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Legendary Weapons of China (1982: Lau Kar-leung: Hong Kong)

13 August 2019 - 05:33 PM

"See, he can put his guts back inside." -- audience member
"Your beard is on your nose." -- Hsiao Ho

Chinese title (十八般武藝) roughly translated as 18 ways of martial arts/skills

This film starts off with the ubiquitous in Hong Kong cinema at the time, the staged credit opening, with a pause on the credits and a non-descript background (usually one color). This gives you a taste for what is to come, but is not part of the storyline. You might notice that a bow is used here which later in the film is not used as one of the 18 weapons in the film (though is used during the scene with Master Mo), though it has been considered one of the weapons in older lists. The most hilarious aspect of this is how much Kara Hui seems to enjoy killing off people. My favorite part is Hsiao Hos winning a double dao (刀) dual by being really, really flexible.

Lui Gung (Lau Kar-leung) was sent to Yunnan three years previously to start another branch of the Boxer Gang. He disbanded it because of his disbelief that spiritual fighters can learn to block bullets. He is now considered a traitor to be drawn and quartered and his descendants killed so that the Empress Dowager Cixi will not hear of this (I would date the film about 1900 given these facts.) Chief Li visits Magic Fighter leader Tieh Tien (Chu Tit-wo) for him to send a fighter Tieh Hau (Hsiao Ho), who will have to be sacrificed whether he succeeds or not, to kill Lui Gung. Li visits the Earth Clan, whom have been practicing diligently on getting themselves killed by bullets*, to send their own representative which will ultimately be Ti Tan (Gordon Liu.) They are to look for anyone who has skills in the 18 weapons and has a propensity to show off their skills.

Meanwhile Fang Shau-ching (Kara Hui) from the Heavenly Clan was also sent (or else she went on her own; still not sure about this; she says she received her orders but we never see that). I would say that Kara Hui has one of the worst male disguises I have seen except, but there are too many instances of this to count in Hong Kong cinema (like Wing Chun; countless Bridget Lin roles; The Spiritual Boxer; etc...) And just like in The Spiritual Boxer it later uses the plot device I just touched a male booby so it must be a female (I feel a little sorry for tubby guys or guys with gynecomastia.) However, Tieh Hau does not know about Victor/Victoria being on the same side as him which leads to some nice battles between the two early on. The best is the cramped attic sequence which I wish they elongated.

Master Mo (which reminds me of the old book The Book of Master Mo by Mao Zi), a con-artist played well by Alexander Fu Sheng, in a supporting role, is paid to impersonate Lui Gung by his brother Lui Yung (whom I doubt very much would kill himself if he was successful.) However, he ends up impersonating Lui Yung when he is made a surrogate fighter when Yung takes him over via a Mao Shan doll (analogous to a scene in Dirty Ho where Kara Hui is also like a marionette.) I do love that scene and add in potty humor and it adds even more excremental goodness.

Now who is this woodcutter named Tien Gung Yu with trembling hands and the ability to lift heavy objects? I think we all know who he is and soon all the characters do as well. But does he survive his unmasking? Is his brother on his side? Does he win over any converts? Is the last half hour an awesome amalgam of weaponry (at least 18 weapons worth with Chinese characters stating each one like it is a fighter in a wuxia film), fighting, long takes and superb martial artists? Are my questions rhetorical?

Speaking of non-rhetorical: this movie does ask important questions that other films rarely go into. Do you ever wonder how they learn to rip off their own genitalia? How do they practice? I find it hilarious that after the self-emasculation scene you see an object fly up into the air and descend. I also wonder if ripping out your own eyes is actually fatal (analogous to biting off your own tongue in several films). I do not want to try it myself though. During the we can block bullets scene I was also wondering would not it be smarter to first attempt shots on non-lethal areas on the body. Once you pass that test than you can try fatal shots. It is funny that Hsiao Hos character gets sick from the feces infested lavatory water (eau de toilette) but I wonder if Fu Shengs character does since you no longer see him in the movie and he spends more time looking for the money in the cesspool.

For the most part the early scenes are too short in their fighting to satisfy connoisseurs of hand-to-hand combat. I think because of one of the main bouts with Fu Sheng is technically a fake fight that it is not as interesting to some, but it is still one of my favorite staged (in the cinematic world) scenes because of how good it looked, how funny it was and of course the Chang Cheh reference with pushing the guts back in and fighting on -- Fu Sheng has had his midsection previously pierced and bandaged (Disciples of Shaolin for example). When the fights are elongated they are superlative. This is where Lau Kar-leungs direction and action choreography (along with Hsiao Ho and Lee King-chu) help tremendously. Plus the fact that he works with tremendous martial art talents, uses longer takes than most directors and often uses real weapons.

There are a few negatives to the film are the sometimes obnoxious electronic score and the plot that could have used a little more editing especially in dealing with the relationships between Magic Fighters and Spiritual Boxers (the subtitles also add Mao Shan, but Spiritual Boxers tend to be Mao Shan correct?). However, there are additional positives to the film. The non-action choreography and editing is nice as well. One of my favorite short scenes of this type about 16 minutes in goes from a transitional cut to a full-screen fan with Chinese characters to it folding with a zoom to Lui Yung.** There are a lot of little scenes like this when you pay attention (usually after a few watches when you are not concentrating on the action or humor.) Lau is underappreciated as an auteur. Lau has another film that deals with some of his favorite topics like authenticity and identity. Obviously in his approach to martial arts mentioned above. But also look at how many films of his deal with impersonators, doppelgangers (both real and supernatural), woman as men, westernization, peons as masters and masters as peons. This film has all of those so much that I noticed it has confused several reviewers. Of course it does not help that Lau Kar-wing does look like his brother Lau Kar-leung.

I am going to go with the critical consensus on this and state this is one of the better 1980s Hong Kong films regardless of studio. I have had a lot of fun with the plot, I think the action is quite good (though not enough of it) and the ending(s) is superb. I love seeing so many weapons used so well. I could have even watched Lau Kar-leung practice with all of them and elongate this film.  I have rewatched this several times and should rewatch it again in the future.

I have the R1 Image release and it has English subtitles (no dubtitles). It comes with the Mandarin mono and Mandarin 5.1 dub only. This really should have had the Cantonese language dubbing which is the preferred dub of this film. The IVL R3 release has that dub. The bonus material is rather light. You have Shaw Brothers Trailers (11 of the Image/Celestial releases) and Other Titles You Might Like (13 and some of them like Shaolin Family Soccer you might not like.) The print is rather good, especially compared to a lot of other Image releases which suffer from ghosting. This looks to me to be progressive as well. I believe the IVL release is a few minutes shorter because of a crummy PAL-to-NTSC conversion. The Image release, for me, came with two inserts: Asian Cinema Catalog No. 1 and a postcard you filled out to receive advance notice of future releases.

* In Laus first released film The Spiritual Boxer he has a similar scene to start the film with.

** David Bordwell has a nice write-up in Planet Hong Kong (2nd Edition; pg. 144-145) on how a non-action choreographed scene uses a pause/burst/pause pattern prevalent in Hong Kong cinema.

Keywords: bow and arrow, Boxer Gang, Boxer Rebellion, butterfly knife, dagger, dart, dao (刀), dogs blood, Earth Clan, Empress Dowager Cixi, flying hook, flying stars, Heavenly Clan, Hou Yi, guandao, Guangdong, Guangzhou, inn, Iron Head Kung Fu, Jian (劍 or 剑), Kwan Gung, Mao Shan (茅山; literal is grass-reeds mountain), monks spade (moon tooth), poop, Qing, queue, reverse filming, shield, snake spear, staff (棍), straw effigy doll, tassel spear, tea: [Lai Chi (?; I believe lychee); Puer, Lung Ching (Dragon Well), Sui Sin (water sprite)], Three-Sectioned Chain Whip, three-section staff, tonfa (guai), undercranking, wirework, Yunnan.

Book: The Hong Kong Filmography, 1977-1997 (2000) by John Charles: he gives this a 9/10. He also mentions that the English score has some musical cues from the DeWolfe music library which some of it was used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Book: Planet Hong Kong 2nd Edition (2011) by David Bordwell
Book: Chasing Dragons (2006) by David West. This has to have one of the more insane and wrong statements I have read on this film: the first kung fu movie to rely on intertextuality to create meaning on the visual plane. I also disagree with The disembowelment scene makes no sense I f the viewer is not familiar with Changs movies I think it adds a different aspect if you are familiar with Chehs films, but I think it works on its own as well.
Book: Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head (1996) by Stefan Hammond & Mike Wilkins: How many books are going to get things wrong? This one states the opening is the shooting scene which happens 11 minutes into the film. I am not sure either I would call Gordon Liu's character a Shaolin monk, though he does dress like one later.
Book: Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Book (2011) by Richard Meyers: a couple of quotes I think you will like [on Mao Shan] "These Chinese magician-spies are feared to this day and rarely spoken of even by the filmmakers who cautiously picture them." "Alexander Fu Sheng in total Bob Hope mode" and one I have no issue with "I've often referred to it as the quintessential kung fu film."
Link: Legendary Weapons of China IVL R3 vs. Image R1
Link: Wikipedia Entry

Notice that a bow is used in the opening sequence but not used later one as one of the 18 weapons. The bow has been considered one of the 18 weapons in other lists that I have read.
The prevention of eye gouging reminds me of The Three Stooges.
If there is one Chinese character that I think should be memorized it is tea (茶). I noticed the subtitles used tavern when I think tea house would have been a better translation.
Wu Tang clan has a LP release called Legendary Weapons.
Is there a good book on Mao Shan?
Reviews: Cityonfire (rating 9/10 and 8.5/10)
Review: LoveHKFilm

Paper Marriage (1988: Sammo Hung: Hong Kong/Canada)

13 August 2019 - 05:30 PM

Chinese title: 過埠新娘 roughly means Passport Bride. There is another Hong Kong film with the same title from Shaw Brothers in 1959. That film was a reworking of Hollywood’s Waterloo Bridge (1940).

“Sex maniacs, porno representatives. I’m excited to see you”

Romantic comedies are generally a pretty predictable subgenre of films. There are certainly some good ones out there like When Harry Met Sally (1989), Say Anything (1989) though most tend to be middling affairs that follow some very basic pattern like boy meets girl (usually through a “meet cute”), boy almost woos girl, boy does something stupid to upset girl, boy must have dramatic scene in last act sometimes involving Peter Gabriel music to win back girl. Here we have a scenario where the entire plot is based on getting two unlikely people together: a needed green card (done earlier in Come Live with Me (1941), and done later in Green Card (1990) and The Proposal (2009).) Hilariously this is supposed to be taking place in Los Angeles. However, they go the races at the Northlands in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Frank Lee’s Martial Arts Studio is in Edmonton and even more hilarious is the famous West Edmonton Mall.

Bo Chin (Sammo Hung) needs money after losing at the horse races, his current alimony to his ex-wife (real life future wife Joyce Godenzi) and previously owing money to low level gangsters whose Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses make them look like they were rejected from the casting call of Magnum P.I. He is a misogynist curmudgeon who never takes a bath and, of course, will be redeemable by the end of the film (I do not know about the bath thing though.) He takes a job as an acupuncture guinea pig. Do not expect it to go well. Off to Frank Lee’s Martial Arts studio where he visits Uncle Tsai (Frank Lee). Tsai does not give him great hope for money as Chin is a shell of his former kickboxing self but does give him an idea. A sham marriage which he whispers into his ear which makes absolutely no sense because there is no one in the room. Meanwhile Jade Lee (Maggie Cheung) is leaving Hong Kong for the United States to be with her boyfriend Peter (Alfred Cheung who also happens to be the director) who is more interested in her money than her. He wants her to be part of a fake marriage. We know who with.

Unfortunately Peter takes off with the money putting both Jade and Bo into a bad situation. They need money. They get some as a couple for the same Psychological Research center proving that women can take more punishment then men. But still not enough. Bo has to get back into fighting, eventually having a match with his wife’s new beau (Billy Chow) and Jade decides to try her hand at mud wrestling. Now she can get 2000 dollars per mud wrestling match. That is crazy unless they were thinking Hong Kong dollars. I would do that (either American or Hong Kong dollars or a free cup of tea.)

But the last act (or I think we need to pad more time to the film and involve some action sequences) takes the film into even more worn territory plot wise as it includes the “getting the wrong suitcase/duffel bag/satchel switcheroo” scenario. How this happens strains any sense of credibility, but try not to think about it. The two end up with a lot of money they have dreamed about, but like the duffel bag in No Country for Old Men that baggage comes with a price. But here for most of us viewers the fun begins, especially when Dick Wei shows up in his Miami Vice couture. Then the film is fight and stunt bliss, especially in the West Edmonton Mall. Though I am rooting for Dick Wei strictly because of his attire, that and being the former head of the Venoms Clan.

Action aficionados might be disappointed by the straight-up boxing match between Phillip Ko and Hung. It is a bit weird. Ko has trouble throwing a legitimately looking jab and cross. It just looks awkward. You can see him push the arm instead of snapping it across and his balance is off. This is probably why it is filmed too close up. They also make the big mistake of going slow-motion after a bad punch. Never do this it exaggerates the poorly delivered hit. This is not a particular high point in either of their fight choreographies. The mud wrestling match is pretty much a squash. But the ringed kickboxing match between Hung and Billy Chow does fare better. Now I do not think Hung would ever win that type of match with Chow with him being a kickboxing champion and still competing at the time of the filming, but it does look a lot better than the one with Ko. Chow was trained by Frank Lee at the time and, of course, was in Edmonton at the time. He impressed Sammo Hung in this which helped lead to bigger and better roles (or at least more acting jobs) like Fist of Legend.* But the last act is the strongest with action. There are a couple of nice stunts, especially the fall through the glass, bouncing off an awning and then not bouncing off the ground for one stunt man. You get a nice showing of Billy Chow versus the late real-life kickboxer Tony Morelli and much more.

Overall the movie is pleasant enough. Some of the funniest scenes involve the guinea pig research. The action is sporadic, sometimes bad, and sometimes really good. In the filmography of Sammo Hung it is filler. It does not reach the lows of his later films like Don’t Give a Damn, but I do not think many will prefer this to Dragon’s Forever or Pedicab Driver. But to be fair I do not know the filmography of the director Alfred Cheung that well. Too much of the plot is cliché as it revolves around a “Green Card” angle and then a “mistaken baggage” subplot. But you could probably get away with watching this or Heroes of the East with your non-martial arts supporting significant other. Especially if they have forced you to watch too many romantic comedies. The horror, the horror.

I viewed this on the Universe R0/NTSC DVD release. It has decent English subtitles along with Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified and Bahasa. There are two audit tracks: Mandarin and Cantonese (my preferred for this.) There is the Trailer and More Attractions (Where’s Officer Tuba; Shanghai, Shanghai; The Owl vs Bombo).

* Now if you are looking at release dates this statement may confuse you. The film was released in 1988, but filmed in 1986 (I am not sure why the delay.) Billy Chow had done a couple of roles before, but this was a big break because it led to Sammo Hung hiring him again which then lead to more work.

Keywords: 1986 Senior Games, Chinese Indians, Chinese mime, Foot Locker, Frank Lee’s Martial Arts Studio, front flip kick, mud wrestling, INS, Muay Thai, NAIT, Northlands, optical effects, payphone, Radio Shack, Right Guard, rotary telephone, spinning back fist, Tony Morelli, USA Today, water slide, West Edmonton Mall

That first hit from Sammo to the female during the racetrack scenes looked overly hard.
That certainly is not Sammo’s body with that face. Could not find that picture with Frank Lee but I am sure it is Billy Chow.
Sammo makes fun of her teeth. She would get these fixed in real life.
I am glad I do not see those horrible guys see-through mesh shirts now like I did in the late 1980s.
Are there marriage ceremonies that do both “you may now kiss the bride” and “you may now kiss the groom?”
Why did this take so long to get released?

Youtube: Paper Marriage in News Report (1986) Cheung mentions Neil Simon. Handover is mentioned. Calls Sammo Hung Southeast Asia’s greatest star. Shows behind the scenes of glass-breaking stunt toward end.
Youtube: Billy Chow Extra. 43 wins, 8 losses 30 knock outs. Chow talks about Paper Marriage being his first film, but strangely enough he did act in two films before this movie. You can also find this extra on the Dragons Forever Zoke Culture release.
Book: The Hong Kong Filmography, 1977-1997 (2000) by John Charles: he gives this a 6/10. He does mention Siao Yu (1995), which I have not seen, as having a similar but more serious plot.
Love HK Film: small review.