The Flying Guillotine (1975, Directed by Meng Hua Ho) Mandarin 6

Starring Kuan Tai Chen, Hung Wei, Ti Ai, Feng Ku, Wu Chi Liu, Yang Chiang, Yue Wong, Ricky Hui

Hong Kong Cinemagic - Gallery Chen Kuan Tai

(6-Good Film)

Gory. Compelling. Odd.

In ancient China, a paranoid emperor commissions a lethal weapon known as the flying guillotine (it flies through the air and decapitates its target from a distance), as well as an elite unit taught to master the invention. One member, initially loyal to the emperor, gradually realizes that he’s fighting on the wrong side of things and runs away. Years later, now a fugitive, the home and family he’s built in the interim come under attack when his old team come looking for him. Apparently, improbably much of this story actually happened, but the main conceit, the flying guillotine, by itself, makes the film a fantasy. It also makes hand-to-hand kung fu largely obsolete which means that most of the film focuses on the bizarre central weapon rather than stunts and fighting sequences. The flying guillotine is a strange, impractical, never-ending source of amusement as a weapon and that becomes true of the film as well. It’s not one of the Shaw Brothers more polished productions, but it’s entertaining and memorable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Five Elements Ninjas (1982, Directed by Chang Cheh) Cantonese 8

Starring Cheng Tien Chi, Lo Mang, Michael Chan, Chan Shen, Kwan Fung, Chen Pei-Hsi

Five Element Ninja B-Movie Review

(8-Exceptional Film)

Simple. Inventive. Spectacular.

Tagline: Five complete elements, one surviving ninja, what could possibly go wrong?

An honorable and skilled martial arts school in ancient Hong Kong is massacred by foreign ninjas modeled after five elements (wood, earth, water, fire, and gold). The lone survivor flees to a neighboring school for training and ultimately revenge. Five Elements Ninjas is as simple plot-wise as can be, but revenge is always a compelling starting point for an action movie, and the film, instead, focuses all of its creativity on the elaborate fighting sequences, costumes, over-the-top violence, and sets. It’s a blast to watch and one of the best kung-fu flicks.

-Walter Tyler Howard-

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Five Deadly Venoms (1978, Directed by Chang Cheh) Mandarin 9

Starring Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Kuo Chui, Lo Mang, Wei Pai, Lu Feng, Ku Feng, Dick Wei

Five Deadly Venoms – We've Got (Back) Issues

(9-Great Film)

Awesome. Efficient. Indelible.

Yang Tieh: Poison Clan Rocks the world!

Some films don’t need to be intellectualized. Five Deadly Venoms is a film that knows its intent and is perfect in its execution. Wasting no time with lengthy exposition, the opening gives us the only explanation we ever receive and lays out what’s to come. The dying master of the powerful Poison Clan expresses his fears to his newest pupil, Yang Tieh. Having taught five pupils before Yang Tieh, each assuming a different style coined after a venomous animal (centipede, scorpion, snake, toad, lizard) the master fears that some, if not all, of his students are using the skills he taught them for evil. His last request is for Yang Tieh to take out any Poison Clan members who’ve been corrupted. The remainder of the movie blends mystery, intrigue, and kung fu in a way I personally haven’t seen before. It’s incredibly entertaining and the five deadly venoms, each with their distinct characteristics are unforgettable. Fantastic flick.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,076)

Lady Snowblood (1973, Directed by Toshiya Fujita) Japanese 8

Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon, Eiji Okada, Miyoko Akaza, Takeo Chii, Kō Nishimura, Noboru Nakaya

Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld

(8-Exceptional Film)

Glorious. Simple. Resplendent.

Narrator: People say you can’t wash away the mud of this world with pure white snow. You need asura snow – stained fiery red.

Yuki Kashima, deadly assassin, righteous avenger, and the basis for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, is the product of a savage beginning. Her mother’s husband and son were murdered brutally by four bloodthirsty schemers-Takemura Banzō, Shokei Tokuichi, Tsukamoto Gishirō, and Kitahama Okono. Her mother, then, raped and passed around before dying in prison, giving birth to Yuki. Yuki, also known as Lady Snowblood, was born with vengeance in her heart. Consumed by violence and anger, is there any room for anything else? Yuki meets and falls for a young writer, Ashio, in the pursuit of killing her mother’s tormentors. Great pulpy material married to awesome visuals, Lady Snowblood is a gorgeous action flick with over-the-top violence and several twists.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,060)

One-Armed Swordsman (1967, Directed by Chang Cheh) Mandarin 8

Starring Jimmy Wang, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Tien Feng, Angela Pan, Yeung Chi-hing, Tang Ti, Wong Sai-git

The One Armed Swordsman (first film of 2013) | voidagger

(8-Exceptional Film)

Rousing. Vibrant. Glorious.

Shih Yi-fei: Pei, don’t worry. So what if you cut off his arm? He’s not coming back anyway. We’ll just never bring it up in front of Sifu.

The opening chapters, Fang Kang’s (Wang) origin story, if you will, are to me, a product of the western world, comparable to the story of Joseph’s misfortunes in the Book of Genesis; jealousy, betrayal, conspiracy. Here, Fang Kang is lured into a trap by his peers at a martial arts school, tired of being shown up by his skill and strength of character. He loses an arm but is saved by a kind, beautiful farm girl, Xiao Man (Chiao Chiao), who eventually gets him back on his feet and watches him regain his fighting prowess, this time with the handicap. Later the honorable Fang Kang is called upon to save his old school from a rival gang of thugs. Deeply compelling, this film is classic action entertainment. Vibrantly filmed and creatively choreographed, the One-Armed Swordsman is rightly iconic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Shaolin Soccer (2001, Directed by Stephen Chow) Cantonese 6

Starring Stephen Chow, Ng Man-tat, Wong Yat-fei, Tin Kai-man, Zhao Wei, Lam Chi-chung, Patrick Tse

Shaolin Soccer - Wikipedia

(6-Good Film)

Goofy. Original. Absurd.

Sing: That’s a great idea – kung fu soccer! Why didn’t I think of that?

I wonder how the prolific Stephen Chow’s films are viewed over in mainland China or his native Hong Kong. He’s obviously insanely popular (The Mermaid, one of his more recent works, made over $500 million) and though the idea of a “spoof” isn’t a new concept, his movies tend to baffle me. In Shaolin Soccer, Chow spoofs sports films (the rival team is known as “Team Evil”) and probably more Kung Fu films than I even recognized (although I could at least appreciate the Bruce Lee reference). Chow plays Sing, a peon with extraordinary Kung Fu skills, discovered by Fung (Man-tat), a former soccer great looking to coach his way back to the big-time. The two assemble a team of Shaolin monks and find that the monks’ Kung Fu skills translate remarkably well on the soccer field. Like many Chinese or Hong Kong classics I’ve seen, Shaolin Soccer is a bizarre treat. I laughed often and was bemused often. Chow, for example, uses CGI frequently and crudely, but it seems to be integral to the humor. His humor in general is one of excess and absurdity. I simply wonder if his films are as bizarre to his native audience or if films like Shaolin Soccer qualify as a culture shock.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(958)

Dragonball: Evolution (2009, Directed by James Wong) English 3

Starring Justin Chatwin, Jamie Chung, Emmy Rossum, Chow Yun-fat, James Marsters, Joon Park, Randall Duk Kim, Ernie Hudson, Megumi Seki

15 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Dragonball Evolution – IFC

(3-Horrible Film)

Inept. Lame. Childish.

Goku: Teach me, how to talk to a girl. I mean, I’m different, and everyone at school can see that, teach me how to get a girl, how to be smooth… how to be normal!

Evil Lord Piccolo returns to Earth after millenniums emprisoned. He seeks the seven magic Dragonballs that grant the owner one wish. The young, powerful hero, Goku (Chatwin), teams up with Bulma (Rossum), Chi-Chi (Chung), Yamcha (Park), and Master Roshi (Yun-fat) to unite the Dragonballs before Lord Piccolo can get to them and unleash his minion, Ōzaru. This is not a good film. The immediate comparison is The Last Airbender because the two movies vie for worst adaptation of something great in film history. Like The Last Airbender, Dragonball: Evolution feels like it was made by people who didn’t even like the source material. They hack it to bits. Here, at least, the characters’ names are the same (this much is not true of The Last Airbender). It’s not a painful watch, unlike a number of terrible films, but it’s consistently poor, juvenile, and unexciting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Tai Chi Master (1993, Directed by Yuen Woo-ping) Cantonese 6

Starring Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Chin Siu-ho, Fennie Yuen, Yuen Cheung-yan, Lau Shun, Yu Hai

Tai Chi Master 1993 – Enter the Dragon

(6-Good Film)

Action-packed. Uneven. Frenetic.

Junbao: The past is what makes up who we are. Don’t let it become your burden.

Junbao (Li) and Tienbo (Siu-ho) grow up together as brothers in a Shaolin Temple studying as monks in the ways of martial arts. After the generally misbehaving pair are expelled, they move out into the world and see first-hand their new town’s rampant corruption. Junbao joins a group of rebels in response, while Tienbo lusts for power and joins the soldiers. Shocked by Tienbo’s betrayal, Junbao loses his mind and it’s up to his new friends, Siu-lin (Yeoh), for one, to help him find himself in time to master Tai Chi and save the people. This is a fast, fun action flick with a heavy dose of legend and history mixed in. There’s always a bit of a bizarre acclimation process that goes on when I watch these Hong Kong action epics-the flying, the defying of physics, what-have-you. I know we, of course, have fantasy in western culture but I’m never quite prepared for it. I think maybe because films like this one look so grounded in history and reality. The action scenes are well-done, showing off the impossible speed of its performers, particularly its star Jet Li, naturally. The story, however, falls short of the epicness it strives for and underuses its supporting cast.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Iron Monkey (1993, Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping) Cantonese 6

Starring Donnie Yen, Ringo Yu, Jean Wang, Angie Tsang, James Wong, Yuen Shun-yi, Lee Hai

Iron Monkey

(6-Good Film)

Action-packed. Fun. Outlandish.

Wong Kei-Ying: A man should shed blood, not tears.

One of the dozen or so pictures I’ve seen depicting Wong Fei-Hong, this is the only one that shows the legendary Chinese hero as a young boy. It’s the 19th century and he wanders into some small town with his tough, widowed father, Wong Kei-Ying (Yen), to find that the local officials are corrupt and a masked vigilante known as the Iron Monkey is terrorizing them, doing his best impression of Robin Hood. Father and son get involved in the action once Kei-Ying agrees to catch the mysterious hero. Fast-paced and full of action, Iron Monkey is a lot of fun. It’s also a bit bizarre to me as a westerner, though I’ve seen a number of martial arts films. Iron Monkey feels particularly foreign in its style, sense of humor, and artistic flourishes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Karate Kid Part II (1986, Directed by John G. Avildsen) English 5

Starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, William Zabka, Martin Kove, Rob Garrison, Nobu McCarthy, Tamlyn Tomita, Yuji Okumoto, Joey Miyashima

Image result for the karate kid part ll

(5-Okay Film)

Retread. Unnecessary. Inferior.

When you see a film you love, you may have the feeling that you want to find something else just like it. Studios cash in on this feeling, leading to a lot of unnecessary sequels (or even worse rip-offs), but usually, what we actually want is to be surprised and blown away again. I love The Karate Kid. Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) and Mr. Miyagi (Morita) are iconic characters but they only needed one film. They went on for three together, and, for Mr. Miyagi, four films total. Each subsequent film got worse and worse (more over-the-top and unnecessary with each sequel). Part II sees the pair traveling to Mr. Miyagi’s home in Okinawa, where a decades-old feud with a former friend, Sato, resurfaces. Part II is, to me, very watchable. I like it actually. The returning heroes and their corny romances are very enjoyable to me, but can I call it a good film? I don’t think so. It meanders in the back end and the conclusion is far less satisfying than its predecessor. Mainly, because the villain, Chozen, is psychotic and unbelievable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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