THE MASTER STRIKES BACK (1985) review

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Part of the Shaw Brothers’ last batch of films before it ceased big screen productions at the end of 1985, The Master Strikes Back was directed by Sun Chung, who gave the legendary studio some of its most memorable and/or masterful films, like The Drug Connection (1976) and its transposition of Blaxploitation tropes to Hong Kong cinema, The Kung Fu Instructor (1979) and its then-unprecedented use of steadycam to film fights, the unhinged cult horror film Human Lanterns (1982) and more importantly The Avenging Eagle (1978), one of the jewels in the Shaw Brothers crown. Here Ti Lung plays Tong Tie-Cheng, a military instructor (closely resembling his Kung Fu Instructor character) who arrives in a town with his son (Fan Siu Wong) to help an old friend (Ku Feng) whip the soldiers of his garrison back into shape. The town’s main source of business is its brothel, where the soldiers have taken the habit of spending their nights. Tong starts submitting them to a harsh training and forbids them to indulge in whoring. But while it earns him their respect, at first begrudging then undivided, it also threatens to put the brothel out of business, and thus makes him a nightmare for the town’s corrupt chief constable (Michael Chan Wai Man), who co-owns it. Soon Tong becomes the target of increasingly brutal machinations, including a insidious plot to have his son castrated to become a eunuch. At first reluctant to start a fight, the master is inexorably pushed to the edge.

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THE AVENGING EAGLE (1978) review

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While he didn’t achieve the same status as fellow directors Chang Cheh, Yuan Chu or Liu Chia-Liang within the Shaw Brothers roster of talent, Sun Chung has nevertheless given the legendary Hong Kong film studio some of its most original and/or striking classics. From his trailblazing use of steadycam to film martial arts fights in The Kung Fu Instructor, to the unhinged weirdness of Human Lanterns, Sun left an unmistakable though unsung mark in the Shaw catalogue. The Avenging Eagle might just be his best achievement. It follows Chi Min-Sing (Ti Lung), who is part of a brotherhood of assassins known as the Eagles, all raised by and obeying to the cruel Yue Xi-Hong (Ku Feng), who sends them on missions to murder his enemies. When Chi is gravely wounded in one of these missions, he is taken in by a generous man, whose daughter he falls in love with. She urges him to not kill anymore and become a good man, but the pressure from Yue and the Eagles proves too strong : soon Chi is back in the murdering business, and he can’t stop the man who saved him and the woman he loves from being assassinated by his ‘brothers’. But after having committed the unthinkable by murdering a pregnant woman on his master’s order, Chi finally decides to run away from the Eagles and look for the murdered woman’s husband to atone for his crime. During his escape he meets a nameless man (Alexander Fu-Sheng), who decides to help him, seemingly out of the kindness of his heart. But it is soon discovered he has hidden motives, and unsuspected fighting abilities…

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CITY WAR (1988) review

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The poster boy for the game-changing phenomenon that was John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow in 1986 may have been Chow Yun Fat, a moderately famous actor catapulted to icon status, but the real heart of the film was not Chow, it was the friendship between his character and Ti Lung’s. Indeed the pairing of Chow Yun Fat and Ti Lung was so brilliant, their chemistry so complete, it’s no wonder they were reunited just one year after their A Better Tomorrow characters went out in a blaze of glory. Directed by Shaw Brothers veteran Sun Chung (a lesser-known director from that stable but also one of the most interesting), City War is obviously a riff on Lethal Weapon which had come out the year before, and whose pairing of two cops, one by-the-book, one a mad dog, is replicated here, though with an interesting twist. In Lethal Weapon the mad dog cop is a loner, and the by-the-book one is a family man ; here it’s the reverse. Another interesting reversal of expectations is that Chow Yun Fat, whom based on his A Better Tomorrow persona you’d expect to play the loose cannon, here plays Chiu, a cop who likes to play it safe, while Ti Lung is the hot-headed, authority-averse one.

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