Posts Tagged With: Kung Fu

“He Forced Me To Drink Ribena!”… RETURN OF KUNG FU TRAILERS OF FURY Reviewed

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Ooh, that’s gotta hurt!

BD. Regions A/B/C. Severin. Unrated.

No sooner have you stuffed your face with chop socky than you start fancying another helping… lucky you, because Severin have followed up their riotous Kung Fu Trailers Of Fury anthology with the imaginatively titled Return Of Kung Fu Trailers Of Fury. In conjunction once again with Bristol’s The Cube cinema collective, the Sevs have left no Coming Attraction unturned to bring you another golden harvest of 35mm trailers from the heyday of Hong Kong martial arts mayhem… that’s 35 trailers, which will take up approximately 134 minutes of your couch potato existence. Happy days!

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I was particularly pleased to re-acquaint myself with the spaz attack stylings of Ka-Yan Leung in the see-it-and-still-don’t-believe it cannibal kung fu comedy Thundering Mantis. Under a considerably more uptight regime than currently prevails at Nottingham’s Broadway cinema, the esteemed Steve “Nelly” Nelson and I were almost chucked out for laughing our asses of during a screening of this one. I’m open to suggestions, on the strength of this trailer, about what other reaction could possibly have been more appropriate.

Big Leap Forward appears to be a satire about HK TV ethics (“It’s new! It’s real! It’s funny!”) with pilfered Morricone music serving as its “original” sound track. It’s got Jimmy Wang-Yu but zero kung fu. The Story Of Chinese Gods (“China’s first full length colour animation feature… 3 years in the making”) is a cosmogonical cartoon caper. Aside from those, most of the films featured herein concern different ways of duffing people up a treat, be it in period costume or “modern” (the trailers date from 1973 to 1984) street wear.

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When they’re not trying out game changing new stances on each other, the protagonists of these things sometimes find time for more amatory physical pursuits. We are advised that Yellow Faced Killer features “another sterling performance from Sylvia Chang… is she good girl or is she very bad?” Well, she has a scene in bed with the ineptly dubbed and perpetually überhairy Chuck Norris, so there’s your clue. Elsewhere, Bruce Li gets some racy love scenes in Bruce And The Iron Finger (hang on, are you sure that’s his finger?) The Owl, an oriental Robin Hood type, also manages to get it on with a comely Maid Marianne equivalent. The Bomb-Shell is graced “with a special appearance by soccer star Hugh McCrory!”, who enjoys a close encounter with a sexy bird in a see-thru nightie. “He forced me to drink Ribena!” complains another lovely. What a cad… what an out-and-out bounder!

The Invincible Super Guy claims to be “China’s first film in Sensurround” and that might well be true, but personally I found myself more far intrigued by the antics of a crack team of kung fu eunuchs (“their victims will die for sure within 48 hours!”) and the exploits of the even deadlier six cymbal fighters (“the clashing of their cymbals confuses them. Their limbs get numb and they’re terrified to death!”)

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The concept of disability discrimination doesn’t seem to have really caught on in ’70s Hong Kong. After breaking the fan formation in Along Come The Tiger, Chow Wang Dao dishes out a kung fu whuppin’ to The Invincible Hunchback and in Kung Fu Master Named Drunk Cat (above) we are promised “John Cheung vs The Midget… Funny!” “Sharon Yeung Pan Pan vs Three Killers! Charming!” continues the blurb for this one… “Each kick, each hit, is filled with laughter!” Presumably when Ms Pan Pan kicks some hapless dude and he falls face first into a pile of dog shit we are supposed to find it “Funny!” and “Charming!”

Now we’ve touched on the non-PC nature of these films, it’s worth pointing out that the “humorous” stereotyping of gay characters in Shaolin Invincible Sticks is exactly the kind of thing that gets people writing angry letters to Dark Side magazine. This one also serves up some memorable dialogue exchanges (“Your hands are not nimble… you are not entitled to be our descendent!” “It is unreasonable of you to expel me out!”)

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“Aargh – dude, you could at least have washed it this morning!”

Two In Black Belt (above) is a kung fu versus karate duel (“Girl in danger… Severe!”) In Bloody Mission: “They kill viciously for fame! And they can’t control themselves!” White Haired Devil Lady was shot in some pretty amazing mountain locations (“Fates not yet made… the moon is sad!”) Revenge Of The Shaolin Kid aka Masters Of Death showcases “Chi-Kuan Chun and his Dragon-choking legs! Chan Sing and his petal-shattering palms! It’s good! It’s charming!” The Super Kung-Fu Fighter (“The nine labyrinth traps! The caterpillar claws formation!”) is “directed with confidence by Sun Yung”. In Snuff Bottle Connection (below) we are introduced to “The spear that can puncture your throat! The kung fu virgin child that stuns the Westerners!”

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Almost as common as people kicking each other around the head in these things is the frequency with which soundtrack music gets pilfered. The Young Avenger pinches Morricone’s idiosyncratic score from Duck, You Sucker! to baffling effect … all totally authorised, I’m sure. Jean Michele Jarre’s atmospheric back catalogue is ransacked for The Guy With Secret Kung Fu (“Watch Mang Fei with his deadly monkey pole! They fight the real life Invincible Hunk!”) and The Bomb-Shell  (“The creepy art of spiritual fighting! Did he get his dementia from watching too much TV?”)

Black Guide comes with a barrage of punchy shout lines (“They are cruel and senseless! But Kim Jin Pal will not falter! It’s a showdown between kung fu and violence! Fast paced! Fast action! Few dialogue! All action! Villains from different countries, with their different brands of kung fu!”) and the strident sounds of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Parts 1 & 2. Is King Crimson’s Robert Fripp (who successfully sued the producers of Emmanuelle for their misappropriation of Part 2) aware of this?

One Way Only offers “Hong Kong style romance? Nice! Natural comedy? Tasty! A new style of comedy? Unique!” and here’s its protagonist’s recipe for romance, Hong-Kong style: “The longest nose and the largest chest. That’s my stamp of approval on a woman!”

The Old Master, apparently, has “still got it at 76”.. cue unfortunate geriatric disco dancing sequences. Silent Romance is a live action manga that claims to be “more James Bond than James Bond” and then there’s Gambling For Head (make sure you don’t blow all your money!)

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Crazy Horse And Intelligent Monkey (above) boasts: “A fight among four tigers to right the wrongs! Chi Kuan-Chun with his deadly horse fists! Candy man charms her with looks and her kung fu”. The Instant Kung Fu Man (“Northern kung fu coming out of nowhere to impress”) features the insensitive observation: “Your armpit stinks… I can’t stand it!”

… and on and on it goes…

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Once you’ve enjoyed these you have the option to watch them all over again with an audio commentary from kung fu clever dicks Ric Meyers, Frank Djeng, Greg Schiller and Rick Stelow… if, that is, you can hear their sage comments above the uproarious laughter of your drunken mates.

“Family entertainment for the year of the lamb!” boast the coming attraction for Itchy Fingers and ROKFTOF is indeed jolly fun for all the family – my nearest and dearest are still hopping around The House Of Freudstein, in stitches as they attempt the Iron Finger Toad Stance from The Guy With Secret Kung Fu.

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Severin’s ROKFTOF is a more than worthy follow-up to their original kung fu trailer anthology which will also serve to whet your appetite rather nicely for their upcoming Bruceploitation documentary. Bring it on, gweilos!

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Simon Slays… Arrow’s Blockbusting 4K BD Edition of PIECES Reviewed

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BD / DVD / CD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow. 18.

Lucio Fulci always seemed a bit touchy on the question of possible influences on his films and so it proved when I interviewed him in 1994. He adopted a pained expression (like somebody had just stepped on his ski boot) when I invoked the spectre of H.P.Lovecraft and claimed he hadn’t even heard of Ambrose Bierce (let alone read An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge) until after he completed The Doors To Silence (1991.) Unpredictable as ever, Fulci (who, it transpired, was quite the Spanish horror film buff) then amazed me by volunteering the information that he had pinched the idea for The House By The Cemetery (1981) from Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s La Residencia / The House That Screamed (1970.)

Although arguably the ever popular (at least in the venerable Aurum Horror Encyclopedia) “body-in-pieces fantasy” has cinematic antecedents that go at least as far back as James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), Serrador’s gothique girls school adventure hit the spot with its daring satire of Spain’s ossified fascist society, in which the sexually repressed son of an authoritarian headmistress finishes off several young ladies at her finishing school so that he can build himself an idealised “pure” woman.

When Generalissimo Francisco Franco died in 1975 and his appointed successor King Juan Carlos opted to become a constitutional monarch in a modern liberal democracy, things thawed pretty rapidly. In “It’s Exactly What You Think It Is!”, one of the many extras on this handsome package, The Pact director and Pieces lover Nicholas McCarthy identifies it as a film coming “at the ass end of the Spanish horror boom” which honours the Iberian tradition with its hommage to La Residencia and via such touches as the casting of tapas terror titan Jack Taylor. Late Phases director Adrian Garcia Bogliano, in the same featurette, notes that things had been buttoned down for so long in Spain that exploitation film makers made up for lost time by packing as much sex, violence and plain craziness into their films as the creaking plots would bear… and no film exemplifies this tendency more brazenly than Juan Piquer Simon’s Pieces (1982.)

Somewhere in “Boston, 1942″(or a Madrid facsimile thereof) some four eyed little schmendrick is discovered labouring over a jigsaw of a naked Playboy playmate (which looks like it dates as far back as the early ’70s, tops) by his mom (May Heatherly, who bit that doctor’s tongue out in Cannibal Apocalypse.) Not knowing where all this is going to end (though masturbation would be a reasonable guess) she smashes a mirror (repeated in slow motion and shattervision, like she was in an Adam And The Ants video or something) before announcing that she’s going to bin said nudie jigsaw. Now The Beastie Boys wrote a rousing rap when their mom threw away their best porno mag, but this guy’s protest is rather more emphatic… he buries an axe in her head and starts sawing her into … Pieces!

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When the cops turn up he insists that “a big man… a big man” performed the murderous deed then scarpered and as forensic science wasn’t so hot in Boston, 1942, he gets away with it…

… “forty years later”…

… loose living, flash dancing bimbos at some Boston college are being carved up with a chainsaw by a black clad assassin. In broad daylight. At the same time, somebody is having another go at that jigsaw. Looks like Junior from the pre-titles sequence is replaying his primal scene… but who did he grow up to be?  Willard the burly gardener (Paul “Bluto” Smith) is strenuously touted for our consideration on account of his familiarity with a chainsaw and appetite for beating up cops trying to investigate the case, but c’mon… are we really expected to buy that the scrawny kid in the Quincy tank top grew up to be this ogre? Indeed, the Paul Smith interview included as another of the extras on this set is pointedly entitled The Reddest Herring.

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Other leading suspects include closet case anatomy professor Arthur Brown (!), played by Jack Taylor and the Dean of Studies (Edmund Purdom.) Curiously, Professor Chow the kung fu instructor (yep, the college has a kung fu instructor) played by Kin Lung Huang (*) is never in the frame, despite his penchant for wandering around the college at night, randomly picking fights with women he encounters (it’s a crazy world on this campus… then again, what do you expect when they employ an anatomy professor named Arthur Brown?)

The Dean is keen on a low-key investigation, which might seem like a tall order (what with these butchered co-eds turning up all over the place) until you consider the resources that Boston’s finest are prepared to commit to the case, i.e. Lt Bracken (Christopher George), his sidekick Sgt Holden (Frank Bana), and ex tennis pro May Riggs (George’s wife, Lynda Day), working undercover (sure thing, I mean who else would you send?) Bracken’s got the measure of the case, though – “We must catch the killer…” he advises Holden: “… that’s what it says in the rule book” (I bet he was the stand out candidate at police academy.) Smoothy student Kendall (Ian Sera) is initially a suspect but, having won the confidence of Lt Bracken (and with precious little alternative manpower available) he is soon seconded to the case. I think he’s supposed to be like Keith Gordon’s character in Dressed To Kill (1980) but in the event he’s way more irritating. Co-scripters Dick Randall and “John Shadow” seem to find him equally obnoxious, judging by the fate they’ve devised for him. First of all, after the killer has finally been unmasked, Kendall has to fight off his knife wielding attentions until Bracken turns up to shoot him in the head. While they’re congratulating themselves on that, the putrefying dream girl that the killer has been stitching together falls out of a cupboard and pins Kendall to the floor. Just as he’s recovering from that shock and joshing with the cops about it, in the mother of all Carrie quotations, the composite corpse reaches up and claws his balls off! I swear to Christ, I’m not making any of this shit up!

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The budget that the Boston PD allocated to the investigation of this case would seem to be significantly less than that afforded the FX crew on Pieces. Kudos to Basilio Cortijo for some of the stunning gore creations on display here (mostly centering, of course, on the after effects of chain saw attacks.) There’s stuff that Giannetto De Rossi wouldn’t turn his nose up at. Among all the silliness and non sequiturs, Simon also manages some suspenseful sequences and set pieces murders that look like they belong in an arty giallo rather than a run-of-the-mill American slasher effort. (**) The scene in which Isabel Luque’s nosey reporter is stabbed to death on a water-bed wouldn’t be out of place, if not quite in an Argento classic, than in a top-of-the-range Fulci effort, though better editing would have obscured the wobbliness of that rubber knife before it entered the girl’s skull and edited via her mouth, a la the pre-titles sequence of Fulci’s aforementioned House By The Cemetery.

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Bad chop suey strikes again…

People get snotty about Pieces in particular and JPS in general, while learned tomes get written about Jesus Franco. Now don’t get me wrong, people have a perfect right to enjoy the films of Jesus Franco and write learned tomes about them… I’ve read one or two of them and it proved a worthwhile investment of (rather a lot of) my time. But compare Pieces to e.g. its closest equivalent in the Franco canon – Bloody Moon (1981) – and really, there’s no contest.

I used to love the long-defunct magazine Continental Film Review (briefly recoined as Continental Film And Video Review before it disappeared forever from our newsagents’ shelves) for the way it would alternate analysis of the new Antonioni or Fellini offering with pages of stills from the likes of Danish Dentist On The Job and similarly, I do appreciate it when a label goes to town on a “mere” exploitation movie.

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Suffice to say, Arrow have done an astonishing job here. The 4K restoration of Pieces from its original negative looks just dandy, but video high fidelity probably isn’t a major reason why anyone would watch a movie like this. It’s the extras assembled here that make this release indispensible. People used to talk about “party tapes” but you could have your mates round for this set all weekend and still be discovering stuff long after all the snacks have been snacked on, drinks quaffed and the party favours have petered out. For starters, this is the ultimate “Musos edition” of Pieces with three (count ’em) score options and that’s before you even get onto the commentary track. I hope the original music by Librado Pastor is your favourite, because you also get that on a bonus CD. It’s not likely to keep Ennio Morricone off my deck for any length of time but I’m glad to have it. Thanks, Arrow.

That commentary track, courtesy of The Hysteria Continues (basically Justin Kerswell and his mates) is a real plus: skilfully moderated (it sounds like a couple of the participants are on some kind of conference call set up or maybe Skype), enthusiastic, entertaining, informative and insightful. I’m particularly grateful to Kerswell and co for clearing up an aspect of the film that has always mystified me, i.e. the bit where a certain “Virginia Palmer” (you’d think her family had suffered enough, considering what happened to Laura and everything) skateboards through a giant sheet of plate-glass in slow motion, apparently a propos of nothing. Turns out it was a propos of reminding jigsaw boy of his mother smashing that mirror, reactivating the killer inside him after years as a useful member of society, plying his trade as a… oops, nearly gave it away there! Sadly no explanation is offered (I’m sure they looked for one) as to why Professor Chow should launch an unprovoked flurry of kung fu kicks at Lynda Day (or why she forgives him so readily), over and above the clearly implausible one suggested in the (frequently piss-taking) English dub, i.e. “bad chop suey!” Just to clarify another bit of trivia they allude to, it’s true that the “John Shadow” who’s “credited” as co-writer of Pieces is NOT (as often rumoured) Joe D’Amato… the guilty party is actually Roberto Loyola, one of the many producers involved in the tangled saga of bringing Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs (1974) to the screen.

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As if the guidance of The Hysteria Continues wasn’t immersive enough for you, you’re also treated to The 5.1 Vine Theater Experience…. a barker lures you (with lines like “Come and see tits getting sawn”… let’s face it, you’re never going to get that at the NFT) into the lobby of the eponymous LA theatre where you’ll have fun spotting trash film luminaries before taking your seat for a screening of Pieces, courtesy of Grindhouse Releasing. During that you’re able to enjoy the surround sound reactions of an up-for-it audience enthusiastically applauding every outbreak of nudity, guffawing at every last gobbet of gore and critiquing salient thespian missteps (Lynda Day’s “bastard… BASTARD… BASTARD!!!” predictably takes the cake!)

Not least among the bonuses offered on this set is the presence of two distinct versions of the feature, the US theatrical cut and Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche (“A Thousand Cries In The Night”), the slightly longer Spanish version. I must have the attention span of a goldfish or something but I never manage to work out what the extra stuff is in the longer cuts of these things. One thing I did learn from watching Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche, though, is the extent to which the American dubbers yocked things up by spicing up dialogue that was already pretty fruity to begin with (i.e. for once something gained a lot … of mainly trash … in translation), the “bad chop suey” crack being the most obvious example. The Spanish original also plays Stars And Stripes Forever over Suzy Billing’s murder but those who put the US release together obviously figured that such iconic American music shouldn’t accompany shots of a girl pissing herself and being dismembered by a chainsaw, so substituted the kind of jolly library music often played over sketches on The Benny Hill Show.

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The late JP Simon gets an hour-long interview / profile devoted to him and in a similarly lengthy interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo (so good they named him twice) we hear a lot of amusing stories about how resourceful the director was in stretching out his minimal budgets to maximum effect. A short audio Interview with producer Steve Minasian relates how everybody was shafted for their money by a fly-by-night distributor. Undeterred by this cautionary tale, JPS disciple Sergio Blasco relates on another featurette of his collaboration with the maestro on a sadly unrealised Pieces sequel.

Of course you get a trailer, image galleries and a reversible sleeve (featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach.) The collectors’ booklet apparently features new writing on the film by critic Michael Gingold… I’ll have to take Arrow’s word for that as I didn’t receive a copy of it.

Watching this set might not quite be “the most wonderful feeling in the world” (to paraphrase one of the most notorious lines of dialogue in Pieces) but in trash movie terms, it comes pretty close.

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You can always rely on beyondhorrordesign.blogspot.co.uk

(*) Kin Lung Huang  starred (as “Bruce Le”) in the likes of…Bruce’s Deadly Fingers (1976), My Name Called Bruce (1979) The True Game Of Death and Re-Enter The Dragon (both 1979)… and just in case the penny hasn’t dropped yet regarding his USP, The Clones of Bruce Lee (1980.)

(**) The producers of Pieces include Stephen Minasian (who put up money for Friday The 13th) and Dick Randall, who produced Ferdinando Merighi’s 1972 giallo The French Sex Murders… though on reflection, I’d be pushing it (over a fucking cliff!) to describe that one as “arty.”

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The Tao Of Cube Fu… KUNG FU TRAILERS OF FURY Reviewed

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“Burt Lenzi”, my arse…

BD. Regions A/B/C. Severin. Unrated.

One of the recurring gags in Severin’s marketing of their superior editions of a range of crucial genre titles is that they have been, e.g.

“… restored from a film element recently discovered beneath the floorboards of a Trastevere church rectory.” (Burial Ground)

“… remastered from materials recently seized in a Roskilde vice raid!” (The Sinful Dwarf),

“… restored from a 35mm print discovered in a Barcelona bordello.” (The Hot Nights Of Linda),

or even…

“… stunningly transferred in HD from vault elements recently unearthed in a Mongolian film depot! (Horror Express.)

Amusing stuff, if best consumed with more than a pinch of salt. As it happens though, Severin’s Kung Fu Trailers Of Fury compilation really was sourced from “original 35mm trailers discovered underneath the stage of a maverick UK cinema.” The maverick UK cinema in question is Bristol’s grass-roots labour of love collective The Cube, about which you’ll learn a lot more in the bonus feature The Way Of The Cube, specifically about the serendipitous discovery of the Coming Attractions in question.

There’s also A Brief History Of Kung Fu Movies, a self-explanatory title for a nifty featurette in which lead chop socky authority Ric Meyers (with the able assistance of Frank Djeng) sketches the history of kung fu movies from uplifting historical yarns of chivalric derring-do, through the cinematic supernova blazed by Bruce Lee in his quest to vanquish the myth of Chinese as “the sick men of Asia”, Lee’s tragic early demise and the unedifying “Bruceploitation” feeding frenzy that followed in its wake, the rise of comedy kung fu (as exemplified by Jackie Chan and the incredible Samo Hung) and Chan’s crossover into the Hollywood mainstream…

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… and oh, did I nearly forget to mention the trailers themselves? Over two hours of the buggers here, newly transferred in 2k from those rare original 35mm prints. They comprise (brace yourself, grasshopper!) … The Ways Of Kung Fu (“There are fights! There are laughs! There are surprises!”), Fists Of Bruce Lee, Kung Fu Vs Yoga (“He must face The Yinyang Shemale… The Powerful Monk!”), Death Blow (“Cunnig! Suspense! New Gimmiek”), Two Champions Of Shaolin (“Monkey Boxing vs Flower Boxing!”), Daggers 8, Secret Of The Shaolin Poles, The Happenings, Snake In The Eagles Shadow, The Story Of Drunken Master, Chinese Kung Fu Against Godfather (“Chinese bumpkin wreaks havoc in Europe! Starring the most popular actress in Holland, 1972!”), The Invisible Swordswoman, Return Of Bruce, Bruce Le’s Greatest Revenge (“See Chen Jun, the strong man of Asia! Upholding his pride, his heritage and his fighting spirits!”), Shaolin Iron Claws, Fast Fingers, Enter The Fat Dragon (“He’s Bruce Lee possessed with nunchuks in hand… thugs get to eat them for breakfast!”), My Kung Fu 12 Kicks (“Witness also the return of The Golden Turtle fist!”), The Brutal Boxer, Blacklist, Bruce’s Deadly Fingers (“Filled with fiery lust, the bad guys take on the weak!”), One-Arm Chivalry Fights Against On-Arm Chivalry (“Who will win? Who will lose? Why Did They Fight?”), The Damned, The Way Of The Dragon, Hong Kong Connection (“The slut who can’t control her lust and stirs up a storm… she’s the horniest of all!”), Chinese Kung Fu, 18 Shaolin Disciples (“With Yi Chang shaving his head for the first time!”), The Blazing Temple, Shaolin Wooden Men, The Magnificent Boxer and last, but certainly not least, Golden Dragon, Silver Snake (“Explosive Snake and Drunken Monkey styles!”)

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Not even their mother could tell them apart… then again, she is blind!

When not simply deploying this trailer loop as one of the coolest “party tapes” of all time, you have the option to learn something from it by paying attention to the informative commentary track by Meyers and fellow kung fu buffs Rick Stelow (from the Drunken Master Video label), Michael Worth (author of The Bruceploitation Bible) and Greg Schiller, a for-real martial arts instructor… I wonder how many of these gruelling / bonkers training routines he actually inflicts on his own students.

Remember kids, these guys are experts and you shouldn’t try any of this stuff at home…

“Buddha have mercy!”

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Ho My God! GODFREY HO interviewed in 1996

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Godfrey Ho is undoubtedly one of the wildest film makers to emerge from The Wild, Wild East. Ho’s career bridges the gap between Chang Cheh’s traditional chop-socky operas and John Woo’s “Heroic Bloodshed” extravaganzas. His idea of social progress is arming gorgeous girls with Uzis and he’s made a lucrative living out of mix-and-matching bits of footage from other people’s abandoned projects. But when he was shooting in the Beijing morgue, it wasn’t old films that were getting chopped to bits…

Godfrey, did you ever believe that Hong Kong movies would cross over in the West to the extent that are doing now?

Oh yeah! I think there’s a real connection going on now between East and West… we’re learning from each other in terms of culture, technique and marketing. I made two movies in the U.S. with Cynthia Rothrock. We’re trying to combine Eastern culture, especially the kung fun and action elements, with Western stars, so that the Western audiences will find our movies more attractive. 

The Eastern guy who’s really crossed over is John Woo… I believe you’ve worked with him?

It was a long time ago when we worked together for the great action director Chang Cheh at Shaw Brothers studio in Hong Kong. Many of us worked together there and after that we all went out to make our own movies. It was hard to work at Shaw Brothers then, because there were so many people working there, all wanting to direct, so we had to leave and find our own way of doing it.

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What was it like, working for Chang Cheh?

He’s so very cultured and literate. He himself is a writer, very good at creating characters and what the market wanted then was heroes, the kind of superheroes who fight to the death. Chang Cheh has a very good team of choreographers working for him. Whatever he wanted to create on the screen, they could achieve it for him. He was very much people’s traditional idea of the director, a king at the studio. That was the tradition, chair and megaphone and everything, demanding whatever he wanted, a supreme director at the time. Unfortunately, by the time I became a director that wasn’t the way it was done anymore! (Laughs.) We had to work together with the whole crew like a big family.

And what are your memories of John Woo from those days?

He’s a good fellow, very creative… he’s created his own world. He’s not a very talkative guy but he had very definite ideas about  what he wanted to achieve. It’s not easy though, to fulfil one’s ambitions, especially when you are a new director, because of commercial pressures… not many producers will venture a million dollars on a new director to make a film. The producers couldn’t care less about art, you know, they want to make money. Even Run Run Shaw was a business man, you’ll notice that most of the Shaw Brothers productions were commercial efforts.

Your movie Lethal Panther, released in the UK on video as Deadly China Dolls, unfolds like a John Woo film with girl bonding instead of male bonding…

Yes, I’m trying to do something different from what John Woo has been doing, the male gangster films with Chow Yun Fat. The girls aren’t weak anymore, they’re strong characters. I wanted to show an angle that is different from traditional Chinese society, where the women had to stay at home, looking after the children all their life… it’s not like that anymore. I’d like to think I’m helping social progress along with these movies.

Tell us about some of the girls you’ve worked with.

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Girls like Moon Lee and Cynthia Rothrock have practiced some form of karate or kung fu before they became action actresses, just like Jackie Chan… he studied for years before he could do the things that he does now. Some of the other girls who are good at martial arts, though, are not such good actresses and our main priority now, in making exportable movies, is having characters who can act, because the Western markets insist on that. So sometimes we have to get around that with the way we shoot the scene. ≈The martial arts – what we call kung fu – in China, there are so many different styles of it and sometimes what the girls have been doing isn’t kung fu at all, it’s like tae kwan do or karate, which we can use for action sequences but it’s not kung fu. Moon Lee and Cynthia Rothrock, though, have studied our martial arts for years and are very good.

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You made a movie called Magnificent Wonder Women Of Shaolin… what a fantastic title!

Oh, that was such a long time ago that I’d forgotten it… I’m amazed that you guys know about these movies! Certain audiences in the West still appreciate these these kung fu films but they aren’t popular in Hong Kong anymore, or in the Asian markets generally. That was quite an interesting movie actually, in traditional costume and with traditional kung fu fighting. At Shaw Brothers studio you would have a fight choreographer arranging the action around several different kung fu styles, before the editing. Now it’s changed, just three or four styles, quick ones, to make for a faster tempo. Back then, there was a big demand for the actors and actresses to know how to fight. Now it’s not so stringent, almost anybody can do that, as long as they know how to move… Andy Lau, that kind of actor, can do fight scenes. The actor will know nothing about kung fu or karate really but he will able to learn, to adapt quickly to whatever you are shooting.

You’ve worked with John Liu, who has his own fighting system called Zen Kwan Do… what’s that all about?

He evolved this style all his own, which is influenced a lot by kick boxing. John Liu is one of the best kickers, his kicking is really marvellous. I was working with him one day and he had kicked over a thousand times. I said to him: “John, aren’t you getting tired?” and he replied: “No Godfrey, I’m just getting warmed up here!”… an amazing guy! It’s hard to find somebody with a body that well trained… same thing goes for Jackie Chan.

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You worked as an uncredited director on Liu’s Zen Kwan Do Strikes In Paris. The supposedly true story of that film (John’s father, a NASA scientist, has to be rescued from foreign agents by his son’s martial arts prowess) is a rather fanciful one, isn’t it?

I had been working for some time as a director and John was my assistant. He had his own ambitions and I was trying to bring his career along… he’s a good friend, you know? He got the opportunity to direct this picture and I said: “OK, I’ll help you with this” but unfortunately he set out to do too many jobs himself, as actor / writer / choreographer / director… I told him: “Come on John, it’s too much, you’re going to spread yourself too thinly.” He didn’t listen to me, so although the action parts are very, very good, the story of that film is a bit confusing… that’s the problem John had, there.

You also had him fighting Dragon Lee in your film The Dragon, The Hero… can you tell us something about this classic martial arts movie?

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That was the first movie in which we tried to blend Eastern and Western cultures … my partner Joseph Lai of IFD films was very conscious of this massive Western market and wanted to do something aimed at that. The movie was not intended for the Taiwan and Hong Kong markets, but to be a commercial success in the West. It was a very good investment, regardless of how it did in the Asian markets… and of course, as we said, these movies are still very popular in Europe. The story is funny too, an Eastern story but in the Western style to make it easier for Europeans to accept. Sometimes it’s hard for a Westerner to follow the story in a traditional kung fu movie, it can look so strange and funny.

You went through a period of mixing and matching footage from different projects to be released under new titles by Joseph Lai…

(Laughs) That was a purely commercial exercise, because the market was crying out for product at that time, especially the video market, which was then booming. They wanted quantity rather than quality, so Joseph, who’s a very good producer, was again trying to render movies in a Western style, to polish them, add something that Westerners can understand by shooting additional footage.

There’s this story that you signed Richard Harrison to appear in a movie and the footage ended up in several different ones…

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Not a lot of different movies, just the same martial arts movies really, a lot of ninja movies. Most of the ninjas in these movies wear masks, so it’s very difficult to tell who’s in there anyway! (laughs) Richard told he that was worried because he isn’t a martial artist, but I told him he’d do a great job as long as he could hold a sword and throw a ninja star, that would be OK, because somebody else, a stunt man, is going to be fighting for him. With all those masks, who can tell? We moved the ninja genre on two or three years with those movies… I made the action fun rather than violent because again, I am into making commercial movies.

Harrison famously turned down the lead role in A Fistful Of Dollars before it went to Clint Eastwood… what kind of a guy was he?

A very kind man, very good actor, very serious about his trade. He’s a real gentleman actually and we worked together very well. He lives in The States now.

Before one London screening of Lethal Panther / Deadly China Dolls a trailer was shown for your film The Men Behind The Sun Part 2 – Laboratory Of The Devil… I believe you had some walk-outs!

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Yeah, they couldn’t take the stuff with the real dead bodies, but you have to understand, that was the only way we were able to work over there. That movie was aimed at the Korean market, where they still have a strong feeling about Japanese war crimes. Then the Chinese started to take an interest so we decided to make it with Chinese producers. I flew to Beijing and we started to work at the film studios there for three or four months. They’re really still working in the Russian system there, it’s not very up-to-date. I didn’t take anyone with me apart from the main actor, so I had to rely on the Chinese technicians, who were limited by the state of the industry over there. When we came to do a scene with a dead body, they said: “We can’t do it as a prosthetic, we don’t have the technique or the materials”, so they took me to the local hospital and we talked to the doctor, who let us film him while he performed an autopsy… so that was it!

What is your next career move? Will you be carrying on with the girls-and-guns stuff?

I think so. I will try to carry on making commercial movies that people want to watch, to make movie like Deadly China Dolls in more and more of a Western style…

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East Meets Worst… HERCULES AGAINST KUNG FU reviewed

Herc Against KF

HERCULES AGAINST KUNG FU aka MR HERCULES AGAINST KARATE (“MING, RAGAZZI!”, 1973) 

Directed by Anthony M. Dawson” (Antonio Margheriti). Produced by Carlo Ponti. Story by Luciano Vincenzoni & Sergi0 Donati. Screenplay by Antonio Margheriti & Gianni Simonelli. Cinematography by Ettore Papaleo. Edited by Mario Morra. Music by Carlo Savina. Starring: Tom Scott” (Roberto Terracina), “Fred Harris” (Fernando A rri en), Jolina  Mitcbell, Chai Lee, George Wang.

Despite its title, this flick is not a late entry in the peplum stakes, rather a transparent and tragically inept attempt to take off the successful Terence Hill / Bud Spencer comedy team, with Arrien as the hulking Bambino figure Percival and Terracina’s Danny standing in for the wily Trinity. The former is the accident-prone giant of the title, whose ignorance of his own strength comes in handy during those Enzo Barboni-patented slapstick punch-ups as our, er, heroes search for a missing kid, spirited away by a gang of kung fu kidnappers. There’s even a whitesuited baddy in the early part of the picture who recalls Donald Pleasence’s character in Watch Out, We’re Mad.

Unfortunately these guys’ wannabe act is sabotaged by fact that whereas Hill (aka Mari0 Girotti) is handsome and appealing, Spencer (Carlo Pedersoli) huge and charismatic, these guys are merely oafish and insufferable. Nor are they even slightly funny, which always tends to be a drawback in comedies, I find. The script does them no favours at all in this department, its feeble attempts at humour as broad as the checks on its protagonists’ loud sports jackets. The gag in which a hotel basement fight leads to repeated changes in the building’s thermostat setting neatly guages the film’s tepid level of wit, and there’s an abundance of regrettable “Chinese takeaway on a saturday night type” racist cracks (somebody please take ’em away!), witness the characters named Big Pong, Sonov Gun, Har Lot … there’s even a Fuk Yoo (only “Hoo Flung Dung” is, mercifully, conspicuous by his absence). Calling the villain-in-chief Hung Lo only reminds us how much better this kind of skit was done (if it has to be done at all) in Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). The tackiest gag of them all comes right at the oh so-welcome end, where “Hercules” is seen straining to pass pearls that he’s inadvertantly swallowed, but as Margheriti proves with this fiasco, it’s sometimes impossible even for a director of his legendary resourcefulness to salvage anything valuable from a pile of shit!

On the plus side, pictures like this and the director’s Stranger And The Gunfighter, from the following year, serve as a reminder of the pioneering part he played in bringing currently cultish oriental cinema to the attention of us white devils, and the extraordinary scenes (for an alleged comedy actioner) in which Hung Lo punishes incompetent henchmen by plucking out their teeth and eyeballs, to mount them on trophy boards, foreshadows Margheriti’s part in the subsequent Italian explosion of graphically gory horror, directing Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and (just maybe) Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula (both 1973… a busy year even by Margheriti’s routinely prolific standards.)

Mr Dung

“Ah, Mr Dung… we’ve been expecting you!”

Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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