IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974)

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THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974)

In 1974, legendary Hammer Studios teamed up with the equally legendary Shaw Bothers Studios for this martial arts/horror mash-up, bringing Hammer’s gothic, vampire storytelling style together with the fast-paced martial arts action of a classic Shaw Brothers production!

Martial arts horror, also known as The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula in the United States, has Kah (Chan Shen), high priest of the 7 golden vampires, coming to Transylvania to beg Count Dracula himself (John Forbes-Robertson) for help in resurrecting the creatures he serves. Dracula betrays him and takes his form to return to China and bring the golden vampires back to life to serve his own sinister purposes instead. Lucky for us, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is touring China to lecture about vampires! Soon he, his son Leyland (Robin Stewart), and a rich widow (Julie Ege) are teaming with martial arts warrior Hsi Ching (David Chiang) and his brothers and sister, to battle Dracula, the golden vampires and a vampire army.

Film is directed by Roy Ward Baker, with Chang Cheh directing the martial arts sequences, from a script by Don Houghton. The flick is a delightfully well-balanced mix of gothic Hammer style horror and Shaw Brothers martial arts period fantasy. The visuals are quite spooky, and the film embraces both Western and Eastern styles in its portrayal of the undead and their supernatural hijinks. There are grotesque walking corpses armed with swords and weapons, fog shrouded graveyards, spooky castles both European and Asian, and, of course, the fanged, golden masked villains of the title. There is quite a lot of bloodshed and a surprising amount of nudity from a host of nubile young Chinese woman who fall prey to the vile villains. Add to that some fast-paced martial arts battles and you have a very entertaining mash-up that, unfortunately, was poorly received critically and failed at the box office, despite combining two very popular types of movies at the time in the 70s. The flick is simply lots of fun and has some spooky and disturbing sequences mixed in with all the bloody martial arts action. Sure, a lot of the FX are cheesy by today’s standards, but that adds to its nostalgic charm and charm is something this entertaining flick has to spare!

Speaking of charming, the film has a splendid cast of both Eastern and Western actors. Peter Cushing is his usually scholarly and dignified self as Van Helsing, a role he played many times. Make no mistake, when faced with supernatural dangers, this dapper professor can kick vampire butt with the best of them. Cushing took every performance very seriously, yet still had fun with the role. Robin Stewart is a chip off the old block as Van Helsing’s son Leyland. Dashing and handsome, while at the same time, dangerous and full of fight, like his dad. Julie Ege is pretty and spunky as the rich widow Vanessa Buren, though is utilized more as a damsel in distress. John Forbes Robertson is fine as the briefly seen Dracula, though, to be honest, Christopher Lee would have been far more imposing in what amounts to as an extended cameo. Our Eastern heroes are good as well! David Chiang is a noble warrior as Hsi Ching, a descendant of another vampire slayer, and Shih Szu is cute yet quite formidable as Mai Kwei, Hsi Ching’s sister and a love interest for Leyland. Rounding out is a properly sinister Chan Shen as Kah/Dracula. A solid cast who all get the material!

Filmed entirely on location in Hong Kong, this is a fun martial arts/ horror mash-up whose initial failure is all the more disappointing when one sees how enjoyable it is. It has the perfect blend of horror and martial arts, along with a nice mix of Eastern and Western supernatural folklore. It looks great, with some very effective visuals, along with plenty of martial arts action and bloody horror film mayhem. Sure, it’s cheesy at times, but that adds to the overall 70s charm and nostalgia. A really fun, yet sadly one-time collaboration from Hammer and Shaw Brothers Studios! Currently available on a special edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) martial arts swords.
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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD (1983)

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HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD (1983)

Chinese period fantasy has brother Yin Tien Chu (Max Mok Siu-Chung) and sister Tan Fung (Yeung Ching-Ching) separated as babies, when their parents are murdered by a pair of evil wizards (Leanne Lau Suet-Wa and Philip Kwok Chun-Fung). Tan Fung is raised by the two villains, while Yin Tien Chu is rescued and raised by good sorcerer Monster Yu (Jason Piao Pai). Eighteen years later, while initially on opposite sides, both siblings are destined to be reunited for revenge. Mix in some mystically powered swords and you have yourself a Shaw Brothers sword and sorcery epic!

Fun martial arts fantasy is energetically directed by Chun-Ku Lu from his script with Kwok-Yuen Cheung, based on a story by Sang Siu. It heavily evokes Tsui Hark’s Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, which came out the same year. It doesn’t quite seem to have that film’s budget, or level of SPFX, but does make up for it by being delightfully bonkers, fast paced and action packed. The film is also incredibly colorful with enough lavish costumes and sets to satisfy most fans of these movies. The fights are well orchestrated and the fantasy elements can be quite imaginative and creative, especially on what appears to be a modest budget. The visual and make-up FX can be cheesy, but are always charming. The mix of martial arts and sorcery is typical of these Shaw Brothers flicks and all the magic, king fu, treachery and romance, leads up to a climactic stunt and SPFX filled battle between siblings and sorcerers. Fun stuff!

The cast are all good here with Max Mok Siu-Chung and Yeung Ching-Ching doing a solid job as the separated twin siblings. There is also an array of colorful supporting characters, both good and bad, played just over-the-top enough to be entertaining. Leanne Lau Suet-Wa and Philip Kwok Chun-Fung are delightfully villainous as the evil sorcerers Chief Tsing Yin and You-ming Elder, while Jason Piao Pai is bombastic fun as good sorcerer Monster Yu. There is also actress Candy Wen Xue-Er as “Snake Boy” and Yung Jing-Jing as Yin Tien Chu’s beautiful love interest Chuan Erh.

Overall, this is a silly but very fun martial arts fantasy. It’s production is not quite up to the level of the similar Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, but it makes up for it with being delightfully goofy and full of heart. There is almost a constant flow of martial arts and magic, and it moves very quickly as brother and sister fulfill their destiny and avenge their parents, in true Shaw Brothers style. It is currently available to rent on Amazon Prime and the print is in absolutely gorgeous HD!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) martial arts swords.
white-witch-rating

 

 

 

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR (1993)

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THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR (1993)

The Bride With White Hair is a martial arts, fantasy, romance and is a fairy tale-like story that finds handsome warrior Zhuo Yihang (Leslie Cheung from A Chinese Ghost Story) falling in love with beautiful witch Lian Nichang (Brigitte Lin from ZuWarriors from the Magic Mountain), who belongs to an evil cult Zhuo is tasked with destroying. As the two defy their orders and superiors, forces conspire against them, including He Lühua (Yammie Lam), a woman warrior with eyes for Zhuo Yihang and the vengeful, jealous conjoined twin cult leader, Ji Wushuang (Francis Ng and Elaine Lui).

Flick is one of the best examples of the Hong Kong cinema revival of the 80s and 90s and has all the action, fantasy, love and betrayal one could want. It is a sumptuous visual feast as directed by Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky, Freddy vs Jason), from a script he wrote with Lam Kei-to, Elsa Tang and David Wu. You can see where Yu’s American horror flicks got their stunning cinematography, blood-spattered action and twisted sense of humor, as they are all present here. There are dazzling sword duels, dark magic, gallant heroes, vile villains and a seductive wolf witch to keep one entertained for it’s economical 92 minutes. There is an eroticism to many scenes that the Hong Kong cinema usually reserved for their more intense Category III films and there is quite a lot of blood spurting and severed heads, not to mention the disturbing portrayal of it’s conjoined twin villains. The costumes are lavish, as are the settings, the cinematography by Peter Pau and Lee Tak-shing is sumptuous and the score by Richard Yuen suits the dark fantasy atmosphere perfectly. Sure Zhuo Yihang and Lian Nichang’s love making scene seems to go on a bit too long and Zhuo Yihang’s belief that she may have betrayed him comes a bit too quickly, especially considering his vow to always trust her. Otherwise this is an enormously entertaining dark fairy tale, romance for grown-ups and one of the most renown classics of this era of Hong Kong cinema.

A great cast helps Yu tell his story well. Leslie Cheung’s handsome warrior Zhuo Yihang is a far cry from his timid tax collector from the Chinese Ghost Story movies, but no less a solid romantic lead/action hero. He’s charming, brazen, lethal and sexy, when he appropriately needs to be. Brigitte Lin is beautiful and intriguing as wolf witch Lian Nichang. She can be a fierce and deadly warrior, yet also very sexy and playful, depending on the scene and is very convincing as all of the above. She and Cheung have a great on-screen chemistry and generate some nice heat. When forces pit them against each other, they make good adversaries. Francis Ng and Elaine Lui are really creepy as the conjoined twin leaders of the cult. They exude power and malice, yet their constant bickering and antagonizing of one another really adds a twisted dimension to them. A disturbing duo. The rest of the supporting cast give solid performances, too!

Overall, this is a great film and the type of movie the Hong Kong cinema was so skilled at making during this era. The film looks fantastic, the action scenes are fast, furious and bloody and the romantic scenes generate some real heat. There is a bit of a twisted humor to it and some legitimately spooky scenes as well. Not quite perfect, but close to it and enormously entertaining. There was a lesser sequel released only months later directed by David Wu and a TV series in 2012. The Bride With White Hair is currently streaming free on Tubi!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) swords

 

 

 

 

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: LEGEND OF THE FIST-THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN (2010)

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LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN (2010)

Over the last decade, legendary martial arts star Donnie Yen took over the Hong Kong action cinema, with Jackie Chan and Jet Li slowing down their film appearances, and he has certainly become one of their hardest working stars. Yen followed the acclaimed Ip Man series with this 2010 story featuring Chinese martial arts movie hero Chen Zhen, previously embodied by Li in Fist of Legend and before him, by the legendary Bruce Lee in Fists of Fury.

This film adventure of the classic character is directed by Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs) from a script by Cheung Chi-shing and Gordon Chan. Chen Zhen is portrayed here as a World War I hero who returns home to find Japan planning to invade mainland China. Zhen becomes a masked freedom fighter, during Japan’s occupation of Shanghai, to thwart their efforts. Of course, there is treachery, femme fatales and legions of enemies in his way. As usual with these films, there is plenty of action, heart stopping stunts and beautiful women, all highlighted by some sumptuous cinematography from director Andrew Lau and Ng Man-ching.

While Legend of the Fist does indeed resemble a mix of Li’s Fist of Legend and his superhero action epic Black Mask, it is also colorful and entertaining enough to let it slide, as we are treated to a martial arts period flick filled with intrigue, action, betrayal and heroism. It’s a film that evokes the Hong Kong glory days of the 90s, one that is hard not to like, despite it’s derivative storyline. Flick also stars Hong Kong cinema beauty Shu Qi as a Japanese spy and legendary Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong as a club owner. A top notch cast. Yen himself choreographed the fight scenes. Familiar but fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) swords
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BARE BONES: THE GREAT WALL (2016)

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THE GREAT WALL (2016)

Two mercenaries, William and Pero (Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal), looking for gunpowder in ancient China find themselves prisoners at the Great Wall. They also find out why the wall was built as they are currently under siege by an army of reptilian creatures known as the Tao Tei. As Pero tries to find ways of escape, the noble William finds himself drawn into the struggle at the side of a beautiful woman general (Jing Tian).

Action/fantasy is directed by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Hero, Raise The Red Lantern) from a script and story by no less than six western writers. There is plenty of action and spectacle, though Yimou directs with a somewhat more moderate pace than one would expect from such an action and FX heavy epic. It is still enjoyable, even if not all the CGI is as effective as we’d like and fans of this type of Asian period fantasy and/or monster movies should have a decent time of it all. It’s amusingly over-the-top at times, as most of these Chinese flicks are and there is a nicely sci-fi origin to our creatures. The script could have been tighter and Zhang Yimou’s background in drama doesn’t serve the pace, but it’s not as bad as it was made out to be. Also stars Willem Dafoe as a knight who has been a “guest” at the wall for over two decades.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: THE WHITE-HAIRED WITCH OF LUNAR KINGDOM (2014)

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THE WHITE-HAIRED WITCH OF LUNAR KINGDOM (2014)

Chinese fantasy romance has a bit of a complicated story as it presents its tale of Lian Nishang (Bingbing Fan) who is a witch, known to the people in her surrounding kingdom as Jade Rakshasa, a Robin Hood like outlaw who protects the poor. She lives in a mountaintop fortress called Fort Luna and has shunned love until she meets handsome Zhou Yihang (Huang Xiaoming). Yihang is a Wudang priest who has recently become his sect’s leader and is treating the royal prince for an illness. When the prince is poisoned by an ambitious advisor, Yihang is blamed. When Nishang is defending some of her people, she is also framed for the murder of the local governor, who is Yihang’s grandfather…see, told you it would get complicated. Thrown together by fate, the priest and the witch fall in love. But their romance is doomed to be a tragic one as murder, betrayal, treachery, witchcraft and an invading army stand in the way of true love.

The Chinese cinema has been churning movies out like this for decades, yet they still have yet to recapture the charm of the great Hong Kong revival of the 80s and early 90s. This flick is based on Liang Yusheng’s Baifa Monü Zhuan, a novel which also served as the basis for the 1993 Hong Kong cinema classic The Bride with White Hair. This adaptation is directed by Jacob Cheung and credited to five writers, not that it’s a surprise considering how overloaded the story is. Cheung still makes this a fairly entertaining flick with plenty of martial arts action and actually giving the romance between Yihang and Nishang some dramatic weight. The story may be overcomplicated, which is not rare with these types of films, but it still works to a good degree and Cheung and his army of writers do blend the melodrama, action and fantasy elements well enough that it doesn’t sink under the weight of all the plot details. Like most of these types of films, the action is staged well, and the costumes and sets are quite extravagant. There are also some bloody moments as well and Ardy Lam does photograph the proceedings and settings quite sumptuously. Modern Hong Kong films have a tendency to overdo it with the CGI, but here it is used effectively and without relying too much on it as to make it overpowering. Hong Kong legend Tsui Hark serves as a consultant, which may be how the film does manage to juggle all its elements so well, as that was Hark’s forte as a filmmaker. Despite an overloaded story, White Haired Witch is still a fun movie, that may not be as charming as something like the classic, and far simpler, A Chinese Ghost Story, but certainly does still entertain.

The cast are all good and our leads, in particular help make this work. Bingbing Fan, who is known to American audiences for her appearance as Blink in X-Men: Days of Future Past, is beautiful and enchanting as Lian Nishang. She is graceful in her action scenes and can project both a strength and a sensitivity whether she is defending her people or romancing Huang Xiaoming’s Wudan priest. As Zhuo Yihang, Huang Xiaoming is handsome, brave, noble and romantic. He makes a suitable suitor for Nishang and a suitable hero for our story. During a brief plot point of having to appear like he is betraying Nishing, the actor portrays well the pain in his eyes as he does so. The two actors have good chemistry together and it makes the romantic scenes warm and endearing and their relationship seems believable even with all the fantasy elements.

Overall, the film overcomes a very overcomplicated plot to still entertain. It has some beautiful fantasy imagery, some fun action sequences and a good cast to make the characters likable…or not, if in reference to our villains. Film would have benefited from a more streamlined storyline that could allow the centerpiece romance to have a bit more focus. It also could have left out some of the politics and a few extra and unnecessary characters, such as a solider and his little girl who don’t seem to serve a purpose. If you like the Hong Kong cinema or simply Asian martial arts period pieces, this is still worth your time and is never boring, though could have been something more special if not so cluttered.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 swords
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