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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

Archive for the ‘Retro Review’ Category

Retro Review: THE BIG BOSS (1971)

Bruce Lee Psycho

Bruce Lee auditions for the role of Norman Bates

Riding high on the overseas success of the canceled Green Hornet television series (re-titled “The Kato Show” in Hong Kong), Bruce Lee was finally given his big Hong Kong Cinema break by Golden Harvest head honcho Raymond Chow. After outbidding the Shaw Brothers for the actor’s services, the famous producer cast the promising young Lee in the 1971 production, The Big Boss. No one, including Bruce Lee himself, could have predicted the film’s massive success.

Known to most American fans as Fists of Fury, this Lo Wei-directed film centers on a young, “fresh off the boat” brawler named Cheng Chow-An (Bruce Lee), who has just moved to Thailand. For Cheng, the change of scenery from Guandong seems to have less to do with bonding with his expatriate cousins, and more to do with staying out of trouble. We learn early in the film that Cheng has promised his aging mother that his fighting days are through. He even has a good-luck pendant he wears around his neck to remind him of his solemn oath. But when he and his buddies run afoul of some nefarious drug-running gangsters, will Cheng Chow-An be able to keep his promise?

For a more in-depth look at the film, read my LoveHKFilm.com review. For visual learners, check out this kooky original U.S. trailer or watch the entire film (dubbed in English) under the cut.

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Retro Review: THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR 2

Bride 2

When we last left swordsman Cho Yi-Hang (Leslie Cheung) in the original Bride with White Hair, he was meditating on the snowy slopes of Mount Shin Fung. Due to Yi-Hang’s mistrust of his lover, Lien Ni-Chang (Brigitte Lin), the poor woman’s hair went from black to white and she slipped further into a bloodthirsty rage. Guilt-stricken by his betrayal, Yi-Hang stands ready on the frosty, precipitous mountain in the hopes of plucking a magical flower that may very well hold the key to healing his beloved Ni-Chang.

In the meantime, Ni-Chang is content with slaughtering the remaining male members of the prominent clans. At the top of her list is Yi-Hang’s nephew, Fung Chun-Kit (Sunny Chan), the last descendant of the once-powerful Wu Tang. Chun-Kit takes a wife named Lyre (Joey Man), but their wedded bliss is short-lived when Ni-Chang pays a visit to the clan. The witch kidnaps Lyre, indoctrinating the newlywed into her cadre of lethal, quasi-lesbian women warriors. Naturally, our substitute hero leads a ragtag group band of do-gooders, including the beautiful Christy Chung as the tomboyish Moon, in an assault on the white witch’s inner stronghold.

As the sequel to one of the best Hong Kong movies of the 1990s, The Bride with White Hair 2 had its work cut out for it. If you’re curious whether the honeymoon is over, check out my review here. I’ve even embedded a trailer of the second film under the cut.

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Retro Review: THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR

Bride with White HairTold in flashback, The Bride with White Hair details the ill-fated love story of Wu Tang swordsman Cho Yi-Hang (Leslie Cheung) and Lien Ni-Chang (Brigitte Lin), the top assassin for the rival Supreme Cult. When we meet Cho at the beginning, we find that he has been waiting on a mountain for ten years in order to pluck the “majestic flower,” a rose that blooms every twenty years and can cure any illness. But at that point in the narrative, we don’t know his reasons. What unfolds next is a an exciting tale of divided loyalties as the heroic Cho finds himself falling for the “villainous” witch, who in turn comes to love him, a man she was ordered to kill by her hideous master, the misshapen Siamese twin, Chi Wu-Shuang (Francis Ng and Elaine Lui).

Strong performances by Leslie Cheung and Brigitte Lin are just part of the thrill of this 1993 Ronny Yu film. The Bride with White Hair is a fantastic introduction to not only the fantasy swordplay genre, but to the HK film experience as well. The film is based on on a novel by Liang Yu-Sheng which was previously adapted into several films and a handful of subsequent television series. The character of Ni-Chang even appeared in the long-awaited Jackie Chan-Jet Li vehicle, The Forbidden Kingdom (2008).

My very brief review was written early in my tenure at LoveHKFilm.com, so it’s not as in-depth as I’d prefer, but you get the gist — I liked it. I’d love to take another look at the film, if only someone would release a Blu-Ray to give me an excuse. Until then, you can read my barebones review here. You can watch the French trailer (with the alternate title Jiang Hu: Between Love and Glory!) under the cut.

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Retro Review: DRUNKEN MASTER (1978)

Drunken Master

An essential kung fu classic for every HK fan’s movie library, Drunken Master is a film that not only gave a comedic twist to the Wong Fei-Hong legend, but allowed Jackie Chan the chance to hone his kung fu/comedy shtick. Just as Evil Dead 2 can be called both a sequel and a remake of the earlier Sam Raimi flick The Evil Dead, so too can Drunken Master be viewed as a “re-imagining” of its immediate predecessor, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, a film released only months before with practically the same cast, crew, and storyline. But make no mistake: Drunken Master isn’t some quickie rehash. Instead, the film takes the best elements from Snake to craft not just an excellent kung fu comedy, but a landmark film in the Jackie Chan canon.

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Retro Review: THE YOUNG MASTER (1980)

Young Master

After a failed bid for Hollywood success, martial arts megastar Jackie Chan returned to Hong Kong for 1980’s The Young Master, a film that marked the beginning of a long and successful relationship with Golden Harvest. After a great deal of backstage wrangling thanks to Golden Harvest head honcho Raymond Chow and Jimmy Wang Yu, the young Chan was finally released from all contractual obligations to director/producer Lo Wei, and consequently became free to do his movies the “Jackie Chan way.” And while The Young Master certainly hearkens back to the old school charms of his previous work in terms of plot and setting, the film possesses more than enough of Chan’s trademark slapstick humor and high-energy stunts to make it a noteworthy transitional film in the Jackie Chan filmography. As his first film for Golden Harvest, this is one of Chan’s best from the pre-Police Story era.

Not only can read my full review here, but you can actually watch THE WHOLE MOVIE  for free online. Although it is a dubbed version, I’ve gone to the trouble of embedding  The Young Master below. Apparently, this is all legally kosher, but if you happen to know otherwise, please throw me a line.

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Retro Review: ZATOICHI MEETS THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN

Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman

Ever since 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, there has been a steady flow of movies that toss together famous characters from different films just to see what would happen if they met. More often than not, these characters end up fighting one another – usually by mistake, but not always. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman, the twenty-second installment in the long-running Zatoichi series, does not deviate from this formula. But while the two famous characters do meet, and do eventually draw swords on one another, what’s covered in the distance between those two points is pretty compelling in its own right, a feat that separates Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman from the rest of the pack. Shintaro Katsu and Jimmy Wang Yu shine in this engaging tale of swordplay, mistaken identity, and cross-cultural (mis)understanding. My full review for the film can be read here.

Retro Review: RETURN OF THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN

Return of the One-Armed Swordsman

Jimmy Wang Yu returns as “Lefty.”

Released in 1967, The One Armed Swordsman made an incredible impact on Hong Kong cinema, establishing a whole new style for wuxia movies and catapulting young Shaw Brothers actor Jimmy Wang Yu into martial arts superstardom. With the film raking in the cash at the local box office, it was perhaps a foregone conclusion that Wang Yu’s iconic hero would return. And just two years later, Return of the One Armed Swordsman made its way to theaters.

Chang Cheh, the director at the helm of this rollicking follow-up, clearly subscribed to the “more is more” philosophy of sequel-making. This film boasts more villains, more weapons, more fighting, and more over-the-top action than its predecessor. The storyline isn’t quite as compelling nor as personal as the one depicted in the original, but thanks to a solid performance from Jimmy Wang Yu and a surprisingly explicit critique of Jiang Hu, Return of the One-Armed Swordsman avoids the trap of simply being just another empty, overblown action extravaganza, and results in an impressive work in its own right.

If you’re interested in learning more about this highly entertaining film, my full review can be found here.

 
 
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