front men and the men behind them.

Enter the Fat Dragon (1978)

English Title: Enter the Fat Dragon.

Enter the Fat Dragon (1978)Never mind the political incorrectness in the title. Many jokes in Sammo Hung's movies have broad humour. Read politically incorrect. Besides, 'fat' is a word that doesn't have the same negative connotation in Chinese as in the West (the 2nd half of this article discuss that).

People didn't grow up in the 1970s may still feel the effects and influences of Bruce Lee via documentaries, magazines, websites, books, his movies, clubs, etc. These things didn't exist in the 1970s. But you had to live in this period to truly experience the Bruce Lee Fever. It was palpable.

5 years after Lee's death, this movie is a proof that the fever was far from over. Unlike many movies where they pretended they either got somebody who could be the 2nd Bruce Lee to continue on his legend, or worse, somebody who called themselves Bruce Lee, and tried to make the audience think that they were. Ok, they didn't call themselves Bruce Lee. It was Bruce Li, or Bruce Le. If there was a 3rd Bruceploitator, may I suggest the name Bruce Ly. After this, we're running out of letters that sounds the same as 'Lee'. So there's an upper English lingual limit on how many Bruce Lee impersonators we could have. Perhaps, the most apt name for these imitators would be Bruce Lie (by combining 'Li', and 'Le').

This movie belongs to neither of those categories of Bruceploitations. This isn't so much a parody of Enter the Dragon, but more of a tribute to Bruce Lee. More to the point, it's a comedy action. This is made very clear from the title. So there's no point to get serious.

Sammo Hung played a great fan of Bruce Lee (been there, done that) and imitating Lee's every gestures, expressions and moves. He did a great job at it. The movie also poked fun at the Bruceploitation movies that tried to get an actor into a movie and pretended that he was Bruce Lee. Sammo beat the crap out of that guy.

As there were so many Bruce Lee wannabes, it's obvious by now that in order NOT to run the risks of resembling any of these copycats, dead or alive, Sammo Hung joined Jackie Chan, and Liu Chia-Liang by jumping onto the comedy action bandwagon. The main thrust of kungfu genre was set. Besides, audience seems to like that formulae of 1 part dry drama, 4 parts fizzy comedy, 5 parts punchy kungfu cocktail. Let's call it the After Bruce Lee Dinner Punch. Ganbei!

As far as HK kungfu film industry is concerned, the 1970s is the Bruce Lee Decade.

Sammo plays a guy who raises pigs in the country. I think this set a stage for his forthcoming significant work, The Magnificent Butcher (1979).

Drunken Master (1978)

Chinese title: Drunken Fist (醉拳).

Drunken Master (1978)This movie is a classic among kungfu fans because of 2 people. The 1st person is so obvious that I won't name him. The other isn't obvious because he's behind the scene. The director Yuen Woo-Ping, who also behind many kungfu classics like "Iron Monkey", "Tai Chi Master". He also choreographed actions and stunts for movies like "Once upon a time in China" series, and Hollywood blockbusters from "Crouching Tiger", "The Matrix" to "Kill Bill" franchises. However, quite a few early YWP's movies were flops.

There're actually 3 things in common that shared in this and his previous successful movie, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow in the same year. Apart from Jackie Chan, and Yuen Woo-ping, they're both action comedy.

Indeed, Jackie Chan was trained in Peking Opera, which unlike Bruce Lee, was trained in the martial arts. And that training comes in handy when he applied slapstick in his movies. Comedy in Peking Opera is very acrobatic and physical. Indeed, Jackie Chan does acrobatics rather than kungfu, especially in later movies (ok, to be exact, every martial actor does dancing in movies). Not that there's anything wrong with that in terms of entertainment.

In fact, Liu Chia-Liang, who, like Bruce Lee, had extensive martial arts training. Despite that background, he chose the same route as Jackie Chan in comedy action, instead of being the serious kungfu infallible hero like Bruce Lee.

So the Bruce Lee Effect is either making everyone wanting to be like him in the wave of Bruceploitation, or as unlike him as possible. In fact, Jackie Chan had gone down both path. Thus, after Lee, comedy action flicks outnumber serious action by many times. Whereas before Bruce Lee, martial arts movies had virtually no slapstick whatsoever.

Let's pause and think about this. When Bruce Lee arrived at the HK movie scene, he punched the swordplay genre in the guts so heavy that it was hospitalised over a decades. And at the same time, he created a brand new martial arts genre single-handedly. And just when you think the HK film industry was once again free from his influence because he have died, think again. For almost a decade since his death, huge number of movies were made in one way or another connected to his name. And even Jackie Chan, and Chiang Chia-Liang decided to go a different path because of him. In short, Bruce continued to change the direction of the martial arts genre beyond the grave. Woah!!! Or should it be....Muahahahahhh!!!!! (in the ghostly echoes).

And he only appeared in 4 movies. Quality, not quantity that counts.

This movie cemented Jackie Chan's acting identity as the comedy action martial artist.

Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978)

Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978)Jackie Chan, Like Bruce Lee's rise to fame 'seem' to have occurred overnight. In fact, both of them had been child stars. Jackie Chan had been in movie since he was 8. You could say he grew up in the movie studio.

Although he involved in movie since he was a little kid, and played extras and stuntman in many big films that in my list, he didn't have a leading role until late 1970s. This movie was the first when he achieved prominence in the kungfu hall of fame. He nearly gave up when his father questioned his career, "Are you going to fight like this until old age?" And he thought about it long and hard about quitting. Of course, this scenario only makes sense if the question was posed during the decades before the 1980s.

After realising that if he wasn't going to be the next Bruce Lee, he was going to be the opposite of Bruce Lee. Instead of being an invincible hero like Bruce Lee, he's going to be a comic hero. And someone once said - can't remember who - and I quote, "The Hero Dies, the Clown Comes on the Stage". Of course, this referred to Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan. He made his own mark with his unique brand of slapstick kungfu action.

Well, Jackie Chan had made a smart career move. Unlike this movie title, he's the Snake that coming out of the Eagle's Shadow, and came up with his own style.

Even though his new name - Shing Lung - is forever cast a shadow over him, reminding this bit of history that he rather forgets. It's too late to change his name, and a whole new generation of audience wouldn't know the history behind the name anyway. Besides, the history showed how smart he was anyway to follow his own hearts instead of letting Lo Wei decide for him.

This movie put Jackie Chan on the map of the kungfu genre with his new found identity - the comedic hero.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)

 a.k.a. One-Armed Boxer II.

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)Move aside, One-Armed Boxer, make room for the Flying Guillotine because the blind Tibetan monk is coming to town. This is a sequel to the One-Armed Boxer (1972), because of the success of The Flying Guillotine (1975) made a year earlier,  the One-Armed Boxer 2 title was renamed to The Master of the Flying Guillotine.

If you don't know what the mysterious, legendary flying guillotine looks like but is curious, or you have seen one on the History Channel but want to see one in action, this movie will satisfy you some way.

The martial artist - actually a monk - who's favourite weapon of choice is the deadly flying guillotine, is blind. So you get 2 handicapped martial experts having a death duel. But why just have a cripple and blind? Why just showing sword and flying guillotine. Let's have martial art tournament to include everything else (the idea of tournament, I've little doubt come from The Way of the Dragon. Also read what I wrote about this prequel). Let's include competitors who practise eagle claws, monkey boxing, etc. Let's include competitors who uses three jointed poles, and other weird Chinese weapons. Why limit to Chinese martial artists? Why not include Japanese, Javanese (no typo!), Indian Martial artists, and Muay Thai Boxer? You want variety? Be careful what you wish for; you're going to get it (so to speak, get it?). Plot? What plot? Who cares?

Actually this eclectic cast of international nationalities had appeared in the prequel, although they may have played by different actors. In terms of martial arts choreography, this 1 is less chop socky than its prequel.

If you want a madcap kungfu/wuxia and a don't-make-me-laugh and I-don't-know-what-genre-this-is-in flick, watch this then. I dare you.

This film is included in my IMDB movie list.

New Fists of Fury (1976)

English title: New Fists of Fury.

New Fists of Fury (1976)This isn't 1 of my favourite Jackie Chan action flick, but a 'milestone' film in a sense. It's a film that illustrates the whole wave of Bruceploitation that HK martial art film industry gone through for the rest of the decade after Bruce Lee's death.

After his untimely passing, everyone was trying to succeed him. There were plenty of Bruce Lee imitators revolving around his legacy like vultures circling around a carcass. A whole slew of films that were made in his name with Frakensteinian creation like Fist of Fear, Touch of Death, which can be quite amusing to watch if you don't take it seriously. Why would you take it seriously when it doesn't? (There's a Bruceploitation list in IMDB to give you some ideas).

Lo Wei (or Lo Wai), who previously directed Fists of Fury(1971) and The Chinese Connection (1972), wanted to name Jackie Chan as the possible next heir to BruceLeeDom. To this end, Lo cast Jackie Chan in this action flick. It's very obvious that New Fists of Fury was made to succeed Bruce Lee's Fists of Fury.

To make his intention clear, Lo Wei came up a new Chinese name for Jackie Chan - Shing Lung. The name literally means 'Becoming Dragon', or 'Succeeding Dragon'. And 'Dragon' refers to Lee's Chinese given names, which is Siu-Lung, meaning 'Little Dragon'. His movie titles like Enter the Dragon, and The Way of the Dragon allude to that name.

This poster (if they don't change it) has the large name - Jackie Chan spreads across the top. This is probably a relatively more recent DVD poster. In the original Chinese movie poster, it has the words "Starring Shing Lung, the second Bruce Lee" spread across it. But the words "Bruce Lee" are 5 times larger than the rest. From a distant, only the name "Bruce Lee" could be seen.

This is just 1 of the several kungfu flicks that Jackie Chan made during this Bruceploitation period. Of course, he regretted doing that. We all made mistakes. But Jackie Chan soon realised, like many other Bruce Lee aspirants, there's only 1 Bruce Lee. Nobody could become the next Bruce Lee. But Jackie Chan's new Chinese name Shing-Lung stuck because he was an unknown before that new name.

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Dirty Ho (1976)

Chinese title: Rotten Head Ho.

Dirty Ho (1976)When is a fight not a fight?
Watch it and you will know why!

The Chinese title for this kungfu flick is Rotten Head Ho. You could see the herbal medicine patch on his forehead. The more accurate title should be Block Head Ho because this Dirty Ho is a bit on the slow side. Thus provides the comic relief. He's so dumb that he doesn't know that his future sifu - played by Gordon Liu - is fighting him with real kick ass kungfu, and he thought his future sifu doesn't know any martial arts at all. While his sifu is having a vigorous fight to the death with another guy right under his nose, Dirty Ho is none the wiser. He thinks his sifu was admiring antiques, or drinking wine, or doing anything but having a fight.

Ok, to be fair, the whole idea why Dirty Ho was so obtuse is because his sifu is carrying out shadowless kicks, which happens under table, out of sight, and without any movement in the shoulders to give away clues that he's kicking his opponent's ass. Or that his sifu would disguise his martial action sequences as some innocent movements like toasting or drinking wine or paying respects. In fact, there're as much talking as fighting to disguise the whole fights.

After mastering the Shadowless Kick from his sifu, Dirty Ho is Komic SideKick no more.

In any case, the movie title Dirty Ho makes absolutely no sense. He's no more 'dirty' than his sifu (whatever that word means). I have a couple of suggestion for the title, Ho Ho Ho, or What The...Ho? would be better. This title suggests quirkiness that one doesn't know what to make of it in the 1st viewing. If you like now-for-something-completely-different kungfu flick, this is it. It reminds me of Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976) just above in this list. Just sit back and enjoy what it throws at you (and it throws at you everything but the kitchen sink. Only because 1 isn't available). You can't get serious with a novie title like that.

It's a curious - meaning unique - piece of cinema that has lost its freshness and weirdness through over-exposures of subsequent imitations.


Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Games Gamblers Play (1974)

 English title: Games Gamblers Play.

How much of a landmark movie is this? What if I say this is the 1st REAL HK movie ever made? I could hear my readers are screaming WHA? Or call me crazy, or a genius, or a moron. You would go on and point out the 20 years worth of SB movies and say, What are they? chopped liver? Nope, they aren't chopped liver, or charsiu, or siumai, or any kind of food. They're CHINESE movies, not HK movies.

1st of all, the dialogues in ALL, I repeat, ALL SB movies from the 1950s to 1970s are in Mandarin. The percentage of HK people who understood Mandarin in that period would be at best 10%. I say it's more like 3% (there would be a steady increase since 1980s, and today the number of Putonghua speakers in HK should be the highest. Could be as high as 25 - 35% of varying levels of fluency).

Why Mandarin dialogues then?

Let's look at a few key figures in SB film studio. The main man, the guy who founded SB, Run Run Shaw was born in Shanghai. Chang Cheh, the most prolific director in SB, is also being called the Godfather of HK Cinema, was also born in China, and educated in universities in China. The legendary SB director King Hu was born in Beijing and based mostly in Taiwan. Li Han-Hsaing was born in Liaoning, and Ho Meng-Ha was born in Shanghai. I think you get the drift. All the top directors are born in China. SB was pretty much an Chinese affair. Not HK. These people are all Mandarin speakers.

Did they put Putonghua dialogues in movies because the founder or the their high profiled directors are Mandarin speakers? Don't be silly. They did so because the movies were NOT made with HK audience in mind. Of course, they sell the movies to HK audience too. Hence the Chinese subtitles. Without the subtitles, the SB movies simply couldn't reach the HK audience. But the Chinese subtitles were add ons. It's an after thought. They also added the English title to reach wider markets. The audience SB targeted were mostly Mandarin speakers. No, they weren't Chinese Mainlanders. That market was closed off to SB. The SB's markets were Taiwan, and all overseas Chinese (like myself), especially those lived in SE Asia. Most of them understand Mandarin (like myself who are schooled in Mandarin. Although I'm a Cantonese speaker).

To simply put, the movies before 1970s - meaning SB movies - were made BY, OF, FOR audience OUTSIDE HK. People wrongly assumed that SB movies made in this period were HK movies because they were made in HK. Many Hollywood movies are made outside the States. Many of them are made in the Fox Studio in my hometown Sydney, Australia. Many blockbusters like The Matrix, Superman Return, etc were made there (I worked as studio extras in 4 or 5 of these). Hollywood movies made in Sydney don't make them less of an American movie, and certainly don't qualify to call them Australian movies. Same story here. Just because movies are made in HK don't make them HK movies, They are Chinese movies made in HK, not HK movies.

I talked about the BY, and the FOR of SB movies. The OF of SB movies were all about Chinese culture (martial arts, Chinese history, Huangmeixi, etc), and nothing specific to HK culture, or society. None of the SB movies before 1970s really tackled any HK local issues.

In short, SB movies were made OF, BY, and FOR Chinese audience outside HK.

Why didn't they want to target the HK audience? It's because the HK market was very small then. And what's more, the HK wasn't quite the megacity that it's today. It was both a economic and cultural backwater with a small population then. The start of the economic boom also coincided - was is really a coincidence? - with the rise of Cantonese cinema in HK.

What about Bruce Lee's movies? He's not part of SB. No, he didn't make HK movies either. In fact, not ONE of the stories of his movies take place in HK. The stories take place in Thailand, China, Italy, but not HK (I'm talking about the fictional places, not physical shooting locations). And what nationals did Bruce Lee portray in all his movies? Again, Chinese. Not HK'ers (ok, he played a HK'er in The Way of the Dragon. But it's of no consequence). This isn't surprising. Even though GH is SB's competitor, GH was simply a clone of SB at this early stage. So their original dialogues of their movies were spoken in Mandarin too.

This movie, which was made after Bruce Lee's death, was made BY, OF, FOR HK audience. Not overseas Chinese in mind. Hui's brothers were born and bred in HK. They probably can't speak Mandarin. The dialogues in their movies were delivered in Cantonese. HK made up the themes, and backdrops for their movies. In fact, this movie makes extensive social comments on the state of HK society.

After their movies, more and more HK movies follow their leads, and eventually, majority of movies made in HK are indeed HK movies. By 1980s, practically all movies made in HK were spoke in Cantonese, which was taken some getting used to, especially wuxia. It's unlikely that all the ancient Chinese spoke Cantonese. Although it's unlikely they all spoke Mandarin either. But they would speak something similar to Mandarin.

When SB winding down its studio in the 1980s, and found TVB, everything produced in TVB were in Cantonese. This meant it wasn't only cinema that went Cantonese, music industry too. Although Roman Tam is the King of Canto pop, Sam Hui played a pretty big part in that movement in the 1970s - the 1st decade of C-pop.

This feature is the mother of all HK films. The Hui Bros is called the First Family of HK Cinema for this reason.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

The Fate of Lee Khan (1973)

Chinese title: Turbulence in the Welcoming Spring Pavilion (迎春閣之風波).

The Fate of Lee Khan (1973)There're 2 title roles in this movie - Lee Khan is the English title role while the inn or tavern  ("Welcoming Spring Pavilion") supplies the Chinese title role. In fact, 2 of his previous notable wuxia films have the inn as the focal point where the story takes place. These include Come Drink with Me (1966), and Dragon Inn (1967).

This is 1 of the 3 "inn movies" that King Hu made. Indeed, the inn appears in this movie nearly twice as long as Lee Khan, who only makes his grand and much anticipated entrance into the inn almost - to the minute - exactly half way into the film. This is the point when the 2 title characters come together. Indeed, this crucial moment is shown with much attention from the director. I was expecting fanfare with 2 rows of trumpeters, but found only bodyguards instead. Wait, this is a Mongol Khan, not medieval European monarch (my bad).

The inn, such as one that is located in an out of way place, is a gathering of the various characters from the cross section of jianghu. The 1st half of the movie shows the coming and going of such people passing through the inn. All these colourful jianghu characters only adds confusion to the task of identifying who's on your side, and who's spy. In short, the inn is the very microcosm of the jianghu.

It's interesting that on the one hand, King Hu is masterful in capturing the panoramic vista in many of his movies, and at the same time creating situations where characters interact in the claustrophobic confine of the inn. Such contrast creates and accentuates the tensions of both. This is 1 of King Hu's forte.

A number of King Hu's favourite actors in his previous films also appear here - Bai Ying, Roy Chiao, and Hsu Feng. 2 notable new faces are worth mentioning. Li Li-Hua was usually given a role of a woman with strength, capability, and a leader to play (e.g. The Magnificent Concubine (1962), Wu Ze Tian (1963), etc). More interestingly is the inclusion of Angela Mao, who kicked her way to fame with a number of kungfu flicks, of which Hapkido (1972) being the most celebrated. She's also crowned in the West as Lady Kung Fu, which is an alternative title for Hapkido (1972). Despite being a wuxia with sword play, she did a lot of kicking in this movie, by popular demand, no doubt. We don't want to see her wielding swords, we want to see her famous straight, and rapid successive kicks that's really is her cup of tea. The enjoyment of her kicks was diminished somewhat as she had to do so in a long, multi-layered, heavy frock. Unfortunately, the Yuan period costume demands this Mongolian attire. Nice to look at, just not the best outfit for kungfu kicks.

The Fate of Lee Khan (1973)I mentioned in several different reviews that King Hu, and Chang Cheh are 2 of the most high profile directors, but they're also polar opposite in 2 important respect. Chang Cheh is quite happy to switch to direct kungfu genre after Bruce Lee arrived in the HK movie scene while King Hu is stubbornly stuck to his wuxia. Also, Chang Cheh's wuxia is tough and masculine with strong male lead(s) while King Hu prefer the female lead of nuxia or swordswoman. Li Li-Hua played the female lead, and the female main characters outnumber the male counterparts in this movie.

Choreography has never been King Hu's strongest suit, and in this case, we could only have Sammo Hung to blame. Well, it isn't too shabby. It's better than his previous films. It's just not as equally matched King Hu's other departments. As usual, the wardrobe department is impeccable.

Overall, this is King Hu's minor masterpiece, and an enjoyable entertainment. This is more entertaining than Come Drink with Me, just not a landmark movie (which doesn't always means entertaining).

The House of 72 Tenants (1973)

Chinese title: 七十二家房客

The House of 72 Tenants (1973), Chinese comedyThis is quite easily the most important film in HK cinema. At the very least the most important HK Cantonese film. Before you jump at me, let me point out that I didn't say this is the most entertaining, or the most commercially successful, or the most critically acclaim movie in HK cinema. But it's the milestone - in the truest sense - film in HK cinema.

This film heralds a new era for HK film industry. It had found its own voice, literally. This is the 1st Shaw Bros movie that's recorded in Cantonese - the indigenous dialect of HK people. Before this film, all SB movies were recorded in Mandarin.

Not that there were no Cantonese speaking movies being made before this film, there were plenty, but they weren't made by SB.  And SB was the film studio in HK before 1970s. More importantly, the Cantonese films made outside SB were all of low quality. The locals called these 粵語殘片, which translated quite literally means, "Cantonese lame films". Of course, the terms were labelled in hindsight.

All higher quality movies in HK cinema before the 1970s were recorded in Mandarin by such major studios as SB and Cathay. The best and most well known directors in SB like Li Han-Hsiang, King Hu, Chang Cheh, Chor Yuen (the director of this film) and actor like Jimmy Wang Yu were all born in Mainland China. Not made in HK. Of course, the founder of SB, the Shaw Brothers, went to HK from Shanghai.

The 1970s is a turning point in HK film industry in more ways than one. Apart from the change of dialect in the HK film production, with the rise of Golden Harvest, the stranglehold of SB on HK film industry is over. HK cinema truly entered a new era in the 1970s. Bruce Lee and the Hui Bros also played pivotal roles in this transformation. They were followed by Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Lau Kar-Leung, Gordon Liu, John Woo,  etc. The rest is history.

This movie marks the turning point in the HK cinema, which in terms reflects the turning point in HK's society, and HK's place in the world.

In the 1950s and 60s, HK was just changing from a fishing village to a bustling trading port. In other words, it was still an economic, and cultural backwaters. One can't expect such place to produce any high quality filmmakers. So the local filmmakers made 2nd rate Cantonese movies. Bear in mind that this was several decades before the age of the internet, and digital revolution. We have things easy today.

In the 1930s and 40s, before Chinese Communist took hold of China, Shanghai was a Chinese film mecca. It entered a Gold Age of cinema during this time, interrupted briefly by Japanese invasion.

With the communist victory of 1949, a crop of the best Shanghai filmmakers fled China, and quite a percentage of them took refuge in the then British colony of HK. They continued to make films there. Needless to say, because their background is in Mandarin, they made films in Mandarin.

Well, that's not true, filmmakers don't make films based on their own dialect, but it depends on the dialect of their market audience. Indeed, these Mandarin speaking films weren't made for local consumption. In the period from 1950s to 1980s, majority of HK locals couldn't speak Mandarin. And so these Mandarin speaking films were made in HK, but for overseas Chinese, most of whom could speak Mandarin (this is hardly surprise if this was, say, electronic industry. Similarly, the most products made in China in the 1980s weren't for the local Chinese consumers). This is because in the period of 1950s to 1970s, most SE Asian countries were far more prosperous than HK (in particularly Malaysian, and Thai markets). Hence far bigger market for Mandarin films than Cantonese film.

But by 1970, HK transformed itself into one of the four Asian Tiger, and its economy begun to leap while at the same time the economies of the SE Asian countries remained stagnant. SB saw this sea change, and decided to make HK films for HK locals. Since overwhelming of HK locals can't understand Mandarin, films that made for local market has to be recorded in Cantonese.

The fact that the box office of this film surpassed Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon (1973) when it was released speaks volume, and demonstrated the market potential for Cantonese film (Enter the Dragon was originally dubbed in Mandarin, following the main trend in HK film industry. Now we've the Cantonese dubbed version. After all, Bruce Lee grew up in HK, and spoke Cantonese. In fact, he appeared in 23 Cantonese films where he delivered Cantonese dialogue before he left HK for USA at the age of 18).

Because SB made Chinese films for overseas Chinese, and their movies therefore tend to draw inspiration from Chinese culture. Wuxia, martial arts, Huangmei Opera, and ancient Chinese historical epic were the biggest and best drawcards for SB. Very few movies deal with the events and topics relating to HK where the movies were being made. Well, that was before the 1970s. After 1970s, the HK cinema put their focus squarely on HK as their films are now selling to the locals. Since then, the HK local crime drama has taken over such genres as wuxia, and historical epics. They still were being made, but has been sidelined.

HK Cantonese Cinema never looked back. In the subsequent decades, all movies coming out of HK are Cantonese films. And so the history of the 2 dialects in HK cinema is really the history of Mainland China and HK. The wax and wane, ebb and flow of the prosperity of these 2 regions.

If this article explains anything, it explains why all HK movies have Chinese subtitles. This is because while HK film industry has switched to make Cantonese films, but they still want to sell to the overseas Chinese market, and solved the problems of Chinese audience who speak diffeent dialects. Chinese subs come to the rescue. So there's a long and complicated history behind the Chinese subtitles in Chinese cinema. The interesting side effect of switching to Cantonese dialogues resulting in more overseas Chinese understanding the Cantonese dialect via HK films.

Before the 1980s when Mainland China closed itself off, most of the Chinese culture that foreigners experienced via films and food are in fact Cantonese culture. The food they ate in Chinese restaurants in Chinatowns of the cities of the world are mostly Cantonese. As far as foreigners were concerned, Cantonese culture was Chinese culture. This was because while China was shut off, HK is the Chinese cultural gateway to the world, the ambassador of Chinese culture. Of course, things have gradually changed since the 1980s.

The review of the movie Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996) I wrote shows how the socioeconomic status are closely linked by these 2 dialects. Before 1970s Mandarin is considered a dialect of the educated folks. This is unquestionably true. As locals only speak Cantonese in HK in daily life, you can only learn Mandarin in schools.

With the isolation and economic collapse of Mainland China for the 3 decades before the Opening-Up in 1978, in the 1980s Mandarin is associated with the dialect of the northern country bumpkin cousin. This idea is being explored in Comrades: Almost a Love Story.

So what I said predated the period occurs in the movie Comrades: Almost a Love Story, you could see the changing social statuses closely associated with the 2 dialects. The Mandarin started as the high-class dialect in the 1950s to 70s, then slowly the Cantonese surpasses Mandarin with HK's rise in prosperity, and the 2 dialects' social status reversal is complete by 1980s when Mainlanders appeared as HK's northern poor, provincial, unsophisticated cousin. One can easily see that the social status of these 2 dialects is undergoing reversal once again in the next few decades as Mainland China's economic rise continues. After all, when foreigners study Chinese, they study Mandarin, few take up Cantonese.

Take Shanghai the once Paris of the East before WW2 was a centre of Chinese language film was displaced by HK when it becomes the Asian Tiger economy. Today, HK's prosperity is tied closely to its status as financial centre is being challenged, and might be displaced by Shanghai as the financial centre of China in the not so distant future.

You could say that before this movie, HK only made Chinese language film, after this movie, HK made HK films.

A Simple Life (2011) is a 1st Mandarin speaking film that was made in HK since The House of 72 Tenants (1973). This is separation of almost 4 decades. Is this the beginning of a new trend? Or just one hit wonder? Only time will tell. Instead of aiming only for local and overseas Chinese market, the Mainland Chinese market is the 2nd single largest movie market in the world, and soon overtaken USA as the biggest.

No Mandarin speaking films were made  in HK at the moment because an easier solutions are already available. Many Cantonese films are simply dubbed into Mandarin to make into the Mainland market. Sometimes, they even add a few Mainland actors into a movie to increase draw in the Mainland market. A Simple Life is a 1st that it's originally recorded in Mandarin (and I don't aware of a Cantonese version. There's no need to. There're Chinese subtitles).

Oh, I almost forgot. I should talk a little about the movie The House of 72 Tenants (1973).

Many talents who have been working for SB in making Mandarin films involved in making this film. Chor Yuen, who has been one of the 4 most important SB directors directed this comedy. Yueh Hua(岳華), who had been a long time actor appearing in many SB Mandarin speaking including such iconic film as Come Drink with Me (1966) now appeared in this comedy speaking his native Cantonese (born in Shanghai). Lily Ho, who played leading ladies in more SB films than one cares to remember, also appeared in this film. It's an interesting experience for SB movie fans who are Cantonese speakers.

The House of 72 Tenants (1973)
For audience who had seen the House of 72 Tenants,
they would find the set in Kung Fu Hustle rather familiar
Because this is a landmark HK film with box office success, it has been parodied by other movies. The best known of this was being done by the HK's King of Film Parody Stephen Chow in Kung Fu Hustle (2004) where many main characters, and even the set were borrowed from The House of 72 Tenants.

Why 72? I'm guessing, it's because it's made in 1972...

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When Taekwondo Strikes (1973)

English title: When Taekwondo Strikes.
Alternative English title: Sting of the Dragon Masters. This alternative title tells nothing about the film. In fact misleading.

When Taekwondo Strikes (1973)
After the making of Hapkido (1972), it was only fair that the other - more notable - Korean national sport of Taekwondo was promoted as well.

Everything I said about Hapkido is applicable here, except that this movie is given an even greater focus on Korea than Hapkido.

As I mentioned in Hapkido, Sammo Hung co-starred wih many Angela Mao's movies, this 1 is no exception. But in this 1, he plays the bad guy (for a change) as a badass Japanese with long hair, and panda eyes (which makes the young Sammo cuddlier than usual). Jhoon Rhee, who's called the Father of American Taekwondo, also appeared in this and only movie.

The idea of forbearance, self-restraint is also very much the legacy of Bruce Lee, starting from his very 1st movie The Big Boss (1971). And this idea grew in Hapkido, and this movie. Luckily, the heroes in all the kungfu flicks have been pushed to the breaking points. Or else, we would no fighting in these kungfu flicks (only very pissed off heroes), which would be a bummer for the audience. Whatever woes befallen to our heroes are always there for the good enjoyment for the audience. Happy heroes always make miserable audience.

This is 1 of the earlier of a long line of patriotic kungfu flicks that was made, except this is a Korean patriotic kungfu flick made in HK.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972)

Chinese title: Love Slave.

Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972)This movie adds a titillating twist to the popular nuxia subgenre since Come Drink with Me (1966). This is in fact a lesbian nuxia and revenge subgenres all rolled into 1.

SB didn't just make wuxia and kungfu flicks, they also produced a fair share of skin flicks. But these skin flicks are more bawdy than sleazy. Something more along the line of the Brits' Carry On series.

And whenever an erotic project is required, Li Han-Hisan was invariably called in for his service. But not this one. Because this 1 is more of wuxia than erotica.

Li Han-Hsian is considered to be 1 of the SB's 4 great directors, the other 3 being:
Chang Cheh is good at deliver bloody, macho wuxia with great drama.
King Hu brings atmosphere, mystery and innovation to wuxia.
Chor Yuen is much more interested in getting in touch with the more feminine side of wuxia, and also directed a lot of movies based on Ku Lung's novels.
If I have to add a 5th, I name Ho Meng-Hua, who's noted for his Monkey King's series. He was probably better known as the husband of Li Li-Hua, 1 of the Queen of Asian Cinema.

Chor Yuen drew some public criticism with the lesbian and torture scene.

This is a wuxia with some skin throws in, not the other way round.

More than a decade later in 1984, Chor Yuen decided to remake this movie due to the looser censorship, the result is 1 with a more titillating erotica with similar title, Lust for Love of a Chinese Courtesan. The remake has more T&A to fill the screen. In fact, the remake is closer to being a skin flick with some sword fights thrown in. Even its technical aspect is superior, there's even more character development, but somehow, it fails to deliver compare to this 1. This is the reason I don't include it in my list.

Warning: this film contains some frontal nudity of old men. Those bawdy topless old men give our heroine nightmares. Just watch them through the gaps of your hand to avoid nightmare or disgust.

This film is included in my IMDB movie list.

Hapkido (1972)

Alternative English title: Lady Kung Fu.
Chinese title: Hap Ki Do

As in One-Armed Boxer, both of these 2 movies are made by GH, and being made right after The Chinese Connection, which is arguably the most important Bruce Lee's movie, it's little wonder this movie got made.

Hollywood had made quite a number of movies about the NAZIs since WW2, and yet HK didn't make any movie about the Japanese invasion of China in martial arts genre. None before Bruce Lee, that is. But after Bruce Lee, the floodgate has been flung open.

PRC had shut itself up for some 30 odd years since its founding, so there was no national resolution on the issue of Japanese invasion, and their atrocities in WW2. And HK has always been very shy in putting anything remotely political in their movies. HK entertainment industry avoid mixing business with politics. In general, this political aversion in the people's lives was the norm in HK, at least before 1980s. Even leaving the question of politics and diplomacy, Japanese culture and especially modern Japanese culture was, and is, very popular in Asia. HK film makers wouldn't want to alienate this market. So all in all, it's risky business move to knock or bag Japan.

And because the British was their colonial masters, and to give them face, and to simply avoid any political sensitivity, so no movies, not ONE was made before 1971 by SB with movies that were based on the period between 19th and middle of 20th century. This period marked by foreign invasions of China, and to avoid offending foreigners (especially British and Japanese), in other words, to give them face, SB decided to avoid any movie made that was based on invading history of that period.

Or maybe the SB film makers simply think the history of that period is to painful for the Chinese audience to handle ("You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!"). During that period, China was being kicked around, knocked about, bullied, and being decided how it should be carved up among the Colonisers. Even though China was only a victim, not the bad guy. No victim feels proud of being a victim, especially when you're a proud nation. So, SB was simply happy doing what they had been doing - wuxia, they saw little reason to dredge up those murky depth.

Lady Kung Fu (1972)All this shyness could well be traced to a particular incident in SB. King Hu directed a film titled Sons of the Good Earth (1965). This is a film about Japanese invasion of China during WW2. It run into censorship problem in Singapore and Malaysia because “the subject matter concerned the racial conflict between Chinese and Japanese.”

Malaysia and Singapore was SB's important markets in the 1950s and 1960s. (despite Singapore's independence from Malaysia, Singaporean constitution was still very similar to Malaysia, at least in the 1960s). After that movie, there wasn't a single movie of the similar theme was made in SB. It doesn't take a genius to work out that it must have been a SB policy since.

Times has changed. Singapore or Malaysia are no longer a significant markets for SB, or any HK studio in the 1970s. And I would imagine Sillypore and Malaysia would have kept up with the time and relaxed this restriction. Who cares if these 2 insignificant markets didn't? As Bruce Lee cast his eyes on American market, which also implied global market, these 2 markets were quite inconsequetial. SB was simply not ambitious enough. That's 1 of the reason why GH was on the rise while they were on the decline.

So there're many reasons to avoid making such movies. SB film makers - and Hollywood's counterparts for that matter - were very conservative. They needn't take risk for they PRACTICALLY monopolised the Chinese language film markets.

And then Bruce Lee arrived at the newly found GH. Everything has changed.

Well, Bruce had proved such move wasn't risky at all with his hugely successful The Chinese Connection (1972). Suddenly this pent-up demand that were being avoided like plague by the HK film industry - in fact, unknown to the audience themselves - were being satisfied like never before.

The era of nationalistic - a better term patriotic - kungfu flicks was born with The Chinese Connection. No, HK film producers weren't interested in indulging in xenophobia, or even patriotic sentiment (besides, they thought of themselves as a British colony than part of China. At least, in the period of 1950 to 1980s).

(Besides, the patriotic movies are bashing foreign INVADERS, not foreigners in general. In fact, many foreigners are good guys in these movies. Especially Western Christian missionaries, whom are ALWAYS portrayed as good guys. ALWAYS. At least I have NEVER seen a patriotic kungfu flick that shows them in a negative light).

I guess it took an outsider - Bruce Lee - to shake things up a little bit (ok, a lot), and jerked the slumbering SB out of their cushy bed. They had it too good. Here comes the competitor! Here comes Bruce Lee! He's from America! He sees thing very differently. Besides, Bruce Lee wouldn't have known about the censorship issue regarding Chinese and Japanese racial conflicts. He would probably say, "Are you pulling my legs?" I had such reaction too.

Angela Mao with the Rod of Death

The similarity between the story in this movie and the Bruce Lee's movie is therefore hardly coincidental. This 'coincidence' is right down to the Japanese 'running dog' secretary Zhang who played by the same actor (as translator in The Chinese Connection) and comes into the Hapkido academy with the sign they removed at the door, and another smashes it. This is an almost carbon copy of the famous 'Sick Man of East Asia' scene from The Chinese Connection.

The only difference is that Korea is also part of the story. Both Korea and China were victims of Japanese invasion, and so such a hook up between the 2 cultures in their martial arts to resist against their common enemy seems to make sense.

These 2 movies tap into the Chinese sense of historical humiliation and the outrage of injustice caused by foreign invasions of China between late 19th and 1st half of 20th century. This shameful period in Chinese history provides a very fertile ground for movies that kick foreign invaders' butts, and Japanese tops the platinum chart. The Chinese audience could finally find a sense of justice from this pages of painful histories with some imaginative paybacks - historical justice by historical license.

Justice - a dish best served with kungfu kicks. Ahchoo..woo!!!

Bruce Lee had opened a delicious and nutritious can of worms for the Chinese audience to munch on. Worms may not look appetising, but it's a very rich in protein. Yummy!!! His precedence inspired such long pedigree of patriotic movies from this one, to  Heroes of the East (1978) to Ip Man (2008).

I understand this movie sought to give the Chinese audience an artistic licensed poetic justice to the Japanese occupation, but the way it goes about is quite shortsighted. For example, the Japanese were being stereotyped (but I would regard Chinese racism towards Japanese is more realistic. This is a natural reaction towards invaders). It was made with HK local audience in the 1970s in mind, rather than an international audience in decades ahead. The 1st 2 instalments of Ip Man, for example, are executed in a better way with similar themes. Well, they were made in the 21st century with international audience in mind. The Hapkido production team was shortsighted because they weren't ambitious in thinking that their movie would be watched by global audience.

Having said that, let's not confuse the majority of nice, polite, civilised, caring, pacifist Japanese of today (excluding ultra right-wing Japanese Nationalists) with the Imperial Japanese soldiers whom were brainwashed by war propaganda and viewed Chinese as inferior to Japanese, and therefore could justifiably mistreat Chinese without remorse (the way Jews were treated in WW2 by NAZIs whom were also brainwashed by similar propaganda). Let's not forget about the blind devotion to the Emperor (and the militarists who made full use of his name).

So the portrayals of the imperial Japanese soldiers in HK movies, I suspect, are generous. When one country is unjustly invading another country, they need to demonise the country they're going to invade in order to convince their own people to support their cause. Especially in WW2 where education level and information flows were low. Minds were more easily indoctrinated with false beliefs.

Lady Kung Fu (1972)
I wouldn't want to make her mad
Cheng Pei-pei may be the 1st nuxia in wuxia genre, but Angela Mao (or Mao Ying) was the 1st nuxia in kungfu genre. This makes perfect sense, SB invented the swordplay, while GH created the kungfu genre.
In the West, she's better known as 'The First Lady of Kung Fu' (I suspect the movie title was changed to accommodate this new fame). She also being called the Queen of Kung Fu.

I wouldn't want to be her husband, she could really kick - straight and high. This should be helped by her childhood ballet training. Don't blink your eye at 00:59:22 for her fancy spinning kicks in 4 rapid successions with the alleged hapkido practitioner. She shows off her quadruple spinning kicks again later in the final fight scene with Bai Ying. I wasn't sure if I was watching a kungfu flick or The Nutcracker performances by a Chinese ballerina.

Sammo Hung also has his fair share of pugilistic performance too. Actually he has the most fight scenes because he couldn't FORBEAR (a term you come to appreciate better after this movie). Since Sammo Hung co-starred with Angela Mao more than anyone else - 11 films in total - if you're fans of Angela, you would see a lot of Sammo as well.

Jackie Chan also did some stunt actions in this movie. See if you can spot it.

Although she was shot to fame to the Chinese audience, Angela remained little known in the international market until she appeared in Enter the Dragon playing Lee's sister.

This movie made Angela Mao's kungfu film career. Not to mention the promotion it did for hapkido martial art.

This film is included in my IMDB movie list.

One-Armed Boxer (1972)

Being made so close after the 2 Bruce Lee's movies, it isn't hard to see that his influence on this flick is greatest (he's the greatest!!! [1]  Even if he never said so).

Here's some of the Bruce Lee Effects on this celluloid:

Kungfu Moves
Just immediately before the opening credit, Wang Yu leaps up and does the Bruce Lee kick that is immortalized in The Chinese Connection just before the closing credit rolls. Both of these kicks are in freeze frames while the credits roll. There're also some powerful Bruce Lee punches featured in this flick. No coincidence, my friend. Just be water.

Wang Yu may have turned the One-Armed Swordsman into One-Armed Boxer because SB's Change Cheh had just made The New One-Armed Swordsman, and what's more, Wang Yu had left SB for GH.

More importantly, 1 of the most dramatic impact that Bruce Lee released was turning wuxia film makers into kungfu film makers. Everyone was doing sword fighting until he came along, and then everybody was doing kungfu fighting. And then Carl Douglas released his song Kung Fu Fighting 2 years later to signal this Bruce Lee induced trend.

Cultural Diversity / Going International
As wuxia takes place in the Chinese antiquity, only Chinese are chopping each other into pieces with swords in a beautiful, ballet like swordplay. Bruce Lee's kungfu setting is much more contemporary, and in The Chinese Connection (1972). it's only went back as far as the early 20th century. What's more, in all Bruce Lee's movies, he fights non-Chinese.

These elements/situations are being reproduced in this and many subsequent kungfu movies. In this flick, a motley crews of different nationalities - all played by Chinese of course - could be seen. You could say Bruce Lee had internationalised HK film industry - at least martial arts films - in more ways than 1.

Wang Yu wasn't the only 1 whose film direction was turned by Bruce Lee, just the 1st. This wasn't too surprising as both Lee and Wang were working in GH (Golden Harvest).

Very soon, the most celebrated wuxia director in SB - Chang Cheh - followed this lead. This is more significant because he was from the competing film studio.

Man, is there an area in the HK martial arts genre that's untouched by Bruce Lee? The more I try to find it, the more I fail to find it.

This was 1 of the earliest GH produced kungfu flick outside Bruce Lee movies.

This film is included in my IMDB movie list.

[1] Here's a little fun facts: Muhammad Ali was in fact Bruce Lee's idol.

The Chinese Connection (1972)

English title: The Chinese Connection.
Alternative title: Fist of Fury.
Chinese title: Ging Mo Academy (精武門).

This movie has made the Chen Zhen character (based on a real person) so successful that both Jet Li and Donnie Yen had played their own versions in Fist of Legend, and The Return of Chen Zhen respectively. And few other lesser known films.

Fist of Fury (1972)This movie didn't just ring the bell for the Chen Zhen character, it didn't just begin the ball rolling for the wave of movies with prominent patriots like Chen Zhen, Wong Fei-Hung, Huo Yuanjia, etc, it started the whole trend of patriotic movies of fighting and resisting foreign invaders in the period of late 19th century and early 20th century in China. Read my comments in Hapkido (1972) regarding this trend.

At the risk of making an obvious statement of the decade that the success of Bruce Lee's movies didn't come accidentally. He wasn't only a great martial artists, but also a child star, and he also had great knowledge in working the camera. In short, he knew a lot about things that both in front and behind the camera. What's more he knew what theme would be popular to movie goers.

No other single actor - in HK or anywhere else - had left so many trademarked images embodied in 1 person: the yellow track suit, the nunchuck, the woah noises he made when he fought, the poses, the expressions, the high kick, the jump kick, the triple kicks, the 1 inch punch, the shades, the dancing on his feet, the HD (High Definition) torso, the touching of his nose with his thumb, etc. It's unprecedented. Nobody even came close since. And all these trademarks were being imitated, paid tribute to in more movies than anyone care to remember from One-Armed Boxer (1972) to Kill Bill (2003 - 2004). It won't stop there. Bruce Lee lives on even alive now than ever before.

1st he was an icon and role model for Chinese American, then he was extended to include all overseas Chinese, then to all Chinese martial artists, then to all Asians, then to African Americans, then to Latinos, then to all martial artists, then to all sport people. If he's not your role model yet, pick a number, and be patient. It will be your turn some day. He's more than an icon today, he's an institution. That's not at all an exaggeration.
Fist of Fury (1972)

Warning: Watching Bruce Lee's movie is a health hazard.

His effect on the audience was more than a few imitated kicks right after walking out of the cinemas as we so often seen. I remembered fashioning my own numchuck out of 2 pieces of wooden rods and metal chain after I watched this movie in 1972. The rods were much larger than the 1 Bruce Lee used. And with quite a few hard and very painful head concussions during practise, I was managed to master it, eventually. To this day, I couldn't remember how I was able to make a nunchuck at my early teen. The head concussion must be the cause of the amnesia. Bruce Lee make people achieved the impossible. No, I wasn't influenced by other kids, but directly from Bruce Lee. Maybe it was my age, but no other star had such effect on me before or ever since.

Kids, don't imitate me imitating Bruce Lee at home.

With this movie, the kungfu genre had truly buttressed its strength to be the new force in HK film industry. And it's just as unique to HK as wuxia did previously, but only more modern in its embodiment.

It's the next step in the evolution of martial arts after wuxia. No, it didn't replace wuxia, but simply has taken its spotlight.

This is probably 1 of the most important landmarks kungfu movie that gave birth to the whole subgenre of Chinese patriotic movies with the theme of resisting foreign invaders.

This film is included in my IMDB movie list.

The 14 Amazons (1972)

The 14 Amazons (1972)
Both this movie and Eight Diagram Pole Fighter are based on the story of the Yang Jia Jiang (the Clan of Yang Generals) with 2 major differences.

1. This movie focus the widows or female members of the Yang family. In fact, in this movie, ALL male members of the Yangs have died. While in Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, the focus is on the remaining male generals, especially the 5th son, (played by Gordon Liu).

2. This is a historical war epic drama while Eight Diagram Pole Fighter is essentially a martial art action flick.

This movie concentrates on battles - battle formations, battle scenes, and battle tactics. . It literally has a cast of thousands. There're some martial art actions, but it isn't a large part of the movie

While in Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, mano a mano fighting are the mainstay. In fact, there's hardly any large scale battle scenes in that action flick.

There's a number of memorable scenes, but the HUMAN LADDER spectacle had never been done before or ever since in Asian cinemas (I suspect in any cinemas. At least not over a gorge). Boys and girls, especially girls, don't EVER attempt this at home or over any chasm.

This film won 3 Golden Horse awards.

P.S. Read more at my other The 14 Amazons entry in my list under martial arts section for cross reference.

Boxer from Shantung (1972)

Chinese title: Ma Yong Zhen.

Boxer from Shantung (1972)Some director like the legendary King Hu, who sticks to his established genre of wuxia, and wouldn’t waver from the changing landscape of the industry. Chang Cheh, on the other hand, is more flexible than an Olympic gymnast, contortionist or Indian yogi. When he thought the HK swordplay could do with a bit violence, masculinity, and gore that he saw in Japanese Samurai genre, he quickly incorporated them into his HK wuxia flicks. When he learnt of the box office success of Bruce Lee’s 1st kungfu flick, he didn’t give it another thought and gave up his title as 1 of the best wuxia director, and got busy in making kungfu films. In fact, he never looked back on his wuxia film making since.

He already made a few kungfu flicks by this film. This just his most noteworthy since he made the switch from wuxia to kungfu genre. This flick starred with Chen Kuan-Tai, who had real solid training in martial arts, and 1 of the choreographer being Liu Chia-Liang who later made his own string of reasonable successful action flicks few years later.

The gore that Chang Cheh kept pushing (or gushing) is BLOODY clear in this film. An axe attached to the side of Chen Kuan-Tai’s abs like an appendix while he fights an army of baddies. His pants are wet, in fact, soaked completely with his own blood. The audience got all the typical delicious ingredients of a violent kungfu flick – blood, sweat and no tear. Men in Chang Cheh movies don’t cry, they laugh in the face of death. That’s exactly how the movie ends, Chen Kuan-Tai laughs, and the goon slices his back with an axe, he tumbles down the stairs, drenched in blood, he gets up, and laughs some more, and more…thanks heaven the closing credits start to roll...


Sunday, 1 July 2007

Fists of Fury (1971)

Alternative English title: The Big Boss.
Chinese title: Big Brother From Tangshan.

Fists of Fury (1971)This movie suffers the worst problem in its title translations. First of all, there're several other movies called Fists of Fury as well as one called Fist of Fury in American market. Fist of Fury is in fact the title of Bruce Lee's next movie, which is also known as The Chinese Connection, to add to the confusion. The best thing would be for the American distributor to follow the Asian counterpart and call this movie The Big Boss.

All these different titles were used before internet where there were little chance of confusion. With the arrival of the internet, geographical boundaries break down and we come to know the multiple titles came up by different distributors.

It's easy to understand why they wanted to change the Chinese title as 'big brother' is too loaded a word in English (Orwellian 1984, Big Brother Reality Show, etc). 'Big brother' in Chinese is unambiguous. It's somebody who protects you. 'Tangsha' is Tang Mountain in Canton province - a term synonymous with China. Cantonese people call Chinese as 'Tang people'.

SB's wuxia had reached another new height with King Hu's A Touch of Zen (1971), and just at this time, out of nowhere a Chinese kid - or should I say, big brother - from America (originally from HK) had dealt a heavy blow to the SB's popular wuxia genre with his impressive trademarked kicks, and powerful punches.

HK audience were familiar with martial arts before, but never anything like this, and was love at the 1st sight for many.

GH (Golden Harvest) just opened its door for business only a year earlier. With SB years of experience and huge resources, its staple productions of wuxia had reached new heights. On the other hand, GH managed only to produce a few inferior wuxia flicks, and far from being a threat to the old giant SB.

With Raymond Chow's foresight of Bruce Lee's talents, and able business skills, he managed to win Bruce Lee over to make movies with GH. Bruce Lee's film boosted GH's revenues, and more importantly, profile. GH became a force to be reckon with, and broke the monopoly that Shaw Brothers had enjoyed for over 3 decades.

With wuxia, the fresh start up of GH was no match for the old establishment of SB, but with Bruce Lee's creation of the new genre of kungfu, GH was now ahead of the game, setting trend instead of following SB's lead.

Bruce Lee had altered the very shape of the HK martial arts film industry with this starter.

The kungfu genre had arrived with this film. A landmark film in the true sense.

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A Touch of Zen (1971)

Chinese title: Xia Nu (俠女).

A Touch of Zen (1971)This is arguably the most famous flick of the nuxia subgenre, albeit that Cheng Pei-pei isn't the female lead. The original Chinese title Xia Nu (俠女 or Swordswoman. Xianu = Nuxia) speaks for itself. To be exact, it's a nuxia revenge romance flick.

This wuxia is 3 hours long, and is structured in 3 parts. It's really 3 movies in 1.

The vagueness of the title does create a mystery, which is also its intent for the 1st part (lasts 1 hour). When I read in the opening credit that it's based on the story of Pu Songlin - the notable Chinese writer of ghost stories - I assumed it's a ghost story. It turns out not to be the case. But the ghost element certain plays an important role in the 1st and 2nd part.

The 2nd part is more of a typical Chinese battle tactic defending a fort only in much smaller scale.

The 3rd part is all about sword play actions that's comparable to those in that period.

The 3 parts are also imbued with ambiance that is appropriate with its theme. The air of mystery is conjured up in the 1st part as the audience is trying to find out - via the nosey Mr. Ku - who's who.

The creepy atmosphere is created in the 2nd part, while the 3rd part is saturated with variety of brilliant light works of the saintly or spiritual kind with halos and shafts of light from the sky.

Indeed there're very few movies that put some much emphasis on the play of lights and shadows to create the magical ambiance. It also features a lot very nice landscape, which I suspect is in Taiwan (some in fact I saw it in the tourist trail) as China would be inaccessible in that period.

There's a fresh face Sammo Hung who was still an unknown made an appearance for about 10 - 15 minutes near the end of the film.

It's above your average SB wuxia flick at the time. It's also a visual feast of the ever changing moods of King Hu's mastery over lights and shadows. The smokey mountain and forest scenery painted with light recreated what Chinese traditional Chinese watercolourists done with their paintbrushes.

I've little doubt that Ang Lee who made Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon have seen and inspired by this film. There's the famous bamboo forest scenes in both movies.

It's a masterpiece of wuxia cinema.

This film is included in my IMDB movie list.