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Arizona Colt
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"Clear the ground of their traitorous feet!"

« #45 : August 08, 2006, 09:38:46 PM »

...........Out of Changs Shaolin cycle of films, SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS 1974 is the best. It's top notch in all departments-story, direction, characterization, sets and action scenes.

In the film, several years have passed since the destruction of Shaolin and an uneasy truce between the chinese rebels and the manchus has been called. During the annual God of War ceremony tension is high between the two factions and a man is killed. The authorities do nothing. The Qings, ignoring the truce, conspire to kill off the remaining rebels as the court feels they may be a threat again in the future.

Two specialists are brought down from Manchuria to wipe out them out. One is an Iron Skin expert and the other a Tai Chi fighter who uses internal power to defeat his enemies. The manchus go to the kung fu school and challenge the students. The Tai Chi fighter tells his opponent he can hit him three times then, it will be his turn to do the same. The Shaolin man punches twice and nothing. The third punch his fist sinks deep into the villains belly.

The style enables the fighter to absorb the force of the blow then using the opponents own force against him. The hero is flung backwards blood coming from his mouth. The fighter takes (painfully) the remaining blows. He tells two of his compatriots, "Help me stand up", so he can die on his feet. The other challenger is also easily dispatched. A handful of the heroes manage to get away. They hide out at their teachers house.

He sends two of his students to learn Eagle Claw, a style that counters the two villains styles. In a scene later copied nearly note for note in THE KARATE KID 1984, one of the students has to catch fish with his hands, chop wood, etc...he complains that his classmate has been learning while he's been only working. The old master then shows him that he's been learning Eagle Claw the entire time.

Months go by and the two students go off to fight the Qing specialists. The battle is fought well but the two Shaolin men are killed in the fight. Their teacher, shocked that the manchu fighters survived, realizes he underestimated there skill level. His final two disciples are sent out to learn two supreme Shaolin styles-Wing Chun, a style created by a woman and designed for close quarters combat. Once mastered the stylist can inflict serious damage from an inch away. Bruce Lee learned this style (demonstrating it on a huge man on national tv) before creating Jeet Kun Do.

The other goes to learn Tiger and Crane styles. Once both have mastered their respective art, they both don white outfits (in China the color white symbolizes death) and go to get there revenge.

In this film Chang even allows the main characters to have love interests something very rare in his films even though the female characters here do little more than look helpless. The film features, to my knowledge, the first use of split screen in a HK film. This film also marks some first appearances by Liu Chia Hui (Gordon Liu) who would later appear in the two KILL BILL movies, Liang Chia Jen, a very popular actor known in fan circles as 'Beardy' because unlike most chinese men he had a full beard that he sported in nearly all of his films. Here he looks like a young and thin Steven Seagal.

And Wang Lung Wei who would become one of the most popular villains of all time playing a hero on only a couple of occassions. He acted (and still does) in hundreds of films.........

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« #46 : August 08, 2006, 09:59:29 PM »

.........One of the chief ingredients to Chang Chehs success was action choreographer Liu Chia Liang (Lau Kar Leung in Cantonese) who designed the action sequences for Changs films from 1967 to 1975. The two had a parting of ways while filming MARCO POLO 1975. It's not known what there disagreement was about but Liu felt it was time to direct films of his own.

His first film as director was THE SPIRITUAL BOXER 1975, the first kung fu comedy although Jackie Chan lays claim to being first with his SNAKE IN THE EAGLES SHADOW 1978. Liu would direct some of the best additions to the genre including what many believe to be the greatest kung fu film of all time-THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN 1978.

In this film the manchus have control over China and small pockets of resistance have sprung up. In addition to hunting down the rebels anyone who speaks out or questions authority is arrested and executed. Several school students studying ethics fall in with a group of rebels and help transport messages on future missions. They are discovered and the Qings order all students to be arrested and put to death. Gordon Liu stars again (I don't remember the character name) His parents help him escape and they are killed for it. He's injured and manages to make it inside Shaolin Temple by hiding in some food baskets.

During that time Shaolin ignored the problems of the outside world and did not accept non secular pupils. He eventually wins the Abbott over and studies in all 35 chambers, learning various styles, weapons, and strengthening his senses and entire body. He advances faster than anyone else and garners many awards. Later he's awarded any chamber in Shaolin as his own except for the 35th.

He decides he wants to create a 36th for the purpose of allowing regular people into the temple to learn to defend themselves. The Abbott 'disagrees' and San Te (his new name-when becoming a monk the head is shaven and a new name is given, severing all ties with the previous life) is punished for argueing and is banished from the temple until told to return.

Once out he goes about recruiting men and planning retribution. There's a great scene in a graveyard where San Te saves Hung Hsi Kwan from one of the Qing officers only to realize it's the same man that had executed his family a few years earlier. The villain defeated tells the monk "You're not supposed to kill!" to which the reply is "Even Buddha punished evil". San Te eventually does battle with the evil Qing general (played by Lo Lieh) killing him too and the last scene shows him back at the temple in his 36th chamber teaching kung fu to non seculer students.

THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN is notable also because it actually showed how the disciples there became master martial artists. It was one of the biggest hits of 78 and garnered two sequels-RETURN TO THE 36th CHAMBER 1980 and DISCIPLES OF THE 36th CHAMBER 1984. The film was called MASTER KILLER in the US......

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« #47 : August 08, 2006, 10:17:42 PM »

.........Liu Chia Liang was a different kind of director from Chang Cheh, vastly different. Where Changs films were bathed in blood and filled with chivalrous heroics, Lius movies were about martial arts and most notably all of his films contained themes about the importance of family. In fact, in a handful of Lius movies not one person dies.

One of Lius greatest achievements is HEROES OF THE EAST 1978 starring Gordon Lui (who is also director Lius adopted brother) who plays Hai To (pronounced like 'toe') a young man in a pre-arranged marriage to a japanese girl. Some time after the wedding Hai To discovers his wife is a student of various japanese styles. She too soon realizes that her husband is proficient in various chinese styles.

The two bicker over which is the best-chinese ofr japanese. The two fight bare handed and with similar weapons from there respective cultures. Kuda, his wife loses everytime except when she uses some sneaky ninja techniques. She asks him "the chinese, they have this technique?" He responds, "Yes, but with us it has a different name. We call it murder and a real fighter would never use it."

Insulted, Kuda finally leaves and heads back to Japan to improve her skills. Time goes by and Hai in a drunken state writes Kuda a letter and insults her further in an attempt to goad her back home. The letter finds its way into the hands of a japanese ninjitsu master who initially wanted to marry Kuda. Disgusted by the contents of the letter, he shows it to his master who then decides to head to HK for a showdown to see if Hai To is as good as he says he is.

They gather a motley crew of fighters skilled in various styles to go as well- a Karate man, judo fighter, a Kendo specialist, a spearman, etc.....Hai ultimately has to fight them all one a day in a series of some of the best choreagraphed fight scenes ever put to film regardless of genre.

During the first confrontation, Hai defeats the Kendo man. He sheaths his sword and holds it out to him. He doesn't realize that in Japan this is a show of respect whne a fighter offers his sword. By not taking it, it's viewed as a rude gesture and fuels the animosity of both sides further. In the end the misunderstanding is explained adn both sides become friends having gained mutual respect for one another.........

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« #48 : December 31, 2006, 02:01:35 PM »

Besides Chang Cheh and Liu Chia Liang, the Shaws had other powerhouse directors such as Cheng Kang (THE CRIMINALS, THE 14 AMAZONS which recently got a gorgeous 2 disc set in France), the David Lean of HK Sun Chung (AVENGING EAGLE, RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH, JUDGEMENT OF AN ASSASSIN), Ho Meng Hua (THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN, THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, THE LONG CHASE) and Kuei Chi Hung (KILLER CONSTABLE, THE BOXERS OMEN, THE BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS).

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« #49 : January 01, 2007, 03:04:57 AM »

The only Shaws I have seen are "The Crippled Avengers" and "The Swordsman and the Enchantress".

Both films are excellent (as AC would know). TCA is a comic book thrill ride, I recommend it to anybody who likes SW.

TSATE is a more suddle, less campy film but it has plenty of action with great sword fight choregrapghy. Great main theme!

Have two others to see (Heroes of the East, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin) before getting some more titles.

« : January 01, 2007, 03:06:56 AM The Firecracker »

The Official COMIN' AT YA! re-release site
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« #50 : January 01, 2007, 12:21:44 PM »

Kuei Chi Hung was responsible for some of the Shaw Brothers most explicit as well as some of Asias most well known horrors. Like most directors in HK he began his filmmaking career as an AD to Chang Cheh. He took Changs style to a different level by taking the extreme violence and bloodletting and taking them to a more personal level. One of his most disturbing works is the 1973 production THE KILLER SNAKES. It's about a young man who lives in the slums of HK. He has no friends and has been bullied and pushed around all his life. His parents had abused him and in a flashback it is revealed they are into rough sex and S & M. He finds a snake one day and it becomes his pet. Eventually he finds dozens of other snakes and ultimately uses them and other reptiles to kill those that have wronged him. It all leads to a shock conclusion.

The film is similar in style to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE in terms of the cinematography. There is a definite grimy air about the film as it is shot in real slums adding to the depressing atmosphere. One stand out scene immediately comes to mind where one of the victims wakes up in the middle of the night feeling something in the bed with him. He pulls back the covers to reveal hundreds of snakes in his bed and all throughout his house. This was my first introduction to the Shaw Brothers horror films. It's one of those movies that makes you want to take a bath afterwards.

Kuei Chi Hung next attempted to outdo the successful ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS with the women in prison action exploitation classic THE BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS (1974). That man of all genres Lo Lieh plays a secret agent under cover as a Japanese officer in a female prison camp. Kuei throws in everything including the usual torture scenes, lots of nudity and sex, resistance fighters, martial arts action, stunts, a great car chase and also a fortune hidden in gold. An international cast is featured and the beautifully remastered DVD from Celestial is complete save for one shot where the evil lesbian Japanese warden uses a metal "prod" to "interrogate" one of the female prisoners. The film grabs your attention from the start when the Japanese raid a medical facility looking for an American fighter pilot and begin shooting everyone inside until they give him up.

NOTE: Lo Lieh was the first international kung fu star before Bruce Lee. The first film to start the kung fu craze was KING BOXER (1972) released here as 5 FINGERS OF DEATH. Lo Lieh had already had an extensive career in HK films since 1966. However, the first actual kung fu movie was another Shaw Brothers film, 1969's THE CHINESE BOXER starring the ever popular Jimmy Wang Yu. Lo Lieh played the villain here.

Another of Kuei's films, the macabre HEX from 1980 is reminiscent of the film DIABOLIQUE. The film is about an ill woman whose husband abuses her terribly. She eventually conspires with the maid to murder him. When the deed is done his body is thrown into a nearby pond. When a horrible smell permeates from the pond, the people nearby have the pond drained only to find no body. To reveal anymore would give a lot away. There are some very beautiful and haunting shots in this one that recall Kubrick's THE SHINING. The film was very successful and got two unrelated sequels, the comedic HEX AFTER HEX and the horrible HEX VS WITCHCRAFT.

Also in 1980 Kuei directed probably his most famous film, the classic action picture KILLER CONSTABLE. A downbeat remake of Chang Cheh's 1969 actioner THE INVINCIBLE FIST starring Lo Lieh. This version follows the original in places but whole chunks are changed particularly the ending and the film contains a mean streak not found in the original.

In it 2 million taels of gold has been stolen from the vaults inside the Forbidden City. The Empress hires Lin Tien Ying (played with much authority by Chen Kuan Tai) to bring in the robbers. The capper is that Lin brings no one back alive. He ultimately uncovers a plot from those that hired him and at the end he takes revenge with bloodletting that resembles CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982). There is another scene that John Woo lifted wholesale for his classic THE KILLER with Chow Yun Fat. The scene in question involves an ambush that nearly kills Lin. He mounts a horse and ends up at a blind girls house who is the daughter of one of the men he must "arrest". The blind girl is oblivious to the two men around her ready to kill each other.

There are several striking scenes one involves a duel on a giant fog enshrouded sun dial where Lin must fight against one of the robbers for an antidote to cure one of his men that was hit by a fatal dart. Another Lin finds his brother riddled with arrows. He falls to his knees surrounded by fog. Suddenly it pours rain and the fog is brushed away revealing Lin amidst many corpses. To go along with the atmosphere of dread the usual meticulous indoor sets feature constant bad weather, thunderstorms, wind storms, lots of rain and fog.

Spaghetti fans should enjoy this one as the storyline is very similar to those movies. The remastered DVD is scheduled for 2007. A really nice quality full screen boot is all that is available for now.

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« #51 : January 01, 2007, 12:22:31 PM »

In 1983 Kuei directed one of the most wild, jaw dropping, cinematic experiences you're ever likely to see. The horror film THE BOXERS OMEN. A sequel to the 1981 film BEWITCHED, it tells the story of a kickboxer who is linked to a famous Indian monk that battled evil years ago and was defeated. In order for the monk to be reincarnated, the boxer must take up the fight to destroy the demonic cult in time lest he be killed himself. The duels between the wizards are at the same time mesmerizing and disgusting. One bit involves the villain's head ripping itself from the body with the veins still attached and attempting to strangle the monk with them.

Another scene involves the birth of a demon witch when a corpse is place inside a crocodile's empty carcass and buried then dug up revealing a maggot ridden body that hides the naked body of an evil sorceress. There are still more scenes beyond description. The film never has a dull moment. One incredible scene has the star Phillip Ko (from countless kung fu flicks) puking up a very much alive eel. Still another scene showcases some impressive old style bladder effects work when one of the evil monks melts onscreen.

This one just came out here in the US from Image and is there best Shaw release yet as there earlier DVDs had some problems with pixelation. Definitely one of the most bizarre things you'll ever see.

Hou Meng Hua is another of Shaws talented stable of directors. Hou dabbled in horror, fantasy and the kung fu genres. His most famous films are THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (set to be remade this year '07), BLACK MAGIC 1 and 2 and THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN.

NOTE: Back in 1996 Tarantino re-released PEKING MAN on the midnight circuit as part of his rolling thunder pictures. It received excellent reviews.

THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN was the Shaws answer to De Laurentiis' version of KING KONG. In fact he the italian mogul tried to stop the film from being made. The American remake may have the bigger budget but the PEKING MAN had more action and adventure in its 100 minutes than KONG had in its entirety. Plus De Laurentiis had nothing in his film like the gorgeous german actress Evelyn Kraft.

In it, Danny Lee (THE KILLER, THE UNTOLD STORY) plays an adventurer who sets out to find the Peking Man and bring him back if he exists. Once in the jungle they find the giant ape creature but also a scantily clad blonde woman that turns out to be the creatures friend. After Lee's crew are all killed by quicksand, rampaging elephants, tigers, etc... he is left alone with the girl and they both fall in love with one another. The three leave the jungle and the ape man is taken to HK and put on display where he is abused by his captors. The jungle woman, ashamed, runs away and is caught by the villainous man who set up the expedition. Caged nearby, the Peking Man witnesses the man (Ku Feng who played in hundreds of Shaw films) having his way with his jungle friend. He escapes and tramples the city when the military is called in. He climbs the tallest building in HK where the military, in addition to dozens of helicopters, fill the buildings tanks with gasoline and detonate them causing the roof of the building to explode, the flames engulfing the creature sending it hurtling to the ground.

The effects, while not good, are not that terrible either. Some shots surpass bits in the Kong remake from '76. However, the reason for the unevenness of some of the effects shots is that a special effects heavy film like this one had only been attempted once before in HK, the previous years SUPER INFRAMAN (also a Shaw film with Danny Lee). The Shaws were the first HK company to try a film of this magnitude. An effects crew from Japan was brought in to work on the effects. However, they had a limited time to complete the shots and after six months they weren't done and had to return to Japan so another crew was brought over, one of the members being Koichi Kawakita who would go on to work on all but one of the Heisei Godzilla films from 1984 to 1995. For all of its shortcomings, the Kong remake can't hold a candle to the MIGHTY PEKING MAN.

NOTE: Film critic Roger Ebert once commented in his movie review guide that when the Shaw Brothers ceased making films like this that a tiny light would go out in the sky.

Another of Hou Meng Hua's most famous films is the kung fu theater favorite THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1975). The film deals with a secret army of assassins that are trained in the use of the title weapon to murder those that are against the Emperor. Soon, the group are assassinating their own members. One of the group played by kung fu favorite Chen Kuan Tai speaks out against this and he himself is targeted for assassination. He flees and the other members go after him. He meets up with a street singer and the two marry, become farmers and have a child. Soon the killers with the Flying Guillotines find out his whereabouts.

There is very little fighting in this movie but focuses more on how many people can be decapitated in a 110 minute running time. The story is quite terrifying as one of the killers betrays many of his companions to gain a position with the Emperor, and the gruesomeness of the weapon itself. According to director Hou the weapon really existed but no one lived long enough to document what it looked like. Some of my asian friends have told me the weapon did in fact exist. The deadly hatbox featured here looks like it could really work and would fit in nicely in any Bond film. The movie was such a hit in HK that many FLYING GUILLOTINE movies came out like THE FATAL FLYING GUILLOTINES, THE ONE ARMED BOXER VS THE FLYING GUILLOTINE aka MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE and Shaw Brothers own sequel THE FLYING GUILLOTINE 2. Even THE HEROIC TRIO from 1993 featured several indestructible killers that used the weapon....

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« #52 : January 02, 2007, 11:47:06 AM »

Hou Meng Hua was equally adept at horror with his two BLACK MAGIC films ('75 and '76 respectively). Both are basically the same only the sequel outdoes the original in the gross out department. Both films are about evil black magicians (Ku Feng in part 1 and Lo Lieh in part 2) who are paid to put spells (love or even death) on various individuals. Various items are required for certain spells whether it be blood, sweat, human milk or pubic hair(!). Both films involve love triangles that end up badly until a white magician shows up to help put an end to the shenanigans. The two films were filmed in Singapore and were based on actual village folklore and superstitious beliefs. In 1984 the Shaws produced an unofficial third chapter in what is still considered to this day to be the most wild and gory HK horror movie ever made-SEEDING OF A GHOST. I've not seen it although there is an easily accessible fullscreen boot but I do have an original HK poster that does look pretty grotesque.

Another of Hou Meng Hua's most popular horrors is the 1976 cheese fest THE OILY MANIAC starring Danny (MIGHTY PEKING MAN) Lee. A definite party movie to watch with a group of people, the film concerns a cripple who gets a magic revenge spell from his fathers back who has been wrongly executed. The spell enables the conjurer, once they dig a huge hole in the middle of their house and recite some words, the hole will fill with oil turning them into a creature that resembles the Swamp Thing with glowing eyes. The creature has super powers such as being able to turn himself into an oil slick that can crawl anywhere-along the highway, into pipes, bathtubs, on walls, ceilings,etc...Lee becomes the Oily Monster to revenge himself and others on evil individuals. A slightly abridged version of the famous JAWS music is used during the many action scenes.

This one's got it all-monsters, gore, sex, violence, nudity, sleaze (lots of sleaze) and martial arts action. The film, believe it or not is also based on an old Malaysian folk tale and was filmed once before by the Shaws in 1958 as a B/W feature.

Hou Meng Hua, who was a master at producing classy movies but was more prolific at doing great B-grade exploitation, did some kung fu exploitation such as SHAOLIN HAND LOCK (1978) and THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY (1977) aka THE BLOODY HIBISCUS.

THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY, although a great timewaster, is lower tier Shaw production but no less enjoyable. It's sort of a sequel to Hou's earlier FLYING GUILLOTINE as the movie takes place during events that occur in that film. One of the emperor's assassin's is wrongly killed by his own men and they attempt to kill his wife and unborn child as well but she escapes and seeks revenge...and she's pregnant! The emperor's top guy (another villainous portrayal by Lo lieh) sends the Guillotine Assassins after her and then he sends his two sons and daughter one at the time to kill her but all to no avail. The woman played by popular HK exploitation queen Chen Ping ultimately miscarriages in a river and gets really mad. After laying waste to all the villains killers, including his children, she, along with famous HK actor Tsui Sui Keung, they attack the villains stronghold where they encounter hordes of troops and an army of Lo Lieh lookalikes!

The film features much kung fu action, lots of bloody violence and plentiful nudity including one girl who briefly fights shirtless after having seduced the hero. One of the trashiest kung fu adventures the Shaws produced.

SHAOLIN HANDLOCK doesn't quite go to the extremes of the previous entry but is no less enjoyable. It stars David Chiang whom Hammer fans will recognize from the Hammer-Shaw co-production LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES. Lo Lieh again playing the villain and real life HK Triad boss Chen Hui Min (who should write a book). The story globe trots from HK to Thailand and features some rare (for these movies) boat and motorcycle stunts, some nudity, lots of fights and a wild finale where the three combatants tear apart a barn.

David Chiang who is of slight build, trained in martial arts but rarely came off impressive in his kung fu films (although he was perfect for his many chivalrous swordsman epics and modern day actioners). He's fine here but his best fight scenes are in SHAOLIN MANTIS (1978), JUDGEMENT OF AN ASSASSIN (1977) and THE LOOT (1979), an independent production.

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« #53 : January 02, 2007, 11:48:29 AM »

One of the great unsung directors, as well as one of the greatest of Asia's directors Sun Chung did many a film for Shaw Brothers and those are the best and most remembered in his career. Some of the classic and classy films he did for them are THE AVENGING EAGLE (1978), THE KUNG FU INSTRUCTOR (1979), JUDGEMENT OF AN ASSASSIN (1977), THE DEVIL'S MIRROR (1972), RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH (1981), HUMAN LANTERNS (1982) the incredibly sleazy Chinese remake of Pam Grier's COFFY, THE SEXY KILLER (1976), THE PROUD YOUTH (1979), THE MASTER STRIKES BACK (1984) and BIG BAD SIS (1976) among others. He was the first HK director to utilize the steadicam in his films and became known as the "David Lean" of HK cinema.

THE AVENGING EAGLE, a mainstay of kung fu theater is about a group of 13 cutthroats that rob and kill wantonly and were trained or tortured from childhood by Yu Hsi Hung played with much veracity by the great and versatile award winning HK actor Ku Feng. On one mission, the most proficient Eagle played by Ti Lung (SWORDSMAN & THE ENCHANTRESS among hundreds of credits) who is considered the most majestic of all of HK actors past and present, is injured and is taken in by a kindly family. After years of murdering and taking what they wanted, he never knew what kindness was and is overwhelmed by it. He falls in love with the daughter of the man who found him. He is ashamed of his past but feels compelled to return to the dreaded Iron Boat Clan.

He eventually returns and heads back out on a mission to kill the man that put their leader in prison for several years. He doesn't realize until too late that the man he and the other Eagles must kill is the kindly old man, a retired constable, that had saved and nursed him back to health. Much of the film is told in flashback as Ti Lungs character is being pursued by the Clan. He is befriended by a stranger who doesn't reveal who he is until the end of the movie. The stranger helps him out against each wave of the Eagles until he reaches the Iron Boat stronghold for a final all out battle against Yu Hsi Hung and his minions.

One of the unique qualities of many a HK action film is the characters are all special in some way. The costumes, the elaborate weapons they use, mannerisms and the fighting styles. AVENGING EAGLE is no exception. A classic in every way. An engaging storyline, Wonderful fight choreography and a powerful score (not sure if it's an original piece or stock music) round out the package.

NOTE: During the 60s-80s it was commonplace for HK films to use music from other movies-US productions, Italian films and library tracks. This practice occassionally happened in American films as well. Since Shaws, as well as other HK productions, were making so many movies at one time (40 movies released a year) there was little time for an original score although it did happen from time to time. Actors, directors and crews worked 3 eight hour shifts at Shaws, a couple of hours on one film, then move on to another. It's amazing the amount of quality and attention to detail (those beautiful sets) the Shaw films were able to obtain under such circumstances. But then they had the most money to throw around at the time and the best artisans that could be found in Asia.

Other important and noteworthy directors are Chu Yuan, who directed some of the Shaws most sumptuous productions, Lu Chin Ku, an actor as well as a director, brough a voracious filmmaking style to his films, Lo Wei who "directed" Bruce Lee's THE BIG BOSS started out as an actor at Shaws then directed a handful of features for them that were more competent than anything else he ever did, Hua Shan and Cheng Kang who delivered well made and character driven action, crime, martial arts and fantasy productions.

In fact, Hua Shan and Cheng Kang co-directed the sequel to Hou Meng Hua's seminal FLYING GUILLOTINE. FG2, the BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES of kung fu movies, sees Ti Lung portraying the character essayed by Chen Kuan Tai in the first film. Whereas FG1 was more suspenseful and character driven, the sequel is more an extremely violent gorefest with lots of kung fu fights that the first installment lacked. Some things that happened in the first film are changed here such as the Steel Umbrella Chen creates to deal with the Guillotine weapon in part 1. It only worked briefly there but in part 2 it is most formidable so the villains come up with a weapon to deal with the metal Umbrella. The main plot of part 2 deals with various heroes who go out on suicide missions one after the other to assassinate the Qing Emperor.

It all builds to a gory climax when the last few heroes are ambushed by the many Guillotine killers and the Emperor's soldiers. As much as I enjoy the sequel it feels to be unfinished. As if the film went over budget (the first film according to Hou took a year to complete) as certain scenes go by too quickly giving the impression pick up shots were needed. Still, its an enjoyable if incredibly violent ride. It's a shame there was no FG3.

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« #54 : January 03, 2007, 12:34:55 PM »

In 1978 Chang Cheh, Shaw's first million dollar director, shot a series of films (around a dozen or so) using the same five actors. One of Chang's trademarks was his action team pictures which featured five actors in recurring roles over a series of films. His second team would become wildly popular in America more so than HK. The film that began this series was 5 VENOMS (discussed earlier). The film was popular enough in HK to secure a sequel. The following is a list of the films the "Five Venoms", as they are referred in the US, participated in.



10 TIGERS OF KWANG TUNG (Begun in '78 but finished in 1980) 1980



NOTE: There are a handful of films that featured these actors before their debut in FIVE VENOMS but in minor or supporting roles. The muscleman Lo Mang did several solo efforts and films for other directors in supporting roles afterwards like ROAR OF THE LION (1980), CLAN FEUDS (1981), HUMAN LANTERNS (1982), THE BASTARD SWORDSMAN (1983), SECRET SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL COURT (1984) and PURSUIT OF A KILLER (1985)

Not all of these feature the original five performers. The final film to have them all together was 1982's HOUSE OF TRAPS. Even though the muscleman of the group is only in it for a few seconds as he commits suicide and a painting of his death serves as a focal point of the plot. It's not known why the group
went there separate ways. There are several rumors but I tend to believe that since only the first few films were bonafide hits (the remainder were only
modestly succesful in HK) Shaws decided not to fund any more productions and also Chang was in his 60s at the time. Eventually Chang would leave Shaws in 1982. His last film for them was THE WEIRD MAN. He then went on to direct some of the downright strangest films you'd ever see. He directed movies until 1994 when he more or less was forced into involuntary retirement from health problems.

NOTE: In 1978 Jackie Chan released SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW which was a huge success in that the focus was more on comedy and depicted the usual teacher-student cliche as more of a father-son situation. This was a breath of fresh air for the HK audiences as they had, to an extent, grown tired of the formula Shaw action film. To put this in perspective in 1982 Jackie Chan released DRAGON LORD which grossed $16 million in HK while Chang Cheh's most accomplished and beloved action masterpiece 5 ELEMENT NINJAS only grossed 1.8 million and was ranked 75th for the year.

Films like 5 ELEMENT NINJAS, HOUSE OF TRAPS and MASKED AVENGERS were superior productions but, just as the same fate befell Hammer in the 70s, Chang, as well as the Shaws themselves, refused to change with the tide and would ultimately suffer for it. Chang Cheh, who had launched more careers both behind and in front of the camera, found himself shooting minor efforts with nowhere near the budgets and production values that Shaws afforded him (even though some of his last for Shaws were minor affairs). In fact there was even a Chang Cheh benefit film that was shot to raise money for the ailing director. The film featured nearly all the actors he made famous and one that would go on to become one of the biggest HK sensations ever, Singer and movie star Andy Lau.

NOTE: Andy Lau is currently behind two remakes of Shaw classics, THE FIVE VENOMS and THE FLYING GUILLOTINE.

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« #55 : January 03, 2007, 12:39:38 PM »

The benefit film was called SHANGHAI 13 (1984) about a chinese revolutionary that has information on the Japanese invading China and his efforts by the band of 13 heroes and villains that try to get him out of Shanghai alive. Not all the 13 are good guys as some have been bought out by the Triads to aide the Japanese invasion. The film, although an independent affair featured some excellent fight scenes and was a kung fu fans dream movie that featured many of the biggest stars past and present.

Early films to feature the venom crew before there breakout success:

MARCO POLO (1975) Kuo Chui
SHAOLIN AVENGERS (1975) Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng
SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1976) Kuo Chui, Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng
THE MAGNIFICENT WANDERERS (1977) Kuo Chui, Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng
THE CHINATOWN KID (1977) all five in major and minor roles
NAVAL COMMANDOS (1977) Kuo Chui, Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng
HEAVEN & HELL (1977) all in supporting roles (not released until 1980)
THE BRAVE ARCHER (1977) all but one in major and minor roles
THE BRAVE ARCHER 2 (1978) all in supporting roles

The Venom films by Chang Cheh were all stylized, comic book adventures with over the top violence and bloodshed. No where was this more apparent than in Changs best (in terms of action) kung fu film 5 ELEMENT NINJAS. I can't praise this one enough. Saw it on Black Belt Feature in the early 80s and was blown away by it. I had never seen another action picture like it. The fight scenes were incredibly bloody and the heroes fought with an animalistic veracity the likes of which I'd never seen before or since.

The films plot is very basic. A lone warrior seeks revenge for the deaths of his brothers and master by evil ninjas. At the films start the heroes (all
wearing white which in China symbolizes death) are battling there enemies in a one on one tournament for turf ownership. The bad guys are easily beaten as the credits are overlayed on ancient ninja scrolls intercut with the fights. The bad guys use their last resource, a samurai who quickly defeats his opponent and proclaims- "The loss of a fight means the loss of one's life to a Samurai!" Disgraced, the Chinese fighter kills himself before his brothers can stop him. Then Lo Mang (the only original venom in this one) my favorite of the Venom Mob steps forward to fight.

In a great little dialog exchange the Samurai looks to Liang (Lo) and says- "Bare Handed?", to which the reply, "I'll use my hands against any weapon!".
Liang defeats the Samurai (he doesn't even take his cape off!) even succeeding in taking his sword from him along with another great line- "You want this
back or...wanna use another one hhmmm?" Then another of the heroes reminds the Samurai of what he said earlier. The Samurai commits Seppuka but before he dies, he shows the leader of the good guys a ring and warns him that when the ring appears again in the future it will mean his death. He plucks it at him and the leader catches it cutting his palm in the process. The heroes eventually receive a challenge note from another Japanese, a classmate of the fallen Samurai. The note mentions Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth. Five elemental locations for their best fighters to meet and fight.

The leader, now poisoned from the ring he caught must send his best men out and fortify their base as they know nothing of the ninjas. Ultimately the
warriors go out to fight the 5 element ninjas in some of the most spectacular martial arts displays ever put to celluloid. In Changs films one of his
trademarks was to have the hero mortally wounded in some way but still fighting to the end and only expiring when his mission is complete. This remarkable cinematic "never say die" approach had never been taken to such extremes as the much talked about sequence during the Earth Element fight scene.

In it, the hero shows up and finds no one there when suddenly a spear like weapon erupts from the ground beneath him stabbing him between the legs. A normal man would have crumpled over and called it a day but not this guy. He takes three more stabs to the groin before the Earth Ninjas show themselves in dramatic fashion. He puts up a good fight beating up on several of the ninjas when the main villain shows up (real life Triad boss Chen Hui Min) and fights him. After about 7 or 8 stabs to the groin the camera pans down to reveal the man's intestine rolling out between his legs. Unbelievably, he continues to fight until one last stab, the villain slices his chest open finally ending the heroes valiant effort.

When their bodies are brought back Cheng Tien Chi replies- "His guts are all over the place!". There are many great lines here. The ninjas eventually march on the heroes' base sneaking in and decimating everyone within. One classic line sees Cheng telling Lo he'll avenge his death to which the response is "I'M NOT DEAD YET!!". Only one survives the massacre. He goes back to his original master who had studied Ninjitsu (Ninjitsu was originally a Chinese art that was expanded upon by the Japanese) and along with 3 other men learn the ninja arts and how to conquer the 5 elements using a weapon that would make Batman or Q from James Bond jealous with envy. (You have to see it to fully appreciate it). The finale features a series of outrageously gory and spectacular action set pieces. The final four-on-one duel with the head ninja is one of the greatest final duels ever.

I don't think I've ever seen another kung fu picture that comes remotely close to this one then or now in terms of the comic book violence or the raw,
visceral performances by the central male leads which was a mainstay in Chang's movies and by this point had come more from the elaborate martial arts
sequences on display rather than the perfomances themselves.

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« #56 : January 03, 2007, 12:45:21 PM »

Cheng Tien Chi, or Ricky Cheng, was the films star and had been in kung fu movies since 1976 in bit parts and supporting roles. He was a friend of Jackie
Chan's and was an incredible performer and acrobat. He had appeared in several of Changs Shaw films before landing the lead in 5 ELEMENT NINJAS. After Chang had left Shaws, Cheng went with him and stayed loyal until the end. Some of Chengs credits include THE MYSTERY OF CHESS BOXING (1978), 7 STEPS OF KUNG FU (1979), THE FEARLESS HYENA (1979), BRAVE ARCHER 3 (1981) and HOUSE OF TRAPS (1982).

Cheng also had the lead in Chang's last film for Shaw Brothers, THE WEIRD MAN. The less said about it the better. It's recommended only for die hard fans. Some elements from this film would turn up in Chang's independent film THE NINE DEMONS (1983) only with less impressive production values.

During the Shaw Brothers waning years, they would continue to produce quality films but not as many nor as fruitful as the years preceding 1982. They went from producing 40+ films a year to 7 in 1985. There chief rival Golden Harvest had, by 1983, supplanted them as the most powerful studio in Asia. GH had Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao among others doing hit after hit with their new wave style of filmmaking that featured modern stories that were relevant for the time and the most extravagant and jaw dropping stunts (cars and human) ever seen. Meanwhile, the Shaws continued to do the same kinds of films they had always done. There were a few examples of adapting to the new style but these efforts, while enjoyable, seemed like a lost puppy not knowing where his home was. By the time the Shaws changed their style it was too late. Not one to admit defeat, Run Run Shaw closed down his filmmaking facilities and almost immediately began producing programs for television soon becoming the largest supplier of TV broadcast across the Asian continent.

There talent pool was invited to participate in these productions but at the time film stars didn't do TV. Some took the invitation while others went to
Golden Harvest never to enjoy the kind of career they had had under the Shaw banner. For a decade the Shaw empire conquered GH and now that the tables were turned they weren't about to let their former competitions talent pool overshadow them on their own turf.

Some of the Shaw stars would go on to more success while others would not or simply disappear into obscurity. Much as been said of the fate of these
performers but below is what I know to be true...

DAVID CHIANG- After years of sharing the limelight with fellow performer Ti Lung, retired from cinema in the mid 80s and relocated to Canada. The recent Shaw remastered DVDs has rekindled interest in his past career.

TI LUNG- Never officially retired but after Shaws folded, sunk into alcoholism until former Chang acolyte John Woo and actor Chow Yun Fat coaxed him into
appearing as the lead in Woo's seminal A BETTER TOMORROW which Ti Lung won a HK Best Actor award for his performance. Ti Lung has simultaneously appeared in movies and popular television dramas since.

CHEN KUAN TAI- The popular actor never retired and continued to do action pictures after Shaws closed their movie facilities. The recent Shaw remastered
catalog of movies rekindled interest in his career and he has played opposite Donnie Yen in DRAGON TIGER GATE (2005) and is rumored to cameo in the FLYING GUILLOTINE remake which he starred in the original.

ALEXANDER FU SHENG- The prototype for Jackie Chan. Hugely popular actor during his tenure from 1974 until his death in a car accident filming THE EIGHT
DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER for Shaw Brothers in 1984. A favorite of Chang Cheh the troubled star had broken his leg twice on set and also moved into the house that Bruce Lee used to live in known for its bad Feng Shui. Has a huge following in the US. He was 29 years old.

CHI KUAN CHUN- Friend of Fu Sheng and a real fighter. Did many movies alongside Fu Sheng. Left Shaws in 1977 and formed his own production company. Still active today and looks much the same only more muscular. Appeared in the recent Shaw Brothers revival film DRUNKEN MONKEY (2003).

LIU CHIA LIANG- Directed some of the most famous Shaw films. Recently offered invitations for Americans that wanted to learn his style to come and stay with him for as long as they wanted and learn as much as they wanted. related to the real life Chinese hero (and subject of dozens of films most recently essayed by Jet Li) Wong Fei Hung. Turned Hui Ying Hung, rumored to have been a streetwalker, into a female kung fu star. Rumored to have cancer, rumored to have died, he's still directing in his 70s.

LIU CHIA HUI aka GORDON LIU- adopted brother of Liu Chia Liang. Featured in all his films. His shaved head became iconic after starring in the classic 36th
CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN. Sporadically appeared in films after Shaws folded. Got big roles in the KILL BILL films and then renewed popularity after the Shaw re-releases. Still doing movies today.

YUE HUA- Big star in the 70s. Father of David Chiang. Currently lives in Canada and renewed interest in his career from the Shaw releases. Very good actor.

ERH TUNG SHENG aka DEREK YEE- David Chiang's half brother and had a fruitful career as a kung fu star at Shaw Brothers. After the Studio closed Derek became a critically acclaimed director of popular dramas and love stories in HK.

CHANG CHEH- Started out as a critic and screenwriter before becoming a director. Filmed the FIRST HK film to gross 1 million at the HK box office (THE ONE
ARMED SWORDSMAN). Started dozens of careers both behind and in front of the camera. Received lifetime Achievement Award shortly before his death in June 2002. An innovator, he influenced many directors both domestically and in America. Influences of Japanese, French and Italian cinema can be found in his works.

KUEI CHI HUNG- A Chang Cheh disciple, responsible for some of the grittiest horror and action films to ever come out of HK. Relocated to Canada adn succumbed to Cancer in 1999.

KUO CHUI- After Shaws closed he continued to do movies starring in or doing the choreography. In the late 90s he became one of the most sought after action designers for the Bond film TOMORROW NEVER DIES (also had a cameo), the French blockbuster BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF and the HK Indiana Jones style adventure THE TOUCH (2003). Still going today.

LO MANG- Rumored to have been Chang Cheh's chaffeur. After Shaws closed he did bit parts in GH films and numerous tv shows. Began appearing in movies regularly again in the mid 90s. A real fighter, he recently participated in a feat of strength show on HK television. Renewed interest in career after Shaw remasters.

LU FENG- No one knows where he is now. Occassionally appears in action films. Rumored to have wanted too much money for the now defunct Shaw Brothers Convention that never took place. A real weapons master.

SUN CHIEN- The kicker in the Venom films. A real Tae Kwon Do master. Korean actor never fully utilized in the Venom films but definitely talented. After
Shaws closed did choreography on some tv shows before disappearing into obscurity. Rumored to have been managing a HK MacDonalds!

CHIANG SHENG- Nick named "Cutey Pie" by kung fu fans. The Venom films were more popular in Taiwan than HK so when Shaws closed film production, Chiang and Lu Feng went back to Taiwan. They didn't get the roles they thought they'd get and Chiang's wife left him and he sank further into alcoholism which eventually took his life in 1992. It was three days before anyone found him. He died penniless. In a recent interview his friend and colleague Kuo Chui said he believed the alcohol didn't kill Chiang Sheng but a broken heart.

WEI PAI- The Snake Man in the FIVE VENOMS movie. Not considered one of the original five. He was not liked by the other actors because of arrogant behavior. Was not happy because he wasn't given bigger or solo roles and eventually left Shaws for GH where he got one shot at a solo vehicle LAST HURRAH FOR CHIVALRY. It was not successful. Got bit parts in some Jackie Chan films before disappearing entirely.

KU FENG- Revered actor, received numerous awards for his various performances. Never quit doing movies after Shaw closed. Did many tv programs and movies and still active today.

LO LIEH- Very popular star and the first international kung fu star. Didn't know any martial arts in real life. Had a career from 1966 until his death from
cancer in November of 2002. Spoke fluent english.

LIANG CHIA JEN- Called "Beardy" among fans because of his thick facial hair. Hugely popular. Did numerous Shaw and independent productions until his career slowed down a bit in the 90s but once the Shaw library began surfacing again he has been very busy in film and television. In his early years he never knew martial arts but you'd never know. Was a favorite among choreographers as he could quickly pick up the techniques. Lived with Sammo Hung for a few years.

WONG YU- A star but not a huge star compared to others. Said to be in the car that Fu Sheng was killed in. A student of Liu Chia Liang and after the Shaw
remastered DVDs came out, he opened a martial arts school after renewed interest in his career......

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« #57 : January 05, 2007, 07:44:35 PM »

CHENG PEI-PEI- The first female martial arts movie star. First film was COME DRINK WITH ME and it became an international sensation making Cheng a star over night. Her last film was the Shaw Brothers adventure THE LADY HERMIT (1971). She retired from the movie industry after marrying an American business man and relocating to the US. She works occassionally as a dance instructor. After appearing as the main villain in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON she began a second career in HK action films and even more exposure after the Shaw remasters hit. Has a beautiful daughter.

CHANG CHAN PENG- Real life brother to Alexander Fu Sheng. Appeared in nearly all his 1980s films leading up to his death in a car wreck in 1984 during production of the somber classic THE 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER. Chang, who also was in the car, forsook acting after his brothers death.

HWANG JANG LEE- Korean super kicker, the greatest movie bootmaster of all time period. A real badass both on and off screen. Self taught in Tae Kwon Do. So impressed the Korean masters he eventually was given the honor of training Korean troops during the Vietnam War where he was challenged by a knife weilding attacker and killed the man with a kick to the head. The case was dismissed. He and Jackie Chan hated each other and Hwang kicked Jackies teeth out on the SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW set and knocked Jackie unconscious on the followup DRUNKEN MASTER. He did two movies for Shaw Brothers and one unfinished one when he reportedly walked off the set after an argument with Sir Run Run Shaw's producer girl friend Mona Fong. Retired and runs a Hotel chain in Korea.

DRAGON LEE- One of the most popular of the Bruce lee-alikes. Never did one good movie but hundreds of poor-average ones. Supposedly of Russian descent(!) he has disappeared although rumored to have been murdered by the Triads.

KWON YOUNG MOON- Another Korean super kicker. Sylvester Stallone's martial arts instructor. Famous in HK for letting trucks run over his stomach. Appeared in hundreds of films. Did a handful for Shaw's like KILLER CONSTABLE, MY YOUNG AUNTIE and RETURN TO THE 36TH CHAMBER. The indy classic KUNG FU ZOMBIE is a favorite. Known as the Mad Korean in fan circles. Whereabouts unknown.

TAI CHI HSIEN (ROBERT TAI)- Close friend and former classmate of three of the Venoms. When Liu Chia Liang split from Chang Cheh's team, Tai took over. A good choreographer if a bit unchanneled. After leaving Shaw's directed and choreographed some of the dumbest, most ridiculous kung fu movies ever to grace a screen. Directed the unbelievably retarded 8 hour(!) NINJA: THE FINAL DUEL and the equally vapid and mind blowingly stupid TV series VENOM OF THE NINJA. His most recent production TRINITY GOES EAST is riotously horrible. Today, apparently a broke and bitter man. In interviews he talks badly of nearly everyone he has worked with.

HUI YING HUNG- A protege and former lover of Liu Chia Liang. The queen of kung fu cinema in the 80s and still does action pictures. The first HK actress to appear nude in the local version of Playboy. Rumored to have been a street walker before Liu discovered her. Excellent screen fighting skills.

JIMMY WANG YU- The first action star in HK. A former swimming champion, had little to no screen fighting skills but oozed brutal charisma on screen in spite of being particularly wooden. Starred in the first HK film to break the million dollar mark, Chang's THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN. Jimmy made a career out of playing one armed characters even angering the Shaw's when he left for GH to make a series of One Armed movies for them. Co-starred alongside former 007 George Lazenby in THE MAN FROM HONG KONG. Later, it was found out Jimmy had serious ties with the HK Triad Organization. Helped Jackie Chan get out of being killed after angering hack director Lo Wei.

BILLY CHONG- Popular Indonesian actor who did a handful of fondly remembered action programmers like KUNG FU ZOMBIE, KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, A HARD WAY TO DIE, the Shaw co-financed indy CRYSTAL FIST and his best, the Sun Chung directed indy A FISTFUL OF TALONS aka EARTH, WIND, FIRE, MOUNTAIN. Eventually quit the industry and became a pop singer.

ALEXANDER LO REI- Popular 80s kung fu star. Appeared in nearly every Robert Tai movie. His best is definitely the Tai-less SHAOLIN VS. LAMA. In recent years was one of the most sought after choreographers in HK.

JOHN LIU- Incredible flexibility. Taught by another famous taiwanese and HK film star, super kicker Tan Tao Liang who forced him into full splits which accounts for his amazing flexibility. Called "Rubber Legs" by fans. The first man to beat Chuck Norris in the full contact Tournament of Past Champions held in France. Started his own production company in the early 80s. Began filming NINJA IN NEW YORK and it remains an unfinished film. Reportedly financed on Liu's American Express card. His dubiously autobiographical WHEN ZEN KWON DO STRIKES IN PARIS is one of the worst cases of arrogant back patting yu're ever likely to see. Appeared in the awful TRINITY GOES EAST from a few years back.

CHING SIU TUNG- Starred in the excellent 1980 Shaw Brothers kung fu movie MONKEY KUNG FU. Some of the best fight scenes ever and one of the best final fights of all time. Went on to become a very much in demand action choreographer and director in the mid 80s till today......

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