MERCENARIES FROM HONG KONG (1983) review

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Wong Jing’s third film as a director, even before he became a film producer, Mercenaries from Hong Kong was the Shaw Brothers’ answer to Andrew V. McLaglen’s The Wild Geese (1978), which itself foreshadowed Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise by throwing a starry team of aging mercenaries in a suicide mission. And so here we have the ever-charismatic Ti Lung as a war veteran/medicine smuggler who is hired for a hefty sum by a powerful, seductive businesswoman (Candice Yu) to kill the man who murdered her father (Philip Ko) who’s hiding in Cambodia with a small guerrilla army. Ti Lung assembles a team comprised of his old friends Michael Chan Wai Man (deadly with knives), Lo Lieh (a peerless marksman), Johnny Wang Lung Wei (a fearful brawler), Wong Yu (a master at picking locks) and, last and least, Nat Chan (a womanizer, admittedly not the most useful skill in the team). But as they prepare for their mission, they must contend with the vengeful brother (Yuen Wah) that Ti Lung gunned down earlier, as well as a mysterious antagonist (a particularly intimidating Lee Hoi San).

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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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JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED (1985) review

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Cha Chuen Yee’s Journey of the Doomed opens on the image of a setting sun, and ends in the complete destruction of desolate period sets. Fitting bookends to what is actually the last martial arts film produced by the Shaw Brothers Studio before it switched completely to TV production. Movie bootlegging and overwhelming competition from rival studio Golden Harvest had led to diminishing returns in the beginning of the eighties, and the legendary studio, after producing close to a thousand feature films, was cutting its losses and would not return to the big screen before 2009. These facts do not lend Journey of the Doomed any crepuscular dimension however, as it is more akin to the kind of cake your mother would make to empty the fridge before leaving on holidays.

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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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MY YOUNG AUNTIE (1981) review

My Young Auntie was the breakout film for Kara Hui, a young actress with a background in ballet, who was legendary director Liu Chia Liang’s protégé and, some say, his mistress. Gossip aside, she was indeed quite a sensation, earning the Hong Kong Film Award for best actress in this award show’s first ever edition in 1981. And you can see why: cute and graceful, sprightly and playful, she was – and is – also a fine actress capable of immediately earning the public’s sympathies. In a way, she was superseded shortly after by Michelle Yeoh, a more striking performer in every way ; still, Hui remains a unique presence to this day, having made a bit of a comeback after a string of obscure films in the nineties. Directed by Liu Chia Liang, My Young Auntie has Kara Hui play a young woman of modest origins, who is married by a kind and wealthy old man who fears his fortune could go to his cruel brother after his impending death. After he dies, Hui meets his nephew (played by the director himself) and his son (Hsiao Hao), a hyperactive student. She then has to impose herself as the family’s dean (although she’s younger than everyone), while fending off the cruel brother’s attempts to reclaim the inheritance.

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