80s HONG KONG ACTION-COMEDY DOUBLE FEATURE: November 9th-My Young Auntie from 1981 (Director/Writer: Lau Kar-leung, Stars: Lau Kar-leung, Kara Hui, Hsiao Ho, Wang Lung Wei, and Gordon Liu, Cinematography: Ho Lan-shan, Runtime: 100 mins) DVD
Shanghai Express aka Millionaire’s Express from 1986 (Director/Writer: Sammo Hung, Stars: Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Rosamund Kwan, Mei-sheng Fan and Hwang Jang Lee, Cinematography: Arthur Wong, Runtime: 101 mins) DVD
A pair of Honk Kong action films. one a certified classic, the other a highlight in some actors filmography. First is the classic My Young Auntie. The story of a young woman named Cheng Tai-Nan who agrees to marry a dying man in order to hold his will away form his greedy brother. She will then hand the will over to a favored nephew Yu Cheng-chuan. The son of that nephew, who goes by Charlie Yu. He is a bit antagonistic to her, jokingly as she is close to his age. The auntie, nephew and great nephew must team with Cheng-chuans other brothers to retrieve the stolen will from the greedy uncle. Millionaire’s Express, aka Shanghai Express is about a guy blowing up the train tracks near a tiny town to get people to come to the businesses he just bought up. Plus a gang of bad guys planning a big job. There is a lot going on here actually but its not important
My Young Auntie is half a great film, and half an okay film. Luckily that okay film still has some good action. Kara Hui won the first Hong Kong Best Actress award for her performance and she is fun. Playing an old fashioned woman from the country who is determined in her mission and set in a traditional way being met by this grand nephew who sort of uses the new world to mess with her. Kara is engaging as both a fighter and actress. the scene where she is met with the new splendors at a Hong Kong market and giving in, buying a modern Chinese dress and heels that show more than she would like. Then the way she fights in them while trying to stay modest. Its one of my favorite scene sin the movie. She gets a little sidelined in the last part of the third act which kind of hurts it as she was fantastic through out handling action, drama and comedy. This film is a comedy, in the screwball way. Charlie Yu, played by Hsiao Ho is kind of dis-likeable but he always gets a rise out of her and their back and forth is fantastic. Also Lau Kar-leung is fun as the nephew. Great comic timing and style, but Lau is one of the greats of the Shaw Brothers era of films.
I say half a great film and half an okay film because when it moves from the screwball comedy surrounding Charlie and Cheng to get to the main story, it slows a bit. Its a little more serious and while the action is good, sometimes great, its less fun. It starts moving there after the awkward masquerade party scene which is a bit flimsy but the action set piece there is very well done. The film looks good and has some fantastic performances and action. Its also one of the Shaw Brothers studio’s only well regarded 80s film. Shaw Brothers were the largest Hong Kong studio. Founded in 1958 they were the leaders in HK cinema-specifically Kung Fu films. But 1987 they suspended film and worked in TV. The rise of Bruce Lee, the establishing of Jackie Chan as the biggest HK star, and changing tastes effected the studio and in a way, you can see Shaw Bros struggling to combine what worked in the past with the future in My Young Auntie. The old school meeting the new trends and the English influence (Charlie Yu studies English and likes American sports).
My Young Auntie I had only seen once before but this second viewing made me a bigger fan. I thought it was fun many years ago, now I think its one of the best kung fu films I ever seen. Not like, top 10 but it would rank high. (Points off for the Charlie character a stupid slur. The writers would have known better).
Where as my second viewing of My Young Auntie made me fall further in love with that picture, this viewing of Express makes me wonder. The films comedy doesn’t all land. As such it hurts the viewing of the film as the story is generally lackluster. The entire opening sequence is not important beyond introducing one character who shows up at the tail end of the second act. Then we set up the town, the criminals, the train, a number of people and my level of interest goes up and down depending. There are good performances and action-the direction is actually pretty grand in a modest budget western type of way. Its a mixed bag.
There is one piece that got a big laugh from me. The hotel room scene with the adulterous husband, his wife, the mistress, another couple and a dozen criminals. That was gold.
BONUS FILM: Doctor Sleep from 2019 (Director/Writer: Mike Flanagan and based on the novel by Stephen King, Stars: Ewen McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, and Cliff Curtis, Cinematography: Michael Fimognari, Runtime: 152 mins)
Danny Torrance grown up, recovering alcoholic with a mystery friend. That friend, a young powerful girl named Abra Stone. Then there is Rose the Hat and a group of pseudo-immortals who feed off of steam-the death of those with the shining. Rose goes after Abra, and Abra reaches out to Danny to help.
I don’t love the Shining. I think its very good, well crafted from a technical standpoint with strong performances. I appreciate it. So I was not sold on this sequel after seeing it. The trailers did not really do much though I thought Rebecca Ferguson looked interesting and I liked what I have seen from director Mike Flanagan. So now that I seen Doctor Sleep I think its good. Thats it. It was a good horror film.
Like Shining I thought the performances were strong, I think visually its pretty cool with some interesting set pieces. There is some real good stuff here. I don’t think its as good as the Shining, but how could it be. Even as someone who is not in love with that film I knew it would be a step down and it is. Its good, its got some very cool things but it was something I could have waited to see.
November 10th-The Big Boss from 1971 (Director: Lo Wei, Writers: Bruce Lee and Lo Wei, Stars: Bruce Lee, Maria Yi, James Tien and Tony Liu, Cinematography: Chan Ching-kui, Runtime: 115 mins)
Bruce Lee made a promise not to fight, but by the end of the film he is stabbing muthu fuckers. That’s it, that’s the movie.
BONUS FILM: Of Human Bondage from 1934 (Director: John Cromwell, Writers: Lester Cohen, Ann Coleman and Based on Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, Stars: Leslie Howard, Bette Davis and Frances Dee, Cinematography: Henry W. Gerrard, Runtime: 83 mins)
No, Bette, you should not have beaten Claudette Colbert for the Oscar.
November 11th-One Armed Swordsman from 1967 (Director: Chang Cheh, Writers: Chang Cheh and Ni Kuang, Stars: Jimmy Wang, Lisa Chiao Chiao and Angela Pan, Cinematography: Yuen Chang-sam and Kuang Han-lu, Runtime: 116 mins)
At a swords school, a servant and student dies protecting his master by a gang. The master, who was briefly poisoned and recovering too late, agrees to take in the son Fang Kang (Fang Gang in the sub I was watching). Years later the masters daughter berates and taunts him with other students. Fang wants to leave to avoid issues but a confrontation with the daughter Pie-Er results in unforeseen blow losing his arm. Fang is nursed back to health by a woman he meets, she helps his recovery including a book to train his left side. When his former masters rival targets the school, Fang goes to his aid.
One Armed Swordsman is a Hong Kong, and Chinese classic. The first movie in Hong Kong to make HK1000000 in local box office. Which was $127k US then, which is almost a million now. Fascinating. The film also was ranked 15 on Honk Kong Cinemas poll of the best Chinese Language Films back in 2005. What I am saying is, this ones a heralded piece of international cinema. And its a really good action film.
It is a bit of a slow mover. Starts with a bang but there are stretches devoted to Fangs recovery and self teaching while the villains play in the background. Then it switches to various scenes dedicated to the bad guys. The basic bad guy plot is revenge and the bad guy has a lock blade thingie to fight all of Master Qu Ru Fengs disciples and the master himself. Its fine but the meat of the film is watching a once promising swordsman deal with his disability and becoming a better swordsman with one arm. The action scenes with him are really, really good. The action in general is great, even if the lock blade gimmick gets used multiple scenes.
This film is very pretty. From the light snow scene where Fang loses his arm-which is quite an amazing sequence. The yard of love interest Xiao-man is a nice little place to watch Fang develop. Parts of the film look like a painting. The sets are cool, the action pieces are well crafted, plus the costuming and music. Jimmy Wang is damn impressive in the lead and most everyone is good, though Qu Pie-Er character arc is odd. She actually loves Fang? She has a terrible way of showing it. I also wish we could have seen more action from her, she does almost nothing. Though Angela Pan is good in the role. Xio-man is a very traditional type of character. Nursing Fang, falling for him, concerned, etc. Lisa Chiao Chiao is very good in the role and I liked Tien Feng as the Master but really Jimmy Wang stands out the most.
I really enjoyed this film and suggest anyone interested in international action films or Shaw Bros films to check it out.
November 12th-Yojimbo from 1961 (Director/Story: Akira Kurosawa, Writers: Ryūzō Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa and Hideo Oguni, Stars: Toshiro Mifune, Cinematography: Kazuo Miyagawa, Runtime: 110 mins)
Yojimbo is the much copied story of a samurai who comes to a two split into two warring factions. He begins to hire himself out as a bodyguard in order to hurt each side. However when he saves a woman to reunite her with her family, one gang gets wise to him.
Yojimbo is one of the classic samurai films that inspired one of the famous westerns (which was a remake that got shuttered for a while until deals were made) qnd other loosier remakes. Why would it not? Tough guy, bunch of baddies-so,e cartoonish in mannerisms and looks, plus action. All filmed and edited by the great Akira Kurosawa and starring the amazing Toshiro Mifune. I don’t know how anyone gives this less then 2 stars but eleven people gave it half a star on Letterboxd so you know there are people whose film opinion you can’t trust. Not that this is a full five for me. I really like Yojimbo but its not a major favorite of mine among Kurosawa’s work. Its beautifully filmed, one great example is watching Sanjuro, played by Mifune, on the bell tower in the middle background of the shot as the two warring groups inch closer. The action is fast and dynamic. The set up for certain scenes are god-teir. Like Sanjuro listening to one family talk about screwing him over after he helps. The performances are all really good. This film works on almost every level.
What I guess keeps me from going to high is… well, I don’t know really. The bad guys are a little ill defined but they do a lot and are imbued by strong or interesting performances. I do feel the ending is a little anti-climactic. There is something that keeps me a little bit at arms length. Its also not as fun as some samurai movies even if its technically better. Does not change that this is a great film. Glad I rewatched it.
KING HU DOUBLE FEATURE: November 13th-Come Drink With Me from 1966 (Director: King Hu, Writers: King Hu and Ting Shan-hsi, Stars: Cheng Pei-pei and Yueh Hua, Cinematography: Ho Lan-shan, Runtime: 91 mins)
Dragon Inn from 1967 (Director/Writer: King Hu, Stars: Lingfeng Shangguan, Chun Shih, Ying Bai and Chien Tsao, Cinematography: Hui-Ying Hua, Runtime: 111 mins) bluray
A pair of films from influential Hong Kong director King Hu. First is second film, Come Drink With Me. A group of criminals kidnap a generals son in order to trade for their imprisoned leader. Golden Sparrow is sent to retrieve the hostage, who is her brother. On this mission she meets Drunken Cat who really is a powerful fighter. Dragon Inn is about.. man… Don’t even remember. Oh, political rivals and the effort to kill children of a political rival. Sure.
I love the first half come Drink With Me but I am not a huge fan of the second half. I think I said the same of My Young Auntie earlier but its more true here. The first half almost a masterpiece. So beautiful in look. From the sets to the beautiful temple. The talent of actress Cheng Pei-pei, the old school fight scenes, and just the flow. I loved watching Cheng’s Golden Sparrow face down so many baddies while Drunken Cat is in the background using trick to even the fight for her. King Hu is so good with his camera move,ent, how he capturs action, and just the overall stunning look of the film,
However after we learn the truth about Drunken Cat the story of him, it drags for me. Adding more fantasy to the film. I still like the fight scenes but I find this story rather distracting. I like Cat as a supporting player and while I am not mad he is an incredibly powerful fighter, I am annoyed how he takes away from Golden Sparrow. It just does not work for me like it does for others. Still, a very cool film and its fascinating that this was Hong Kongs entry into the 39th Academy Awards Foreign Picture competition. Sadly, did not make the cut.
I don’t have feelings towards Dragon Inn. It looks very good but I found it rather a chore to get through despite the action.
Raging Bull from 1980 (Director: Martin Scorcese, Writers: Paul Schrader, Mardik Martin and Based on Raging Bull: My Story by Jake LaMotta, Joseph Carter and Peter Savage, Stars: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty, Cinematography: Michael Chapman, Runtime: 129 mins)
Raging Bull is based on the true story of Jake LaMotta. A famous boxer best known for his rivalry with Sugar Ray Leonard. The film tracks him from his first fight with Leonard through his career, two divorces, fall out with brother, legal trouble, and him being a comedian in clubs. The film was nominated for several Oscars, winning for De Niro and editing for Themla Schoonmaker. Went on to be one of the most acclaimed films ever (over Ordinary People that beat it for best picture and director) going on to be #4 on the AFI Top 100 list.
I hated De Niro’s character. Fuck Jake LaMotta. But the performance was fantastic. Sure. Credit where credit is due. De Niro is great playing this asshole boxer. I really loved Cathy Moriarty. I had only seen her later in her career, in the 90s. I enjoyed her in those films and she is amazing here. Reading up, its bullshit she did not get more parts after this film. I really loved when she finally left him. Joe Pesci is very good too. This film has a lot of great performances even if I disliked most the characters. Scorcese movie looks great. The boxing scenes are brutal and the editing is pretty fascinating. Specifically in the boxing action. This is a very good looking film.
Now… I don’t ever want to see this film again. Its very good and I can’t really ping on anything other than not liking the people. I just don’t really care. One of the 10 best American films of all time? No thanks. I did dread seeing this film, I was not really into a lot of it until the second act and while I begin to like the film more and more it does not change my general feeling. I like this movie, I think its a really good film, I appreciate its importance I would take it off the AFI Top 100. But I’d probably take off all the Scorcese films so what do I know?
(I do really like Wolf of Wall Street though)
BONUS: Final Exam from 1981 (Director/Writer: Jimmy Histon, Stars: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice and Timothy L. Raynor, Cinematography: Darrell Catchart, Runtime: 89 mins)
I ran a poll on twitter about what to watch and I got one vote, for horror. So I found myself checking around and landed on this flick. Another god damn 1981 slasher film. Some crazy guy is killing students who did not go away for summer vacation. Beside that it follows various students in a day. Taking exams, hanging out, pranks, studying, etc.
Okay, this does not need to be a long review because for the most part the only thing that’s here is a slow burn that wants to care for its characters. After the opening sequence a lot of the film follows a mostly uninteresting group. That said, props to trying to male them interesting. The performances are all pretty decent actually. There is a real sense of location with the setting even if we only get to see some parts of the college. The stalking and murder sequences have little suspense and tension sadly. I do like there is no really information on the killer, and little desire to male them anything more than a murderer. I went three stars also because I appreciated that the final girl not only beat him, but stabbed him several times with a knife because seriously fuck that guy.
Also, better than more than half the slashers from the early 80s. I don’t know what it is with me. I love a good slasher but I find most slashers I have seen from the early 80s pretty lame. This one was pretty good.
BONUS: The Sound of Music from 1965 (Director: Robert Wise, Writers: Ernest Lehman with Story by Maria von Trapp and Based on The Sound of Music by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, Stars: Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, Cinematography: Ted D. McCord, Runtime: Getting tired of these three hour films)
The story of a postulant sent from the abbey to work as a governess. The home of Capt. von Trapp is disciplined and the kids have run through multiple governesses. However Governess Maria wins them over with songs and fun. She turns the Captain around who begins to fall in love with her. Then those asshole Nazis show up and ruin a good thing. The Von Trapps however escape.
This was on my first pill. After Final exam I put it up again with the same choices and this won. Not that more than one person voted… Anyway, I had been dreading this film like several on the AFI list. Why watch it now and not when Unspooled set a date? 1) On Disney+ and 2)It is my grandmoms favorite movie. Or so I am told. So I watched it on ,y tablet and I liked it.
Now, I generally like musicals but I did not like a single song in this film. Nope. I actually think indifference is the best way to describe my feeling toward them. They are what they are and Julie Andrews is quite an impressive singer. No, what I like was mostly everything else. Julie is a charismatic lead and quite likeable through out. She is fun to watch through out. While most the young von Trapps do little more than sing and work as plot devices, Charmian Carr as Liesl von Trapp does have an arc and she is very talented. While the song and dance number with Rolfe is not for me, I saw it as a metaphor for sex in the way it finished and felt her performance in those moments were fantastic. Christopher Plummer is very good. I think he hated this movie but I can remember, and if true he still gives a strong performance. Eleanor Parker and Richard Haydn are also good.
This film is also big. The shots of the country side, the von Trapps wonderful home, every set looks fantastic. The film has serious grandeur to it. One of those lavish old school Hollywood films. The costuming and the art direction are top notch. The story is interesting. Its a bit of simple Hollywood love story. Woman falls in love with a man who has children, also because of how she helps the parent connect with the children. But with added Nazis. Fuck Nazis. Captain von Trapp hated Nazis so the family flees at the end. Still, the basics of the story outside the baddies is similar to other films but if its not broke don’t fix it.
So yeah, it was damn good. Hope I don’t have anymore 3 hour films left.
November 15th-Zebraman from 2004 (Director: Takashi Miike, Writer: Kankurō Kudō, Stars: Shō Aikawa, Cinematography: Kazunari Tanaka, Runtime: 115 mins)
The story of a sorry teacher and family man who dresses up like a favorite tv show character. Then the happenings of that show, and its unaired episodes, begin happening to him. So he fights bad guy aliens. I enjoyed this movie much more when I saw it a few times several years ago, now I think its just okay. The special effects have not aged well and back then they were cheap looking. It moves slower than I remember and there are some very dated story elements. The performances are good and I like the general idea. This one just did not age too well.