Saturday, 31 March 2012

Mao March Marathon #4: Broken Oath (1977)

We enter the final week of the Mao March Marathon and this week I'll be taking a look at what is arguably one of Angela's most popular movies among fans. It is of course, Broken Oath!

Angela is Liu Jie-Lian, a woman out to avenge the death of her father. With the help of a pickpocket and an undercover Imperial agent, she uses her deadly skills in Kung Fu to do what she does best. Beat the living crap out of anyone stupid enough to go up against her.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Broken Oath is arguably one of Angela's most popular movies and for good reason. With a plot line that owes more then a little to the classic Japanese revenge movie Lady Snowblood and some tremendous fight choreography from Yuen Woo-Ping, it's easy to see why this is such a big hit with fans. Angela plays the type of character she was best know for. An extremely focused, angry and deadly female who can take a beating as well as give one back. She gives it her all and the end result is a performance that is played with complete conviction and is ultimately satisfying to watch.

Supporting her are, as you'd expect, a group of very familiar faces. Liu Jun-Guk plays the mischievous pickpocket helping Jie-Lian in her mission. He was very likable but it was apparent he wasn't a fighter so he didn't really get to fight anyone. Wang Lai plays Jie-Lian's Godmother and gives a very good performance throughout. Also appearing is Bruce Leung as a super kicking Imperial Agent and Chan Wai-Man as the bad guy out to kill everybody. Also Sammo Hung and Han Ying-Chieh turn up as two bad ass bodyguards who get to kick some serious ass during the run time. Everyone fulfills their roles competently and maintains the same level of quality in the other Angela Mao Golden Harvest productions.

Out of all the movies I've reviewed this month, Broken Oath by far has the most varied in terms of the martial arts action. Yuen Woo-Ping not only gives us a number of traditional empty handed fights but a good quantity of weapons fighting is thrown into the mix. Working along side veteran actor/fight director Hsu Hsia both men show that two heads can be better then one and combine their talents to create some truly memorable action scenes. There's a wonderful scuffle in a forest which we see the introduction of one of Angela's character gimmicks in which she uses scorpions to disable and frighten the enemy. I loved this as you never really saw anyone else use this kind of idea in any other movie at the time and it's just one of many great ideas which were used in Broken Oath. 

One thing is immediately noticeable about the action is the speed in which they are choreographed. During this time while fight choreography was incredibly intricate and well executed, Fast is not a word I would normally associate with it. That's not the case here. The movements are incredibly fast when compared to films such as Hapkido or Lady Whirlwind. Not so fast that it becomes distracting in any way but fast in a way that becomes quite impressive to watch. It doesn't take a genius to work out who might of been the champion of going in this direction. Yuen Woo-Ping was always an action director wanting to try new and interesting things with each film he made. Whether it's with traditional Snake Fist martial arts put together with the completely fictitious Cat's Claw Kung Fu in Snake In The Eagle's Shadow or mixing Tai Chi and Drunken Fist in Drunken Tai Chi, Sifu Woo-Ping was always trying to stay ahead of the curve when it came to action film making.

Speed seems to be the thing which we find him experimenting with here. Putting together a complicated sequence of moves is one thing but to push it that little bit further by making a little bit faster and tighter and it gives it just that little touch of realism. Not too realistic, after all this is a 70's Kung Fu picture we're talking about here but enough so that it makes it stand out from the crowd. There are a number of very well done and very memorable fight scenes throughout. A fight which sees Angela use a Bo staff is very good with some good moves shown throughout. Chan Wai-Man goes up against Fong Yau in a fight which sees Chan dish out some nasty looking blows to the head. I liked this one especially as it showed why Chan Wai-Man is one of the more under appreciated Kung Fu stars of this era. Woo-Ping and Hsu Hsia obviously saw something in him that could be put to great use here and he gets to show some very impressive punching combinations that compliment his hard hitting style.

If you ever talk to fans about Broken Oath one thing they will inevitably say is how Broken Oath has one of the best final reel fight scenes of it's time. Having watched it, I would whole-heartedly agree. Everyone involved and I mean everyone gets to really show their stuff. An excellent scene sees Kuo Cheng-Yu fight a fire breathing Han Ying-Chieh. Kung Fu bad guys always had some sort of gimmick during this time. I think it mostly stemmed from the type of Kung Fu action pictures Shaw Brothers were making at the time. Han's gimmick is that he breathes fire but also wears a pair of steel toes caps. It's a short scene but both men get to make a wonderful Kung Fu fight. Angela uses double short swords against a starknife wielding Sammo Hung and this is why Broken Oath has such a good reputation as a weapons film.

You can see both Angela and Sammo really trying to push themselves to do the choreography justice and it's an excellent fight and reminds me while I prefer more grounded swordplay to that of the fantasy style seen in films such as Swordsman II. Not that there's anything wrong with that style of action. Each type have their pro and cons but to me movies like Broken Oath are more to my liking when it comes to on-screen martial arts. If seeing Angela take on Sammo wasn't enough, we have Chan Wai-Man fight Bruce Leung. Broken Oath is a good example of why Bruce Leung, much like Dorian Tan, was one of the more under appreciated boot men of this era and had the talent to hit it big but for one reason or another never did. Leung's fight with Chan is excellent with Chan using some stiff looking kicks and punches and Leung really showing his knack for fancy kicks.

Broken Oath is a fantastic piece of late 70's Hong Kong martial arts cinema and is a definite must see if you like Golden Harvest or Shaw Brothers movies. Having this as the film to conclude the Mao March Marathon has been wonderful and I can only hope that I'll be able to review more of Angela Mao's films in the future. So that's it. Thank you all for coming onto my blog week after week. Be sure to keep checking for more reviews, retrospectives, columns and articles throughout the coming weeks and months.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Mao March Marathon #3: Lady Whirlwind (1972)

Welcome to week three of the Mao March Marathon and I'm going to looking at another of Angela Mao's Golden Harvest films. This week it's Lady Whirlwind!

Mao plays Tien, a martial arts expert who is looking to avenge the death of her sister after she was abandoned by Ling (Chang Yi). Ling himself was thought to have been killed at the hands of a group of criminals but he was nursed back to health by a young woman named Wang (June Wu). Tien discovers him and wants to fight to the death but not before agreeing to go after the criminals who went after him in the first place.

Lady Whirlwind marks the film debut of Angela Mao and straight away you could see why she become extremely popular with local audiences and fans overseas. That cold stare which she would use to great effect in her other movies was something that started right here in this very film. Also her formidable skills in martial arts get to be an excellent showcase of just how talented Angela was and how it's a shame she never really got to be part of the Shaw Brothers stable of actors (Rumor has it that this was something she was considering before she retired) as she would have probably made some absolutely classic films that would have been added the studio's legendary catalogue of film titles.

Still, regardless of what could have happened, we as fans have to make do with the films Angela did make and for a female star of this era the number of them which are considered the best by fans are quite surprising. Especially when you begin to realize just how many of them were made under Golden Harvest and also how many of them featured action direction by Sammo Hung. I would definitely say that Angela never looked better when she worked along side Sammo. These were two individuals who really did harmonize well with each other and Lady Whirlwind is yet another example of their really good chemistry.

The interest thing I found most about this film was there seemed to be a real effort to actually tell a story as opposed to the norm which was create a slim premise that will carry itself from one fight scene to the next but here that doesn't seem to be the case. Chang Yi's character Ling in particular seems to have been fleshed out to a degree more then other films (Except those being made at Shaws where the story had just as much priority as the action scenes) that his character goes from being completely one dimensional to a man who feels guilt for what he's done in the past but knows he must face his demons in order to exorcise them. Golden Harvest made the right move by giving the role to Chang Yi. A familiar face to fans of Kung Fu Cinema, Chang Yi is a Taiwanese actor who appeared in dozens upon dozens of films throughout his career, making ten films in 1979 alone. That's what always impressed me about actors working in Hong Kong during this era, they hardly ever went without work.

Ling's conflict goes up well against the single minded determination of Angela's character Tien. Here is a woman who will stop at nothing to avenge her sister, even if it means pissing off a bunch of shady criminals in the process. This was a great way to debut her and she jumps right into the role and handles it with such enthusiasm. The same can't be said for another of the other actors however. While all competent in terms of the acting, none of them have a strong connection like the two leads.

What would a Angela Mao movie be without a copious amount of Kung Fu action? Lady Whirlwind is fit to burst with action much like the other films I have previously reviewed. Like those other two films, Sammo Hung was also the action director. Here he takes a different approach. Instead of using traditional martial arts techniques, he seems to go for a more realistic brawling vibe. These aren't martial arts duels, these are down and dirty street fights. The moves themselves may not look pretty but they look painful but at the same time have a pace, rhythm and energy that accentuates the skills of the actors involved. Watching some of the fights, you can't help but feel that Sammo was perhaps taking a few ideas from King Boxer. In particular Chang Yi's use of the Iron Hand technique which was used by Lo Lieh. Sammo doesn't rip the whole thing off move for move but it's evident that perhaps he was trying to understand what audiences liked and what was successful and this is him trying to experiment with that.

Angela also gets to really cut loose with an outstanding opening brawl inside a gambling den. Much like the brawls in which she cleans out the Dojos in When Taekwondo Strikes and Hapkido. Here Angela takes out a group of bad guys where she displays some great fist and leg techniques and gets to clash once more with Sammo. This fight goes all over the place, even spilling out into the street. The fact they choose this to be Angela's very first fight in her film career shows that Golden Harvest were confident they would have a star on their hands. Chang Yi also gets a few good fights under his belt, his fight against some bad guys in the very reliable Tea House setting sees him taking on all comers, including Yueng Wai. It's a terrific fight and features some really solid stunt falls and some nice bright red fake blood. Angela also goes one on one with Chin Yuet-Sang who appears as a Japanese Karate expert. You have too keep your eyes on Angela as it shows she could memorize long takes of moves, especially those featuring lots of kicks.

Toward the end we get to the see the fight that the film has been building towards. The clash between Tien and Ling. The fight didn't go on as long as I would have liked but here we have two martial artists really getting to show their stuff. Angela and Chang give us what is a hell of a good throw down and further cements Sammo as a fight choreographer who was really trying to trying new things with each film he would make.

There's plenty fighting throughout that makes Lady Whirlwind an extremely good film for this era. Fans of the classic Shaw's bashers such as Chinese Boxer, King Boxer and Boxer From Shantung will be doing themselves a great service by seeing this. Lady Whirlwind is an important film as it features the debut of Angela Mao as well as shows us a young Sammo showing us that he would be a force to be reckoned with in later years. 

Join me next week when I'll taking one last look at another from Angela's filmography at the conclusion of Mao March Marathon.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Mao March Marathon #2: Hapkido (1972)

We head into the second week of the Mao March Marathon looking at another Golden Harvest classic starring the first lady of Kung Fu Angela Mao, Hapkido.

Angela stars along side Carter Wong and Sammo Hung as three Chinese students living in Japanese occupied Korea studying Hapkido. After getting into a fight with a group of Japanese, their master (Ji Han-Jae) urges them to return to China to avoid the authorities but also establish a school in an attempt to spread the word of Hapkido. Before long Sammo is involved in a brawl with a local Japanese school setting off a course of events which will ultimately push our heroes' martial skill to the very limit.

If it's one thing that can be said about Angela Mao is that during her career she made some damn good movies. Hapkido is without a doubt one of them. Utilizing much of the same cast and crew that featured in When Taekwondo Strikes, Hapkido is another solid effort, although it should be mentioned this was made before that particular film. It would be difficult for a fan of the genre to watch this and not find anything they would like. This flick is jam packed with a hell of a lot of fight scenes to satisfy even the most hungry of martial arts junkies. Everyone and I mean everyone gives it their all to deliver a sometimes brutal and excellently paced film.

Like When Taekwondo Strikes, Hapkido concentrates on the Korean martial art in which the film derives it's title from. The difference between this particular style and Taekwondo is that Hapkido uses a lot more close quarters moves such as joint locks, throws and take downs as well as using kicks and various punching combinations. It's just the right kind of style that looks good on screen and everyone in the cast does a truly fantastic job of displaying it. Angela Mao in particular gets to really tear through the various bad guys as she takes on anyone who thinks they can beat her.

Storywise it's something that was very much trying to capitalize on the the success of Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury. Downtrodden Chinese kicking ass against an oppressive Japanese enemy. A lot of these films round this time used the Japanese this way. Despite World War II having ended almost three decades earlier, the people of China and Hong Kong were still traumatized from it's occupation by Japanese military forces. So when Bruce came along in Fist of Fury and defeated them in combat, it transformed him from movie star to the closest thing their society had to a real life superhero. Producers decided to see just how much mileage they could get out of the evil Japanese gimmick and movies like Hapkido were pushing the trend.

Nowadays it seems kind of cheesy but like I said the Chinese people still held a lot of resentment over what had happened during WWII so to them it felt like they were finally getting their comeuppance. The film even shares a few similar story beats with the Bruce Lee classic. In particular a scene which sees Angela take on a Dojo of karate students. The camerawork and the poses which Angela uses strike a startling resemblance the classic Bruce Lee bout. She really was being sold as the female version of Bruce and movies such as Hapkido  solidified that image.

The cast is pretty good for a movie made around this time. Angela does a great job in both the dramatic and action packed fighting. Carter gets to do a lot more then he later would in When Taekwondo Strikes and shows that he can be a good dramatic actor at times. Sammo plays the hothead of the three and doesn't get the display any of the charisma which would make him a much beloved figure of Hong Kong Cinema later in his career but he does a good enough job. Being an early 70's Hong Kong movie a whole roster of familiar faces crop up. Wei Ping-Ao, Gam Dai, Kok Lee-Yan, Nancy Sit and whole host of recognizable faces show up to lend a hand to the acting. Wei Ping-Ao in particular essays his role from Fist of Fury and skewers it slightly just to make him ever so slightly more despicable.

There wasn't one bad actor in the whole bunch which very much surprised me. As there was some horrible acting in display in the last movie I watched as part of the marathon. 

As mentioned before, Hapkido is positively dense with fist and foot action. It's a safe assumption that you'll be waiting no longer then ten minutes before the next thrown down kicks off. Sammo was in charge of the action and it shows. There is an incredibly good opening display of Hapkido shown by Ji Han-Jae. Master Ji was a key figure in introducing the art to the world and here he demonstrates some solid technique using various locks and throws. The way he handles himself and the expertise put on display let the audience know he is the real deal and Hapkido is a martial art that should be taken seriously. So much so that he actually comes off as quite intimidating which I'm sure was the intended effect of the scene.

There are a number of stand out fight scenes. Just watch the fight between Sammo and Bruce Leung, better known the audiences as the bad guy in Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle. Sammo gets to really let his fists fly and completely dominates Bruce in such a way that audiences were getting a glimpse of the future of Hong Kong Action Cinema. He doesn't use any really flashy moves but his punches and kicks look really powerful even more so when you couple it with Sammo's burly physique. Carter Wong also gets to really flex his fists when he has a really great fight against Pai Ying. While it's a fight in which Carter ultimate loses, it shows that he could handle himself and really knew how to do a good kick that looks great on camera.

Angela however is the one that gets to really shine bright. Her fight against Jacky Chen gets her showing what she can really do when given some good choreography to work with. It starts off as a weapons fight with a Japanese Katana against a metal rod then quickly moves into an empty handed fight before finishing off with Angela getting some creative use out of an umbrella. It's here that you begin to see Sammo really using his head and trying to come up with unique and interesting ways to portray fighting on screen. He also gets Angela to use that trademark ponytail of hers as a makeshift whip. Clever little things like that are what make Chinese Martial Arts Cinema so much more entertaining then anything Hollywood could have come up with at the time.

With all these brutal brawls breaking out it leads us right to a stunning finale which sees Angela getting help from none other when Wang In-Sik in a rare good guy role. His sharp features and stern expression made him much suited to playing the bad guy but here he's fighting for the side of good for once. His fight against a group of Karate students show why he was one of the more underrated boot men of the genre and it's a definite must-see it goes with out saying.

Hapkido has a place on my list of Top Hong Kong Films Ever Made and it just makes the Mao March Marathon all the more enjoyable. If you haven't seen it, go do yourself a big favor and hunt down the DVD right away as you'll have a real good time, I promise you.

Join me next time wen we'll in the third week of the Mao March Marathon. See you then folks!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Wang Lung-Wei Presents A Gentleman's Guide To Finger Pointing.

Hi, I'm Wang Lung-Wei, you might remember me from such films as Martial Club 2: Wong Fei-Hung Goes To Wisconsin and Frankie Chan's Better Living Through Facial Hair. Today I'm going to guide you through the top tips to finger pointing so you can become a top digit thrower like me!

Keep It At Nose Level

The first thing you should learn is just where exactly to point to when you've got your finger going. I always focus on the nose as it isn't low enough so it doesn't register and it isn't too high so that your hand will obscure your own face. The nose is the perfect spot for when you want the recipient of your doom finger to know you mean serious business!

Get Up Close And Personal Whenever Possible

Don't be afraid to get right into your opponents face. The closer you can get the more deadly your pointing can become and the more frightened your opponent will be. Maintain the finger at nose level and make sure to shake your hand in two second intervals to maintain energy.

Keep The Arm Straight

If close quarters pointing isn't possible and you have to point from a distance then make sure you extent your pointing arm as far as possible and keep it straight. A bent arm shows weakness and your enemy will laugh at you. Also try the meanest scowl you can muster to send the message that you're prepared to rip their throat out should opportunity present itself.

Accessorize Whenever Possible 

To really turn your pointing hand into a serious force to be reckoned with, use a prop if one is available to you. For example a simple byro pen can become a deadly weapon of destruction when put into your hand and this will more then make your opponent knows that they have made a grave mistake by messing with you.

Choose Your Words Carefully

A good finger pointing is nothing if you don't have the words to back it up. Whenever you've got your finger of fury in a frenzy, throw in a few threats that will make you look like a true finger pointing warrior.

Bring Friends To Show Off Your Technique

Should you ever need to show off your finger pointing prowess then make sure to bring some friends with you. That way they can all marvel at the amazing technique you've mastered and also show the enemy that you are truly a master of the finger pointing arts.

That's all for my Gentleman's Guide To Finger Pointing. I hope you've learned all you need to know to be a finger pointing warrior. Now go out there and make me proud!

Images courtesy of achillesgirl via the Wang Lung-Wei album on the heroic sisterhood facebook page. 
This article was not written or in any way endorsed by Wang Lung-Wei. This article was written as parody and is purely for comedic purposes.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

5 Things To Love About A Better Tomorrow 2

Here's five reasons why you should love John Woo's sequel to the heroic bloodshed classic A Better Tomorrow. I decided to do Part 2 because I think everything that can be said about the first one has been said so instead I'm going to concentrate on the second film. Goes without saying this column will contain spoilers then again if you're reading this blog and you haven't seen A Better Tomorrow, what the hell is wrong with you?!

Number Five: Comic Book Heroes

Ti Lung returns as his character Sung in the sequel and upon being released from prison he pays a visit to a friend who happens to be an artist. We see that the walls of his studio are adorned with artistic renderings of the three lead characters from the first film. I think this was John Woo's way of trying to convey to the audience that the action you see in these movies are so fantastical they could only take place in a comic book. Also, the artist must be psychic as how else would you explain the fact he was able to accurately recreate key events from the previous film?

Number Four: The Twins Effect

At the conclusion of the first film. Chow Yun-Fat's character Mark Gor was dead. You have to wonder how exactly Chow Yun-Fat reacted to the news he was going to be part of the sequel. I believe it could have gone something like this:

Woo: Okay, Chow. A Better Tomorrow was a huge success, you ready a make the sequel?

Chow: You Mean Prequel.

Woo: Nope. Sequel.

Chow: character died at the end.

Woo: Not a problem. We have this idea where a scientist finds your corpse then brings you back to life as a cyborg assassin and goes out and kills bad guys.

Chow: Urm....I don't know about that.

Woo: Really? Ti Lung loved that idea. Okay, how about we bring you back as Mark's identical twin brother Ken.

Chow: It'll do. Just pay me and give me back my car keys.

Number Three: Apologize To The Rice!

In what is arguably one of the more memorable scenes in the film is the introduction of Ken. The twin brother of Mark. Here we see him standing up to the insults of an Italian Mafia heavy trying to lean on him for protection money. It's a great scene that does an excellent job of establishing the character.

Number Two: Blood on the Hardwood Floors

If it's one thing John Woo knows, it's good action. Having cut his teeth in film making by working under Shaw Brothers director Chang Cheh, Woo was able to take all the troupes of classical martial arts films and apply them to contemporary action films. Substituting fists with guns, he used all the same techniques they used and was able to adapt them with great affect. The final showdown which sees our heroes storm the bad guy's base is one of the finest action set pieces ever committed to film without a shadow of a doubt.

Number One: He's Not Crazy, He's Just Stupid

In what has to be one of the most bizarre film performances ever to be featured in a John Woo film. Dean Shek shows more ham then a butcher's shop window as a former gang boss turned legit businessman who suffers a severe mental breakdown when he experiences a series of traumatic events. Now any decent actor would have used the opportunity to carve out a really harrowing but at the same time nuanced performance. Unfortunately Dean decided to do the exact opposite and went full retard. His performance has to be seen to be believed as you would think he was playing someone who was mentally handicapped not mentally ill. Watch out for the truly unintentionally hysterically funny scene in which Chow Yun-Fat tries to force a dribbling Shek to eat some food. Absolutely hilarious stuff.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Mao March Marathon #1: When Taekwondo Strikes (1973)

Welcome to the beginning of the Angela Mao March Marathon were each week I will be reviewing a film starring the Taiwanese female fury that is Angela Mao every week throughout March. To kick off the marathon I'll be taking a look at a true cult classic that is When Taekwondo Strikes!

During the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War II, martial arts master Li (Jhoon Rhee) leads a rebellion against the Bansan Karate House. A secret organization tasked with destroying anyone going against the Japanese government. Li enlists the help of a Chinese Hapkido expert Lady Heung (Angela Mao) to rescue a priest who has been imprisoned for hiding one of Li's students, Kim (Carter Wong). Things soon take a turn for the worse when Li is captured and Kim and Heung are forced to flee to China with the priest's niece, Mary (Anne Winton) in tow. The three then decide to mount a rescue plan and take down the Bansan Karate House.

I have to start by saying how much I thoroughly enjoyed this. When Taekwondo Strikes is a great example of early 70s traditional martial arts action. The interesting thing about this one is instead of using Chinese martial arts, the primary style here is the Korean kicking style of Taekwondo. This film along with another film by the same production team, Hapkido brought Korean martial arts to the masses. It also helps that both films are just damn good to watch. Storywise, it's pretty average. You'd struggle to find any film during this era in which the story wasn't the same as hundreds of other movies made during this time. That's fine with me though. Long as the action is good then any shortcomings in terms of the plot line are easily forgiven.

One of the film's greatest strengths comes from the cast. Angela Mao acts opposite a number of familiar faces. Carter Wong, Sammo Hung, Wang In-Sik, Kenji Kazuma, Gam Ke-Chu. All appear in the main cast. Also, making his one and only appearance in a motion picture is Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee. World famous Taekwondo practitioner and father of Philip and Simon Rhee. If ever there was a film about Taekwondo that required his skill, it was this one. Another unfamiliar face is Ann Winton, the trailer boasts she's a blackbelt but apart from that I can't seem to find any information about her. I'm guessing that maybe she was a student of Rhee's who somehow got involved with the film. Given that it was an early 70s Hong Kong picture as you expect the acting is extremely uneven for most part.

Angela does give a surprisingly good performance, it has to be said. It was obvious that Golden Harvest were trying to market her as a female version of Bruce Lee. Fortunately they don't have her try to imitate him in any way shape or form but the way she fights and ways she moves, you just know that was the type of image they were trying to invoke. She plays the righteous hero role to a tee but she does actually deliver her lines with a serious conviction that it was easy to see why audiences seemed to warm to her straight away. Carter Wong appears with all the youthful bluster he can manage. He was always a pretty average actor but a very competent screen fighter so he fills his role quite adequately. Sammo Hung plays a bad guy and has a few scraps through out. Wang and Kazuma play the bad guys but they don't act, they just give people shifty looks and bust a few moves.

However the worst actors in the entire movie have to be Master Rhee and Winton. As skilled as they both are in fighting, it's obvious that neither of them are actors. Rhee tries his damnedest in the many scenes he has but he's not all that entirely convincing but he more then makes up for it when he starts beating people up. Winton just looks uncomfortable and gives a rather dry delivery of her lines and tries to look sad but comes off as kind of awkward and clumsy. Still, this was to be expected given the era which this film was made.

Thankfully the film more then makes up for this in the action stakes. Choreographed by Chan Chuen and Sammo Hung (Although it's obvious from the choreography who was in charge here) we're treated to many slap bang martial arts throw downs and this where the cast gets to really shine. Angela was always a very impressive screen fighter. Audiences know her as the ill-fated sister of Bruce Lee's character in Enter the Dragon but it was in films like this and Hapkido where she really got to do her thing. Lashing out with some impressive kicking combinations she handles herself incredibly well. There's a particularly good scene in which she takes on Sammo in a noodle restaurant. It begins as a full out brawl with Angela knocking everyone on their arse (including a very young Yuen Biao) and moves onto a very quick but tightly choreographed sword fight between her and Sammo. You can see the two of them could work well together and were able to make each other look good in front of the camera.

Everyone else is also surprisingly good. Carter doesn't get to do much, he has a fight at the beginning and doesn't fight again until very near the end but he does get to throw some nice looking side kicks. Anne Winton comes off a bit stiff and misses her mark more then a few times but she has an excellent fight with Sammo and it's here that you can tell that he was the one in charge of the fighting. It was the fast fist exchanges and powerful mid-kicks, moves which tend to be his trademark, that made it quite obvious. When Taekwondo Strikes is proof that even at this point in his career Sammo really knew what he was doing when it came to action directing. Master Rhee also gets to really show what he can do, especially during the finally against Kazuma. It's a fast, brutal and hard hitting fight and is definitely worth checking out.

When Taekwondo Strikes is a classic martial arts film truly deserving of it's cult status. A solid leading performance from Angel coupled with brilliant fight choreography provided by Sammo raises it above the the many films released during this film and is strongly recommended by me if you haven't already seen it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

5 Things To Love About Magic Crystal

Here's five reasons why you should love Wong Jing's sci-fi action comedy Magic Crystal

Number Five: Goof-ball Special Effects

Hong Kong films of this type were known for their creative if not unsophisticated special effects and Magic Crystal falls very comfortably in that category. Still, there are some very bizarre and creepy moments such as when you realize the crystal, which has fallen into the hands of the child Pin-Pin played by Ben Siu, actually has a mouth and can eat. It's as goofy as it sounds and I love it when a film uses practical as opposed to CG effects regardless of the end result.

Number Four: Chaplin Would Be Proud

One of the major attributes of Magic Crystal are the absolutely tremendous action scenes choreographed by Tony Leung Siu-Hung. One stand out sequence which takes place early in the film sees Andy go against a knife wielding thug armed with an umbrella which leads to some Chaplin inspired moves. Absolutely fantastic.

Number Three: She'll Cook You Dinner Then Kick Your Teeth In

Another great highlight is the role of Ben's mother played by Wong Mei Mei. A Shaw Brothers contract player through the late 70s and early 80s, Wong gets to really strut her stuff in the film and goes up against villain Richard Norton in an excellent throwdown. Sadly, this was her last screen role but you have to wonder how someone of Wong's talents would have faired working with someone like Sammo Hung or Jackie Chan. My guess would be fantastically well.

Number Two: Richard Norton, The Greatest Bond Villain That Never Was

Australian martial arts expert Richard Norton plays the main villain of the film and he has get his hands on the crystal by any means necessary. There's vague references made to world domination as to why he needs the crystal. This is compounded by the fact Richard has a desk with the world map on it and you just know that every bad guy ever with aspirations for taking over the world has one of these. Though, it's never made clear as to how exactly the crystal will help him achieve this.

Number One: Three Way Dance

I already mentioned this film has some brilliant action. The best is most definitely saved for last which sees Andy Lau and Cynthia Rothrock take on Richard Norton. The film really surprised me by just how fantastic the fighting was. I would even go so far as to say this is right up there with anything Sammo and Jackie were doing at the time, it's that good. Also of all the films Richard made in Hong Kong during this time, this has to be the best of them all.

That's my 5 Things To Love About Magic Crystal. Be sure to return to the blog tomorrow which will see the beginning of the Mao March Marathon!