Thursday, January 27, 2022

Let There Be Cart-nage: Shaolin Kung Fu (1974) Review [Cinematic Vengeance Box Set]

Director: Joseph Kuo

Notable Cast: Wen Chiang-Long, Yi Yuan, Lu Ping, Liu Hsiu-Yun, Yee Hung, Yuan Shen, Yeung San-San, Tseng Chao, Yen Chung, Hu Chiu-Ping


While the phrase “never judge a book by its cover” can easily be translated to cinema, it’s not the poster that’s the initial obstacle for Shaolin Kung Fu. On the contrary, the original artwork (as seen at the top of this review) is quite incredible in its own right. What is the speed bump in getting audiences to watch this Joseph Kuo underground classic is the title? 


It’s fairly easy to play the “kung fu movie name generator” game by just remixing some generic words like ‘sword,’ ‘ninja,’ ‘Shaolin,’ or ‘kung fu.’ In the case of Shaolin Kung Fu, it’s a shock that they couldn’t at least think of one more word to tack on there to make it slightly more distinct. It’s a film about a rickshaw company, maybe throw that in there somehow? Hell, I’d even take Shaolin Kung Fu Vengeance to designate the tone of the latter half. 


Nonetheless, we are left with Shaolin Kung Fu and in spite of its forgettable title, the film is surprisingly one of Joseph Kuo’s best. It’s fairly straightforward with its plotting and characters, but a breakneck sense of pacing, a sweet marriage at the center, and some visceral fight sequences make this a hidden gem in the martial arts world. If anything, it’s perhaps the biggest surprise for fans in the Cinematic Vengeance box set from Eureka. 


Thursday, January 20, 2022

A One Man Warring Nation: The Boxer from Shantung (1972) Review [Shawscope Volume 1 Boxset]

Directors: Pao Hsueh-Li, Chang Cheh

Notable Cast: Chen Kuan-Tai, Ching Li, Cheng Kang-Yeh, David Chiang, Chiang Nan, Fung Ngai, Ku Feng, Tin Ching, Wong Ching


“I was sold out by my own man. There’s nothing more to say.”


It’s an obvious ambush at the Green Lotus Pavilion during the finale of The Boxer from Shantung. The audience knows it as the film directly shows all of the scheming by the local crime boss as he establishes the location, plants fighters throughout the crowd, and the sub-boss, played by an unhinged Ku Feng, buries his axe in a large vessel of peanuts. The villains know it, the audience knows it, and as if that wasn’t enough - the hero knows it. 


In the previous scene, the protagonist Ma Yongzhang, gives money to his loyal best friend and tells him to leave. To find a wife and settle down. He knows he’s not coming back from the Green Lotus Pavilion. If he’s lucky, he’ll achieve the revenge he desperately seeks from his corrupt boss and conniving cohorts before he leaves his mortal coil. 


It’s all as epic as it sounds. The final battle of the Green Lotus Pavilion is one for the books. The dynamic action works on a multitude of levels. The gore spills in bright red 1970s spurts. The carnage is visceral and shot with the incredible visual flair of director Chang Cheh. The star of the film, Chen Kuan-Thai, is soaked with sweat and blood. The scene has no score and it’s pacing is racked with tension. This is the Chang Cheh and Shaw Brothers brilliance in all its glory. 


Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Complications of the Interwebs - Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) Review

Director: Jon Watts

Notable Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Benedict Wong, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, JK Simmons


The final of four Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films in 2021 just happens to be one of the safest ones. In a year filled with giant question marks around new heroes like Shang-Chi and Eternals or the long-awaited, and still very mediocre, Black Widow, Spider-Man: No Way Home seemed like the one that audiences could devour with the most ease. It was a hero in his third solo film of the franchise, one with a deep history in pop culture, and audiences were craving a bit of comfort food in the wake of a new wave of pandemic after a long and tumultuous year. 


Marvel understood the need and so did Sony, considering it was a cooperative effort between the two studios in the most obvious ways possible. 


The box office numbers reflect this choice as audiences still repeatedly flock to theaters to see this third Spider-Man solo flick.  It’s not shocking. That’s what No Way Home is built to be as a film. It’s pure crowd-pleasing popcorn material through and through, almost to a fault. Nonetheless, through its dynamic action and charming performances, it’s hard not to love Spider-Man: No Way Home to some degree even if its reliance on nostalgia overpowers so much of its run-time and material. 


It's A Scream '22, Baby: Scream (2022) Review

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin,Tyler Gillett

Notable Cast: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, Dylan Minnette, Mason Gooding, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mikey Madison, Sonia Ben Ammar, Marley Shelton, Kyle Gallner


Over the last couple of decades, the Scream franchise has seen its fair share of praise and detractions. The original Scream was unleashed when I was 11 years old - and depending on your age in comparison that makes me either a baby or ancient but never betwixt, and it’s been a part of my horror history throughout. The meta commentaries, the satire, and the status as kick-starting a multitude of trends has cemented the Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson film and its subsequent sequels as one of the most iconic modern (post-modern?) horror series ever. 


In a day and age where the slasher is slowly but surely rearing its head once again, it’s not shocking that a new Scream film, tenaciously titled Scream - and from this point on will be referred to as Scream ‘22 for the sake of clarity, would also be coming back to theaters to take another stab at reigniting the franchise. 


It’s a new horror era though and the fresh minds of Radio Silence are slicing the line between modernizing the series and staying true to its core values with surgical expertise. Granted, the meta nature of its satire practically makes the series critic-proof to a certain degree, but it’s hard not to appreciate a legacy sequel that actively maintains the values of the legacy sequel while simultaneously running a cold, sharpened blade to its impracticalities. You know, as we all expect from a Scream film. 


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Two Drunk Worlds: The World of Drunken Master (1979) Review [Cinematic Vengeance Boxset]

Director: Joseph Kuo

Notable Cast: Jack Long, Lung Fei, Mark Long, Chen Hui-Lou, Lung Tien-Hsiang, Li Yi-Min, Jeannie Chang, Yu Sung-Chao, Chien Te-Men, Simon Yuen


In the martial arts cinema landscape, one could easily argue that there are films “pre-Drunken Master” and “post-Drunken Master.” Not only in the general combination of kung fu and comedy but in the sheer amount of knock-offs that arrived on the scene after the massive success of the Jackie Chan and Yuen Woo-Ping masterpiece. Although there are plenty of forgettable ones, there are also a handful of these films that impress on a surprising level. And then there are those films that fall right down the center - like The World of Drunken Master


Featuring some of the same kung fu comedy as its namesake would imply, this cult classic of the genre does a lot of things right and then promptly follows them up - or proceeds them - with some baffling choices. As a whole, it’s hard not to love the sheer entertainment present in the film with its relentlessly paced latter half and strangely long developing character work of the first half, but it’s also a film that doesn’t quite reach the loftiness of the originator.