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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


One Armed Swordsman

Hong Kong cinema is replete with iconic figures. Whether it’s the high-flying swordsmen in numerous wuxia films, the stylish urban killers that populate the bullet-riddled filmographies of John Woo and his heirs, or the various cinematic incarnations of Chinese folk heroes like Wong Fei-Hung and Fong Sai-Yuk, it’s become abundantly clear that Hong Kong filmmakers know a thing or two about creating unforgettable on-screen heroes.


Retro Review: POLICE STORY 2 (1988)

Police Story II

Jackie Chan and Maggie Cheung in Police Story 2

The original Police Story (read Kozo’s review) was a slam-bang action movie that was high on stunts, but low on plot. Still, the movie had some of the greatest action sequences ever put on film, not to mention a strong cast and a winning performance by Jackie Chan, so quibbles about the script are pretty much beside the point. Three years later, Jackie Chan and company returned for Police Story 2, a film which was more plot-driven, had better camerawork, and boasted somewhat higher production values. The results are pretty much the same as its predecessor. Still, nobody comes to a Jackie Chan flick expecting Hamlet. Believe me, when the action heats up, Police Story 2 delivers. While the finale of the original is hard to top, the last fifteen minutes of Police Story 2 comes pretty damn close.

You can read my review here and view an old-school, English language trailer after the jump.


Retro Review: DIRTY HO (1979)

A decade ago, I was an undergraduate at Oklahoma State University. During the weekends,  Aaron Jones — my roommate,  best friend, and president of the Oklahoma chapter of the Jaymee Ong Fan Club — and I would watch all kinds of films during our free time — Hong Kong action flicks, Japanese samurai movies, American cult classics,  you name it. I don’t know how we stumbled upon Dirty Ho, but upon seeing the title for the first time, we knew that one of us was going to have to buy it. That person turned out to be Aaron, and the version he purchased was this grainy, English dubbed copy:

Dirty Ho Dubbed


Retro Review: THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958)

Hidden Fortress

From right to left: Toshiro Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, and Kamatari Fujiwara

If the idea of an epic tale told through the eyes of two bumbling characters sounds familiar, it should. For some, the names C-3P0 and R2-D2—the robotic supporting characters that anchor the Star Wars trilogy—will come to mind immediately. However, creator George Lucas has admitted that an earlier Japanese film — Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress served as the inspiration for his own phenomenally successful space opera. But even so, there’s certainly more to The Hidden Fortress than just being the answer to a Star Wars trivia question.


Retro Review: DISCIPLES OF THE 36TH CHAMBER (1984)

Disciples Poster

Day 3 of Ronin on Empty’s unplanned retrospective on The 36th Chamber of Shaolin franchise comes to an end with Disciples of the 36th Chamber, the third and final installment in the series. In comparison to the previous two films, Disciples turned out to be an extremely disappointing way to close the trilogy, as star Gordon Liu was relegated to a mere supporting role as the monk San Te in favor of Shaw regular Hsiao Hou, who plays quite possibly the most annoying Fong Sai-Yuk in the history of Hong Kong cinema. Looking back, I was probably a little too hard on the film and perhaps somewhat misguided in my criticism of the film’s portrayal of Fong Sai-Yuk. While I’m fairly certain Sai-Yuk’s annoying hypocrisy was intentional, I have to say that it didn’t make for a very enjoyable film. Sure, Sai-Yuk’s utter repugnancy makes the film “interesting” and perhaps worthy of further discussion, but I think my review was written from the point of view of a martial arts film fan, and the film just didn’t measure up to its intensely fun predecessors.

However, I will say that the movie is cool to look at, particularly if you’re a fan of the “heightened” period realities of these Shaw Brothers productions. And the fights, as always, are pretty nifty, too, thanks to director Lau Kar-Leung. Perhaps even worth the price of admission (aka DVD price) It’s not a great way to end the series, but it is an end, of sorts. For interested parties, you can read my review here. And I’ve embedded a trailer, which shows so much, you probably don’t even have to watch the movie:



Retro Review: THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978)

36th Chamber of Shaolin

Widely considered to be one of the greatest martial arts movies ever made, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) remains a definite must-see film for fans of the genre. Thanks to an intriguing premise, inventive choreography by Lau Kar-Leung, and a star-making turn by lead actor Gordon Liu, this film still retains the ability to hook new viewers even after all these years. Simply put, I liked it.

Check out my old review here. The film is available for purchase in Intercontinental Video Limited (DVD and VCD) and Dragon Dynasty (Blu-Ray and DVD) iterations.  Coincidentally, the film, which was released in Hong Kong on February 2, 1978, turned thirty-two this year, something I will do in about…oh…six days. Man, how time flies.


Retro Review: SWORDSMAN II (1992)

Jet Li Swordsman 2

Today’s retro review is one my favorite Hong Kong films of all-time — the Tsui Hark-produced, Ching Siu-Tung-directed Swordsman II (1992). Although I’m quite fond of the first film, this winning sequel improves on its predecessor considerably, largely due to a compelling story, great action, and the (mostly) all-new cast. The film stars my favorite actor of the 1990s, Jet Li (replacing Sam Hui), Rosamund Kwan (replacing Cheung Man), and Michelle Reis (replacing Cecillia Yip). By far the biggest addition to the cast is the singular Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia, who takes on the challenging role of  Asia the Invincible, a character who is quite possibly the most memorable villain of 1990s Hong Kong cinemaspawning a sequel of “his” own and a handful of parodies, too.

For me, this is a movie of introductions. Not only was Swordsman II the very first wuxia film I ever saw, but it was also the first film I’d ever seen to feature a transgendered character. What stands out now nearly twenty years(!) later is the portrayal of Asia, who while remaining a “villain” in the traditional sense is also very human and sympathetic. He/she also happens to possess superhuman powers, badass martial arts skills, and Brigitte Lin’s striking good looks — all qualities that have helped insure the character’s cinematic immortality for some time now.

Swordsman II was an early review of mine for; whatever I lacked in skill or style, I hopefully made up with humor and enthusiasm. Funnily enough, Swordsman II was the first review I ever wrote to get quoted on a DVD; in this case, Optimum Asia’s UK DVD. At the very least, my parents seemed to get a kick out of it.

Anyway, for Hong Kong cinema fans, this is another must-see flick. Copyright © 2002-2023 Ross Chen