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THE THIRD (AND HOPEFULLY NOT FINAL) WONG FEI-HUNG KUNG FU MOVIE REVIEW


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Film: Iron Monkey
Picked by: Execproducer

After a few years believing I had outgrown Kung Fu movies, this was one of the early 90's films that brought me back into the fold. Could have been alternately titled Wong Fei-hung Learns How To Be A Hero. With Donnie Yen as Wong Kei-ying and the underappreciated Yu Rongguang in the titular role of Iron Monkey. "

Spoiler

Iron-Monkey-Blu-ray-version-2018-Kung-Fu

 

Iron Monkey (1993)
Golden Harvest
Directed by: Yuen Woo-ping
Written byTsui Hark
Cast: Donnie Yen, Yu Rongguang, Jean Yang, Yuen Shun-yi, Yen Shi-kwan, Hsiao Ho, Angie Tsang.
Reviewed by: driver.

I remember seeing this in theaters back in '01 and thought it was a great movie. Let's see how well it holds up twenty years later. From the beginning the fight scenes seem to be played more for comedy and ass kicking than plain old ass kicking, and I'm good with that.
The bit about the shark fin soup is just as good as I remember.
Everything about this movie is gorgeous, from the set designs to the way its shot to the acrobatics and fight scenes.
Great movie. 

 

 

 

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I have two bonus reviews that I don't have the energy to finish tonight, so they'll be up tomorrow. At that point I turn things over to J.T. for a special addition to the proceedings. Once J.T. is finished, there will be two more reviews, one of which he has graciously offered to take on. I want to make sure everyone that submitted a review gets their pick done as well. Not a knock on those that didn't get their reviews completed. It's been a tough year for most of us. 

 

In the meantime, enjoy this tribute to the incomparable Yukari Oshima and that baby-faced killer the Mighty Moon Lee.

 

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You've worked hard, dude.  Get some rest.   We'll keep the tradition going on next year even if it is just one or two of us writing the reviews.

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I am definitely to blame this go around and still hope to do mine as I am now on the other side of hell.

That being said - I think the format (outside of maybe for Halloween) is dead

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  • 3 weeks later...

The John Pelan Tribute Review

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The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires

Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Written by Don Houghton

1974, 90 minutes

Starring:

  • Peter Cushing as Prof. Van Helsing
  • David Chiang as Hsi Ching
  • Robin Stewart as Leyland Van Helsing
  • Julie Ege as Vanessa Buren
  • Shih Szu as Mei Kwei
  • John Forbes-Robertson as Dracula
  • Shen Chan as Kah

By the Mid 1970's, the film going audience changed dramatically.  Classic monster movies were no longer a sure box office bet.  The Exorcist (1973) saw to that.  If horror cinema was going to survive, it had to get creative.  Enter The Dragon (1973) ushered in a new era of martial arts cinema and the ever resourceful Hammer Films never shied away from experimentation and risk.  I mean, Jesus, just look at Twins of Evil.

Anyway, some mad genius at Hammer got it into his head that marrying up the vampire story with elements of Asian culture might result in a tidy profit.  Hammer reached out to kung-fu film juggernaut, Shaw Brothers, and proposed that the next Dracula film should be shot in Hong Kong.  Shaw Brothers was all over it and had total buy in.  Peter Cushing (Horror Express) agreed to return as Dr. Van Helsing for one final run, but Christopher Lee sadly declined (or was it serendipity?). The story was then rewritten to minimize Dracula’s involvement, focusing instead on the ancient Chinese lore aspect.

Thus was born the cult classic, THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES; a film that our late friend, John Pelan, held close to his heart.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was helmed by Hammer veteran Roy Ward Baker (director of the lesbo vampire classic, The Vampire Lovers) and written by Don Houghton (Dracula A.D. 1972, but we won't hold that against him) and sports the shortest runtime of any Dracula movie. Following the template of contemporary kung-fu movies there is a fight scene roughly every twenty five seconds. The Chinese cast is led by the legendary David Chiang as Hsi Ching, who holds his own opposite Cushing with a rather impressive performance.

Most of the supporting Chinese cast members do not speak, remaining underdeveloped and are primarily on hand to fight. Rounding out the core cast are Robin Stewart (Horror House) as Leyland Van Helsing and Julie Ege (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) as Vanessa Buren, the obligatory adventurous Englishwoman. Filling the role of Dracula with minimal screen time is John Forbes-Robertson (LIFEFORCE, MOTHER FUCKERS~!), seen in only two scenes that bookend the picture.

The vampires in this picture are not of the hopping variety from Chinese folklore and, like the rest of the Chinese cast, do not have any dialogue.  They are all, however, martial arts experts supported by an army of the zombies that served as punching bags for David Chiang and Cushing's Chinese vampire hunters. In an odd for the times but unsurprising twist, the vampires are prone to kidnapping women to their temple and stripping them topless before biting them and killing them.  Remember, the director for this movie is the guy that brought you The Vampires Lovers and boobs = box office. 

Even Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest were beginning to show more female nudity in their martial arts movies to lure in more movie goers.

The picture is better than one would expect from this sort of mash-up and it did well upon release in both England and China, but languished for years in the United States before being dumped into theaters in a dreadfully re-edited version that to this day makes zero sense.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is fun and fast paced and everyone involved plays it straight. Hammer fans will be happy to see the film in HD and newcomers will find it intriguing in its crazy blending of genres.

RIP John Pelan.  We miss you, buddy.

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Edited by J.T.
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So now that we know that horror / martial arts mash-ups have always been a thing, let's delve deeper into this mysterious sub-genre.

As a matter of fact let's call it:

TALES FROM THE DOJO~!

 

 

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The John Pelan tribute review will also serve as our FIRST OFFICIAL TALES FROM THE DOJO REVIEW~!

Our second review will be:

Versus_Japanese.jpg

VERSUS

Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura
Written by Ryûhei Kitamura and Yudai Yamaguchi

2000, 119 minutes

Cast:

  • Tak Sakaguchi as Prisoner KSC2-303
  • Hideo Sakaki as The Man
  • Chieko Misaka as The Girl
  • Kenji Matsuda as Yakuza Leader with butterfly knife
  • Yuichiro Arai as Motorcycle-riding yakuza with revolver
  • Minoru Matsumoto as Crazy yakuza with amulet
  • Kazuhito Ohba as Yakuza with glasses
  • Takehiro Katayama as Red-haired assassin
  • Ayumi Yoshihara as Long-haired female assassin
  • Shōichirō Masumoto as One-handed cop
  • Toshiro Kamiaka as Samurai warrior
  • Yukihito Tanikado as Cop with Barrett
  • Hoshimi Asai as Short-haired female assassin
  • Ryosuke Watabe as Yakuza zombie in alligator-skin coat
  • Motonari Komiya as Other prisoner

Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus (2000) is an insane, over-the-top romp of glorious violence involving zombies, psychotic Yakuza, assassins, two weird Tokyo cops, an immortal villain who is not quite the villain, and Prisoner KSC2-303, played by man crush worthy, Tak Sakaguchi.

Prisoner KSC2-303 and his friend meet up with the group of Yakuza who arranged their escape. However, things go horribly wrong when a fight breaks out and one of the Yakuza is shot and killed. Moments later, he rises from the dead and tries to slaughter everyone, only to receive lead injection #2 from the other Yakuza, proving that there is no honor among thieves... especially if the guy calling the shots is bugshit crazy.

While the Yakuza are occupied with testing this new development by murdering the second of the escapees to see he will also rise as the walking dead (probably the worst use of the scientific method ever devised), Prisoner KSC2-303 takes the opportunity to get the hell out of Dodge along with a mysterious girl the Yakuza had previously kidnapped.  Prisoner KSC2-303 does not exactly give her a say in the matter, but she is smart enough to know a survival opportunity when she sees one.  That being said, what female in their right mind would not follow Tak Sakaguchi right off the edge of a fucking cliff?  The man is HANDSOME~!

Prisoner-KSC2-303-begins-putting-it-all-

Do not introduce this dude to your wife, girlfriend, or female companion unless it is your intention to go home alone.

Anyway, before you can say "zombie apocalypse," bad shit happens. 

Lots and lots of bad shit.

AND IT IS TOTALLY KING SIZED~!!!!

Did I mention that all of this gore drenched hilarity is taking place in a forest, but not just any forest.  It's The Forest of Resurrection!!!!!  One of the geographical locations of the 666 portals linking earth to the spirit realm..  In this case, it's the 444th portal (The number 4 is a bad luck numeral in most Asian cultures.  The number 4 and the Japanese word for "death" sound identical).

Versus is an absurd gib fest that is unspeakably great and the fights are hella good as well.  Sakaguchi is totally badass and Sakaki has an aura of calm menace about him that will really freak you out, but the real MVP of the ensemble is Kenji Matsuda who plays his nameless, knife wielding Yakuza leader stereotype with sadistic glee and chews on scenery at every opportunity. 

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It's hard to tell if Versus is Ryûhei Kitamura controlling chaos and micromanaging the mayhem or if he is just allowing things to happen for the sake of artistry.  Who really cares?  This instant classic is nothing but the truth. 

In this era of #metoo, the relegation of Chieko Misaka's character to window dressing / damsel in distress might annoy you at first, but her role in this timeless chess game is far more significant that you realize.  Give this dark fable time to tell its entrail splattered story and you might be surprised when it is all said and done.

MILLION BILLION STARS~!

Edited by J.T.
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Welcome back, budos and ghouls!

Our third and final TALES FROM THE DOJO entry for this journeyman run is:

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SILENT RAGE

Directed by Michael Miller
Written by Joseph Fraley

1982, 100 minutes

Cast:

  • Chuck Norris as Sheriff Daniel "Dan" Stevens
  • Ron Silver as Dr. Tom Halman
  • Steven Keats as Dr. Phillip Spires
  • Toni Kalem as Alison Halman
  • William Finley as Dr. Paul Vaughn
  • Brian Libby as John Kirby
  • Stephen Furst as Charlie

Wow.  Where to begin....

In an unnamed small town somewhere in the ass end of Texas, former mental patient John Kirby (played by Brian Libby who is #1 and the BEST~!) goes batshit crazy and murders two people... WITH AN AXE~!!

Eventually overpowered and injured by Sheriff Dan Stevens (played by Chuck Norris in all of his shirtless glory) with no help from his incompetent and overweight deputy Charlie (played strictly for the lolz by Stephen Furst channeling Flounder from Animal House), Kirby is hospitalized and is seemingly close to death.

But the local hospital has a secret wing controlled by three doctors experimenting with powerful and untested drugs designed to enhance cellular regeneration. 

You can see where this is going...   For a podunk town, this fucking Texas backwater sure does have highly educated medical researchers on site.

The Mad Scientist In Charge is the egotistical and completely amoral Dr. Spires (Steven Keats), who overcomes the objections of the more reasonable Dr. Halman (Ron mother fucking Silver!!!!) and injects Kirby with some sort of Wolverine Healing Factor serum that renders Kirby nigh-indestructible. Kirby is soon at large, spreading terror, and butchering anyone he can get his hands on, with poor Dr. Halman and his wife among the body count. Stevens has to interrupt a revived romance with Halman's sister Alison (Toni Kalem) to put an end to the carnage.

But how?  Can even a man with the martial arts badassery of Chuck mother fucking Norris kill a madman that cannot die?

Silent Rage is an odd movie, but not as a result of the genre mash-up.  Most Norris fans absolutely hate this movie.  Chuck actually shows some proficiency when working comedic angles and he even carries himself well during the romantic interludes of the film.  I am not sure why Chuck fans don't want him to be funny or get laid, but there you have it.

This is actually one of my favorite Chuck Norris martial arts films because the nature of the villain allows Chuck to put his masterful technique on full display.  Chuck throws some of the crispiest kicks and punches I have even seen on celluloid, and you know that they would demolish anyone that did not have the benefit of the HP Lovecraft Re-Animator goo coursing through their veins or was so completely out of their minds that pain did not register.  As far as fight choreography goes, the only thing that Libby has to do is stand there and eat strikes to the grill delivered by one of the prettiest kickers not named Bill Superfoot Wallace or  Benny The Jet Urquidez. 

And let me say this.  Brian Libby's John Kirby is probably one of the scariest movie psycho killers ever created.   The back half of Silent Rage is actually more interesting when the action is focused on Libby rather than Sheriff Stevens, but sometimes the stalking goes on a bit too long and we just want to see Kirby do his thing.  Kirby is not an emotionless killer.  He really seems to enjoy his work and that's what makes him terrifying. That and he is the hybrid clone of Michael Myers and Duncan MacLeod.  If you wanted to watch a crazy ass movie that pretty much hates science, here you go.

Anywho, it is the better of the two Chuck Norris horror / martial arts mash-ups even if though that may seem like a low bar to hurdle.  I do my best to totally ignore Hellbound.

Edited by J.T.
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I had really good memories of this as a kid and it did not stand up at all on rewatch, to the point where I gave away the copy I bought to my best friend. BUT, I did download it for posterity, so there's that. I've been thinking about watching another film I have good memories of from TV as a kid (Night School, the slasher flick) and hope I have a better result. 

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18 minutes ago, Curt McGirt said:

I had really good memories of this as a kid and it did not stand up at all on rewatch, to the point where I gave away the copy I bought to my best friend. BUT, I did download it for posterity, so there's that. I've been thinking about watching another film I have good memories of from TV as a kid (Night School, the slasher flick) and hope I have a better result. 

I think that if you are a fan of the Cannon Films and American Cinema Releasing formulae for Chuck Norris vehicles, Silent Rage will not hold up for you.  There are things that Chuck does in Good Guys Wear Black and Delta Force that he does not do in Silent Rage.  

His fans seem to hate it when he has a female love interest that his character actually sleeps with, but Chuck banging Carol Bagdasarian in The Octagon is the least of the reasons why that movie is so bad.

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47 minutes ago, J.T. said:

His fans seem to hate it when he has a female love interest that his character actually sleeps with, but Chuck banging Carol Bagdasarian in The Octagon is the least of the reasons why that movie is so bad.

Amongst other reasons why The Octagon isn't so great: Art Hindle's character makes really bad decisions. Obviously to drive the plot forward but he could  have been written better and still achieved those aims. The side-scrolling video game nature of the fight scenes. A staple of Norris films but executed much better in films like An Eye For An Eye and Forced Vengeance. Lee Van Cleef is underutilized. Tadashi Yamashita is waaaaaay underutilized. Aside from a brief weapons kata he might as well not be there and he's supposed to be the Big Bad! But hey, Ninjas and Carol Bagdasarian side boob. It ain't all bad.

I think you're on to something with how fans reacted to his sex scenes. I'm sure parents that had seen Good Guys Wear Black or A Force of One figured these were films they could safely take their kids to, only to be greeted with a biker mama offering Stephen Furst her breasts. But from The Octagon on Norris added earthier tones to his White Knight character and by the time you get to Lone Wolf McQuade no one has a problem with him rolling around the yard with Barbara Carrera. 

The main issue with Silent Rage though, is I don't think mainstream American audiences were ready for that particular genre mash-up. The complaint I remember was not enough fight scenes, similar to how some Jackie Chan fans reacted to Police Story IV: First Strike. Their loss. I love both of those films. But I'll give the edge to Silent Rage.

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I was the same age when I saw Breaker! Breaker! on my family's weekly excursion to the drive-in. At the time I had no clue who Chuck Norris was or what he would become. I wouldn't see The Way of the Dragon, or any other Bruce Lee film for that matter, until we had our first VCR a few years later. Oddly enough, there would be a couple of Brucesploitation films during our drive-in days. There must have really been nothing else playing that week in order for that to occur.  

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The "Mark Coales Wants To Be Difficult" Review.

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GHOST DOG:  THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI

Directed & Written by Jim Jarmusch

1999, 116 minutes

Cast:

  • Forest Whitaker as 'Ghost Dog'
  • John Tormey as Louie
  • Henry Silva as Ray Vargo
  • Cliff Gorman as Sonny Valerio
  • Isaach de Bankolé as Raymond
  • Camille Winbush as Pearline
  • Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo
  • Richard Portnow as 'Handsome Frank'
  • Frank Adonis as Valerio's Bodyguard
  • Victor Argo as Vinny
  • RZA as Samurai In Camouflage
  • Gary Farmer as Nobody
  • Shi Yan Ming as Kung-Fu Master

This is more bullet opera than martial arts joint.  Just sayin'.

It's a kung-fu movie review thread and Mark picks something that doesn't even have one single fist fight.  The training montage of Ghost Dog practicing kenjutsu, Kali knife fighting, and Chinese drunken boxing techniques barely allows this feature to meet the minimum requirements.

If you executed Jim Jarmusch for being a conventional filmmaker, you'd be hanging an innocent man.  His movies can be hit or miss, but you cannot say that they are not original visions and Ghost Dog is arguably his magnum opus.  It is a truly elegant and brain twisting vision.  A real thinking person's movie.

Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker in the role of a lifetime) is a hitman for the mob. He got into this business because one day a world weary mobster named Louie (the brilliant John Tormey) saved his life, or so he believes.  Rashōmon and the idea of perception bending reality weigh heavily into the meta of this movie.

Ghost Dog is a strict adherent to the code of bushido and the film is actually broken up into chapters with Ghost Dog's readings from the samurai treatise, Hagakure, serving as the narrative segue points.  The story begins with Ghost Dog completing a contract at Louie's behest.  The problem is that Louie's bosses, the enigmatic Ray Vargo (HENRY SILVA, MOTHER FUCKERS~!) and Sonny Valerio (Cliff Gorman is so much in character that it is hilarious), have not exactly been honest with him. 

Vargo has ordered the fracking because he knows that his overprotected and impressionable daughter, Louise (Tricia Vessey in full mob ingénue mode) is secretly seeing another mobster and Vargo decides to have this offending party whacked.  The problem is that "Handsome Frank" (Richard Portnow) is a "made man" so Vargo must make sure that there is no evidence to connect him to Handsome Frank's snuffing, less the mob at large takes revenge on Vargo and his collection of wise guy dropouts for the unsanctioned clipping.

This includes thumping the non-Italian freelance cleaner hired to do the job.  Louie does his best to explain to Vargo and Valerio that going after Ghost Dog is an extremely bad idea. 

They should have listened.

I don't think you can really encapsulate everything that goes on in Ghost Dog in one review.  It is a genre smashing piece of work that not only pays tribute to everything from Yojimbo (1961) and Le Samouraï (1967) to Branded to Kill (1967) and High Noon (1952), it also weaves a complex tale of clashing cultures and conflicting loyalties.  You will ponder how a disciplined and honorable person like Ghost Dog could serve such disorganized and decadent masters.  Vargo's gang is a rag tag bunch of mafia misfits that does not stand a chance against Ghost Dog's "very particular set of skills", and it is amusing that they actually believe they will come out on the winning side of this conflict. 

When there aren't any bullets flying around, Jarmusch also takes time to explore the complicated relationships that keep Ghost Dog engaged with the real world.  Despite being a loner and the movie pounding it into your head that Ghost Dog has no friends, our unconventional assassin still has the ability to cultivate seemingly functional relationships in a very dysfunctional world.  Ghost Dog show Louie nothing but the utmost respect and reverence despite Louie's low standing in a third or fourth rate organized crime family, he manages to strike up a proper friendship with a Haitian ice cream man named Raymond (Isaach de Bankolé!!!!!) even though neither man understands the other man's spoken language, and Ghost Dog also nurtures a mentorship with a young girl named Pearline (Camille Winbush, who would later go on to be in The Bernie Mac Show!) and does his best to encourage her interest in classic literature.... even if the classic is the infamous adult pulp novel, Night Nurse..... (Pearline:  I haven't read it yet.  I just like the cover...)

Only the ingenious Jim Jarmusch could take elements from Hong Kong heroic bloodshed epics like The Killer (1989) and make a movie with arthouse sophistication and sensibilities.  The RZA's banging original score just ties this awesome and complex character study together with a bow of hip-hop badassery. 

The soundtrack of incidental music also fucking rocks.  There are tracks by experimental jazz master, Sun Ra, as well as a remix of Armagideon Time by Willie Williams and there are also songs from a host of other artists!

Do not miss the 90's wuxia movie shout out / Wu Tang Clan Easter egg!

Spoiler

When Ghost Dog is prowling around the city and mugs some poor bastard to steal his suit for use as a disguise, he passes by a nightclub named LIQUID SWORDS~!!  It is a double shout out to the GZA's second solo album (arguably the best of any solo WTC release) and the 93 wuxia comedy classic, The Legend of the Liquid Sword (1993) starring Aaron Kwok and directed by Wong Jing!

Ghost Dog is a cult classic that is more than worthy of your time and study.

I have owned a copy of this movie for about ten years now.  Where is yours?  If there is a DVD that should be mandatory shelf porn, it is this one.

Edited by J.T.
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11 minutes ago, Curt McGirt said:

I haven't seen it in years so don't remember well, but doesn't Ghost Dog randomly pass by members of Wu Tang on the street and they know him? 

IIRC, the only Wu Tang Clan member in the cast is the RZA and his character and Ghost Dog definitely know one another.

Edited by J.T.
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14 minutes ago, Curt McGirt said:

Yeah, I remember RZA, but it was a scene towards the end where him and some other people say hi to each other passing by on the street. 

You might be referring to the freestyle rappers that are spitting lyrics while Ghost Dog is chillin' in the park trying to enjoy his ice cream.  Yeah, of those three guys (Timbo King. Clay da Raider, & Deflon Sallahr) IIRC only Timbo is an associate of the Wu Tang Clan collective.  I don't think that Timbo is a full-on member of the Clan.

 

Edited by J.T.
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Amazon used to sell replicas of Ghost Dog's hoodie and I always balked at buying one.  Sadly, I have not seen one for sale in a while.  I should've nerded out and bought one when they were available.

Cafe Press sells a hoodie with the proper crest from Ghost Dog's hoodie, but the emblem isn't in red.

My Ghost Dog Criterion comes with no schwag.  My Criterion of HOUSE came with the badass evil cat t-shirt.

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35 minutes ago, odessasteps said:

I knew JT would do this review proud. 

Writing a review was harder than I thought it was going to be.  Ghost Dog is one of my favorite movies, so it was difficult to praise the movie and still remain somewhat objective.

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