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Dangerous Takes A Look At: Magic Blade (1976) Shaw Brothers Classic.

Made in 1976

Director – Chor Yuen

Producer – Runme Shaw

Action directors – Wong Pau Gei, Tong Gai

Cast – Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ching Li, Tanny Tien Ni

I have spent the last couple of years ricocheting between brain dead temp work and stints on social security. Many nights I have returned home after enduring shifts of reception work that made me despair of the human race or interviews at my local Job Service Agency fending off attempts to get me to embrace a career in telemarketing. Fortunately this is all behind me now (I have recently been successful in landing a job I like). But my challenge over the last 2 years has been keeping the nasty grey world I have inhabited from eroding my sanity. Fortunately for me I had a way – I knew of the existence of kung fu and wu xia movies. I knew the answer to my problems was to collapse on the couch, suck back a cheap bottle of rotgut cleanskin red wine, and watch a chopsockie. Whether it’s an old Shaw Brothers extravaganza or a Jet Li New Wave spectacle, there is nothing in the world like a martial arts film to blast the cobwebs from your brain and purge the toxins from your soul. It’s amazing how much the Shaw Brothers fanfare at the beginning of one of this seminal production house’s films can cheer me up (what the hell is Shawscope anyway?). A favorite movie of mine – one that I have often reached for after the greyest days – is the wu xia pian The Magic Blade, produced by Shaw Brothers and made in 1976. The martial arts film genre is a huge and varied one that has something for everyone. Those who like their chopsockies flavored with heavy doses of testosterone tend to favor the films of Bruce Lee or Chang Cheh. I prefer my martial arts films to be more on the fantastical or whimsical side. I feel that The Magic Blade delivers these qualities in spades.

I will not summarize the plot of this film as I do not want to give anything away. When I first watched this movie I knew nothing about it. As scene after scene unfolded, each more extravagant and imaginatively choreographed than the last, I literally felt my eyes widen. Many fans of the martial arts movie genre love these films for their creative audacity and The Magic Blade does not disappoint. Each scene has something that catches the attention. This might be a quirk of character, an aspect of staging, the way the choreography incorporates sets or props, or a plot development. The plot has been arranged so that the movie flows smoothly from one lavish set piece to another. The many villains of the film are enjoyably sinister to watch, and are a varied lot with each boasting a peculiar character trait. My personal favorite is the cannibalistic Devil Grandma – a vile, cackling octogenarian with a novel approach to food vending. A special mention must also go to Tanny Tien Ni, who, in her role as a femme fatale, raises smirking and sneering to Gold Medal Olympic level standards.

Against a cast of such dynamic baddies, Ti Lung holds his own as the hero of the movie. He wears a costume that, sadly, reminds me of the poncho made out of regulation blanket that my Girl Guide troop leader instructed me to make and wear to our camps when I was a wee slip of a girl. He carries this garment off with far more élan than I did, and manages to combine soulfulness and nobility in his depiction of a lone wandering swordsman. Ti Lung always ramps up the eye candy quotient in any movie he is in, but he is quite a good actor as well. There are 2 scenes which demonstrate this. The first is where Ti Lung and the film’s heroine (nicely played by Ching Li) discuss the lonely life of an itinerant swordsman in an idyllic setting bedecked with flowers. The second, set in a windswept alley, is where Ti Lung’s character interacts with a woman who has fallen on hard times and been forced to turn to prostitution. This scene is so moving it literally reduces me to tears. These 2 quite lovely and sensitively acted scenes are deftly incorporated into an otherwise pot boiling plot. They add dimension to the film without slowing it down.

A special mention must go to the art direction in this film – it is gorgeous. Exotic, beautiful, and sometimes gothic sets, props and costumes are a definite part of this film’s appeal. The colours are vivid and lush, and the detailing on many of the props and costumes is really nice. Overall, the film is very well shot. I often think of kung fu movies as being more like filmed physical theatre than the classic ‘realistic’ western films I grew up with. This sense of theatricality is pleasantly reinforced by the luscious art direction in The Magic Blade.

I am not sure what else I can say without giving too much information away. All you red blooded blokes out there will be rewarded with the sight of someone’s breasts and a tiny bit of lesbian fondling in the final scenes. All viewers (regardless of gender / sexual orientation) will find themselves rewarded with a stylishly made and well acted fantasy action that is jam packed with inventive fight choreography and leavened with doses of fruity melodrama. The Magic Blade is wu xia pian at its entertaining best. Get a DVD copy and save it up for the next time you have a particularly bad day.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Our Winner Silver E Picks: Tai Chi Master a/k/a Twin Warriors!

The winner of the first of two JPFmovies give away contests picked Jet Li’s 1993 classic: Tai Chi Master a/k/a Twin Warriors.  Good choice Silver E–there are those who say Twin Warriors is without a doubt Jet’s Li’s finest Shaolin movie and I don’t necessarily disagree with them.  Li does some of his finest martial arts sequences in this flick and manages to make them look effortless.  Twin Warriors also turns what could be a depressing film about two friends who take opposite paths and lightens it up with a segment where Li goes crazy and partakes in some hilarious shenanigans.  First he believes he is a duck and hides underwater in a fountain.  Then he believes a pillar that holds up a building is his long-lost Shaolin master. He even get mad when at a weeble-wobble `Mr. Tao’ doll when it will not answer his questions.

But I shall say no more since Silver has tentatively agreed to review the movie for us after he gets a chance to watch his new DVD.  I know we are all looking forward to it.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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We take a look at Once Upon A Time In China

My new partner in crime at http://silveremulsion.wordpress.com and I have decided to collaborate on some of the finest Asian movies we’ve seen and give you, the reader, our thoughts on these films so you can make an informed decision on whether to view them or not.  Also, if you have seen any of the movies we decide to collaborate on we would love to hear your comments on the matter.  Again, this is one in a series we are going to do together so stay tuned for some great Asian movie reviews from two movie connoisseurs.

China has had a very tumultuous history, including hundreds of years of civil war, a humiliating defeat in the opium war and a bloody occupation by Japan.  It was during the dark times between the opium war and the Japanese occupation that a Chinese folk hero, physician and martial arts expert was to emerge — Wong Fei-hung (1847-1924).  Wong Fei-hung, a legendary figure, would, among other things, later inspire his countrymen to endure even bigger ordeals in the last century.  The legend of Wong Fei-hung has also inspired dozens of films.  In my opinion the best is Once Upon a Time In China, a 1991 Hong Kong kung-fu epic directed by Tsui Hark.  This film had five sequels and was among the first to introduce Jet Li as its main star to Western audiences.  Li as Wong Fei-hung provides the viewer with a fine performance especially given that role was played very early in his career.

The plot:  On the surface the movie seems simple enough, as my colleague said, almost Shaw Brothers simple, but in reality the story is very complex and transcends the many martial arts films whose plots can easily be summed up in a single sentence.  Wong Fei-Hung, like his countrymen, is forced to endure the humiliation of American slavers, local gangs, a renegade martial arts master and even his own wayward (but well-intentioned) students.  As if these problems were not enough, he has to contend with his growing affection for Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) which is important as to movie is set around the end of the 19th century when there were great social changes in China.  This is typified with his relationship with his “Aunt” Yee (who is not related to him by blood), as she would be taboo to marry.  The fact that this is a series of films allows the relationship to develop slowly also setting it apart from many Hong Kong films where romances are very fast-moving and unrealistic.

The action sequences are superb, which is unsurprising considering that they are choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, though dim-witted critics who can find fault in anything point to the wire-work and use of doubles.  The final showdown is a stunning success of editing as Jet Li was injured and had to be doubled for many of the shots that weren’t above the waist, but his extraordinary  fist techniques make up for this.  The film has a long running time for a martial arts movies so for once there is plenty of time for story and action.

Hong Kong movies don’t come much better than this.  Anyone who is a fan of wire-work and/or the likes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon should hold this movie in high esteem—either that or they are a communist.  I could not agree more with my new partner in crime at Silver Emulsion.  You must check out his take on Once Upon a Time In China at http://silveremulsion.wordpress.com — you would be a fool not to.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Kung Fu: One of The Great T.V. Series of All Time

Kung Fu: One of The Great T.V. Series of All Time

Kung Fu starring the late David Carradine

Given the recent and unusual circumstances surrounding David Carradine’s death, I thought it only appropriate to let some time pass between his untimely demise and reviewing his trademark character Kwai Chang Kaine in one of the greatest T.V. series ever made: Kung Fu.

Kung Fu lore has it that Bruce Lee originally conceived of the idea for the show and had wanted it to feature Lee as the star.  Carradine, however, pulls it off and would be known for the rest of his life as Kaine.  Kaine, an orphan who was raised by Shaolin monks, was forced to flee China after killing the emperor’s nephew in retaliation for the murder of his kung fu master Po (played by Keye Luke).  Constantly on the run from bounty hunters and assassins from China, Kaine wanders the American West in search of his half-brother Danny.  His conscience forces him to fight injustice wherever he encounters it, fueled by flashbacks of training during which his master famously referred to him as “Grasshopper.” Also dispensing wisdom is the head monk Master Kahn (played by Phillip Ahn).  This show has a very mystical quality and when combined with the eerie music of Jim Helms, that mystic quality is even more fully fleshed-out.

It’s detestable that anyone who hasn’t seen the show often lumps it in with the group of old, campy television shows like “The A-Team” or “Charlie’s Angels” or others similar shows of that ilk. To those Philistines I would like to say that any given, hour-long episode of “Kung Fu” probably contained only about 45 to 60 seconds of actual action–if not less even less. The fact is, David Carradine was as good a leading man and true actor as any TV drama has ever featured.

Caine was a true iconoclast (in the best sense of the word) within the world of mainstream network television–a complete reversal of nearly every American screen hero who came before.  He was not just peaceful–but passive and serene.  As Caine described it–“Kung Fu” was an “anti-revenge television show”–an astonishing premise for a show given the norm of the day.

It certainly could be argued that T.V. was just as much of a wasteland in the ’70s as it is today, but I long for the day when we will be able to view something as good as this again on broadcast television.

As Martin Scorsese (who gave Carradine’s eulogy) said, and with whom I completely agree, “We’re going to miss you Kawai Chang Kaine.”

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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