Sunday, March 16, 2008

Two More from Joy Sales/HKIFF

Here are two more VCDs from Fortune Star/Joy Sales. Both are early productions from Golden Harvest and are reasonably enjoyable action films. Below are two fast march reviews of the films.

A Man Called Tiger
Director: Lo Wei
Year: 1973

Lo Wei and Jimmy Wang Yu team up again with Golden Harvest for A Man Called Tiger. Lo Wei was becoming quite the jetsetter with The Tattooed Dragon (1973) taking place in Thailand, Slaughter in San Francisco (1974) being located in San Francisco (duh) and this one being set in Kyoto, Japan (though there is very little Japanese flavor on screen and much of the film could have been shot in Hong Kong). I have to backtrack on a comment I made for my review of The Tattooed Dragon in which I said these early Lo Wei films for Golden Harvest felt like a long ways from his work for the Shaw Brothers. A Man Called Tiger in fact could very easily be mistaken for a Shaw Brothers production – particularly mystery/espionage films like Interpol, Black Falcon or Madam Slender Plum. It has many of those contemporary setting Shaw calling cards – nightclubs, gangsters, easy women, musical numbers, gamblers, tight blue suits and a tight lipped protagonist.

In this case, the most tight lipped of actors – Jimmy Wang Yu who rarely cracks a smile in any of his films. He has always struck me as a Chinese Jean-Paul Belmondo without the Gallic charm or really charm of any sort – constantly sour, surly, grim and implacable and in nearly every film I have seen him in he is out for blood and he inevitably gets it – often by the bucket load. In this film he portrays Chin Fu who has come to Kyoto to find out who is responsible for the suicide of his father – supposedly due to losing all of his money gambling but Chin Fu knows his old man never gambled. He quickly mixes it up with the Shimizu gang when the chief enforcer (Han Ying Chieh – also doubling here as the action director) pushes around a young female singer Ayako (Okada Kawai) for “dues” owed to the gang. After smacking them around a few times he is invited by the gang boss to join them as his right hand man and Chin accepts as this gets him in on the inside.

He suspects that the people behind his father’s death are the Yamamoto gang – chief rivals to Shimizu and headed by the fish-eyed Yamamoto (Tein Feng). The film soon falls into a steady drumbeat of escalating fights and women falling for him – first his landlady, then Yamamoto’s girl (Maria Yi Yi – who had appeared in two Bruce Lee films but who married in 1974 and vanished from the jade screen) and a couple others who often make goo-goo eyes at him. It must be the blue suits. Near the end a big gambling powwow occurs with Lo Wei showing up with a giant cigar in one hand and a petite young babe in the other. Fast moving with a confusing amount of characters and missing fathers and a fight about every ten minutes makes this an enjoyable slick romp.

The VCD is widescreen, fairly clean picture, hard to read subs at times but overall not bad.

My rating for this film: 7.0

Devil’s Treasure
Director: Jeng Cheung-who (a.k.a. Jeong Chang Hwa and a few others)
Year: 1973

Part adventure film, part thriller, this Golden Harvest production slowly evolves into a much better film than initially anticipated as it ratchets up the tension and leaves the “so cool” factor behind. Directed by Korean born Jeng Cheung-woo who was responsible for such terrific action films as Broken Oath, The Skyhawk and King Boxer, there is a fair amount of action here with a few future stars, but purists might be annoyed to see dramatic actor O Chun Hung knock around Sammo Hung and Ing-Sik Whang (also Korean) – not only individually but even when they team up against him. Still, it’s always good to see Sammo early on in his career and not only does he have a fairly large role with a couple fights but was co-action choreographer as well. On the other hand, fans of Nora Miao may be disappointed to see her strictly in a non-action faithful wife and good mother role.

Wang Chun (O Chun Hung) establishes his tough guy credentials early on in the film when a gang of punks tries to coerce money out of him. He quickly knocks them about and sends them scuttling away on all fours – and then swims across the harbor to Hong Kong! Why? Just because he can. He is a professional diver and needs to pay off his dead father’s debts – so when two slimy characters in sunglasses and smirks show up and offer him what could well be a shady job he only hesitates for a minute before accepting it. They have him dive down to a Japanese ship sunk in WWII to find a box of gold bars and when they open it up all I could think was $1,000 an ounce! It made me feel greedy. Of course, now that the gang has the gold they want to get rid of Wang but he fully expects this and turns the tables on them – but just as he does a gang of four Japanese hoodlums show up to claim the gold and kill off everyone – Sammo and Whang being two of them - though behind his droopy moustache Sammo looks more like a used car salesman than a thug.

The resourceful Wang turns the tables on them as well and before he knows it he has all the gold and sets off for home and his waiting sweetheart, Yen Yen (Nora). Jump ahead six years and Wang has wisely left the country for some unnamed land – perhaps Canada or Australia – and married Yen Yen and procreated Shan Shan. Here he owns a vast farm and is a model citizen, but not so wisely he didn’t change his name and sure enough the Japanese gang shows up one day on his doorstep demanding the gold unless he wants to see his wife and daughter killed. This touches off a tense cross country chase as Wang and his family try to escape by car, on foot and by rail in a land that is totally barren of any other people. It makes for a decently entertaining brew of action and nerves though it at times is a bit frustrating when Wang constantly leaves various members of the gang alive when he has a chance to kill them. But then the movie would have been a lot shorter.

The VCD is widescreen. The interior and night scenes are almost impossible to see and there are a number of them. Probably 25% of the time the sub-titles are indecipherable.

My rating for this film: 6.5

Just as a note - I am off to HK to spend about a week at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. I have tickets for about 20 films and hopefully will get to at least most of them. I tend to get all movied out fairly quickly at festivals, but will do my best to see many of these. Most of my selections are not surprisingly Asian, but I have a few others as well. In my experience, internet access in HK is not as convenient as in most other places in Asia so I am not sure how often I will be able to report on the films. But if I can, I will.

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