Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kung Fu Arts

Plot: Lord King (Carter Wong ) is wrongly accused by Lord Pai Yu Yu (Chan Sing) of an attempt on the King's life (that's *the* King, not *Lord* King.). His guilt is determined solely by the fact that he has been thrown through a window and stammers when asked if he's there to kill the king. He flees, but returns in an atrocious doctor disguise (change of clothes, goatee) when his beloved Princess (Chin Chi Min) falls ill. The King (actually, to avoid confusion, I'm going to call him Emperor from here) promises his hand in marriage to the quack who cures his daughter. Having been runbled by the guards, and unable to administer his new-found doctor skills, King takes the next most obvious route: have your trained chimp do the work for you. For all those who grew up with the PG Chimps, there's a touch of nostalgia as our chimp provides an excellent bedside manner and a potent elixir. Of course, this gives the Emperor a dilemma - should his daughter marry a monkey? With the wisdom of Solomon, he says she should and at the same time be set adrift in a boat. At least he pays for a decent wedding though.

Meanwhile Lord Pai - in a superb 'big cat' combo of Tiger head shirt and leopardskin cape - murders and usurps the Emperor, egged on by the Princess' Aunt and witnessed by courtier Shau Chen. Surprisingly everyone is gutted and surprised that the Princess has been lost at sea. Lord King is chased by guards but makes his escape.

But, wait - the Princess and Chimp husband have landed on a sparse, barren island containing nothing but rainforest. There is a terrifying moment when it's revealed that she is pregnant, and that the Chimp may have played a part in this! Flash forward ten years and it would appear that at least two shops have opened on the island: a dry cleaners (for her dress is immaculate) and a tailors (for junior has arrived and sports an off-the-shoulder Tarzan vest). And Lord King has not been idle - he's built himself an immortal dummy and one of those racks that you can kick large vases off. I think Ikea call them the 'Koekvas'.

Lord King sneaks back to the palace where Shau Chen reveals a scroll that the Emperor wrote with his dying blood revealing his murderer. He seeks the Princess' island, only to arrive and find that his Chimp is being attacked by a snake!! Who is, quite literally, a snake in a monkey's shadow, in the shadow of Carter Wong (irony upon irony). Unfortunately the Chimp has not clearly not seen Snake in the Monkey's Shadow, and is immediately killed by the rascal serpent. Let that be a lesson for all: watch your classics!

After a suitable period of mourning (approximately 2 or 3 frames) King turns his mind to the Princess. She is not in forgiving mood, but King tries to get back in her affections using the oldest excuse in the book: that he had attempted to save her by disguising himself as a doctor, been recognised, and sent his chimp instead. "I didn't realise he was going to marry you". Oh well - live and learn, eh?

Breathe a sigh of relief as it's revealed that the immutable laws of nature have not been broken, and Lord King is the dad.
Junior chucks some simian shapes, but dad is not impressed and vows to tackle the Emperor alone.

Back at the palace, Pai Yu has traded his big cat threads for imperial robes. The new found power is clearly weighing him down: "I've got lots of girls for you, your majesty" offers a lackey: "[sighs] I know...". Lord King rushes to face him off, but Pai Yu has sent his guards to recover the unwilling princess back to the palace. They are unconvinced by her rubbish excuse: "That's impossible - I'm busy". King is tortured with Shau Chen, and following some illogical double-double-double crossing, we get down to the only good rumble in the film: Chan Sing vs Carter Wong!!!

Meanwhile again, junior has been training an unholy unarmy of primates and rushes to recover his mum at the palace. Obviously the local 'ape actors' studio was closed as all the ape vs guards fight scenes are done with sound effects and dodgy Cockney reactions: "ees bit orf me weddin' tackle".

Lord Pau is defeated (although, oddly, not killed in the fight) and Lord King becomes, erm, King King. The apes get drunk.

Comedy: Most Kung Fu comedy tends to be overplayed slapstick, or unintentional hilarity due to dodgy subs/dubs. But here the ludicrous plot is played completely straight, which makes it surreal and strangely watchable. By the end, though, we get down to the usual (literally) toilet humour. Some priceless dialogue:
(1) "Why is Uncle Monkey different to us, Mother?". The clue's in the question, kid...
(2) The fastest threat I've ever heard: "ThereisnoneedforamantobeimpolitetoadefencelesswomanI'llgetyou!"

Fights: Few and far between - this is a fairytale with fights tacked on. First encounter with the guards is a basic punch and block, and then there's really nothing of note until the showdown. Now, this is good: outrageous equine shapes from Carter (complete with spliced-in mustang footage) against savage tiger claw from Chan; when they break apart Carter canters like a horse to show he means business. Really agressive thrusts, strikes, boot and even headbutts! Junior leaps in with some weak but apparently effective monkey slaps, and unfortunately it's all over far too soon.

Overall: 2/5 Poor pacing with not nearly enough fighting, but there's some daft fun to be had. Last fight is terrific but too short. One of the few films where you'll hear a monkey called a bastard.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Flash Legs (Shaolin Deadly Kicks)

Plot: A gang of thieves, the 'Eight Dragons' heist a rare artefact from a stately home, but are forced to kill a servant witness. Aware that there will be a manhunt, the leader (Lo Lieh) splits the (conveniently octagonal) treasure among the 8, with instructions to disperse and meet again in 3 years; the others grudgingly agree. We then move forward to prison where one of the dragons has been picked up and is put in with undercover constable Hung Yi (Tan Tao Liang), who engineers an escape to con the dragon into revealing the location of his treasure piece. This formula is repeated with Hung wearing some 'must try harder' disguises (e.g. shades and a fake 'tache) to trick the fast-depleting gang into giving up the remaining treasure segments. This culminates with some in-gang treachery, and a crazy, explosive finale.

Fights: With a title like Flash Legs you know what you're in for and this doesn't disappoint. Tan Tao Liang showcases his Taekwondo repertoire with some terrific combinations: low, high, reverse, jumping, flying; all executed with tremendous balance, speed and accuracy. He throws in some shapes too for variety. Standouts include a two-on-two against weapons; a cracking ruck against Kam Kong's gangster-turned-woodcutter where Tan's kicks are tested to the full against the huge tough and his staff; and some decent two-vs-one against top shapey dastard Lo Lieh for the finale.

Overall: 4 out of 5. Essential for kicking fans, with a clever premise. Loses a mark for some slow pacing and the confusing finale, which somehow manages to be explosive and a damp squib at the same time!
Demon Strikes

Plot: Master Chiao (Leung Kar Yan) is a senior in the 8 Beggar Lords association - great name - and is wrongfully accused by court officials of stealing a valuable secret book of invincible techniques, the "Mao Shan tricks". The court's head catcher Lord Pao (Jason Pai Piao) is despatched with his agents to track down the book and recover it; aided by an eager junior who brings Pao their first lead. Although Chiao is innocent he claims the tricks belong to his association, and vows to retrieve it too.

Meanwhile Chiao starts his own investigation to clear the Beggar Lord's name, running into mysterious Lamas and thugs employing the Mao Shan tricks. Here we see some 'Spooky Encounters' magic gimickry with voodoo dolls, grenades, spells on scrolls to give invincibility.

In the background is Lieu Feng (HJL), who is best described as Black Magic Fox here: lots of seedy rituals involving "women's blood" and disco lighting.

As Pao's troop of inspectors uncover the mystery of who is involved in the theft, the suspects are whittled down one by one. Treachery in Lieu Feng's own clan leads to in-fighting, and finally. Chiao and Pao take on Feng in his palace for a sci-fi-hi-kicking showdown, with an 'Eh? Was that it?' final shot along the lines of '60 Second Assassin'.

Now, what is odd about this plot is that it has two main themes. One is Lord Pao's meditations on death. Following the killing of the first suspect we see Pao chased by the dead man's daughter; and we warns her against the negative nature of revenge. We later see mercy killings, self sacrifice, self defence killing, capital punishment; with Pao deeply moved by the loyal valedictions of his squad. Very Kurosawa, and done quite well (depsite some suspect subs).

And yet mixed into this is the 'Spooky Encounters' stuff - the psychedelic interludes involving HJL, seedy torture and special effects which looked dated in the 70's. These would be all well and good if it was camp horror Kung Fu like Kung Fu Zombies , but it sits very awkwardly with the seriousness of the rest, and ruins the drama.

Fights: Beardy is as crisp and efficient as ever; fast block and counter, leap, balance, repeat. Always a joy. Piao's clearly a basher at heart but works in some nice broadsword, meaty boot, and even the odd shape. Notable fights are the arrest of the bean-curd maker, with some decent stunts and sword; a fun gang rumble at the cliffside involving an iron hoop vs. sword and whip. There's a decent two vs. one kickoff at a beautiful pagoda that's open to the elements, and an all too short playoff featuring the winner and HJL which will have you reaching for the remote to watch his flying kick again.

But the finale: a letdown for me. Here we have Beardy and Paio vs HJL, in what could and should have been a classic of shapes & basher taking on the kicking king. Unfortunately, there are two big problems. Firstly, the fight sees HJL fight in a garish uniform against a garish palace interior, so although the fighting is furious it can be hard to follow. But worse, the fight is laden with daft wirework and ludicrous black magic laser fire! When you have ingredients as good as these 3 fighters, you don't need lashings of cheap sauce - keep it simple. For example the 'Secret Rivals' end fight works really well because it's set in a quarry, no gimmicks, and so you get to concentrate on the fights.

Overall: 3 out of 5. There's just enough Beardy, HJL and Piao quality here to make it above average, but this is a film with an identity crisis and a waste of a potentially brilliant finale.

Version watched: Vengeance video, 86 mins (Pal); not too bad: colour bleed, frequent minor scratches, 1.85:1