LEGEND OF THE DRUNKEN TIGER (1990) short review

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Legend of the Drunken Tiger was directed by Robert Tai, who at one point was Chang Cheh’s martial arts choreographer of choice, before going back to his native Taiwan to direct increasingly cheap and demented ninja movies. No ninjas here, but a straightforward kung fu comedy in which Chui Kei Wai plays a lovable drunk who uses his martial arts skills to fight his nemesis, a treacherous lord played by good old Ku Feng, and gets betrothed to a beautiful, equally skilled woman (Kara Hui). It’s entirely forgettable though mostly competent, until the halfway point. Then Robert Tai decides to get ambitious, and the plot switches to a much wider canvas involving the Boxer Rebellion of 1899. But with what seems to be a budget of about a hundred bucks, his reach comically exceeds his grasp. And so we’re treated to a “massive” battle scene involving a few dozen extras, and a string of fights involving evil foreign soldiers who know kung fu, played by glaringly Asian stuntmen wearing curly blonde wigs and decked in hilariously mismatched uniforms. All  this is in the service of a disjointed plot that does no favors to Chui Kei Wai, an evidently gifted performer who never made another film. Along with Kara Hui, who’s a sight for sore eyes, he shines in a serviceable action finale that is the one thing to salvage here. *1/2

CHOY LEE FUT (2011) review

choy-lee-fut In 2001, two films focused on the widely practiced (in China at any rate) martial art known as Choy Lee Fut ; two films films which taken together say less about their subject than 10 minutes of Ip Man conveyed about Wing Chun. Of the two, John Ching’s Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu is the superior film, simply by dint of being funny on purpose. Tommy Law and Sam Wong’s Choy Lee Fut on the other hand, doesn’t seem to realize it’s laughable. Its unbelievably standard storyline concerns a young man (Sammy ‘son of Sammo’ Hung) who moves from London to China with his friend (Kane ‘son of Sho’ Kosugi) in order to learn Choy Lee Fut in a school owned by his father (Sammo Hung) and headed by his uncle (Yuen Wah). But just as they arrive, they are told that the school is about to be bought by a mega-conglomerate, and that the only way to keep ownership of it is to win a martial arts tournament a month later.

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CHOY LEE FUT KUNG FU (2011) review

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A few years before Donnie Yen gave him an opportunity to demonstrate his actual kung fu skills in The Iceman 3D and Kung Fu Jungle, Wang Baoqiang already demonstrated his martial arts proficiency in John Ching’s Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu (not to be confused with Choy Lee Fut, a film starring Sammo Hung and his son, that came out the same year). Wang plays Danny (Wang Baoqiang), a young martial arts enthusiast who arrives in Hong Kong to head a school of Choy Lee Fut (a combination of Northern and Southern Chinese kung-fu systems) owned by his wealthy father (Ng Man Tat). At the airport, he’s swindled out of his wallet and phone but is given help and shelter by a young woman (Michelle Ye), much to the chagrin of her jealous boyfriend (Miu Tse) and her kind but suspicious mother (Kara Hui). With an important boxing match coming up, Danny is trained by a master of Choy Lee Fut (Norman Tsui), while the school’s janitor (Wong Yat Fei) tries to locate the second half of an old martial arts manuscript, which contains a map to a treasure map.

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THE BARE-FOOTED KID (1993) review

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The Bare-footed Kid is unique in Johnnie To’s filmography in that it is his only period martial arts drama, and judging by its quality one can regret he didn’t work more within that genre. In this loose remake of Chang Cheh’s Disciples of Shaolin, Aaron Kwok plays a penniless orphan who seeks out the help of his late father’s friend (Ti Lung), a renegade general who now works under a fake identity in a dyeing factory headed by a kind widow (Maggie Cheung) whose commercial success hinges on a professional secret. They provide the kid with a roof, a job, and most importantly in his eyes, shoes. But when he takes part in a fighting tournament, his impressive martial arts abilities draw the attention of a corrupt official (Eddie Cheung) and a ruthless competitor in the dying business (Kenneth Tsang). He also falls in love with a pretty school teacher (Wu Chien Lien), whom he begs to teach him how to write his name. But soon his naive, suggestible nature and misguided attempts to help his benefactors precipitate a tragic turn of events as he finds himself torn between the lure of power and his devotion to the people who care for him.

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DEADEND OF BESIEGERS (1992) short review

600full-deadend-of-besiegers-cover A Mainland Chinese production, Cheung Sing Yim’s Deadend of Besiegers differs from most martial arts films of the time in a few ways, most notably in that it is a fairly old-fashioned film that has none of the wild angles and choreography in vogue at the time in Hong Kong cinema, and is actually reminiscent of an Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest film of the late seventies. It stars Yu Rong-Guang as a disgraced karateka who flees Japan and finds himself tagging along with a gang of Japanese pirates. When the pirates raid a Chinese village, the karateka breaks free from them and saves a little Chinese girl, who in turn helps him get accepted into the village, as he seeks to learn a new fighting technique from her aunt (Cynthia Khan). The film’s main asset is Yu Rong-Guang, a fairly unsung martial arts actor who here both stars in the film, giving a warm and sympathetic performance that develops an endearing chemistry with the little girl, and choreographs the fighting with earthbound flair and engaging classicism. Cynthia Khan is a welcome presence and has some nice sparks with Yu. Really, the only thing ground-breaking about Deadend of Besiegers is the awkwardness of its title, but that doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable, well-made martial arts film, that even manages to carry a more conciliatory message on Sino-Japanese relations than most films of its time. ***

HIGH KICKERS (2013) short review

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On the surface, High Kickers sounds like a fairly appealing proposition : the beautiful and talented Eva Huang Shengyi in a film highlighting the Korean martial art know as Tae Kwon Do, with a living legend in the person of Gordon Liu (in one of his last roles before a stroke left him tragically diminished) lending credence to the project and support from Hong Kong mainstays Waise Lee and Mark Cheng. The plot, which concerns a young woman (Huang) seeking, and slowly gaining, the mentorship of an ageing Tae Kwon Do instructor (Gordon Liu) with an aim to defeat the champion (Mark Cheng) who accidentally killed her brother in an illegal match, isn’t exactly original or even plausible, but it might have been at least serviceable, had the productions values not been so incredibly dismal, and the directing so direly aimless and vague. Every aspect of the production is handled with a dumbfounding amateurishness. The writing is limp and builds absolutely nothing over the course of the film’s 80-minute runtime. The actors are all professionals that are either horribly miscast (50 year-old Mark Cheng as the national Tae Kwon Do champion), or ridiculously underused (Waise Lee barely registers as Mark Cheng’s coach, Gordon Liu is the only accomplished martial artist in the cast, but doesn’t get to fight). But even more damningly, the fighting is little more than a neverending series of poorly-shot high kicks performed quite obviously by stunt doubles, and limited to short skirmishes in non-descript gymnasiums and dojos. At the center of this anemic whimper of a film is Eva Huang Shengyi, a talented, appealing actress who deserves so much more. *

KUNG FU JUNGLE (aka KUNG FU KILLER) (2014) review

Kungfu Jungle Official Poster Ever since his excellent turn in Peter Chan’s superb Wu Xia in 2011, martial arts spearhead Donnie Yen’s career had been a bit underwhelming, with films either overdosing on special effects (The Monkey King), lacking in any kind of script to tie the amazing fight scenes together (Special ID), getting lost in juvenile comedy (The Iceman 3D) or worse, casting him as a romantic leading man named ‘Cool Sir’ (Together). Kung Fu Jungle, as I’m happy to report, is a definite step up in quality. Donnie is Hahou Mo, a martial arts master who is first seen surrendering himself to the police after killing another master (a barely glimpsed Bey Logan). Three years later he’s peacefully nearing the end of his sentence but a TV report of the murder of a Kung Fu master sends him in a frenzy to contract the inspector in charge of the investigation (Charlie Yeung). He understands the motives of the killer, a demented fighter (Wang Baoqiang) who overcame a leg defect and is challenging all the greatest masters, to the death. But when Hahou Mo is allowed to get out of prison and assist the inspector, it becomes obvious that he has a hidden agenda, part of which involves his girlfriend (Michelle Bai Bing).

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FATAL CONTACT (2006) review

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In 2005, after a few false starts, Wushu champion Jacky Wu Jing finally made a dent in Hong Kong cinema by playing Sammo Hung’s creepy, deadly henchman in the superlative S.P.L.. The following year he was given the second lead role of his young career by director Dennis Law, a former property developper who had produced Johnnie To’s Election diptych. Wu Jing plays Kong, a martial arts champion from China’s national Wushu team, who’s spotted by shady triad types led by Ma (Eddie Cheung Siu Fai) during a tour of performance in Hong Kong. As they offer him to fight for them in underground boxing matches, he initially refuses but ends up accepting when pushed by the lovely Siu Tin (Miki Yeung), who also offers to act as his agent. Assigned to assist them is Captain (Ronald Cheng), a down on his luck triad goon who’s also well-versed in martial arts and starts coaching the naïve Kong. The fact is that Kong is first and foremost a showman, and as he’s faced with opponents of escalading brutality, he must learn to tap into his beastly side, something that makes his rise in the underground boxing network akin to a descent into hell.

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WU DANG (2012) short review

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Vincent Zhao’s unremarkable comeback continues with this barely lukewarm adventure in which he plays a professor/adventurer in the Indiana Jones mould. He is seeking seven mythical treasures, and a vital clue leads him to Mount Wu Dang, where a martial arts tournament is taking place in the famous monastery of the same name. There’s a good cast, with martial arts actors Fan Siu Wong and Dennis To as Wu Dang disciples, Xu Jiao as Zhao’s daughter, the ubiquitous Yang Mi as a rival adventurer, and Shaun ‘son of Ti Lung’ Tam as a gangster. Corey Yuen provides the action, which is sometimes palatable (a balletic martial arts duet with Zhao and Yang taking on Tam’s men is particularly nice) but often forgettable and tame : who wants to see pretty Yang Mi fight kiddy Xu Jiao is one of the lamest film tournaments ever ? There’s no sense of adventure (the bad CGI doesn’t help matters), and the romantic subplots are either massively creepy (40-years-old Fan and 14-years-old Xu aren’t exactly a match made in heaven) or simply cold (Vincent Zhao and Yang Mi have no chemistry whatsoever). A failure, but in an likable kind of way. **

KUNG FU WING CHUN (2010) short review

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Unfortunately more notable for the tragic death of its star Bai Jing than for anything to be found in it, this martial arts comedy by Tung Cho Joe Cheung features more inane comedy than interesting fighting, a shame given its title. Just like Yuen Woo-Ping’s 1994 film Wing Chun (starring the soon-to-be-reunited triumvirate of Yuen, Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen), it plays fast and loose with the already fast and loose origins of Wing Chun kung fu, a fighting style recently kicked into a full-blown trend by Yen’s Ip Man films. The historically baseless story of Wing Chun is that it was taught by buddhist nun Ng Mui to a young girl called Wing Chun, whose only way out of a loveless wedding to a rich kid was defeating him in a fight. Kung Fu Wing Chun more or less sticks to the legend, coating it in some uninspired comedy and akwardly choreographed fights, all very fake looking due to a stuffy studio aesthetic and cheap-looking green-screen work. The late Bai Jing is endearing but no Michelle Yeoh, being a bit short in the charisma department and quite often obviously doubled. Brief relief from mediocrity comes in the form of some illustrious supporting actors, among which Kara Hui as Ng Mui, Collin Chou as the villain of the piece, and the Yuen Wah/Yuen Qiu couple from Kung Fu Hustle. *1/2