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October 07, 2015

Blasts from Hong Kong Past

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The Raid / Cai shu zhi heng sao qian jun
Tsui Hark and Ching Siu-Tung - 1991

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The Avenging Fist / Kuen Sun
Andrew Lau and Corey Yuen - 2001
both Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Well Go USA has reissued a couple of films from two old masters of the Hong Kong action film. Not solo works, both are collaborative efforts, one worth checking out, the other probably to be chucked out by all but the most dedicated fan of Hong Kong cinema.

The Raid, directed by Tsui and Ching Sui-tung, is somewhat reminiscent of Peking Opera Blues. Based on a popular Chinese comic book adventure of the elderly Dr. Choy, this is a combination of action adventure and that unique Hong Kong staple, the nonsense film. Those demanding tonal consistency may be put off by the spurting blood when characters are shooting each other. In addition to the gun play is plenty of old fashioned martial arts, wire work, editing tricks, and pre-CGI special effects. As a reminder of the source material, the film occasionally has animated links between scenes.

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Taking place in Manchuria in 1932, Dr. Choy is brought in to aid some soldiers in the field. Advised to stay at home, Choy sneaks back to join the soldiers. Along with his young niece, Nancy, a budding pole fighter, and boy known as Smartie, Choy is caught up in a plot to stop “The Last Emperor”, Pu Yi, collaborating with the Japanese, by blowing up a factory used to create poison gas. Adding to the confusion is the sibling rivalry of two brothers, Bobo Bear (Jacky Cheung) and Big Nose (Corey Yuen), and their respective factions, and a couple of women with secret identities. (And shouldn't Jacky Cheung be playing a character named Big Nose?)

Best are a Nazi inspired musical number that rivals any of Mel Brooks’ Third Reich satires, and a scene of several lovers hiding from each other in a bed room. I would hope that some more of the earlier works by Tsui Hark get some DVD love. On my wish list, the hard to see Shanghai Blues, and the madcap The Chinese Feast with improved English subtitles.

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Uncle Choy was Dean Shek's final film performance before retiring at age 42. Shek started as a Shaw Brothers actor in 1968 at age 18. Still reportedly alive, to be 65 on October 17, there is nothing about Shek's life since a final credit as the producer of the film Angel Hunter. The Raid also was the last role for Joyce Godenzi, seen here as a Chinese star who turns out to be a Japanese agent. Godenzi is married to Sammo Hung. Which brings us to the other DVD here . .

As for The Avenging Fist, one would have hoped for something better from Andrew Lau and Corey Yuen. That the film is a mish-mash of elements, off the top of my head, Metropolis, Blade Runner, Star Wars and Clockwork Orange is the least of the problems. How to make sense of a film in which the premise involves wearing a special glove that helps the wearer use significantly more than ten percent of the brain, but is shown used for powerful, cosmic punching? Somehow, this glove also turns the person wearing it into a killer, except for Sammo Hung, who blames the glove for making him fat.

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This is an hour and a half of cheesy special effects, and poorly thought out plot points. As soon as I saw the name of schlockmeister Wong Jing in the credits, I knew there was trouble ahead. More trouble than I knew when doing some research - the film was intended to be adapted from the video game, Tekken - but due to the failure to properly get rights to the property, there is an awkward disclaimer at the close of this film. Lau and Yuen redeemed themselves in 2002, Lau with Infernal Affairs, and Yuen turning Shu Qi into a formidable martial arts star in So Close, and the two collaborating again with the first entry of The Transporter.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 7, 2015 08:59 PM