Film Review: Kung Fu Zombie (1981)

Also known as: Wu long tian shi zhao ji gui (original Chinese title), Zombie 9 (Turkmenistan)
Release Date: October 1st, 1981 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Hwa I Hung
Written by: Hwa I Hung
Cast: Billy Chong, Chan Lau, Chang Tao, Cheng Ka Ying, Kwon Young Moon, Pak Sha Lik, Shum Yan Chi

The Eternal Film Company, 96 Minutes

Review:

I kind of just randomly came across this title while looking for kung fu movies with a horror flair to them. Granted, it does have both martial arts fighting and a horror element but it was just really baffling to watch and made little to no sense.

Granted, the problems with the version of this film that I saw could be due to bad dubbing on the part of the English speakers who translated this picture. Still, the movie is so bizarre and weird that it is mostly a distraction. Keep in mind that I’m a guy that usually looks for the bizarre and relishes in it, especially in movies.

None of what was in this picture really resonated with me, though. The make up and special effects were exceptionally bad. Even though this obviously had very little in the terms of a budget, I’ve seen better effects work in films that have had even less than what this film had to work with. Practical effects in the ’80s were truly an art form and true effects masters could actually make chicken salad with chicken shit. Although in this film, they just squeezed as much shit out of the chickens as possible and then just tossed it around the set recklessly.

I guess the fight choreography is okay but honestly, it still felt half assed. Billy Chong is an accomplished martial arts actor and even though he gave it his best with the material, as it was given, this still felt severely beneath his level of talent.

This is an incredibly cheap looking movie that barely tries to do anything with its interesting premise. I was pretty let down and know that I will never have the urge to want to revisit this.

All things considered, Kung Fu Zombie has to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Film Review: The Black Dragon’s Revenge (1975)

Also known as: Long zheng hu dou jing wu hun (original Mandarin title), The Death of Bruce Lee (US dubbed version), The Black Dragon Revenges the Death of Bruce Lee (UK)
Release Date: November, 1975 (US)
Directed by: Chin-Ku Lu (credited as Tommy Loo Chung)
Written by: Norbert Albertson Jr.
Cast: Ron Van Clief, Charles Bonet, Phillip Ko

Yangtze Productions, Howard Mahler Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

Ron Van Clief was a legit martial arts badass that decided to become an action star during the height of kung fu and blaxploitation movies. Unfortunately, he lacks the charisma and charm of Jim Kelly, who was the true champion of black martial artists in this era. Van Clief’s moves are impressive and his skills would translate into being a fight choreographer on 1985’s cult classic The Last Dragon, as well as doing stunts in other pictures.

The film taps into one of the many strange conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Bruce Lee. Here, it is believed that Lee was murdered by greedy film producers. Really, this is just one of dozens of cheap attempts to capitalize on Lee’s popularity, just after his death.

The film starts off being a slight bit interesting but it doesn’t have a lot of steam to begin with and we are just treated to lots of fights. While the choreography and action are decent, this feels more like a cinematic display of martial arts skills, as opposed to feeling like a real movie. Even though I love kung fu flicks, this gets monotonous and boring pretty quickly.

The Black Dragon’s Revenge is also hindered by the quality of the prints available. They haven’t held up well and frankly, I guess it is what it is because no one will probably spend the money on preserving this long lost dud of a blaxploitation/Bruceploitation hybrid.

I have no real choice other than to run this through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely liquid.” I guess the trusty Shitometer felt the need to be harsher than I was.

Film Review: Blood Money (1974)

Also known as: El kárate, el Colt y el impostor (original Spanish title), The Stranger and the Gunfighter (alternate), Dakota (French video title)
Release Date: 1974 (Spain)
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson)
Written by: Giovanni Simonelli, Antonio Margheriti, Barth Jules Sussman
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Lo Lieh, Patty Shepard, Femi Benussi

Compagnia Cinematografica Champion, Harbor Productions, Shaw Brothers Studio, Midega Films, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

The king of the spaghetti westerns that isn’t Clint Eastwood teams up with the king of kung fu movies that isn’t Bruce Lee. Sure, that sounds like a diss but I am a pretty big fan of Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh. Both men owned the 1970s in their own way, so seeing them come together is pretty interesting.

Sadly though, their talents and their team-up were wasted in this picture, which just doesn’t live up to whatever hype my mind might have had in the ’70s when this actually went down.

The film’s premise is pretty interesting though. Ho Chiang (Lo Lieh) journeys to America from China in search of his uncle’s fortune. He discovers that his uncle is dead and the only man that knows where his body is, is the one accused of murdering him, an Old West gunslinger named Dakota (Lee Van Cleef). Once the uncle’s body is found, the pair find clues that point to the fortune. This then becomes a real spaghetti western treasure hunting movie with kung fu flair. The reluctant pair must track down the uncle’s mistresses, each of whom have a section of the treasure map tattooed on their bums. Ultimately, the two men become friends and kick a lot of ass.

The problem with the movie is that the execution is poor and really kind of lazy. Van Cleef and Lieh are both solid but the script just isn’t there and everything is fairly pedestrian. This is a film that is an example of wasted potential. But then again, a studio specializing in spaghetti westerns didn’t have much experience creating kung fu pictures just as Shaw Brothers, even with their input on kung fu filmmaking, didn’t know how to make westerns. And really, I’m not sure how much input Shaw Brothers actually had, it seems pretty minuscule.

Still, if you like both of these men, this is worth checking out. It’s not a total waste but it won’t get you pumped up either.

Film Review: Fist of Fury (1972)

Also known as: The Chinese Connection (alternate), Ching Wu School (Canada), Tekken (Japan)
Release Date: March 22nd, 1972 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Lo Wei
Written by: Lo Wei
Music by: Joseph Koo
Cast: Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, James Tien, Jackie Chan (cameo)

Golden Harvest, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Have pity? Who had pity for Huo Yuan-Chia?” – Chen

Fist of Fury, also known as The Chinese Connection, is the second major role that Bruce Lee had. This quickly followed his smash hit The Big Boss and it was just the second in a string of films pumped out to take advantage of his immense star power, at the time.

While his films were produced and released quickly, they still have a real level of quality to them, especially in comparison to the other Hong Kong kung fu films of the day.

In this movie, we meet Bruce Lee’s Chen as he arrives home just in time to witness the end of his teacher’s funeral. We learn that his teacher was murdered and there’s a conspiracy afoot. His school is then harassed and bullied by a rival school of Japanese karate students. Chen can’t stand down, even though his school and his new teacher demand peace and pacifism. What results, is Lee being a total f’n badass and taking on all comers but his actions also come with consequences and threatens those he cares for. It’s a story about revenge and how that path can lead to worse outcomes but it is also about standing up for oneself.

Lee was excellent and even though he essentially just felt like Bruce Lee in every role, he still owns it and has a presence that shines like a bright beacon. Lee was an exceptional talent and man, does it really show in this film. Not that it doesn’t in others but I don’t think people can really understand or appreciate the phenomenon that was Bruce Lee without actually watching him come alive in a motion picture.

Fist of Fury has some fantastic cinematography and fight choreography that work hand-in-hand. The sequence where Chen confronts the Japanese school and challenges them one-on-about two dozen, is glorious. Just after that, the big battle between the Japanese and Chinese schools is also a perfectly choreographed rumble of epic proportions.

Lee was a strong influence on those he touched and I feel like that rubbed off on the filmmakers he worked with. His fluid motions and exacting execution seems to translate to the filmmakers themselves, as his pictures have the same level of quality and perfection that Lee personally strived for. Sure, they were pictures limited by budget and resources but there isn’t really anything better that came out of Hong Kong in the 1970s and this isn’t a knock against other kung fu films, as many of the ones without Lee are also great pieces of filmmaking. Lee’s films just exist on a pedestal that is very real and not just some mythical structure built by legend and held together with nostalgia.

Fist of Fury isn’t Lee’s best picture but it is damn good. Then again, everything Lee did that came out before his death was solid gold.

Film Review: The 18 Bronzemen (1976)

Also known as: Shao Lin Si shi ba tong ren (original Chinese title)
Release Date: October 28th, 1976 (Philippines)
Directed by: Joseph Kuo
Written by: Hsin Yi Chang, Hung-Yan Kuo, Joseph Kuo, Chung Yen
Music by: Ying-Yu Chen
Cast: Chiang Nan, Jack Long, Peng Tien, Polly Shang Kuan, Carter Wong

Karlot, Kuo Hwa Motion Pictures Co., Taiwan Li Cheng Film Company, 81 Minutes

Review:

The 18 Bronzemen is an old kung fu movie I came across on Amazon Video while looking for old Wu-Tang movies to kill a Saturday afternoon with. After seeing this, I’m pretty sure it was in someway responsible for Wu-Tang Clan member U-God taking on the nickname “Golden Arms”.

The film features some great sequences of warrior brothers entering a sacred temple, guarded by 18 bronze soldiers. They must fight groups of these shiny metallic warriors in an effort to pass a myriad of tests within the temple. This portion of the film takes up the first half and it is damn fun to watch.

The second half of the film, sees the brothers and some allies unite in an effort to defeat an evil tyrant. The final confrontation starts when the tyrant’s impostors appear and the good guys must fight a band of evil tyrant clones.

This isn’t well written but most kung fu movies aren’t. This is fairly derivative of the style but the first half of the film is cool as hell. Then again, I’ve always liked temple adventures and warrior trials. The golden colored martial artists were an added bonus and frankly, these scenes are just cool as friggin’ hell.

The 18 Bronzemen also went on to have a sequel, which came out the same year. These movies aren’t in any way the best of the kung fu genre but if you like these types of films, they aren’t a waste of time and are pretty amusing.

Film Review: Executioners From Shaolin (1977)

Also known as: Hong Xi Guan (original Mandarin title), The Executioners of Death (original US dubbed version), Shaolin Executioners (worldwide English video title)
Release Date: February 16th, 1977 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Lau Kar-leung
Written by: Kuang Ni
Music by: Yung-yu Chen
Cast: Chen Kuan-tai, Li-Li Li, Wong Yue, Lo Lieh, Gordon Liu

Shaw Brothers Studio, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Tiger style!” – Pai Mei

For fans of the Kill Bill films, this is a picture that has some relevance to those movies. First of all, it features Pai Mei as the story’s main villain. He was the old Chinese kung fu master that trained the Bride in Kill Bill: Volume 2. Also, Quentin Tarantino used one of the main actors from this film in his Kill Bill films: Gordon Liu. Liu actually plays Pai Mei in Kill Bill: Volume 2 and he also played Johnny Mo in Kill Bill: Volume 1.

This film was also very influential on the rap group Wu-Tang Clan, as they sampled Pai Mei’s line “Tiger style!” on their records and used a lot of the concepts and ideas from this film in their lyrics and their style.

Apart from the film’s pop culture influence, it is a pretty stellar kung fu epic. It is a historical drama with comedy elements sprinkled in to keep things mostly pretty light, even if we do get to witness some serious violence from time to time.

Directed by Lau Kar-leung, a guy who made several great pictures, Executioners From Shaolin has a great look with solid performances and enjoyable fight choreography. Pai Mei’s killer combo move is pretty cool and terrifying, after seeing what it can do in the incredibly stylized intro to the film during the credits sequence.

Kar-leung had a unique style that set him apart from other Hong Kong action directors. His intro scene was done in a style that became a signature of the director. I’ve actually posted that below, as opposed to a trailer like I usually do.

This film also stars Lo Lieh in one of my favorite roles he’s played. He was one of Hong Kong’s busiest actors and anything with him in it always makes a picture feel more legitimate than something similar that he’s not a part of.

A lot of kung fu movies all sort of just blend together but this is one that really has its own identity and stands tall. I love this movie and always have. When I rented it as a kid, it became one of those films I’d have to rent again and again, almost monthly.

The copies of this film that exist now are really good too. It is streaming for free for Prime members on Amazon Video and I have never seen this movie look so clean, clear and pristine.

Executioners From Shaolin is a hell of a lot of fun. If you are a fan of old school kung fu cinema, you really need to check this one out if you haven’t yet. It is one of many Pai Mei movies but I love the iconic character in this, probably above the other films.

Film Review: Police Story 2 (1988)

Release Date: August 20th, 1988 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Jackie Chan
Written by: Jackie Chan, Edward Tang
Music by: Michael Lai, Tang Siu Lam
Cast: Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Charlie Cho

Golden Harvest, Media Asia Group, 101 Minutes 

Review:

I was a big fan of Police Story, as a kid, but I never saw this one until now. I’m glad I did, as it bridges the gap between the original film and the third one, which was released theatrically in the United States as Supercop.

This chapter in the series is a true continuation of the first movie and it features much of the same cast. It goes deeper into the relationship between Chan’s Chan Ka-kui and his girlfriend May, played by the returning Maggie Cheung. It also shows the repercussions of Chan’s actions from the first film, as he starts out being demoted to traffic patrol.

The version I got to see of this film was in its native language and subtitled, which was a huge improvement over the dubbed version of the original Police Story, which I have watched for years. Although, the subtitles kept referring to Inspector Chan Ka-kui as “Kevin”.

This film is not as good as the original but it is still a solid Chan flick. It is tamer in nature and not nearly as gritty as its predecessor. The humor, while still there, seems to be a bit toned down too. It is still a lighthearted movie but the slapstick shtick is more reserved, even though the stunts still employ the typical Chan style.

Police Story 2 is a bit all over the place, from a narrative standpoint. It reintroduces old villains but then brings in some new ones. It just doesn’t seem to work and it feels like the addition of these new baddies, when it pops up, is sort of out of nowhere.

While most people don’t really watch Jackie Chan outings for a great story, a good narrative helps to set apart which of his films are in the upper echelon and which aren’t. In that regard, this one fails to live up to the standard bearer that is the first Police Story.

The stunts are still top notch and pretty impressive. Nothing is as iconic though, as the big finale of Police Story, the original. While the factory finale here is really good, it just doesn’t hit the mark like the shopping mall finale.

All things considered, if you love Chan, you will probably still really enjoy this picture. It came out in his prime and his athleticism and charm are incredible.