Tuesday, 28 August 2012

All Blog Activity Will Be Suspended Until Further Notice

I'm sorry to tell you this but all activity on the blog is to be suspended until further notice. Something rather important has come up and it looks like I will not be able to update and make posts for a few weeks. That means all reviews and other such articles I planned on posting will have to take a backseat but rest assured I will endeavor to keep you all updated.

Thank you for understanding.

Monday, 20 August 2012

5 Things To Love About Winner Takes All

Here are five reasons why you should love Wong Jing's extremely silly 1982 comedy Winner Takes All starring Patrick Tse and Wong Yu!

Number Five: Jet Pack Kung Fu

What's better then Kung Fu? How about Kung Fu while wearing Jet Packs! Oh yes, this is just a taste of some of the wild and crazy creativity Wong Jing displays throughout the film.

Number Four: Remote Control Body Suits

Another mental scene has Wong Yu and co-star Robert Mak don remote controlled electronic body suits that make Robert mimic Wong's every move. The set up and the subsequent pay off are worth seeing if you love slapstick comedy!

Number Three: Yo-Yo Fu

It's not all goofy slapstick and silly face-pulling. Winner Takes All features a few good bursts of action including a scene which has Wong Yu in Kwan Tak-Hing style Wong Fei-Hung garb and uses a yo-yo as an offensive weapon. Oh, forgot to mention, he fights ninjas in this scene. NINJAS!

Number Two: The Coolest Mofo In The Room

Patrick Tse makes like Roger Moore and plays a sly parody of himself as a almost Bond style jewel thief. His trademark glasses and signature smirk all come into play and you can tell ol' Patrick is having a whale of a time through out!

Number One: The Gambling Robot

looking like the bastard offspring of Robbie The Robot and a Dalek this ridiculous looking contraption plays against Patrick, Wong and Nat Chan in a silly hat for a deadly game of Mahjong. Despite the film being made in the early 80's this thing seems to have been stolen from the set of a 50's B-Movie.

There you have it, 5 Things To Love About Winner Takes All!

Murderer Pursues - 踩線 (1981)

First off I would like to apologize for the lateness of this review. You see, My copy of the new open world Hong Kong set action crime video game Sleeping Dogs arrived in the post two days before it's official release date here in the UK and it ended up eating a lot of my time and this review inevitably fell by the wayside as I found myself having too much fun shoving people's faces in AC units while my character was dressed as Jackie Chan from Rumble in the Bronx. However, I have taken time out of my hectic Hong Kong gangster life to finally get on the review of Murderer Pursues!

The film starts off in a Vietnamese internment camp in Mainland China where a small group of friends manage to escape and flee to Hong Kong in hopes of adopting a new life. The leader of the group Ah Shen (Danny Lee) takes some of his friends in with him as they adopt a life of crime. Meanwhile his brother Ah Chang (Ray Lui) tracks down his Uncle Su (Kent Cheng). Quickly Chang joins the police force and becomes an undercover detective who is put on the case of Ah Shen and the rest of his group who killed a man in a botched robbery. Before long the brother of the man they killed begins hunting them down one by one in order to have his revenge.

Like Danger Has Two Faces, Murderer Pursues has a story that I actually liked. The idea of personal identity and cultural background and how you integrate yourself in a foreign land are pretty heavy subjects to tackle. Especially in an early 80's Shaw Brothers production yet director and writer and one time Shaw contract player Wong Chung keeps things neatly in place for the entire run time and creates fairly believable characters that embody the isolation of how Vietnamese refugees suddenly find themselves in a place they're not all familiar with. Wong Chung doesn't fully go with it as much as I would have liked. The history of Vietnamese refugees finding their way into China and Hong Kong due to the ongoing conflict between the US and the Viet Cong is one I've never really explored and it interests me greatly to see how this sudden influx of foreign people and the affect they had on Chinese society was addressed in the medium of film during this era.

It seems this is something Wong wanted to really tap into and I get the feeling he was talked into throwing in some criminal elements at the behest of producer Mona Fong to try and make a film that was more bankable. This is really an educated guess but I don't think I'm too far from the truth. Beside the social elements we have, as I said lots of crime going on. Ah Chang is the righteous police officer looking to do the right thing. It's mentioned he's half Chinese and half Vietnamese which is why he's able to play to both side. It's also the primary reason he's given the case of tracking down his brother Shen and the rest of group. Which is odd as something like that would normally keep a person like Chang off the case but for the sake if cinematic story telling, it works.

Ah Shen and the rest of his group aren't really portrayed in a very sympathetic way. Danny Lee's cold demeanor makes him ideal in the role and he does have a very commanding presence. Despite the fact he doesn't actually say very much throughout the film. The rest of the group all have their own distinct personalities. Lung Tin-Sang is the more twitchy of the group and has a rather important scene with Ray's character which he points out that they will always be outsiders to the people of Hong Kong while Chang has become one of the city's many people at the cost of sacrificing his Vietnamese heritage. As I said, incredibly heavy stuff but Wong plays it just right here. Lam Shung-Ching is the hot-head with a slightly anarchic streak who wants to go out there and show Hong Kong they should be afraid of them, although he does have a hidden vulnerable side which you can tell he wants to show but is afraid. Finally Packman Wong is the more reserved, cautious member of the group who tends to watch how things unfold before acting.

You mix in Ray's character long with Kent Cheng's no nonsense senior cop and you've got a good mix of characters to play off and makes the story work all the more better. Also Wong Ching plays a bespectacled killer who doesn't have a whole lot to say except give a creepy smile and kill anyone he doesn't like. His performance was very chilling at some points.

Since this a heavy crime drama with serious social undertones you'd be right in thinking there isn't much in terms of action and what there is I really wouldn't call it action. There's a few brawls but there isn't much by way of choreography except the actors throwing themselves around and throwing a few punches and a couple kicks. There's a very hard hitting fight in the beginning when our characters are in the internment camp. They end up have a set to with another group. Everyone is knocking over furniture and using whatever it is they can get their hands on the inflict pain. Even going so far as to use some sharpened steel pipes. Danny uses one of those to great effect and it gives the brawl a very sudden and very brutal stop that makes it all the more shocking, at least from the characters' perspectives.

There's not much after that. There's some foot chases. A nicely done fight between Ray and Shung-Ching but when we enter the final reel we get a very dramatic confrontation between Danny's put upon Shen and Ching's grinning killer. I loved the way this played out. For me Hong Kong film makers seemed to have this incredible knack for creating tension and Wong Chung is no exception. It all takes place on a small series of rooftops but you wouldn't know as it's all masterfully shot and edited and creates a real sense of atmosphere. If you've seen your fair share of 80's HK crime pictures then you know how it'll end but I still loved it all the same.

Murderer Pursues is a very surprising film for me. I went into it not expecting much and what I ended up with is one of the more interesting crime films of the 1980's. With it's interesting approach the the social issues at the time backed by some good acting performances and nice bursts of tension and drama it's a film that's much more deserving of the reputation it seems to have among fans of Hong Kong cinema.

Don't be afraid to pick up the DVD which is easily available through DDDhouse. You might end up liking it just as much as I did.

Join me next time when I'll be taking a look at Brothers From The Walled City.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Danger Has Two Faces - 皇家大賊 (1985)

Shawgust kicks off with a bit of a bang this week in which I'll be talking about of Leung Kar-Yan's lesser known films Danger Has Two Faces!

Written and directed by Alex Cheung, Leung Kar-Yan plays Jin. A former cop turned pet store owner who moonlights as a hitman for a local mob boss. Things turn bad when the local police start an investigation into the murders committed by Jin who is desperate to leave it all behind and start somewhere new with his son.

I think I may have bitten off more then I can chew by choosing contemporary crime as my first theme for the inaugural Shawgust Month as these films tend to be completely devoid of martial arts action. Something which I concentrate very heavily on in my reviews but I do enjoy a challenge so I hope I can at least give you as much detailed thought on this film as I can. 

First things first. I liked the story in this one. It wasn't perfect but I did like how it played out. Alex Cheung does an okay job of keeping things in check. I do have to say that there are moments when it tries to be a lot more clever then it actually is but I do give him credit for actually putting some effort in trying to tell a good story. 80's Hong Kong Cinema is not really known for it's well thought out plots and three dimensional characters. Danger Has Two faces doesn't really stand out among the crowd when compared to some of the more well known films made during this time but as it is, the film's story does what it needs to and treats the characters well enough and allows some of the actors to carve out fairly decent performances all round.

I haven't any of Cheung's other works but I think after this I might feel the need to go out and get my hands on some of them as at least I'll know the films (hopefully) will competently made.

As I said before the acting is all round decent. Beardy gets to do the whole serious brooding thing which he found himself doing quiet a lot during the 1980's, he's very intense for the most part and plays Jin with conviction and determination. Even in the scenes he shares with his son are nicely played out and do make Jin to be a character of unfortunate circumstance. Something the character does comment on during the final act of the film. He's got a fairly good supporting cast behind him too. Bei Cheung plays his best friend and police detective investigating a robbery which Jing finds himself connected to after carrying out orders to bump off one of the robbers. I liked him, he didn't over act and he had some good scenes with Kar-Yan and a number of other actors. 

The stunningly gorgeous Carroll Gordon plays his girlfriend. Like pretty much any female supporting role in this film she tends to be a little bit annoying but she does show a bit of initiative when she decides to follow one of her boyfriend's colleagues suspected of being on the take by local mobsters. The sequence was backed by an annoying mid-80's HK pop song but I did like how she played it smart when it came to actually getting photographic evidence. Even if her choice of hiding places were questionable. Paul Chu Kong plays a rather devious police lieutenant but I thought he was too friendly looking to make a convincing bad guy but I'm guessing that was Cheung's point in casting him that way it makes it more shocking for the audience. There are a few other characters but one I only really wanted to mention was Kirk Wong. That's right. The director of Crime Story and Flash Future Kung Fu has a supporting role as a sleazy and hot-headed police detective and ends up being one of the more memorable characters in the film. It amazes me that Hong Kong had directors who also appeared as actors. Even in Hollywood now that's very much a rarity.

Given this is meant to be a modern day crime thriller there isn't much in terms of martial arts action. Everyone uses guns as their method of dealing out pain. Beardy uses a high-powered pistol which is reminiscent of one used by Charles Bronson in the Death Wish series. This lends credence to the fact Beardy does play as very Bronson-like character, dealing out justice through the barrel of the gun. Each bullet hit is accompanied by lots of bright red blood and even a few exploding limbs which I really liked as it gave it that slight over the top edge which fits the tone of the film very nicely. Sadly there isn't much action in it at all except for an opening shoot out in an MTR station and nothing much else until the final act of the film which shove in as much action as it can in it's remaining run time.

What starts off as a run and gun sequence through a forest turns into a vehicle chase which features some hilariously convenient obstacles and finally a big confrontation in a petrol container yard. I loved just how fast and insane the pacing of the last twenty or so minutes was. It seemed they must have been getting close to the end of the filming schedule and needed to get everything done quickly but this breakneck attitude does help raise the excitement factor and we end up with a very entertaining final reel.

One thing I would like to comment on is the music. There's a nice opening theme which I think I might end up ripping and putting onto my iphone as it has a nice, slow, understated tune to it which I really liked. There's also a few moments of the score which seem to be drawing inspiration from the likes of John Carpenter and Barry De Vorzon. Definitely one of the more memorable scores to an 80's Hong Kong film I've heard in a long time.

Despite not being much beloved among Hong Kong Cinema fans I for one really liked Danger Has Two Faces and will happily watch it again when the mood strikes. If you can find a copy of the DVD, which is out of print but there's still some copies floating around, then make sure you don't hesitate to pick it up as you'll be in for a very enjoyable 89 minutes of 80's Shaw crime goodness.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Born Invincible Giveaway Winner!

It's time to announce the winner of my Born Invincible Shirt Giveaway

The Winner Is....


Congratulations, Fernando. Your details will be forwarded to 36 STYLES and they will send you the shirt as soon as possible!

Thanks to everyone who entered. Be sure to keep checking back as the first review for SHAWGUST MONTH will be posted soon!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Shawgust Month!

Tomorrow is a new month and with a new month comes new reviews so I've decided that August on Chopsticks On Fire will now be 

Be sure to check back every week of the month when I'll be posting a review of one of the many films from the incredibly extensive Shaw Brothers Library. Each film will have a common theme such as genre, actor or director.

This month's theme will be Contemporary Crime.

The first review will be posted soon!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Born Invincible - 太极气功 (1978) PLUS ANOTHER GIVEAWAY!

36 Styles reaches it's final week and this entry I'm going to be looking at yet another cult classic among fans of old school Kung Fu Cinema and it is none other then Born Invincible. Directed and produced by Joseph Kuo and featuring fight choreography by Yuen Woo-Ping, Born Invincible is a Taiwanese production (Often mistaken as a Hong Kong production) that combines competent story telling and some simply terrific action. It also features the popular "Silver Fox" a character archetype who practices a certain martial arts style and has become so proficient their hair turns white and their body becomes impervious to any sort of attack except they have one weak spot which must be located and exploited if their opponent hopes to defeat them.  

the character has featured in numerous Kung Fu films and has been played by the likes of Hwang Jang Lee, Chan Sing and Lo Lieh. it's with a lot of excitement that I get to review this one because it's a film I've wanted to review for a long time.

When the students of a martial arts schooled intervene during an assault of an old man and his daughter, the masters of the thugs responsible turn up at the school. After killing both the school's master and the old man, the students take a vow to train hard and hope to avenge their fallen teacher.

The first thing that struck me about Born Invincible was the story. While in terms of the plot it was seen-it-all-before type stuff, it was told in a very competent and very well plotted way. There's no scenes that take place that serve no purpose and every story point is hit at the right time and at the right place. Usually one would have to find a Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest film for this kind of thing but it's wonderful that an independently produced film can actually have something going for it other than the martial arts action. I thoroughly enjoyed the story here and thought it was one of the film's more stronger elements. I suppose this could be put down to the fact that Joseph Kuo was the director. Kuo was a very prolific independent director and producer who gave us such old school titles as The Seven Grandmasters, 18 Bronzemen and The 36 Deadly Styles. Those are some of the more better made and infinitely more watchable indy films made during that era so it doesn't come as a surprise that Born Invincible maintains the same level of quality.

The interesting thing about Born Invincible as that there doesn't seem to be a single protagonist through out. Each time a character steps forward that looks like they are the lead they end up being bumped off and then the film focuses on another character. I liked this aspect of the story because it actually builds Carter Wong (who plays the main villain) as a credible threat and makes the final confrontation between hero and villain in the final reel all the more exciting to watch. Another thing that caught me off guard was how good the acting is among most of the cast. Lung Fei appears in the earlier part of the film as the martial arts school Master and he actually delivers a very good and believable performance and found myself actually caring about this character when he walked into battle with Carter's character. The Old Man played by an actor
Su Chen-Ping puts a lot of effort into his performance so when both he and the master are killed you really feel for the loss of the other characters.

Brothers Jack Long and Mark Long also feature as two of the leads. Both of them show they could be decent actors when given good material to work with and they also get to do a lot of action. Jack Long especially has two stand out fights against Lo Lieh. Everyone who knows their Kung Fu movies will be more then familiar with who that is. After all he did star in one of the most well known Kung Fu movies ever made, King Boxer AKA Five Fingers of Death. I liked these fights especially as Lo uses as a baton with lots of hidden blades to give that extra advantage whenever he fights anyone with bladed weaponry. I love it when a martial arts movie breaks out with the creative weapons such as this as it shows some real imagination was put into it.

I think that's one of the main attractions that makes Born Invincible so popular among fans of the genre. There is a ton of fighting here and all of it is very high quality. I think you would expect nothing less given Yuen Woo-Ping directed them. The first major clash that sees two killers played by Sunny Yuen and Corey Yuen respectively against some stunt guys has the two of them work in tandem with each other and has a very Peking Opera flavour to it which I really liked. The exchanges of technique and weapons movement is something you would expect to see in a final reel fight and not the opening bout and shows that Sifu Woo-Ping will always be regarded among fans as one of the best choreographers to ever work in the genre. I've yet to find a film he was involved with during the 1970s where I thought his fights were lacking or in any way sloppy. I think it's wonderful he's still active in the industry today and hope that he gets to direct another film as it's been a long time since True Legend came out and I haven't seen a traditional Kung Fu film made since that was as immensely satisfying or memorable.

The choreography is very weapons heavy for the most part. Which is good as Woo-Ping knows how to put together a good fight involving props. Sunny and Corey gets some really good fights in, even if they're wearing silly wigs on their heads. They have a tremendous fight with another actor called Alan Chui. Their exchanges of technique are flawless and it leaves wanting to see more which we fortunately do. Chui in particular uses some excellent sword styles. Chui is a stuntman/actor/action director and has been responsible for some of the action seen in titles like Rebellious Reign, Chinese Ghost Story and The Killer. The fact we have such people in the film leads me to believe this is why the fights look as good as they do. You essentially have Woo-Ping and his brother Sunny, Corey and also Alan. Four men who know how to put together excellent fighting so it would to be hard to believe that these talented individuals would give the audience anything that would be considered terrible.

You'll notice I haven't commented on Carter Wong yet. That's because I wanted to dedicate this part of the review to him. Carter Wong for lack of a better word is simply brilliant in this. His performance as the evil Tai Chi Master is so good and he delivers some of the best fight scenes in his career. It's easy to see why Body Invincible is regarded as one of his best films. He has a lot of fights in this and each one features some excellent choreography. He has a great fight with Jack Long in the latter part of the film. His movements don't seem to be based on traditional Tai Chi, it seems the style doesn't really work when it comes to film fighting so it looks like Woo-Ping and co had to come up with a style that would work and just call it Tai Chi. He's also quite intimidating. 

Carter had a look that suited him more as a bad guy then a good guy. I mean, come on, remember Big Trouble in Little China? Exactly, Carter is straight up gangster in this and he delivers some tremendous action. His final fight against Mark Long is great as well. Mark uses a lot of acrobatic techniques to try and locate Carter's weak point. Meanwhile Carter stands there taking hits and gives that really scary death stare. If you like your fights fast, furious, acrobatic and heavy on punching then you'll love what Born Invincible has to offer. 

Born Invincible is a fantastic entry into such a rich and varied genre and if you haven't seen it, you need to. 

To finish off what has been an incredibly fun event month for me, I present you the opportunity to win a brand spanking new 36 STYLES shirt inspired by this wonderful film.

All you have to do is send me an e-mail at chopsticksonfire@hotmail.co.uk with your name, address and shirt size. The closing date is Saturday August 4th, any entries received after that date will be ineligable. The winner will be selected at random and announced the following day. However if you don't feel so lucky then the shirt can be purchased HERE

So ends 36 STYLES SEASON. For me it's been a wonderful time and has given me an excellent opportunity to talk about movies that really are classics. Thanks for taking the time to read my reviews, I hope you liked them. Keep checking back for more reviews, articles, columns and retrospectives right here on Chopsticks On Fire.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Why So Lazy? My Thoughts On The Dark Knight Rises' Fight Choreography

Earlier today I had the pleasure of seeing The Dark Knight Rises. The epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan's unique take on the mythology of the masked vigilante The Batman. Everybody is busy giving their thoughts about the film, whether it's the acting, the thematic elements of the film's story or the big action set pieces but I'm not here to talk about that today not the for the entirety of this article anyway. You see, when I was watching it I couldn't help but notice something that kept nagging the hell out of me. I tried to ignore it and pay attention to Tom Hardy's brilliant portrayal of Bane or Anne Hathaway's gorgeous eyes on the big screen but no matter how hard I tried it just kept throwing it's way into the forefront of my mind. Now what was it that bugged me? Was it's Bale's silly Batman voice? Hardy's even sillier Bane voice? The fact I was watching Matthew Modine on the big screen? It was neither of those things.

It was the fight scenes.

Yep, something so simple that should have easily been handled was what bugged me the most. Having been a fan of martial arts cinema for a number of years you can not help but get used to seeing action choreographed, shot and edited in a certain way. You get so used to it in fact that when you see a bad fight scene it gets to you more then it really should but that's not a bad thing because it then allows us to look at certain movies in a more fair and objective way. I know the risks I'm probably taking by posting this. I've seen the horror stories of critics receiving death threats for anyone who says anything remotely negative about Nolan and his Batman films. I for one I'm not afraid of these people. They're simply cowards and if anyone reading this feels compelled to threaten my life for sharing my thoughts then by all means.

That aside, I'm hoping this article will allow me to articulate my issues with the film's fight scenes.

From day one when Nolan signed on to direct Batman Begins he was determined to tell the story in a less fantastical and more grounded way. He wasn't interested in any of the overt theatrics the character had been subject to in the previous cinematic versions. Whether or not Nolan achieved that is ultimately up to the viewer but I for one liked Nolan's take on the whole mythology. He made it accessible, he made it different and more importantly he made it successful which is quite an achievement given where Batman had been left with the last film Batman & Robin directed by Joel Schumacher. He made Batman a viable and profitable brand again. Bale brought some much needed humanity to the role of Bruce Wayne and you can see this is a role that's important to him through out the three films. This fell perfectly in tune with Nolan's determination to tell a realistic Batman story which is odd as each film have hugely dramatic action set pieces to give it that extra Summer Blockbuster edge.

Now, you see, that's all well and good but there was always one aspect of the films I never warmed to. The fight scenes. Batman Begins had fights which were horribly shot and badly edited so it was difficult to see what was happening. I've had many people (Some well meaning but others very condescending) tell me that it looks more real. No, it shows a director who lacks imagination on how to shoot it so does in a way that's basically a cheat. Now from what I could see the fight choreography itself wasn't too bad especially when you consider the fact they had three different people working on them. That seems excessive but for a Hollywood movie where time is money I can understand the need for more people to handle it.

Now with The Dark Knight we didn't get much in terms of hand to hand fighting but it was filmed a little better but this is when the choreography started to work against the tone of the films. The fighting method used is the Keysi Fighting Method. A style of fighting that utilizes elbow strikes, close range grappling and striking. In the first two films of the series this style works because the action is filmed in such a choppy and awkward fashion. You see Batman throw an elbow, you see the bad guy go down. Now when we enter The Dark Knight Rises, things don't look as effective anymore. The first thing you'll notice is that it's actually shot and edited in a competent way. You can see everyone perform their techniques clearly and you see the impact, or lack there of, for the most part and it's here that the Keysi Fight Method no longer works at all.

When you pull the camera back and you show just how the Keysi Fighting Method is used in a fight, it looks weak and ineffective. I'm not saying in a real situation it wouldn't be. The method had some nasty techniques so I imagine it would be quite the opposite. From a film making perspective though, shooting it in such a way loses some of the style's ferocity and impact which I admit the fights in the previous films did have in spite of how they were filmed and edited. I feel with Nolan shooting in this new way should have made him realise that re-examining Batman's fighting style would have worked in his favor.

The fights should portray Batman as the ultimate fighter that he is. A man who is versed in so many fighting styles that he can easily and effectively take down his opponents in a single move but in the finished product it looks exactly like what it is. An actor in a costume awkwardly throwing elbows because the suit doesn't give him full flexibility. He barely even throws a good looking kick. While that may not be part of the core style, throwing a few side kicks and even a flying kick would have looked great and would have fit right in with Nolan's cinematic vision. Tom Hardy fairs a little bit better. His fighting style is more down and dirty and relies heavily on brutal head butts and vicious punching combinations. I was excited when it came for both Bane and The Caped Crusader to duke it out for the first time but the end result just came off so weak and I hate to use this word but..well...lazy.

I know in film's like this time is always a factor but I felt the people involved should have come up with something better then Batman trying to throw a few limp punches and Bane tossing him around. There's even a key moment lifted directly from the comic books that should have been a big dramatic moment but what we end up with just for me didn't work. The fights lacked any kind of drama or impact. Bane is a violent, sadistic, cruel character and while some of that sadism and cruelty did come through in Tom Hardy's acting, The violent nature of the character sadly did not. People were concerned that Tom would never be able to top Heath Ledger's performance of The Joker. I don't want to compare them because their respective characters are completely different but after The Dark Knight Rises, Ledger is still the top villain in my book.

Toward the end we get to see our two adversaries clash once more. A large portion of the run time builds this up as something that's going to be incredibly, epic, violent and hugely dramatic but their fight is just as pathetic and lazy as what's come before. I found it frustrating and disappointing as being such a huge fan of the character, I feel he deserves better then this. One thing I will say however is Anne Hathaway's fight scenes as Catwoman are treated much better except it seems she inherited The Dark Knight's terrible filming and editing problems. Also she didn't get enough to do in terms of fighting. Her moves were great and very much in keeping with how Catwoman fights in the comic books but you can have an amazing fight scene on your hands with perfect choreography but if you don't know how to film it then you're gonna screw yourself one way or the other.

The Dark Knight Rises is a film that gets so many things right that something as fundamental as fight choreography should have been a no brainer but it seems even an auteur like Christopher Nolan struggles to grasp what makes a good fight scene. Soon we'll be seeing a new version of The World's Greatest Detective and I hope that when we do, they hire an action director who can create some breath taking action scenes that do the character justice. Until then, I'll stick with the animated series from the 90's.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Shaolin vs Lama - 少林斗喇嘛 (1983)

It's time for week three in the 36 Styles Season and today we're going to taking a look at the hardcore classic that is Shaolin vs Lama. If you're fairly new to kung fu cinema and haven't heard of Shaolin vs Lama, don't worry. It's a fairly obscure title to new comers and is popular among some of the more hardcore fans of martial arts cinema. It's a Taiwanese production as opposed to Hong Kong but is often misidentified as such. This is a very common mistake as Taiwanese productions did often feature Hong Kong talent so telling them apart can be tricky. 

The thing that gives away the fact it is a Taiwanese production is it's star Alexander Lo Rei, himself a Taiwanese native. Lo Rei was an action star who appeared in many, many low budget independent films and Shaolin vs Lama is considered by many to be one of his best. Having seen it, I can easily understand why. With it's combination of efficient story telling and surprisingly good fight choreography, Shaolin vs Lama is well worth your time.

Lo Rei is Yu-Tin, a wandering kung fu expert who seeks out masters of different fighting styles in hopes of learning new techniques and finding a master who can turn him into the ultimate fighter. One day he saves a young Shaolin Monk, Hsu Shi (William Yen) ffrom being beaten. Yu-Tin persuades the novice monk to take him to Shaolin Temple so that he can improve his Kung Fu. The rest of the monks do not like him being there and he is promptly discharged from the monastery. Suddenly a former monk appears (Chen Shan) who now practices the Tibetan Lamanistic arts and hopes to wipe out the Shaolin for good.

Shaolin vs Lama isn't anything special when it comes to the story. If you've read my reviews when it comes to old school fight flicks, I often mention the story is very by the numbers. Shaolin vs Lama does nothing to try and buck this trend in any way shape or form. Classic stories of good guys vs bad guys are the oldest stories ever told. For good reason too. They're simple and easy to tell. So if you're a low budget movie producer and you don't have the time or money to work on a complex story with three dimensional characters and with a well told narrative then you go with what you can do within your limitations and choose a story that can be told given the resources available. So I tend not to hold that against a movie. After all, if I wanted to see a different story with each Kung Fu movie I watched then I don't think I'd be a fan of genre at all.

In fact, it's the unoriginal story that helps the film as it allows it to flow at a very quick and easy to follow pace and makes the film all the more watchable and ultimately more enjoyable. The cast is pretty good too. Lo Rei shows he was a competent leading man and it's a wonder he wasn't a bigger star. Had he been able to work with some of the bigger names in the industry he could have gotten the recognition he deserved. As it is though, Lo Rei is just one of many actors that never hit it big for one reason or another but he does have legacy that he should be proud of and celebrated. He wasn't a terrible actor by any means and he could do lots of good looking and varied action. I do have some of his other films on DVD so after watching this I feel compelled to check them out.

The rest of the cast are quite good as well. William Yen as the young monk gets some nice little moments of acting as well as showing off his skills as a screen fighter. He doesn't get much to do but what he does show is very good. The other cast members I don't want to talk about except Chen Shan as the main villian. He's a Taiwanese native much like Lo Rei and is an expert in Tae Kwon Do. He made a number of films over a twenty year career but many fans say that Shaolin vs Lama is the best that he's done. He makes for a good bad guy. He's sufficiently mean looking and has some absolutely cracking fight scenes.

That's another thing. There was a lot more action in this then I was expecting. You would think I'd be used to that sort of thing but it still surprises me when certain films have a lot more action then I expect. Also, the choreography is damn good. A lot of independent films had very mediocre choreography. It was very stiff, slow and boring but there's none of that here. They were put together by someone called Peng Kang who did the action on films such as The Chinese Stunt Man and Life of Ninja. He has a very fast, frantic style to his fights and seems to favor punching combinations but he does throw in a few kicks but he does seem to favor a lot of grappling moves, there's even a couple techniques I'm almost certain seemed to have been slightly modified from professional wrestling.

There wasn't a single fight I didn't like during the entire run time. I could go into detail about them all but that would take far too much time. One which I will talk about is a scene that see's Yu-Tin's Shaolin Master go up against Chen Shan. There's some really fast exchanges and lots of acrobatic leaping. It's also the first scenes which sees Chen use the Shadow Boxing Style. It seems to be a style crafted specifically for the film and derives movements from Drunken Boxing and Mantis Style. It's a very unorthodox form but looks good on screen and allows Chen to show off his skills. I liked this scene because the impact of the moves looked extremely painful giving the fights a very brutal edge to them I didn't expect. As I watched it I couldn't help but be reminded of Jet Li's Shaolin Temple. Not only was the familiar look but the choreography of that film had a very similar feel to it. I find it interesting that Hong Kong weren't the only country capable of doing tremendous action scenes.

There's also the jaw-dropping finale which has Lo Rei fight Chen Shan in a one on one duel. I loved this fight, it was so insane. The choreography was absolutely perfect and it showed that a lot of hard work went into it. Both fighters push themselves to show they are good at what they do. Another neat little idea is when Lo Rei busts out the Buddha Finger technique which has the practitioner use the knuckle of their middle finger to give their punches extra impact and allow Lo Rei to find Chen's weak spot. That sort of thing was always coming up in films like this and it does give the fight just that little bit more brutality whenever a hit is landed.

Shaolin vs Lama is yet another must see in the canon of martial arts cinema. It's not hard to track down and can be found at a fairly cheap price so picking it up should be a no brainer to you at all. With it's simple story and excellent fight choreography I urge you to try and see this as soon as you can.

36 STYLES offers two different designs inspired by the film so if you want a spiffy looking shirt to go with the film then click HERE and HERE

That's all for this week. Come back next time when 36 Styles Season will be coming to a close and I'll be reviewing a film that I can't wait to talk about, it is of course, Born Invincible!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Dance of the Drunk Mantis - 南北醉拳 (1979) - FIRST GIVEAWAY RESULT!

We now enter the second week of 36 STYLES SEASON and this time we're going to be taking a look at a film that's often overlooked but does seem to be highly regarded among a few Kung Fu film fans. In 1978 Seasonal films released Drunken Master. Starring Jackie Chan and directed and choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping it's mixture of broad comedy and intricate Kung Fu action was a massive hit with local audiences in Hong Kong and cemented Jackie's popularity as the number one action star. Shortly thereafter producer Ng See-Yuen wished to make a sequel in hopes of being able to capitalize on the film's success. However Jackie had gone on to sign a contract with Golden Harvest to begin what would be a monumentally successful career with the studio so Ng was forced to find a replacement.

Ng chose Sunny Yuen Shun-Yee, brother of Yuen Woo-Ping who returned as the director. Also cast members such as Woo-Ping and Shun-Yee's father Yuen Siu-Tien, Hwang Jang Lee and Linda Lin Jing returned with Siu-Tien being the only one playing the same character he had played in the first movie, the classic character of Beggar Su. The results are mixed to say the least but what we're left with is worth seeing for sure.

Foggy (Shun-Yee) is a waiter who finds himself getting into trouble with Beggar Su (Siu-Tien) who soon finds out Foggy is in fact his adopted son thanks to his mother (Lin Jing). Foggy tries to get Su to teach him Drunken Fist style Kung Fu but does nothing except ridicule and abuse him. Meanwhile a deadly Drunken Fist expert called Rubber Legs (Hwang Jang Lee) is on the hunt for Su so he can prove once and for all who the King of Drunken Fist truly is.

Now given what had come before, Drunk Mantis had a lot riding on it in order for it to become a hit. It wasn't of course but like all these movies they've now gained a following through various fan circles. I for one didn't really dig it as much as Drunken Master. There's a lot to like here but it just seemed it was lacking in a few things that for me made it's predecessor such a great movie. First of all the film doesn't have a strong as a lead. Jackie Chan effortlessly crafted a performance that combined drama, comedic timing and high physicality and pretty much exuded charisma through out the film. While I respect Yuen Shun-Yee as a performer and for his many contributions to Hong Kong Cinema to me he isn't as strong a lead as Jackie. He can match him move for move but his knack for comedy is limited to pulling silly faces and yelling a lot.

Fortunately he is backed by a pretty solid cast of recognizable faces. As mentioned a few cast members from the previous film return. This time they are joined by Corey Yuen Kwai playing the student of Hwang Jang Lee's character Rubber Legs and Yen Shi-Kwan who plays a sickly looking medicine man who teaches Foggy how to fight. All of them fulfill their roles very well and help elevate what is a pretty average movie.

One thing that really annoyed me and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't ignore it. The comedy. Kung Fu Comedies were common place around this time. While the mixture of the two genres had been started at Shaw Brothers with the likes of Lau Kar-Leung's Spiritual Boxer. It wasn't until Jackie starred in Snake in the Eagle's Shadow that the formula for such a film would prove massively successful. Literally dozens upon dozens of films with elements lifted directly from it were made in hopes of making money. This meant shoe-horning in as many cheap laughs as they could among all the martial arts action. I honestly did not like what as going on here. all of it just seemed incredibly forced. Such as a scene in which Beggar Su and Foggy visit a local bank and get into a little scuffle with the manager played by Dean Shek. Dean Shek does...well, what Dean Shek always does but it could have been a lot shorter then what was left in there.

A few people do find that sort of thing entertaining and I can respect that but I personally find it very grating and just kills the film dead in terms of it's pacing. A good chnk of stuff could have been cut from this but then we would have been left with half a film. Still for all it's faults we are given a generous amount of Kung Fu action to help soften the blow of the many and I mean many "comedic" antics of Sonny Yuen.

Yuen Woo-Ping worked along side Shun-Yee and another of his brothers Yuen Jang-Yeung as well was Yuen Kwai. They throw in some nice ideas throughout. The first fight featuring Sunny sees him go against two fighters using the bizarre styles of Chicken and Duck Styles, respectively. I thought this may have been a sly nod to Snake in the Eagle's Shadow but it's a short yet wonderfully creative action scene. Hwang Jang Lee doesn't do much kicking instead using a style combining the Drunk Fist and Mantis Fist styles. It was interesting to see him use a form which focused more on fist combinations since Hwang is known for his blistering kicking style. He does very well as used expect but I would have liked to have seen him use his legs more considering his character name is Rubber Legs.

There's a fight between him and Siu-Tien midway through the film which sees the two of them exchange drinks and few subtle hand lock techniques which escalates into a full-on brawl. There's a lot of acrobatic tumbling and tables being smashed but really? I thought it was too long. I'm all for complicated looking and lengthy fighting scenes but when it started hitting the 15 minute mark I thought it was a bit much. That sort of thing should be saved for the finale not the fight which signifies the end of the second act. Yuen kwai also has a rather nicely done fight with Linda Lin. Linda shows her incredible flexibility while evading Yuen Kwai's silver spear which then see's her defend herself with a sword. I enjoyed this fight in particular because the choreography was so good, especially Linda who shows off a lot of really good moves.

Yen Shi-Kwan also gets a couple fights in but they're mostly played for laughs as he knocks Sonny around a bit and then agrees to teach him his unique style of Kung Fu. I couldn't quite identify what stlye it was exactly but it seems there were a few techniques derived from classical Wing Chun as it focused mostly on hand to hand techniques with very little leg work. This was a smart idea as it contrasts very well with Hwang's Drunk Mantis Fist style and allows both actor's to do some very nicely done exchanges. That of course leads us to the finale.

It was worth putting up with the rest of the film just to get to this part. We have a straight up classic Kung Fu fight which sees Sunny and Hwang duke it out. I loved how the fight kept going back and forth with each fighter gaining and losing momentum and then forcing themselves to change tactics in order to try and land their punches. Sunny gets to do a few stunt falls but they never really looked as painful as the one's Jackie took. Also he doesn't seem to let himself get knocked around like Jackie did either. I'm not saying Sunny couldn't handle it but I expected the crashes to a have a little bit more impact to them. What we have here though is a damn good brawl that is a worthy follow up to what has come before.

Dance of the Drunk Mantis is not as good a film as the one which came before it but we do end up with some very creative action scenes and a wonderful end fight that is worth checking out. The DVD is easily available and you should do yourself a favor and go buy it as it's one which does deserve the shelf space.

Now then, the moment you've all been waiting for. Time to announce the winner of last week's giveaway. The lucky winner ho is now the proud owner of a Master of the Flying Guillotine shirt is......


Congratulations Richard! I will forward your information to Raymond of 36 STYLES who will send you your prize in the mail!

For those who lost out don't worry because I will be announcing the details of another contest in which another shirt will be up for grabs.

So that's it for this week, if you would like the purchase the Dance of the Drunk Mantis 36 Styles shirt click HERE!

That's all for now. Be here next week when I will be posting a review for Shaolin Vs Lama!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Master of the Flying Guillotine - 獨臂拳王大破血滴子 (1976) PLUS FIRST EVER GIVEAWAY!

It's now time for what you've all been waiting for. 36 Styles Season has officially begun and to start off with I'll be reviewing what is considered by many to be an all out classic in every sense of the word. It is of course Jimmy Wang Yu's 1976 Old School Kung Fu fight fest that is Master of the Flying Guillotine!

A sequel to Wang Yu's earlier film One Armed Boxer (Though you don't need to have seen it to follow the story) Wang Yu returns as the solodextrous Kung Fu master who is busy teaching at his own martial arts school when a blind monk(Kam Kong) appears armed with the titular flying guillotine and holds a grudge against our hero who had killed his two best students in the previous film.

First of all let me start by saying I've been itching to write a review for this for a long time. The DVD has been sitting on my desk waiting patiently to be watched and I'm glad I finally gave myself the opportunity to revisit what is one of my favourite Kung Fu films of the 70's A lot of really good movies were made during that era and narrowing it down is never easy but this is a movie that has always had a place on my list, regardless of what other films I get to see. So it's with lots of energy and enthusiasm that I'm able to finally put my thoughts down into the written word and hope you enjoy reading the rest of my review.

Jimmy stars in what has to be one of the best films he's appeared in. Say what you will about the man himself  but you can not deny he has been a part of some great examples of Chinese Cinema. From his days at Shaw Brothers to his more turbulent days at Golden Harvest, Wang Yu is an actor who happens to be in films I've liked and was thrilled to see him duke it out with Donnie Yen in Peter Ho's brilliant Wu Xia. What he may have lacked in acting skills he more then made up for it in commitment. The way he fights in the many scenes within the run time show that while he may not have had the advanced skill set of people like Gordon Liu, he still tried hard to make himself look like a legitimate tough guy and his stoic acting works in his favour here.

The rest of the cast in terms of their acting is ultimately forgettable. They tend to let their fists and feet do their acting for them and I didn't mind that too much at all. It has to be said though, Kam Kong stole the show as the blind monk out to kill Wang Yu's character. While he didn't say much, he let his body language do the talking. The way he walks to how he moves his head when he's listening for his opponents next move shows that he's a lot more dangerous then he appears. Especially given the fact he carries with him a deadly weapon capable of ripping people' s heads cleaning from their bodies.

He also looks impressive swinging the guillotine around his head and ends up creating one of the most iconic images of classic Kung Fu Cinema. The film also tries to squeeze in as much action as it can handle. The film's main plot is stopped dead in it's tracks when Wang Yu attends a local martial arts tournament. This sequence features several fights with each combatant displaying a different fighting style. Familiar faces such as Lau Kar-Wing, Philip Kwok and Jimmy Lee appear briefly. Each fight have varying degrees of quality. Which is odd given Kar-Wing was the action director along with his brother Lau Kar-Leung. The highlight for me personally came from a fight between Jimmy Lee as a Tiger & Crane fighter going up against a Muay Thai fighter played by Sham Chin-Bo. Both fighters are constantly sizing each other up and are forced to continually change their strategy in order to gain the upper hand.

It made the fight look slightly more realistic and I would have loved to have seen that kind of approach taken with the rest of the fights but what we're left with is still entertaining as the different fighting styles of the combatants does allow the Lau brothers to be able to make each fight feel different and unique. It's a shame that in some of the more interesting looking match ups, the choreography comes off as a bit limp. The only explanation I can think of was a severe lack of time because given what both Lau brothers have done I find it hard to believe they would intentionally be this sloppy. Of course it could just be that the performers were incapable of doing what was demanded of them. Which is something you do tend to see on old Kung Fu movies.

Another memorable fight happens when Wang Yu goes one on one with an Indian Yoga expert played by Wong Wing-Sang. His character possesses the truly mad ability of being able to stretch his arms allowing him to be able to keep his body at a distance while being able land hits on his opponent. It's been noted this was what inspired the character of Dhalsim in the popular video game franchise Street Fighter. The choreography is a little awkward but given the actor had to work with prop arms it's totally understandable but we're left with an honest to goodness crazy fight scene that makes the film all the better.

Finally we reach the finale where Wang Yu finally takes on the Blind Monk. I loved this fight, as it's just a knock down, drag out straight up brawl with both actors tossing each other around. The most interesting aspect for me comes from how Wang Yu uses the environment as a way of trying to stay one step ahead of the Monk. There's a nicely done sequence in which he smashes bird cages and uses the panicking birds as a distraction which allows him to land a few hits. This makes sense as Wang Yu has to compensate for the fact he only has one arm and has to be extra careful, especially when constantly evading the flying guillotine.

Master of the Flying Guillotine is a film truly deserving of it's status among fans and if you haven't seen it yet, you owe yourself to track down a copy and watch it immediately as it's a film that reminds us why we love the martial arts genre with a passion.

Now it's time for me to announce the first ever Chopsticks On Fire Giveaway. Courtesy of SHAOLINCHAMBER36 one lucky reader will win this fantastic MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE shirt!


All you have to do is send an e-mail with your name, postal address, shirt size and desired colour (click the link below the image for colours available) and send it to chopsticksonfire@hotmail.co.uk. Closing date for entries will be Thursday July 12th, any entries received after that date will be ineligable. The lucky winner will be selected at random and announced the following day Friday July 13th when I will be posting my review. Good luck everyone check back next week when I'll be posting a review for Dance of the Drunk Mantis!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Runaway Blues - 飚城 (1989) VIDEO REVIEW

Decided to try something different and put together a short video review. It's a little rough around the edges but I'm doing this as an experiment and see how it goes

Friday, 29 June 2012

Special Announcement!

Chopsticks On Fire is proud to announce in association with SHAOLINCHAMBER36.COM that through July I will be hosting 36 STYLES SEASON in which each and every week through July I will be posting reviews of the films which inspired this fantastic range of shirts aimed at the old school fan in all of us. So make sure you keep checking regularly for what will be an extremely fun month for me which will see me provide reviews for such films as Master of the Flying Guillotine, Dance of the Drunk Mantis, Shaolin Vs Lama and Born Invincible. I for one can not wait!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Craptacular Cover Chronicles #1: A Better Tomorrow (2010)

You'll have to bare with me if this new column seems a little unfocused as I'm essentially testing the waters with this and thought it would make an interesting new feature. As a long time fan of Asian Cinema I often find that when certain titles are released internationally they tend to suffer from god awful cover art. Whether it was Jackie Chan's head stuck on Sly Stallone's body for New Fist of Fury or guns being photoshopped in the hands of actors in order to sell the false notion that what the unwitting consumer is purchasing is an action film, we have had to look at these monstrosities shaming our beloved DVD/Blu-Ray shelves.

As fans we have to look at these horrible examples of "art" when really all they needed to do in some cases is simply translate the text and use the original. I know DVD covers are probably a good way for a person who worked hard for that graphic design degree to earn some scratch but really, sometimes it just works to leave well enough alone and trust the people who are buying the product. So with that little brief out of the way, the first cover in which I will cast a critical eye is the recent UK release for the Korean produced remake of John Woo's brilliant A Better Tomorrow.

Now, at first glance it doesn't look too bad. They've essentially used the same cast photos used on the original Korean DVD/Blu-Ray release but when you take a closer look you begin to see just how naughty it really is. First thing's first. They mention it's from the director of Red Cliff, Mission Impossible 2 and Face Off. Arguably Woo's most successful Hollywood films bar Red Cliff of course. It's not so much they mention these films but the way in which it's used falsely implies Woo was the director of this film. Had they put PRODUCED BY instead then they wouldn't have had to make such a ballsy move, which is there to entice people ready to part with their money. Don't get me wrong, I'm not stupid, I know how marketing works but it's when stuff like this happens that it really annoys me as a fan of Asian Cinema.

The next part which to me makes no sense whatsoever is the addition of 2012. Now, correct me if I'm wrong but this title was released way back in 2010. Over TWO YEARS AGO! I know titles sometimes take a while to find their way onto store shelves internationally (Which is why the majority of fans choose to import) but why the hell did they need to add 2012?! Was it because the film is a remake? If it is then that's just moronic because there have been countless remake released over past few years that felt comfortable enough just to stick with the original title. You didn't see The Italian Job released as The Italian Job 2003 because The Italian Job is all you NEED. People recognise the title, see it's a new version and go see it. They don't care what year it was released. Utterly pointless but it could be worse, in other territories they were given the even more rage inducing title of A Better Tomorrow 2K12. The letter K is often used to shorten down the four digit number but 2012 only contains one zero thus replacing it with the K is COMPLETELY POINTLESS!!!! and is just a pathetic attempt to make it look cool!

At least whoever designed this was smart enough to be honest about Woo's involvement with the film. Now moving from the front to the back.

You'll have to forgive the quality of the image. I could not locate an image of it online and lack the means to do a proper scan, so resorting to my phone camera was my only resort but where to start. First of all, the images are nice. Stills and a cast photo of the bloke playing K-Mark so it's not too bad but read the blurb. Go on. I'll wait.


Did you spot anything? Are you sure. Well, let me address it anyway. Whoever wrote this HAS NEVER SEEN THE ORIGINAL. Oh, you heard me correctly. Or at least not paid enough attention to the original story. Now when you read it, everything seems fine. They mention the fight between brothers. One of the central themes of A Better Tomorrow but then we see "Again they are separated as children" Wait...what?! separated as children? again?! as in it happened in the original?! No. No it did not. In the original Sung and Kit were never separated as children, they grew up together. Hell they loved each other in their own brotherly way until Sung ended up in jail and his life as a criminal was revealed to Kit, it's what caused the rift between them that sets the events of the film in motion for pity's sake!. They never were separated as children. You would think that kind of blundering error should have been removed. I haven't had this much of a headache reading a synopsis since reading Ric Meyer's DVD linear notes. It's clear whoever wrote this was told to just say it's like the original.

There's also all that other stuff you see on these types of covers "Asian action cinema at it's best" and "Greatest Asian shootout ever" and other such stomach churning garbage we have to put up with. And they STILL don't point that Woo isn't the director due to a complete lack of film credits. Something that's pretty much standard on home video releases since the days of Betamax! I've never bought a DVD from the label that released this, Los Banditos but you can rest assured if I find them involved with the release of any other title in the future I will not be buying it. 

So there we have it, the first of what will most definitely be many critical analyses of DVD/Blu-Ray cover art. Ah, I feel so much better now!