Thursday, 24 May 2012

Pointing In The Right Direction: A Look At The Directorial Work Of Wang Lung-Wei - Part 3

Finally, after many delays it is time for the third and final part of my article in which I'll be looking at the directorial work of Wang Lung-Wei. Last time we ended with a discussion about Wang's most successful film in terms of box office, Bloody Brotherhood. Drawing elements from classic Triad drama as well as American gangster pictures it was a very wild and very violent tale which saw Andy Lau spin out of control into an explosive and bloody finale. With this final part of the series I'll be taking a look at a film which sees Wang do something different to what he had attempted before.

If you've been following this article then you should know that, apart from Innocent Interloper, female characters in Wang's films haven't exactly had any impact and have been relegated mostly to wall flower roles or end up as innocent victims of circumstance due to the actions of one his film's characters. The Innocent Interloper did buck the trend a little by having Elaine Lui kick a serious amount of ass through the film's run time. So when Wang released his next film in 1990 he decided to give his audience a serious dose of girl power by showing that he could direct a film that could have female characters that were just as strong if not in some ways stronger then their male counterparts. That film is of course Widow Warriors.

Sek Kin returns to work with Wang once more as the aging patriarch of a Triad family. While attending an opera performance he is assassinated along with his sons in a vicious gangland takeover. It's left to his surviving daughters and in-laws to exact revenge on those responsible. Having had time to reflect upon the film I have to say this is one of Wang's stronger films in his canon of directed films. The story is actually really well written and each character is given their own opportunity to shine in their own way. The aforementioned assassination scene is very well directed which sees Wang building the tension through tight editing and some wonderful background music, which I'm sure was probably lifted from a different film but it's put to incredibly good use here. When the inevitable happens and Sek's character is killed the tension explodes in a furious gun battle between his two sons played by Chan Wai-Man and Ken Lo and a group of rival gangsters. Much look the opening gun battle of City Warriors it's very well done and further show cases Wang's skills at being able to set up gunplay as well as martial arts fight sequences. 

During the middle part of the film we see the daughter's of Sek's character coming to terms with what has happened. It's during this time that we get some great performances from the central cast. One actress in particular I really liked was Tien Niu as Long. Her character is not related to the family directly by blood but married into the family. Her husband died in a violent gang confrontation before the events of the film but when we meet her we see that she's all too familiar with the inner workings of the Triad way of life so when her in-laws are brutally murdered she's determined to get revenge. The interesting thing about her is how incredibly methodical she is in her approach. While the other daughters are eager to go out and kill the people responsible, Long decides to take a much slower route and makes careful plans that will eventually see her destroy her rivals.

It's an incredibly well thought out and wonderfully played piece of acting, which is a rarity fpr a female character in a Hong Kong film of this era which makes Niu's performance one of the big highlights of the film. She also acts against a good supporting cast. Winnie Lau plays her wayward daughter but doesn't do much except act like a big brat most of the time but there are one or two good moments shared with her and Niu. Elizabeth Lee plays the role of Ching-Ching. Having just returned from the US with her new husband, she finds that her new life is turned completely upside down after the death of her father and brothers. She tries to stay away from what is going on and just wants things to return to some form of normality but as the film progresses circumstances presents themselves which end up forcing her to embrace her destiny as the daughter of a Chinese ganglord.

Kara Hui makes an appearance and lends her considerable talents as a martial artist along with Michiko Nishiwaki playing the widow of Ken Lo. You have to wonder what type of children they could have had together. Incredibly tough ones thats for damns sure. There's a pretty long and brutal action set piece which sees Michiko and one of the sisters go after the head honcho responsible for the assassinations played by Stephen Chan. He doesn't do anything except let his girlfriend and his big burly female bodyguard played by Liu Fan do all the fighting. It's a nasty, ugly fight which sees everyone try and really hurt each other. However this just leads us p to a truly stunning action scene featuring Kara Hui.

What starts out as a quick foot chase turns into a full two on one brawl in a parking garage. Kara gets to display hers skills,which was something she rarely got to do during this point in her career. What amazes me though is that she takes some really hefty bumps. She also gets to exchange some really good techniques and easily best her opponents who act like the good sports that they are as they take it literally on the chin. It was while I was watched this that I thought Kara is definitely one of the more underrated female action stars to come out of Hong Kong and I was thrilled to see her bust some moves against Donnie in the recent film Wu Xia. I certainly hope she gets to have more wonderful screen fights like that in the future.

The rest of the film devotes it's time to the other sister's family turmoil and it was at this point things began to fizzle out. The few dialogue scenes were flat and I get the feeling Wang Lung-Wei was more comfortable directing scenes where people were dying in various outrageously violent ways. Luckily as we edge to the end of the film we get a fine action set piece which takes place in a junk yard which sees the remaining sisters and what is left of her father's Triad family take on the big bad boss. Much like the previous action scenes before it, the choreography is emotionally charged, hard hitting and uncomfortable but this is essentially Wang in his element as director and you get the feeling he thoroughly enjoyed putting his cast members through hell as they filmed this sequence.

Wang's favourite gun makes another appearance. This time in the hands of Tien Niu as she teams up with Elizabeth Lee to take down Stephen Chan. Our heroic sisters take some serious knocks and we end up with very solid ending to what has to be one of the more interesting films Wang Lung-Wei has directed. I would really recommend it to those who like strong female characters in their action films shouldn't hesitate about seeing this as you'll be pleasantly surprised by what Widow Warriors has to offer.

1991 would be the year Wang Lung-Wei's most sought after film would be released. Produced by none other Jackie Chan and featuring stunt and fight choreography by his very own stunt team. 1991 was the year The Angry Ranger was released. Ben Lam stars as Peter, fresh from prison after serving time for killing some Triad. He attempts to piece his life back together until one day he meets Jane (Leung Yuen-Jing) the two are immediately attracted to each other but things soon turn violent when Jane's boyfriend Han (Sun Chien) finds out and intends to put Peter in the ground. To make matters worse, a young Triad with the odd name of AIDS Lun (Jackie Lui) is determined to fight Peter and prove who is the better Traid.

As I mentioned earlier The Angry Ranger was an incredibly sought after film among fans. This was because, as stated earlier, the film features stunt and fight direction from Jackie Chan's very own Sing Ga Ban. A dedicted group of stuntmen who work very closely with Jackie on all of his films. Many of the alumni include Ken Lo, Andy Cheng, Brad Allan and Mars. Luckily the film's rarity diminished when it was released as part of Fortune Star's Legendary Collection and fans have been given the opportunity to finally see what all the fuss is about. Having watched the film I've come to the conclusion it isn't the all out action fest some fans have made it out to be it is however a flawed but still entertaining in it's own right action crime drama worthy of your attention.

Ben Lam while very good at performing martial arts and stunts, isn't the most compelling of leading actors. He has the broad shoulders and square jaw that make for a good looking action hero but he doesn't quite pull it off. His chemistry with most of the cast is a little stilted to say the least. His many scenes with co-star Leung Yuen-Jing are a bit awkward. They weren't out right terrible to watch. In fact there are one or two nice moments shared between them but it isn't going to be remembered as one of the great romances of Hong Kong film and for good reason. The real highlights come in the form of two characters; AIDS Lun and Big Cricle Han played by Jackie Lui and Sun Chien respectively. If you've seen as many Hong Kong Triad films as I have you begin to recognize all the trappings which create the genre. One is the loud, brash yet at the same time methodical and determined Triad Big Brother. We're given that in the form of these particular two characters.

Lui in particular seems to enjoy being able to play with this type of character immensely and you can see both he and Ben must have liked working together as the chemistry between them works a little better then any other relationship in the film. Sun Chien doesn't do much for what he's given except be a real nasty piece of work and do everything he can to kill the film's protagonist. Wang is never one to do things in a quiet, thoughtful way so to see him always feature characters like this is unsurprising. 

Given who was responsible for the action, I don't think I need to tell you if it's any good or not but I'm going to do it anyway. It seems that Jackie's stunt team are just as good as their big brother when it comes to staging action scenes. There's an excellent brawl in a night club which shows off Ben's skills as a fighter and set up that Peter is not someone who should be taken lightly. Stunt men get throw through tables, smashed into widows and kicked into signs. This all gives the scene much needed impact and makes it seem just little more painful to watch. There's also a very short but comical exchange between Peter and AIDS Lun in which Lun attempts to attack Peter with a knife only to be effortlessly disarmed. It's that type of moment you would expect to see in a Jackie Chan movie when the hero shows that he's able to get out a potentially dangerous situation without causing anyone unnecessary and serious harm.

However for me the real action highlight comes in the form a confrontation which takes place midway through the film. What begins as a straight up alley way brawl between Peter and a bunch of thugs suddenly turns into a one on one fight against a Triad boss played by Cheung Kwok-Wa. Cheung is an actor and stuntmen who has appeared in a number of films such as Avenging Eagle, Legendary Weapons of China and Aces Go Places. He also made appearances in Wang's previously directed films The Innocent Interloper and Bloody Brotherhood. The most interesting aspect of the fight comes in the contrast of the combatants fighting styles. While Peter uses a more contemporary street realistic style that mixes Western boxing with a few kicks, Cheung's character uses traditional Chinese Kung Fu. I loved this because this was Wang essentially going back to his roots as someone who got their start in the industry in classic Kung Fu films.

The fight has some brilliant exchanges and shows that the two are evenly matched despite having two very different ways of fighting. Even if you don't wish to view the film as a whole, I would recommend at least watching this fight alone as it was extremely rare for Hong Kong films to use classic Chinese martial arts in their films during this time. Even guys like Sammo and Jackie rarely used it and they were the two biggest innovators of the classical style during their prime. The rest of the action isn't as inventive or exciting but during the finale we do get a scene that features incredibly brutal uses of props and lots of painful stunt work. A crazy finale which sees Peter finally going after those which have antagonized him from the start. Jackie's boys make their big brother proud by putting together a finale that is violent in it's execution and intricately put together in it's choreography.

The Angry Ranger is a film I enjoyed quite a bit and would say it is probably Wang's most famous next to Hong Kong Godfather. I wouldn't say you should rush and get a copy like I would with Hong Kong Godfather but those reading this would probably be doing themselves a favor by watching it.

So we come to the final film Wang Lung-Wei directed. A film that is in some ways different to what has come before and one which is arguably his most infamous in terms of it's content. 1992 was the year Escape From Brothel was released.

Escape From Brothel tells the depressing tale of Hung (Pauline Chan) a prostitute who is desperate to get out of the life and start fresh with her lover Sam (Alex Fong). Unknown to her Sam arrives in Hong Kong from Mainland China under the pretense of starting a job as an illegal worker. Upon arrival he discovers he has to take part in a robbery under the orders of Billy (Billy Chow) and his father. The heist goes inevitably wrong and Sam goes on the run. He later finds himself reunited with Hung but it's not long before Billy decides to tie up any loose ends that might connect him to the robbery.

Prior to viewing this I had mixed feelings. I had read some pretty harsh reviews about it but my good friend KennyB of So Good Reviews had a lot of positive things to say. He also insisted that I view the complete uncut version as anything else would have been an insult to Wang Lung-Wei's intended vision. So, after viewing, I have to say that while it's not as terrible as the negative reviews made it out to be I still found this film to be incredibly difficult to enjoy for the most part but there are some good moments throughout the run time. The subject matter alone is so dark and depressing that I can't really recommend it to those who may be looking for a good time. Yet, if you're interested in films that are heavy in character, unflinching in it's violence and uneven in it's story telling then Escape From Brothel might just be what you are looking for.

The acting is actually pretty good for the most part if I'm being honest here. Pauline Chan  plays Hung with the right amount of desperation and sympathy that fits the tone of the story perfectly. She matches well with co-star Rena Murakami who plays Ann, also a hooker. You do get the feeling that they don't enjoy what they do and both have a desire to get out of the life but no matter what they do, they find themselves trapped  in this sad, pathetic lifestyle. It doesn't help that they constantly have Mama (Pak Yan) constantly palming off clients to them in hopes of making large amounts of money. Alex Fong does a good job in his role as the tragic lover of Hung. He over acts some of the time but when you look at the majority of Hong Kong films being made then and now, who doesn't?

Billy Chow plays a role I don't think I've seen him play before. A sleazy, violent and angry low-life who seems to enjoy hurting people and causing trouble for anyone around him. You get the feeling he wasn't particularly comfortable playing this type of role but Billy being the professional that he is doesn't let it effect his acting and he ends up being probably the best thing about this film. 

Given that this is a Category III film it features lots of full on nudity and sex. The opening credits alone which are done in a very stylish manner, attempt to set the tone for the film and it does work. The sex scenes however go on for far too long and it's obvious by the way they're directed Wang had no interest in them whatsoever. He's a director that thrives on violent confrontation, so unless someone is getting hurt, he doesn't seem to put any effort into them. I get the feeling this isn't something he wanted to direct in the first place and was just working with what he was given. 

The film does have some action in it. There's a rather memorable moment which sees Billy thrown down with Sophia Crawford. The reason it's so memorable is due to the fact that Crawford is completely starkers. I have to give her credit for being able to do this. It's hard to believe someone like Cynthia Rothrock or Karen Sheperd doing something like that. Billy shows off his skills and uses lots of painful looking kicks. It was brief but it shows the audience that this is a film in which it's characters don't mess around when it comes to inflicting pain. Especially later on the film where we bare witness to a rather harrowing torture scene involving Ann and some electrodes. Sam also gets in on the action at certain moments. The film makes a point of setting Sam up as a former gymnast who has good acrobatic skills and this comes into play later on. The first real fight between him and Billy is a knockdown, dragout brawl that I thought was good. The choreography provided by Tony Tam and Yiu Man-Gei was slightly lacking but given that Alex Fong isn't a trained martial artist unlike Billy, they must have approached these particular scenes in a way which would have been easy to perform for both actors involved.

Sadly from that point the film becomes a bit dull and tough to watch due to the many extended dialogue scenes, gratuitous moments of nudity and sex. I think that has more to do with me then the film because as much as I'm aware of and have seen my fair share of Cat III films, they just aren't my thing. Sorry to disappoint you Kenny but I won't be watching Dark Street Gigolo any time soon! However when we enter the final reel of the film we see that Wang Lung-Wei finally enters his element as a director and we are treated to a very brutal fight taking place on a construction site. This is where everything fell into place from the fight choreography to the acting. The fight choreography is especially worth mentioning as unlike say a Jackie Chan film where you have the happy go lucky policeman defending himself. Here we have two characters trying to outright kill each other and trying to use their environment to achieve it. Benny Lai even makes a quick cameo before being gutted by Billy. Wang just loves getting innocent people caught up in his characters shenanigans.  

The film ends in such a dark, nihilistic way that given what's come before during the runtime it's difficult to imagine it ending any other way. Escape From Brothel is a film you could easily skip if you weren't all that inclined to see it and would only recommend it to those who are into Cat III movies. The most bizarre thing about the film is that's it's Wang Lung-Wei's second most financially successful behind Bloody Brotherhood. So go figure.

So there it is.

The directorial career of Wang Lung-Wei. Having viewed all of his films it has come to the conclusion that while he may not have been a challenger to the likes of John Woo and Ringo Lam, he certainly knew what he was doing when it came to making a movie. He was a director of films that are filled with raw, human emotion, blood soaked violence and memorable characters. It's a shame he never made any more films as I would love to see what he could do with a film made in the Hong Kong Film Industry as it is today.

A special thank you to each and every one of you who have followed what has been an incredibly cinematic journey. I hope you all enjoyed the ride. Be sure to keep checking back regularly for more reviews, articles, retrospectives and columns right here at Chopsticks On Fire.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Pointing In The Right Direction: A Look At The Directorial Work of Wang Lung-Wei - Part 2

Now it's time for the second part of my article series on the directorial work of Wang Lung-Wei. In my previous installment I looked at the earlier part of Wang's filmography leaving you with my thoughts on the thoroughly enjoyable action comedy The Innocent Interloper. Despite showing a deft hand for the genre it seemed when entering the next phase of his career he decided to get down and dirty once again and start directing serious crime action flicks. The first of which I'll be looking at will be the single film released by D&B Films. It is none other then Fury.

Released in 1988 Wang directs a film which owes more then a little to John Woo's all-time classic A Better Tomorrow. This doesn't help matters when one of the stars from that film Waise Lee is the lead. Lee plays Chou Chi-To, a small time criminal working with his best friend Lucky (Michael Wong) and Auyeung Chick (Philip Chan). The three are in Taiwan working a deal with a group of gangsters involving counterfeit bank notes when thanks to a double cross by Chou's cousin Chan Lau (Cheung Kuen) police arrive and a shoot out ensues. Chou, Chan and Auyueng manage to escape but Lucky is caught and arrested. When travelling back to Hong Kong by boat, Chan murders Lucky's wife Ngao(Carrie Ng) and shoots Auyeung who falls overboard. Chan's reason being that he was protecting his cousin. Years later Lucky is released from prison and is reunited with Chou. Chou lies about Lucky's wife saying she has gone missing and Auyueng being dead. When Chan learns of Lucky's return he decides to hatch a plot to get rid of him and tie up any loose ends that might bring down both him and his cousin.

As I mentioned before this film was produced by D&B Films. Long time fans of Hong Kong Action Cinema may now they were a production company founded by Sammo Hung, Dickson Poon and John Sham and produced some of the finest of examples of Hong Kong Action Filmaking in the history of the industry. Films such as Royal Warriors, Tiger Cage 2 and In The Line of Duty 4 were just some of the films they released that have gained strong fan followings. Fury is another solid entry in their canon of films and shows that as Wang's career progressed his skills as a director did seem to improve.

Unlike most of his previous films which featured smatterings of martial arts action. This time we are treated to some nicely done shoot outs as well as some quick but tightly choreographed martial arts. The shoot out in the beginning of the films which sees the protagonists take on Taiwanese police led by an eye-patch wearing Wang and another actor who seems to have appeared in almost all of Wang's films up to this point Shum Wai. Sadly they only appear as quick cameos but they partake in an excellent shoot out sequence that wouldn't look too out of place in a John Woo film. See what I mean about the A Better Tomorrow connection? I certainly don't blame Wang for making a film like this. Everyone was doing their own version of it so it only seemed natural that Wang perhaps tried to go with the trends of Hong Kong Cinema once more and try and deliver a film that might work for local audiences.

Sadly that kind of momentum quickly fizzes out as the middle part of the film is devoid of very little action. Although it has to be said that the acting performances are very good all round. Waise Lee gives a nicely understated performance as Chou most of the time but doesn't seem to be able to play it smooth whenever there are any emotionally heavy moments. He doesn't seem to be able to find a good balance but instead cranks from 1 to 11 in an instant whenever there's meant to be a point when things get heavy. The most lovable piece of wood to ever enter the Hong Kong Film Industry, Michael Wong is also pretty good. It's clear he can't speak Cantonese very well judging from his mouth movements but his some what cold acting style worked in the film's favour. It's worth mentioning that at one point in the film we see him giving a demonstration of his break dancing skills.

I don't know what was more weird. That fact there's a movie with Michael Wong break dancing or the fact that Wong is actually GOOD at it. Either way it was a throwaway moment but one I'm sure Michael enjoyed filming. Philip Chan does what Philip Chan always does play it serious and gives a good solid acting performance all round as a man who is out to kill Chou for his cousin's betrayal. My favourite acting performance out of the whole thing has to be Cheung Kuen as Chan Lau. Having pretty much worked on all of Wang's movies as what I think was a producer, Cheung gets his biggest and best acting role in a Wang Lung-Wei film. Mixing loyalty and deviousness Cheung creates a character who is so despicable that you can't help but hate how slimy he can be. Whether he's kissing up to local police to keep him out of jail or planning to off Lucky in some painful and possibly humiliating way, Cheung's performance is definitely one to watch out for.

In terms of the story things do certainly pick up when entering the final act. Lucky is taken into custody for an earlier shoot out in the film and when he's being transported by van they are attacked by Cheung and his cronies. Chou comes to the rescue with the help of Auyeung and his son Wen. This is when we get a pretty well done shoot out which is funny when you realise the whole thing is happening around a van and a truck. Yet with Wang's skills as an action director he's able to keep the tension at a good pace and keep the action flowing in a way that is immensely satisfying.

Fury is a great crime action thriller that while not perfect (Which Hong Kong film during the 1980's was?) is still worth watching and shows that Wang Lung-Wei's skill as a storyteller did improve and also showed that he can be extremely versatile in the type of action he could portray on screen. 1988 wouldn't be the only year Wang would release a film. That year saw him put out what I think is an incredibly fun and highly recommended action film starring one of my favourite Hong Kong actors Dick Wei and the underrated but oh so good at kicking ass Ken Lo. What film is this, I hear you ask? It is of course, City Warriors!

City Warriors tells the story of Lok-Han(Wei), A soldier from Mainland China who arrives in Hong Kong looking for his estranged sister Ling. Meanwhile Ling is working as a prostitute thanks to her rather unlikable husband Tang Sai-Kit(Lo). Lok decides to track her down with the help of a tourist group supervisor Ying (Carina Lau) all the while avoiding her police man uncle, Detective Mak (Ko Chun-Sung).

The first thing you'd notice about City Warriors is that it's working with an even smaller budget then any of Wang's previous films. Not that it matters as he was able to craft a film that while storywise is incredibly simplistic has some very good and well put together action sequences thanks mostly to having two capable leading men in Dick Wei and Ken Lo. The film opens with a stakeout led by Mak in which he is waiting to nab a group of people known as The Mainland Gang. A group of criminals who have a reputation of coming into Hong Kong and just ruining everybody's day. When three of the gang show up it quickly turns into a bloody shoot out that ends up with Mak chasing one of the criminals onto a bus. Wang's reputation for getting innocent people caught in the cross fire of his character's actions come into play here but thanks to some quick thinking from Mak he's able to subdue the criminal.

I really enjoyed this particular sequence because we get some nice stunt work and lots of bullets flying and it perfectly sets the tone for just how dark and violent a movie you're going to watch. From then on we get a very breezy, no nonsense story line. I always admire this aspect of Wang's movies. It's clear he's not a director who likes to stretch things out and much prefers getting straight to the point. This is reflected in both his style of action and his style of story telling. His movies may not have been award winners or even worthy of a nomination at local film award ceremonies but I find it admirable that he was someone who just wanted to tell good stories about characters in serious and brutal situations.

I actually liked the story in this one. I think this mostly had to do with the characters. Dick Wei's Lok-Han as the stoic soldier was played pretty much to perfection. Wei was never the best of actors so this character suited him to the ground. Ken Lo seems to enjoy playing the sleazy Tang. I love when you can see an actor clearly enjoying themselves. It can seem a little self-indulgent but come on who wouldn't enjoy being the bad guy? let's be fair here, they are always more fun to play because they aren't restrained in a way a heroic character is. They can do things the good guys can't. One actress I wasn't expecting to be in this was Carina Lau. One of my favourite Hong Kong actresses, it was a delight to see her appear in this. Her role is strictly wall-flower material but I still liked seeing her. 

Ko Chun-Sung as Mak is another decent performance. What I liked was even though he's a police detective he isn't perfect. He has a deep-seated hatred for Mainland Chinese. This is mostly due to the fact he has a bullet lodged in his stomach from being shot by one of the Mainland Gang so when he meets Lok-Han he is extremely distrustful of him. Also he carries around a .357 magnum because it's mentioned that the character likes to think of himself as a Dirty Harry style detective dispensing justice one bullet at a time. Guess who else appears in this movie. Go on, guess. If you answered Shum Wai give yourself a pat on the back. Yes, Shum Wai once again appears in a film directed by Wang Lung-Wei. At this point I'm beginning to think the two must have been good friends and were willing to help each other out. Wang himself made an appearance in Spiritually A Cop, a film directed by, you guessed it, Shum Wai. I haven't seen that particular film yet but I will be getting my hands on it soon so I may review it but that will have to wait.

Shum Wai plays what has to be one of the more unusual roles I've seen him play. A Homosexual pimp by the name of Big Sister. He struts around in an effeminate manner wearing gaudy clothes and make up. I have to at least give the man credit for trying to be different each time he appears in Wang's movies. It's fun to watch him play around and make his co-stars uncomfortable with his a little too believable portrayal of Big Sister. Lastly we have Yuen Chor as a corrupt politician. What I did find silly was that Wang was trying to hide the fact that it was Yuen playing this role. He would often have extreme close ups of his mouth or have his head out of shot but it is so clearly Yuen that when the dramatic reveal is made it's completely wasted. Why he wanted this characters identity hidden is beyond me. Had he introduced his character earlier as someone who seemed to be on the side of good then later revealed his true nature then yes there would have been a need for it but considering you don't know who he is until the big reveal it just seemed like a waste of a plot device.

Problems with the story aside we do get some great action scenes. As you'd expect with guys like Wei and Lo as the main characters we get to see them do what they do best, throw kicks and make it look like it hurt. Especially Wei who had a reputation for being a hard hitter which made many an actor and stunt man reluctant to work with him. Lo also shows his talent as probably the most underrated boot man who worked in the industry during this time. He would be used to amazing effect in Jackie Chan's Drunken Master 2 but elsewhere he never really got to show his stuff. In films like this there would be bursts of it but he never got to be full on and that's a shame as he is an immensely talented martial artist. Both actors get their fair share of hand to hand combat and Ken Lo gets involved in a wonderful shoot out which sees him taking on the police armed only with a shotgun.

Now as you'd expect both Wei and Lo do end up clashing in the final moments of the film but it's not what you'd expect. The choreography is less stylised. For two people who are experts at kicking I was expecting more incredibly  brutal on screen fighting but it seems Wang couldn't quite figure out how to pull it off so we get a straight up bloody fisted brawl. It's good for what we end up with but he ends up selling both Wei and Lo short. City Warriors is still a decent and in some ways fun to watch action thriller and if you're a Dick Wei fan like I am you owe yourself to track it down and give it a watch.

Now it's time to talk about what is Wang Lung-Wei's most successful film financially. Although I think that has to do more with who is starring in it. Bringing together a top cast (Wang always seemed to have great casts for his films) in a story of brotherhood, violence and redemption, 1989 was the year Bloody Brotherhood was released.

Andy Lau stars as Cheung Ka-Wah who is travelling from Mainland China to Hong Kong with his brother Ka-Wai (Lam Wai) and his mother and father. Their boat is intercepted by Border Patrol and in an ensuing gun battle both his parents die, Wah is shot and falls overboard and Wai is arrested. Wah washes up ashore and is taken in by Chiu (Irene Wan) and her father. Wah decides to finally make it in Hong Kong which was seen as a land of opportunity but soon falls fowl to a group of local Triad. When he confronts their boss Tong Fai (Chan Wai-Man) he's offered a place with his crime family and this sets in motion a series of events which will eventually lead to a bloody climax.

Prior to watching this I went into it with mixed feelings. I had read several rather unflattering reviews which didn't paint the film in a particularly good light so my expectations were a little low. However in retrospect I'm glad my expectations had been lowered because Bloody Brotherhood is an extremely enjoyable late 80's Triad Action Drama that while it lays on the melodrama a little thick some times does actually make for a decent watch. Unlike Wang's previous films that used lots of gunplay, Bloody Brotherhood goes the Hong Kong Godfather route and uses lots of stylised brawling for it's action sequences. Also like Hong Kong Godfather, Wang has assembled a cast that is more then capable of fulfilling what is required. Andy Lau shows that he's more then just good looks and a wonderful singing voice. For someone who was never formally trained he does exceptionally well. More so then any other actor who performed martial arts during this time.

I often find that when you take an actor who doesn't have any extensive training and throw them into a fight scene, they can come off as incredibly stiff and uncoordinated but Andy doesn't seem to suffer this problem and looks very natural throwing kicks and punches. Another astounding fact about Andy is that Bloody Brotherhood was one of seventeen movies he acted in during 1989. Seventeen?! I think it's safe to say Andy was and still is one of the hardest working actors in the Hong Kong film industry and for that alone he has my respect and admiration. His acting performance in this is good all round. He gives his scenes the right emotional content required without it coming on too stilted and just goes to show despite this being a very busy year for him, he never let his acting slump in anyway. Also for someone who was essentially a big pin-up idol he's not afraid to go against his image and play someone who can be impulsive and violent.

If you look at his filmography he's had a very versatile career in terms of the characters he has played and Bloody Brotherhood is just one of many dark and violent Triad dramas he's appeared in during his long and successful career. Helping him make Bloody Brotherhood a wild and crazy ride are his co-stars. Lam Wai plays his brother and he gives his usual caliber of acting as well as shows his talent for hand to hand combat. Lam Wai is an actor who, much like Andy, has appeared in many crime dramas and has a reputation among fandom as being somewhat under-appreciated but Bloody Brotherhood is a good example of why fans like him so much. Chan Wai-Man gets what I feel is a rare opportunity to do some great acting. Tong Fai is a character that goes from being on top of the world to being right under it thanks to some underhanded tactics from his rival played by Shum Wai. Yep he's here yet again this time playing a character closer to the one he portrayed in Hong Kong Godfather.

There's a rather touching scene when Wah and Tong are reunited after Tong has spent a few years in prison. It's here we realise just how far he's fallen and has gone from someone who commanded his own family to a man forced to wash windows to make a living. It's a scene that comes right out of A Better Tomorrow and pretty much conveys without dialogue Tong's situation entirely. Also Chan gets to have a really great brawl with Philip Ko who makes an appearance as a hot-headed Triad looking to make trouble. It's short but seeing these two veterans go at it was fun to watch. Playing Wah's wife is Irene Wan. Like Carina Lau in City Warriors her character is nothing more then the wall flower. It seems unless female characters are kicking a serious amount of ass then he doesn't seem interested in them. Although my opinion on that could change when I get round to talking about Widow Warriors and Escape From Brothel.

I touched upon earlier the type of action Bloody Brotherhood contains and what we have here is a surprising amount. Andy even gets to go toe to toe with none other then Dick Wei. It seems Wei must have enjoyed working with Wang Lung-Wei that he readily agreed to make a quick appearance here. Their fight is nothing fancy but it does look like Andy's arms take some abuse from Wei's fists. The choreography was provided by Hung San-Nam and Tony Tam. Two stuntmen and actors who have served as action directors on a few other films. Tony Tam also did the fight scenes for Fury and also for Escape From Brothel. The moves are nothing fancy but it's pretty brutal and hard hitting. I couldn't help but keep comparing this to Wang's earlier film Hong Kong Godfather. While storywise they share very little similarities. There was just something about the tone of the film that kept bringing it into my mind.

I think one of the reasons for this is because things turn insanely violent toward the end of the film. After going through absolute Hell, Wah has had enough and decides to take out Shum Wai's character and storms a restaurant armed with a saw. Something Cheung Kuen used to great affect in Hong Kong Godfather. The gore is nowhere on the level as that film but the way the brawl plays out and the fact everyone looks like they're trying to genuinely kill each other does make the two more comparable. I loved this fight. I like it when films are not afraid to really crank up the brutality if it helps make the film work all the more better for it and while sometimes it might go too far and end becoming distracting and clashing with the rest of the film, Here it does just the trick and we end up with an all out finale that makes it worth seeing.

Bloody Brotherhood probably won't be held in high regard among other Hong Kong film fans as it really doesn't do anything original to make it stand out but what we do have is a solid entry into the genre that has good acting performances from it's principal cast and some bloody and intense action scenes. Worth seeing if you're a junkie of the Triad genre.

So concludes the second part of the article. Hope you all enjoyed reading this as much I liked writing. Be sure to check back soon for the concluding entry as we look at the directorial work of Wang Lung-Wei.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

My Top Ten Hong Kong Movie Theme Songs

While preparations are being made for the second part of my Wang Lung-Wei article, I thought I would just post something up that I've been thinking about for a long time. Hong Kong films are known for many things but one aspect I enjoy are the theme songs that usually accompany the film. What's more impressive is that more often then not those songs are sung by the actors appearing in the movie. So I thought I would post my top ten Hong Kong Movie Theme Songs.

Number Ten: Winners & Sinners

Number Nine: The Young Master

Number Eight: A Better Tomorrow 2

Number Seven: Project A

Number Six: A Chinese Ghost Story

Number Five: Full Contact

Number Four: Aces Go Places

Number Three: Inferal Affairs

Number Two: Police Story

Number One: Fist of Fury

That's all for today, see you all with part two of the article soon!