Shaw Bros. Saturday had its 2-year anniversary this past December. It’s hard to believe that it was over 2 years ago that Ricky D gave me his stamp of approval, practically handing over carte blanche to write about movies produced by the late Run Run Shaw’s famed studio. At the outset, it was agreed upon that the column would be a weekly affair, published Saturdays, hence its title. But film festivals, press screenings, podcasts, heavier workloads than anticipated happened, and live television sporting events happened. Essentially, things got a little tricky at times for me to adhere to said schedule with the originally intended rigidity, notwithstanding the first 6 months or so (God, those were the days…). In fact, readers can explore the archives and notice that the column’s lack of updates sometimes lasted weeks at a time. Sometimes a month would go by without new material! Ouch.
The Mighty One
Written by Tyrone Hsu Tien-Yung
Directed by Joseph Kuo Nan-Hong
Hong Kong, 1971
For as fast and furiously as Shaw Brothers studio churned out its action films and made stars of previously unknown actors, the number of names people recognize heavily favour the male performers. There were certainly women who became famous as a result of starring in Shaw pictures and receiving star billing, but much fewer in number and even fewer of them were the principle warriors of a picture. One such name that kept appearing in the late 1960s and into the 70s was Ivy Ling Po (Sword and the Lute, Twin Swords), who could deliver a really solid performance based on the script and hold her own with the boys when the rough stuff started. One of those starring roles was in the fantasy-laden The Mighty One, from 1971.
Master Lung (Liu Ping) is storming the land with his supporting warriors named the Five Dragons for a series of five coveted creeds. Each document instructs those privy enough to get their hands on them nearly indefensible legendary attacks. At the start of the picture, Lung arrives at a modest little martial arts school where the creeds may be located. Lung, convinced the documents are in the possession of its teacher, murders the former and his daughter, leaving behind two small children, a brother and sister. Jump ahead several years and it is revealed that master Lung and the Dragons have lost two of the five creeds, thus commencing another bloody hunt as he and his crew terrorize rival masters and schools. During each attempt however, Lung is foiled by mysterious warriors apparently working on their own yet always arriving shortly after one another: one man, Hsiang Kuei (Ling Yun), who keeps his face hidden from view with a straw hat, and a woman, Hsiao Chu (Ivy Ling Po), masquerading in mens clothing. A new rivalry is ignited, but just who are the new challengers to master Lung’s supremacy?
Fantasia 2012/Shaw Bros. Sat.: ‘Fists of the White Lotus’ demonstrates that it’s cool to fight like a girl
Fists of the White Lotus (aka: Clan of the White Lotus)
Directed by Lo Lieh
Written by Tien Huang
Hong Kong, 1980
*This week’s film was viewed at the 2012 Fantasia International film festival on a 35mm print, hence its inclusion in both the Shaw Brothers Saturdays and Fantasia 2012 columns.
The old, evil martial arts master who can still pack a thunderous punch, often demolishing anyone who stands in his path with precise, near-effortless movements. He dresses in white, laughs a powerful laugh and frequently strokes his white beard when in thought. The image is fond one among many a martial arts movie fan. For many, their first ever exposure to the character was in Quentin Tarantino’s 2004 feature, Kill Bill: Vol. 2. the truth of the matter is that the old kung fu master has made numerous appearances in much older action films. In fact, not so long ago in this very column, Executioners of Shaolin was reviewed and it featured the iconic figure. Now, time for the sequel, directed and co-starring legend Lo Lieh. Prepare to face the Fists of the White Lotus.
As is so often the case with these movies, the story opens up with terrific action sequence, with the audience thrust into the midst of a furious hand to hand battle between a familiar foe, the elderly martial artist with the long white beard, and two younger allies. The contest requires both sides to exercise all their might and skills as fighters to defeat the other. It is the sort of battle which provides the audience with a snippet of things to come later on, with plenty of fights expressing the technical mastery of the performers and the desire of the filmmakers to inject a little bit of the fantastic into the action scenes. First, however, some set-up. Two long time friends and pupils of the same shaolin temple, Piao (Ching Chu) and Wei Ting (Gordon Liu) meet after a prolonged absence, this being after the defeat of the chief antagonist in Executioners of Shaolin. The White Lotus gang is still working hard in obliterating the Shaolin students who survived the destruction of their previous temple, this despite that the central governing body recently decreed that the establishment shall rise again. Piao and Wei Ting have little time to rest with their loved ones when the White Lotus attacks them, killing off many of their brothers and sisters, leaving only a few alive. Wei Ting, discovering that his current skills are no match against the White Lotus priest (Lo Lieh), but rely on the teachings of his ‘sister’ Mei Ha (Kara Hui), for only a more graceful, feminine touch will ever stand a chance at finally vanquishing their mortal enemy.
Shaw Brothers Saturdays: ‘Dead End’ is anything but. A compelling, rich drama about wild youth.
Directed by Chang Cheh
Written by Chiu Kang Chien
Hong Kong, 1969
The name Chang Cheh should be recognizable to any self ascribed Shaw Brothers fan. The man was a true legend within the studio system, directing movies at such a rapid rate that even Woody Allen would blush. With a whopping total of 95 films to his credit as a director, Chang Cheh was a machine, sometimes working on multiple films in quick succession. The are upsides and downsides to such a career. The obvious criticism is that not all of his movies were good. Some were rather petty in fact. That being said, such workmanship definitely helped him become a remarkably creative individual with a voice capable of sharing eclectic stories. Rarely was this more evident than in his 1969 effort, Dead End, which, despite its title suggesting a horror story, is actually a quaint yet emotionally gripping drama about young adult aimlessness.
Ti Lung plays Zhang Chun, a reasonably smart young professional working for a big company in the downtown area. It is a busy building, with many employees hammering away madly at their typewriters. At one point, in a effective silent slow motion shot (a hallmark of the Chang Cheh style of film making), Zhang lays back in his chair and yawns. There is a hint of carelessness in the act, indicative of the type of person he is. While he may earn a living with a respectable job at a respectable employer, he is never going to take such a job too seriously. It simply does not speak to him on a personal level. A greater clue comes in the next scene, wherein Zhang brings along his current girlfriend into the building complex at night, after all have gone home. They engage in comedic foreplay before making love on Zhang’s work desk, that is, until they are caught by the nightwatchman. Zhang is promptly fired, leaving back in a position he has been in more than once: jobless with nothing better to do than chase girls with his buddy David (David Chiang), with whom he shares one special girl, the beautiful Mary (Angela Yu Chien), the sort of pixie dream girl that really can only exist in the movies. One day, while driving outside the city, Zhang comes across Wen Rou (Li Chung), a shy if intelligent girl with whom the protagonist will share an ultimately destructive relationship.
Shaw Brothers Saturdays: ‘Asia-Pol’ is a fair attempt at emulating the ’60s spy genre
Directed by Matsuo Akinori
Written by Gamasaki Twao
Hong Kong/Japan, 1967
Historically, not many non-Chinese directors had the privilege of working within the Shaw Brothers studio system. Unlike with major American studios, where American, British, Canadian and directors from elsewhere in the world can try to make a splash, Shaw Brothers was very much a Chinese endeavour. Like all rules however, there are exceptions. The director behind one of the studio’s most iconic films, King Boxer, was in fact Korean. A Japanese director been awarded the chance to put their stamp onto the Shaw legacy is even more unique given the historically volatile relationships between the two countries concerned. Matsuo Akinori is one of the few to have done so, with his 1967 spy imitator film, Asia-Pol.
Jimmy Wang plays Ming Yang, a young operative for the highly secretive Asia-Pol, a pan-Asian secret service style organization. The agents work under deep cover, hopping from one nation to the next in order to foil smuggling plots and worse. Agent Yang is posted in Japan and has been for some time, which has allowed him to form a flirtatious bond with the agency’s Japanese secretary, Sachiko (Ruriko Asaoka). Many years ago he was separated from his parents under mysterious circumstances which haunt him till this very day. His mother has passed away, that much he knows, and it would appear that a recently murdered top level Chinese gangster may have been his long lost father, although evidence is currently inconclusive. Through a string of iffy plot points, Yang manages to leave Japan and head for Hong Kong, not only to unravel an illegal gold smuggling operation planned out by a well known internationally stretched mob, but also to find out the truth about his family’s past. It is not long before Yang meets up, under some very lethal circumstances, with one Ming Hua (Fang Ying), a lowly operative for the mob Yang is after. As clues pile up regarding both the mob and his family history, Yang is convinced that Ming Hua may in fact be his sister. The danger and surprises pile up the deeper the investigation goes…
Shaw Brothers Saturdays: ‘Executioners of Shaolin’ demonstrates that execution is indeed everything
Executioners Fom Shaolin
Directed by Liu Chia-Liang
Written by Ni Kuang
Hong Kong, 1976
The Shaw Brothers column is back after practically a one month absence! To get back on track in style, this week we take a look at a slightly earlier effort from one of the all-time greats, Liu Chia-liang, who is most fondly remembered for bringing fans The 36th Chamber of the Shaolin and Heroes of the East. Both of those iconic films were released in 1978, but just a couple of years prior he made Executioners from Shaolin. This is, in truth, the sequel to a Chang Cheh film from 1974, Men From the Monastery, which depicted the assault of the Shaolin temple by one of its own elders, Bai Mei (here played by Lo Lieh), who conspired with the Manchus. Both films are loosely based on historical events.
The film opens up with a very interesting scene in which the traitor Bai Mei does kung fu battle with the temple current head. The background, curiously enough, is but a room coloured in red. The focus should be, of course, on the fight itself. After a terrific exchange of blows, Bai Mei finally gets the upper hand and vanquishes the noble leader. Cut to the remaining Shaolin students fleeing the burning temple. The viewers follow Hong Xi-guan (Chen Kuan-tai) as he struggles to gather enough of his proverbial brothers in order to launch an assault on Bai Mei and avenge the death of their former master and reclaim the temple. However, as the saying goes, life gets in the way, in this particular example life takes the shape of Ying Chun (Lily Li), a street kung fu artist with whom Hong falls in love. They marry and even have a child (Wang Yu). Time passes, and as Bai Mei grows ever stronger, Hong decides to take his revenge, risking his marriage and duties as a father in the process…
Shaws Brothers Saturdays: ‘Vengeance is a Golden Blade’ puts good storytelling at the forefront
Vengeance is a Golden Blade
Directed by Ho Meng-Hua
Written by Ho Meng-Hua and Yun Chich Tu
Hong Kong, 1969
Ah, the McGuffin, the prized object that each and every character in a film is influenced by, seeks out but which in the end bears no relation to the heart of a story. The story is typically about something else entirely, yet the film will cheekily try to remind the audience that it is the ever elusive (or not) object of everyone’s desire that matters most. This is one of the oldest storytelling tricks in movie history, and one of the most recognized. The idea of the McGuffin is pretty interesting because it can assist a film in so many essential ways, such as actually helping a film in question focus more on character relations. The hunt for the object everyone desires will, if we follow the screenwriting logic, inadvertently cause rich character development.
Ho Meng-Hua’s Vengeance is a Golden Blade dives head first into this notion of McGuffins and character development, which some interesting results to show for it. Our story begins with two rival security company men, Li Zhishan (Tang Ching) and Long Zhentian, both vying for the same woman, Yuexiang (Kao Pao Shu). The tricky reality of the situation is that Li Zhishan and Yuexiang are husband and wife, but the latter fools around with the scoundrel Long Zhentian whenever Zhishan is away on business. The movie opens with Zhishan discovering one night the hurtful truth about his wife and his business rival. Equipped with his legendary Golden Dragon Blade, Zhishan chases away Zhentian and his hoodlums, but his wife, herself wicked and devious, lures Zhishan into a false sense of security before temporarily blinding him and have him chased from the home along with their daughter, Xiaoyang (Ping Chin), but minus the Golden Dragon Blade, which Zhishan unwillingly leaves behind. The father and daughter eventually come across an elderly herbalist (Ku Weng Chung) and his young grandson (Yue Hua) in the hills, where they make their home for several years as Xiaoyan grows into a young woman. All the while, Long Zhentian and his Long Vicious Brothers, now aided by the indestructible Golden Dragon Blade, terrorize the surrounding villages.
Shaw Brothers Saturdays: ‘Golden Swallow’ is ultimately a satisfying experience, if a little somber
Golden Swallow (also known as The Girl With the Thunderbolt Kick)
Directed by Chang Cheh
Written by Hang Cheh and Tu Yun Chih
Hong Kong, 1968
Who has never watched a film a second, third or even fourth time and only then come to understand some of its virtues which upon initial viewing remained hidden from the mind’s eye? Virtually all films can benefit from multiple viewings, but perhaps even more so than the ones people love, it is the ones people disliked at first which can subsequently offer very eye opening experiences. This week for Shaw Brothers Saturdays, things will be done a little bit differently. Any readers who follow me at my personal blog know that I have, in fact, already written about Golden Swallow. More to the point, the review which appeared last fall was less than favourable. Despite having written that article with assurance, something kept gnawing away in my mind. Sure, the odds that the film would ever elevate to ‘masterpiece’ status were slim, but something about the picture kept haunting me, which therefore prompted a second look at Golden Swallow, Chang Cheh’s 1968 sequel to King Hu’s 1966 true gem, Come Drink With Me.
The story follows a trio of characters: Golden Swallow (still played by Chan Pei-Pei), whose real name is Xie Ru Yan, Han Tao (Lo Lieh, back in the column after a 2 week absence), also known as Golden Whip, and last but not least Xiao Pang (Jimmy Wang), also known as Silver Roc. Swallow is badly injured at the very start of the film, the unfortunate recipient of some poison darts. Han Tao, a brave warrior who only kills when absolutely necessary, heroically comes to her rescue, takes her back to his home among the mountains and heals her back to her old self. Not far from where the two new friends rest, Silver Roc is engaged in a merciless vigilante career against the country’s thugs and crime lords. His methods go far beyond those of Han Tao’s, or even Golden Swallow’s for that matter. Roc prefers to vanquish his targets once and for all, without even a prayer’s hope of them escaping alive. He is one angry fellow. In reality, Swallow and Roc are former martial arts students from the same school. Roc was a troubled orphan, who one day abandoned school to tack down and murder his family’s killers, never to be seen at class again. Now, Roc is leaving the scenes of his crimes with Swallow’s famous darts, using them as a calling card of sorts to mislead the criminal underworld to believe she, and not he, is the perpetrator. The hope is that she will come out of hiding and seek him, which is precisely what she opts for, much to Han Tao’s dismay. How will the emotional tug of war be settled within this love triangle?
Shaw Brothers Saturdays: ‘The Boxer from Shantung’ somehow goes for something new, yet lacks originality
The Boxer from Shantung
Directed by Chang Cheh and Pao Hsueh Lieh
Written by Chang Cheh and Ni Kuang
Hong Kong, 1972
Anyone who has seen just a few Shaw martial arts films has noticed a trend: all of the stories transpire centuries ago, during the era of the many Chinese dynasties. The beautiful costumes, the intricate set designs, the legendary figures upon which writers and directors can find inspiration, the admiration of tactical warfare during the times, all of these and much more are reasons why the studio chose to set its stories in the distant past. As with all rules, there are exceptions. Just as not every single Shaw film is martial arts based, not every one is a period piece either. This week, the column takes a look at yet another Chang Cheh picture, The Boxer From Shantung, although this one is set in the 20th century in the city of Shanghai.
Ma Yung Chen (Chen Kuan-Tai) and Hsiao Chiang Pei (Cheng Kang-Yeh) are two friends working blue collar shifts making water pipes for the city of Shanghai. The pay is as small as the their landlord’s attitude is deplorable. While Chiang Pei is a rather fun loving character, honest, friendly, uninterested in creating mischief, Yung Chen is cut from an altogether different cloth. His desire to leave their lifestyle far behind is far more ferocious. Determined to make a name for himself and his friends, along with earning tons of cash, Yung Chen’s rambunctious attitude almost gets him in deep trouble when stumbling upon the evil doings of a local mob, ‘The Four Champions’, whose leader, Boss Yang (Chiang Nan), does not take kindly to intruders. Lucky for Yung Chen, he knows a near impenetrable style of boxing studied back home in Shantung. The volatile and cocky young man beats the living daylights out en entire hoard of Yang’ men. On that same day, he earns the favourable opinion of another, more benevolent boss, Tan Si (Chang Cheh regular David Chiang). With plenty of friends to help him out and a powerful, newly found ally in Boss Tan Si, Ying Chen makes his way up in the world as an enforcer, a protector, and finally a boss.
Shaw Brothers Saturdays: ‘The Twelve Gold Medallions’ has intense battles, incredible dialogue and a great hero
The Twelve Gold Medallions
Directed by Ching Gong
Written by Ching Gong
Hong Kong, 1970
It would be a bit of a stretch to argue that the Shaw Brothers studio was an excellent venue for actors for flex their thespian muscles to the fullest extent. Naturally, the emphasis in these movies is put on action, style and caricatures more than three-dimensional characterizations. It does not mean there are no fully fledged characters to play nor that an actor is never awarded the opportunity to give a performance worth of special note, but ‘acting’ definitely means playing within the parameters set up by the sorts of stories told. Some, however, break through the mould, be it because the script provides them with more meat to chew on or simply because they have more charisma, their presence holds more gravitas than most. Yueh Hua was one such actor, much like David Chiang and Lo Lieh.
The Twelve Gold Medallions is one of those Shaw films for which the plot seems to matter very little. By that it is meant that the script inserts plenty of little details which ultimately add nothing to the weight of the dramatization, and even confuse in some cases. It is apparently inspired by an actual historical conflict in ancient China, during the reign of Emperor Shiao Hsing. In the southern region of the nation there is fear that the Tartars are preparing an invasion (a backdrop which is strikingly similar to that of the film reviewed just last week, Lady of Steel). The immediate concern which has local officials worried is the presence of a treacherous general who is providing the outsiders with information via messengers. A group of powerful swordsmen and swordswomen is sent our to eradicate said messengers, such as Miao Lung (Yue Hua) and Jin Suo (Chin Ping), two lovers experiencing a trying time in their relationship, above all else because Suo is led to believe that Lung has acquired himself another fanciful lady. This of course is not true, but Suo, albeit a courageous and powerful woman, is stubborn in this matter and insists that she is now her former boyfriend’s mortal enemy. Another complication happens to be that her own father, the intimidating Jin Yan Tang (Cheng Miu) is a member of the treacherous hoard. Thus a battle on multiple fronts begins…
Essential Viewing for fans of ‘The Raid: Redemption’ – 15 Classic Martial Arts Films
The release of The Raid: Redemption has made us revisit our favourite martial arts flicks and pick five favourite films to suggest for Sound on Sight readers.
Before I give my five picks though, I would like to turn the floor over to a man who has been a friend of mine since grade seven at Oxford Street Junior High School in Halifax. As the line editor for Steve Jackson Games’ “Generic Universal RolePlaying System”, Sean Punch aka Dr. Kromm has been directly or indirectly responsible for a number of source-books on the Martial Arts including writing and editing GURPS Martial Arts.
I asked him earlier this week what films he would put on his list. He named three.
You’re not looking for goofy, cinematic Asian martial arts are you? Because I tend to like stuff that is more realistic, more like what commandos would use. You mentioned Steven Seagal and you have to include Under Siege on any list like this. It’s his best film and has the best fights of any of his films. His aikido is top notch and he does a really good job of using the environment of the ship while fighting. Plus he uses a knife really well.
It’s not a film that many would point to, but the fights in the second Bourne film (Bourne Supremacy) are really well done. They look like the quick brutal fights that a real, trained commando would have.
The thing with films with realistic martial arts is that most of the time, people have guns. The fights happen only when they can’t use guns. The Tom Cruise film Collateral has a really good fight built around a briefcase, even though most of the time the Cruise character just shoots people.
As Kromm correctly guessed, my five picks are all goofy, cinematic martial arts films. Despite the fact that I am a wrestling geek, I am not a big fan of what “smart” wrestling fans call “work-rate” which is to say technically precise fights. I am much more interested in the emotional context of the fights.
(And now hold on while I completely contradict myself. I contain multitudes.)
In no particular order…
6- Above the Law
Written by Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett and Andrew Davis based on a story by Andrew Davis and Steven Seagal
Directed by Andrew Davis
USA, 1988, imdb
I cheerfully acknowledge that Under Siege is the better film, but Above the Law is the film that established Seagal as a bad-ass. No one has ever broken arms on film quite like Seagal. The injuries always looked (and sounded) painful and permanent. Steven Seagal’s run as the baddest man on the planet started here and arguably ended with the the success of Under Siege in 1992.
Early in this film, Seagal faces multiple opponents in the middle of a Chicago street, coolly evaluating who he can take and how quickly and then executing his plan, dropping opponents like so much kindling.
Put together by one of Seagal’s aikido pupils, Michael Ovitz, who was convinced that he could make anyone a star, Seagal was surrounded by a great, young director and teamed with Sharon Stone as his wife and Pam Grier as his partner, perhaps hoping that Sharon Stone finding Seagal loveable and Pam Grier believing him to be a bad-ass would achieve for Seagal the same effect as what Ingrid Bergman did for Humphrey Bogart.
“If a face like Ingrid Bergman’s looks at you as though you’re adorable, everybody else does too. You don’t have to act very much” -Humphrey Bogart
Weekly column: Shaw Brothers Saturdays: ‘Lady of Steel’ makes the epic very intimate, and the intimate very epic
Lady of Steel
Directed by Ho Meng Hua
Written by Liang Yen
Hong Kong, 1970
Movies whose stories are set within the parameters of grand scale wars can tell one of two types of stories. Either the film speaks to the grandiose nature of the conflict, with the themes and ideologies concerned with the overall attitudes towards war in general, or they will concentrate their efforts on sharing a specific, more personal story that in some is a microscopic version of the epic battle that unfolds. Some prefer the former because the featured action is often more epic in scale, but the latter may provide with a more intimate storyline for which characterization is more pertinent than lofty themes. Ho Meng Hua, with his 1970 action film Lady of Steel, goes for the second option, exploring how one woman’s quest for revenge relates to the oncoming invasion of a massive army.
A small band of experienced soldiers are transporting a serious cargo of silver tales across the country side. Their aim is to assist refugees displaced by ongoing fighting elsewhere in the country. They choose to stay at an innocent looking inn, only to discover that it is run by an old gangster, Han Shi Xiong (Wong Ching-Shun). The host reassures them that they are in safe hands, his days of theft and murder are long behind, but the sudden appearance of Wei Tong Ming (Lee Wan-Chung) does little to ease their suspicion. Unsurprisingly, this was all a set-up: the heroes are ambushed, their silver taels stolen, with lone survivor being a small, innocent girl, daughter to one of the deceased warriors. Lost in the woods, she is rescued by an elderly kung fu master, and as the opening credits role, we see her grow and become an expert his that martial arts. Now a grown woman, Fang Ying Qi (Chang Pei-pei) is sent by her master to Da Kun Mountain where various heroes are gathered to prepare for what seems like an inevitable Jin invasion. It turns out some old enemies, Wei Tong and Han Shi Xiong (who now goes under the name Cai Yi to hide his true identity) and operating as spies for the Jins. Ying Qi not only has the opportunity to save her country, but finally avenge the death of her family…with a little help from the leader of a band of thieves, Shang Yi (Yueh Hua).
Essential Viewing for fans of ‘The Raid: Redemption’ – 15 Classic Martial Arts Films
Not long ago, Sound on Sight’s editor Ricky D emailed myself and fellow contributor Michael Ryan for the purpose of compiling some of our individual favourite martial arts pictures to celebrate The Raid‘s theatrical release across North American this Easter weekend. I would never consider myself to be a scholar of the genre, but it is true that I do tend to go back to martial arts films on a consistent basis when I have I craving for high-octane action. I think it has to do with the fact that what the performers pull off actually can be done if one practices long and hard enough. You can round-house kick someone in the face or brutally beat up a group of thugs with nunchucks but you could never levitate off the ground on bend metal with your mind, fun as it may be to watch movies in which characters perform those acts. I will never round-house kick someone in the face because I am too lazy to learn how, but it’s fun to think that I could…
1- The Big Boss (aka Fists of Fury)
Directed by Lo Wei
Hong Kong, 1971
For whatever reason, when people think about Bruce Lee, the first film which springs to mind is Enter the Dragon. I have no idea why since that movie is a sham. The second obvious pick is Fist of Fury, (not Fists) eventually remade in the early 90s as Fist of Legend, the latter which starred Jet Li. That is a great movie, make no mistake about it, but it is The Big Boss, the movie that shot Bruce Lee into stardom which seems to win my heart the easiest. It’s a bit cheaper, a bit rougher around the edges and a bit more on the exploitation side of the spectrum of film genres.
Lee stars as a poor young man from mainland China who, at the behest of his uncle’s council, moves to another town for work in an ice block carving factory. Unbeknownst to them at the start of the film, their boss is using the factory as a front for his drug smuggling operations. Lee gets to know some of his cousins and make new friends who also work at the same plant, but when they start suspecting something is amiss, a few of them die (surprise!). Of course, it is up to Lee to save the remainder of his family and stop the ‘big boss’ from getting away with his scheme.
This movie is amazing, but amazing in that ‘wow, this movie is kind of on the cheap scale but still manages to be brilliant in a early 70s kung fu style sort of way’. You know what I mean, right? It is perhaps the Lee film (among his major films at least) which features the least amount of action, but it is there and it is pretty cool What’s more, The Big Boss is what started the entire running joke about Bruce Lee growling like a dog joke and yelling ‘Whhoooooaaaahhhhh!’ whenever beating the living daylights out of opponents. The first ever appearance of the legendary sound effects occurs about halfway through. Lee is staring off against another man. Slowly, they circle one another, their glares burning. Suddenly, Lee shifts his head ever so slightly (presumably to unsettle his opposite) and the soundtrack booms with ‘Oooah!’, only to be followed with ‘Ggggrrrrrrrr…’ When the kicks and punches start flying, Lee is the quickest of the bunch, a formula 1 car in the shape of a martial artists next to everybody’s ordinary Nissan.
Shaw Brothers Saturdays: ‘The Web of Death’ spins a web of delightful sin
The Web of Death
Directed by Chor Yuen
Written by Ni Kuang
Hong Kong, 1976
Is there value in creating a remake? The safe answer is a resounding no given how, unfortunately, too many of them fail to live up to expectations. In fact, the frequency with which remakes disappoint is high enough that said expectations have been lowered to the deepest depths of the earth. Whenever the word ‘remake’ is uttered by a studio executive, it is the cue for general film lovers and film bloggers to collectively groan in perfect synchronicity. However, the original question still stands: is there value in creating a remake? The true answer, one not enough film buffs consider entertaining, is yes, provided the filmmakers have something to add to the original material in a way that will improve upon it. In 1976, not quite a decade after Chiang Hung Hsu’s The Thundering Sword, Chor Yuen brought audiences The Web of Death, a direct remake the former.
Director Chor Yuen sets up the mythos surrounding the world’s ultimate weapon right off the bat in the opening scene, in which a sizable platoon of soldiers is confronted by a mysterious enemy, leader of the Five Venoms clan, carrying an immaculate cage with a large red spider bust decorating the top. The villain opens the cage, revealing glowing, roaring (!) tarantula which shoots a thick mist from what one assumes is its tiny mouth. Everyone is instantly caught in a vast web which electrocutes its victims. Fast forward many years later. The Five Venoms, while still highly regarded and feared, does not promote the same fearful image it once did. Its current leader (Wong Hap) is told of an upcoming gathering in the world of boxers by his trusted captains, among them the Snake leader (Lo Lieh). Five Venom chief is begged to release the Five Venom Spider (the tarantula from the opening scene) in order for the clan to reclaim its once unquestionable supremacy, but the chief refuses. Snake leader therefore opts to spread a wild rumour that the Spider has in fact been released onto the world, which consequently sends all other clans in a fit of panic, hoping to locate the weapon before its too late, incidentally revealing the its secret location. The school at Wudang Mountain sends off Mr. Fei (Yueh Hua) on that very quest, during which time he meets Hong Su Su (Cheng Li) who chooses to help Fei all the while preserving her identity as the Five Venom Chief’s daughter! Of course, the two slowly begin to fall in love while everybody scrambles to find the Spider.
Shaw Brothers Saturdays: ‘The Thundering Sword’ is a like a storm: impressive at first but eventually dies down
The Thundering Sword
Directed by Chiang Hung Hsu
Written by Chiang Shen
Hong Kong, 1967
Heroes behaving virtuously and villains relishing in evildoing are the archetypical behaviours of characters which make up action adventure films. This is the easiest route to take for a filmmaker, but with said ease comes the potential for great effectiveness given that this is what most people expect from some escapist fun. Putting a spin on old rules can however bring some fresh air to a film, such telling the story of someone who comes from a bad background, but tries to do good. Taking such a plot device one step further, a movie can have this originally bad person actually try to do good, only to have their attempts fall flat, thus causing more pain than well being to those around them. Such is the path Chang Pei-pei’s character, So Jiau-jiau, decides to embark on in 1967′s The Thundering Sword. She learns the hard way that trying to do good when not know exactly how can lead to some unfortunate conclusions..
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