Thursday, October 20, 2016

In The Line of Duty 4 (1989)

aka 'Yes, Madam! 4'

Plot: tough but humble stevedore Yuen (old-school mainstay Luk Wan-Ting) gets accidentally embroiled in a Seattle-Hong Kong drug ring, led by a dastardly CIA agent. 'Yes, Madam' herself, Inspector Rachel (Cynthia Khan) leads the investigation with loose cannon™ Donnie Yan (yes, that's his character name. Seriously. I mean, seriously.) as backup. Shady police captain Michael Wong is clearly up to no good as the action flights between Hong Kong and Seattle, with a brief comedy interlude involving Yuen's mum, we end up where all such 80's action should - in an office block with attached warehouse for the final reckoning.

Everyone plays their part well: Luk, the decent everyman pushed too far; Cynthia can play a tenacious inspector in her sleep; and Donnie is a blend of laid-back smoking casual and hair-trigger lunatic (see Tiger Cage 2).

Fights: the editing reel seems to have locked on 'overcrank', but what the heck - as expected for any Yuen Woo Ping 80's urban action this is breathtaking stuff. As in, you don't get to catch your breath for the first half of the film, so thick and fast are the tearups. Highlights include a superb pair of matchups as Donnie takes on real life friends/sparring partners John Savitti and Michael Woods: firstly, a stealthy nighttime cat-and-mouse, making great use of staired-streets and a prowling motorbike. Savitti does a hilarious wide-eyed-psychotic 'feinting' style, that needs an absolutely brutal finishing move from Donnie to defeat. 

Next against Woods, a superb motorcycle fight (don't try this at home, kids)

and then a rooftop bundle making use of Wood's mighty grappling and Donnie's brutal kicks. 

Cynthia has a cracking ruck with Fairlie Ruth Kordick, inside the office stairwell and lift shaft. As always Yuen Woo Ping makes inventive use of scenery and props throughout. The finale has our three heroes taking on Michael Wong and his creepy head of IT (at least I think he is) in the office while Yuen's kidnapped Mum dangles from a rope in the lift shaft: brutal boot is order of the day here!

Overall: 4.5/5, excellent action that just loses out by not having a single main character to follow (like Tiger Cage 2) so can seem a mess at points.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Tiger Cage II (1990)

aka Tiger Cage 2 (no, seriously...)

90 minutes of Donnie Yen at his kinetic, lunatic best!

Rogue Cop Dragon Yau (our Donnie), fresh from a roasting at the divorce lawyer Mandy (Rosamund Kwan)'s office, stumbles into an international money-laundering/drugs group as they exit the law firm with a suitcase of readies. In the resulting bundle the suitcase is lost, and the hunt to retrieve it basically involves Dragon, Mandy and potentially-dodgy associate David (David Wu Dai-Wai) trying to work out what the hell is going on whilst being chased by armed gangs through the streets of Hong Kong. This takes in bent coppers, bent lawyers, and even a bent iron bar at one point. After a brief drunken montage respite, we're all set for a scorching showdown involving launderer-in-chief Waise (Robin Shou), and, returning from in-name-only predecessor Tiger Cage, the mighty mafiosi Michael Woods and John Salvitti. We also get a welcome (but all to brief) cameo from Cynthia Khan, Donnie's boss again (see also In The Line of Duty 4)

Donnie is on top form here, in a constant state of hyperactive outrage whether hoofing henchmen off open-top buses, or seething his way through a meal with fellow fugitive Mandy. Dragon Yau is the polar opposite of Ip Man, but they'd have a great tear-up...

Yes, they're undercranked in places, but so what. This is some of Yuen Woo Ping's  best modern day fight choreography, taking in stairwells, car parks, bridges, in-vehicle and middle of the road (not the musical style, rather Dragon and David scrapping in the middle of commuter traffic). Throughout Donnie is at his hyperkinetic, lunatic best, mixing precision back and sidekicks with John Wayne haymakers for good effect. An early highlight is the (sadly short) punch-up with David whilst handcuffed to Mandy (a nod towards Tiger Cage and Terry's beach fight).

But it's the FOUR-fold finale that takes the cake here. David confronts Waise in his office, and gets a brutal kenpo karate lesson, as Robin Shou showcases the terrific chops that would land him the Liu Kang role in Mortal Kombat (1995). Cynthia gets involved too, but we don't see enough of her trademark elbows and high kicks unfortunately. Then we move to the building sub-levels, and break out the katanas: 

Real-life friends and sparring partners Donnie and John Savitti go at it hammer and tongs here,  atmospherically framed by a giant fan and chainlink fence. Next up Dragon must take on Mafiosa #2 (also a Donnie friend/sparring partner) Michael Woods, who brings a bag of muscular WWF-style trickery: flying elbows, body slams, beefy hoofs to the midriff; and lassos Dragon's arms with chain, making him rely on very fancy footwork.

The final finale sees Dragon returning to the storeroom where Mandy and Dragon's ex-cop- partner are having a gunfight with Waise: there are guns in each hand, but no time for John Woo balletic slowdown here, it all tears on at a terrific pace. 

Don't miss the terrific knockout blow!

Probably my favourite modern day actioner, and the best example of 'angry Donnie'. A tiger-tastic 5/5. Grrreeeeeaaaattttt!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Dance of the Drunk Mantis

aka 'Drunken Master 2' 
aka ''Dance of the Drunken Mantis'
Director: Yuen Wo-Ping, 1979

They call me ol' rubber legs...

A smörgåsbord of golden age kung fu from the master Yuen Wo-Ping.

Plot: Fight-era China. Trouble has been a-brewin' between the Northern and Southern variants of Drunken Boxing, as seen to great effect in Drunken Master. The Southern master Sam Seed (Yuen Wo-Ping's real-life dad, Simon Yuen) is leading a loafter life down in Canton, never far from the wine bottle and shirking his homely duties. The more vigorous Northern Master Rubber Legs (the Right Honourable Minister Of Boot, Hwang Jang Lee) has meanwhile blended his Drunken Boxing with Mantis Fist, resulting in Boxing Fist. Sorry, I mean 'Drunken Mantis'. Rubber Legs heads off South to Canton to challenge Sam Seed, with henchman Corey Yuen (fortune and later director of No Retreat, No Surrender). Meanwhile back at Seed Towers, Mrs Seed (Lynda Lin, returning from Drunken Master) fends off her husband's debt collectors and has adopted a son, Foggy, (Yuen Shun-Yi, who is of course Simon Yuen's actual son). Sam half-heartedly trains his son in Drunken Fist, but upsets him, and Foggy takes flight only to run into Sick Fist Master (veteran Yen Shi-Kwan) in his trick-coffin! Here he learns of three new styles: Sick Fist, Book Fist and Magic Fist to blend with Drunk Fist. 

Rubber Legs lures Sam Seed to a tearoom at night for a 'courtesy kung fu' table fight - see clip above - where it becomes clear that the Drunken Mantis is too powerful. Sam flees; Mum and Foggy best the spear-wielding henchman, and the scene is set for a THREE vs one barney at Sick Fist's farm: Drunkens Mantis vs Drunk/Sick/Book/Magic Fist, plus a special new move at the end!

The outstanding fight, and possibly the best example of its type, is the tearoom table-top face-off between Rubber Legs and Sam Seed. Lots of hilarious false starts as they test each others defences 'courteously', and terrific close-quarter acrobatics. Watch this one and compare with similar from Hero among Heroes and see which you prefer, tough call but this edges it for me.

Henchman Corey Yuen has a decent halberd vs. sword fight with Mrs Seed, which blends straight into halberd vs. bare hands from Foggy. Corey and Foggy have a shorter comedy dust-up earlier before Foggy has mastered his new styles. 

More comedy bundles earlier in Foggy's outdoor cafe, against his (unbeknownst to him) Dad, and moneybags Dean Shek who throws some interesting 'financial' shapes!

The end fight is relentless - some fantastic shapes from Hwang, and as expected some brutal boot, but with three good guys on site a longer fight with more 'team tag' and teaming up would have been welcome. Foggy blends all the styles well, and you get a helpful announcement of each before they strike.

The introduction of Sick Fist is hilarious - the very notion that a boxing style can be enriched by not feeling very well!

Pretty good as expected, given the Drunken Master heritage, but understandably not reaching the classic heights Jackie Chan  showed in Drunken Master or Yuen Wo-Ping's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow. 

Cliché bingo: (1) Tearoom bundle with bullied waiter (2) marketplace ruck (3) moneybags the crooked banker (4) echo on introductory voiceover (5) Hwang Jang Lee laughing and then immediately looking cross....all present and correct. But - gasp! -The Plateau™ is not used here! Must have been busy - get your bookings in early, directors.

Overall: 4.5 out of 5,  a terrific addition to the Drunken Fist genre and more of a true sequel than the later official Drunken Master 2

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ruck of the day: Incredible Shaolin Thunderkick

Classic faceoff between Benny Tsui and Eagle Han, presaged by the King Lear of King Fu callouts - as famously sampled by Depth Charge. Godfrey Ho at his finest - the original Korean title was 'Water retailer of Shanduong'!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

From Vegas to Macau II (2015)

Chow Yun-Fat re-returns in this re-reboot sequel, and is joined by cast from the reboot, who finally have a post-credits experience involving the actual original film's characters. Strewth, it's too early for this...


Gambling legend Ken (Do San himself, Chow Yun Fat) gets embroiled in a Thailand-based caper, involving Interpol, a sophisticated gang, and the gang's embezzling accountant Mark (Nick Cheung Ka-Fai, who has some gambling previous from 2008's 'My wife is a gambling maestro'). After gondola chases, sieges, Macguyver-stylee escapes and (not enough) actual gambling, the final showdown takes place a la Die Another Day onboard a giant airplane. Stick around for the post-credits scene, and ideally have a philospher next to you who can try to explain it.


Not many. Ken's protegé Vincent (Shawn Yu Man-Lok) is the Interpol connection, and son of Ken's sidekick Victor, played by the mighty David Chiang. A lot of the action is gunplay with a bit of brutal knee and elbow, but there is a short ruck in the airplane at the end. And - the mighty Ken Lo ( Drunken Master II)  has a fun turn as a Muay Thai champ that Ken has bet he can beat. 


Right, God of Gamblers got it right with a good balance of suspense and enjoyable (albeit a bit far-fetched) trickery. But here the CGI takes over and it's all a sideshow, and the 'cards as weapons' is not as well done as, say, the plectrums-as-weapons from the Guitar Wolf movie Wild Zero. 


David Chiang has good fun taking off the Stephen Chow character from God of Gamblers II ('Doooooo Sannnn!!!') but there is a rubbish sub-plot involving a house robot with a personality, which actually had me pining for Metal Mickey. 


'Pair of tens'. If you're on a ten-hour flight and it comes on, watch it (which is what I did), otherwise  only for the completists.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Born invincible
aka 'Shaolin's Born Invincible' 
aka 'Thick Extreme Soul Skill' (eh?)
Director: Joseph Kuo, 1978

Of all the mighty King Fu styles that have been developed in various parts of China, the one recognised as being the most difficult - and the most deadly - is the 'Tai Chi' technique. Anyone who wishes to learn it must devote his life to it, and must start as a child - preferably at the age of three...

Intro: Excellent voiceover that walks us through the Tai Chi style as we watch Carter Wong grow up with his training. Jar smashes, stump stomping and 'I can take it' beatings that would out O'Hara in Enter the Dragon to shame.

Plot: Fight-era China.  As the Lei Ping school train on The Plateau , they witness a vicious attack by two Hei Pei thugs (Corey Yuen, Yuen Shin-Yi) on an apparently defenseless old man and his daughter.

 The students intervene but are punished for their charity by Lei Ping himself (Lei Fung) with a rather harsh punishments: a 3 year training ban for Sa Chien (Mark Long - no, not that Mark Long, the other one, his brother) and a ticking off for Ming Tu (Mark Long - yes, that Mark Long, Ghostface Killer). Thankfully for fight fans the Hei Pei seek revenge in the form of the supremely baaadass Ku Yu Tieh (Lo Lieh) and hilariously castrato Tai Chi expert Tieh Wu Ching (Carter Wong). 

After causing havoc at the school, the Lei Ping disband and start training up to get revenge, enlisting the help of Tai Chi master Hung Fa-Long and the curiously named 'Pink Nun' (possibly a relative of Blue Nun? Maybe she does a Rose version of Liebfraumilch...).

The Lei Ping hone their new techniques and challenge the Hei Pei killers - but the full strength, and vulnerability, of the Hei Pei has yet to be revealed....

You two are evil men who must be stopped. So today I will try to do that!

Three things stand out here. Firstly, teamwork. The Hei Pei killers join spears and perform acrobatic, co-ordinated attacks; whilst Lo Lieh and Carter Wong throw some excellent team shapes including one breathless, tumbling combo at the Lei Ping school. 

Secondly, close-quarter weapons. These fights (short sword against tonfa-plus-spring-loaded-blade; short sword vs staff) are lightning fast and as 'up close and personal' as a fist fight. 

Finally, the speed and variety of shapes being thrown is wonderful. Don't miss Carter's headstand attack! All that's missing really is a good one-on-many, otherwise excellent stuff.

Practice, practice and then practice some more. And then more practice!
Spectacular (if short) sequences from Carter Wong as mentioned in the intro, the Tai Chi training is based on 'drawing Earth power from the eight octograms', which results in an outrageous and unique 'Sun and Moon step' shape in the climactic fights. 

The Lei Ping boys weigh in with some good breath control (see also The Himalayan) and bronze dummy work to hone their attacks on the 108 vital spots, and dagger throwing for the coup de grace.

Production: Good low budget, Joseph Kuo does well with what he's got here. Standard dusty courtyard, orchestral swells and forest settings, but the Octogram temple and Carter's outrageous mannerisms are a bonus. The Tai Chi 'settle in stance' sound effect gets annoying after a while. Actually, it's annoying immediately.

Cliché bingo: (1) Carter leaps up to grab the Lei Ping school sign, but doesn't smash it over his knee! Must try harder next time. (2) The challenge issued by the Lei Ping actually stipulates that the fight be on 'the main plateau' . Which is nice, it means all the other Kung Fu challenges that day had to use an inferior plateau, maybe one with a worse view or that was a further walk away.

Overall: 4.5 out of 5, gimmicky but the better for it, and with terrific fights. A must see for Carter Wong's bizzarre performance, and almost as good as Joseph Kuo's 7 Grandmasters.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Leg Fighters AKA Invincible Kung Fu Legs

Plot: Fight-era China. Mistress Phoenix (Ha Kwong-Li) and Chin Lung, her bumpkin "sidekick" (see what I did there?), are lazy and unwilling students of wily Master Mo (Sun Jung-Chi, in old man makeup). When the Master is called away, the Patriarch of the house replaces him with Northern Leg Tan Hi Chi (Tan Tao Liang), master of the kick of the same name. Much hilarity ensues - actually , that's a lie, very little hilarity ensues, just attempts at it - as Tau eventually cajoles, bullies and mocks the Mistress into accepting him as her master. This is timely, as the Super Fox master of the Ground Kick, Peng Pak, is out for revenge for his brother's death at the hand's of Master Mo. Meanwhile Mistress helps to clean the town of the local toughs, led by the astonishingly daft Ding Dong and Dong Dong, who are possibly the only handbell-themed villains in Cinema history (Giallo fans correct me if I'm
wrong here) and their iron-armout master Tsai Hung. All comes to a head in showdowns involving Mo, Tan, Mistress, the Bell brothers and finally the Peng Pak. Can the combined might of the Mo and Tan kicks beat the Ground Kick? I'll give you a clue: yes. But by Jove, it's worth watching how.

Plateau for challenges? Check. Tearoom fight? Check. Inventive training sequences? 
Check. Big front gates that get kicked open? Check. Ocean shores logo during key
fight scene? Check. Something for everybody here, people. The plot flows quite well
except for the truly rubbish 'comedy' scenes - think Benny Hill but without the
charm, timing, or actual comedy. And there are too many of them. But that's the
only gripe, so just lean heavy on the visual search at these points. Or if you have time, edit them out completely using iMovie.

Worth noting is the excellent intro sequence in which the scene is set between the different kicking styles, with a neat studio demo of each exceitingly-named technique - "Enetering Heaven", "Throat kick", and a hilarious overture where the voiceover is at odds with the translated text.

Great use of Texan drawl, Sarf-Lahndan Cockernee, and what sounds like the slower-
witted members of Top Cat's gang.

It's Tan Tao Liang. We love Tan Tao Liang. Even when he's in the credits as "Tarn Daw Liang". Expect the trademark lightning left leg, sidekicks held at steep angles for ages, vicious combos, and his slow-burning fuse. The only weak fight in the film is at the tearoom, and it's not bad as a comedy fight - but anything with Flash Legs is dynamite. The bundle against 'Iron Armor' exponent Tsai Hung is very well-edited with use of immediate flashbacks to show some in-fight strategising to defeat the invincible defence. The Tau 'throat kick' technique is as nasty as it sounds as is used often and well.

Mistress Phoenix throws some spirited kicks, and has a decent weapons lesson from Tan involving short sticks and longstaff. But this is all an amuse-bouche for the main course, the incredible one-on-one then two-on-one tear up finale. This is a superb contrast of kicking styles between Master Tau's high section combos, and Peng Pak's tunmling, rolling ground kick techniques. When the student's join their master to help him, Peng Pak produces the vicious nine birds style, with avian shapes and sound effects! An absolute cracking barney, with a cavalcade of corruscating kicks met with a blistering bombardment of brutal boot. Really one of *the* great end fights for boot fans.

Overall: 3.5/5, the end fight means it's a must, and there's a good smattering of training and sub-boss fights. But be prepared to yawn through some ponderous comedy interludes to get there.