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.
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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: HUMAN LANTERNS (1982)

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HUMAN LANTERNS (REN PI DENG LONG) (1982)

While Shaw Brothers Studios was renown for it’s martial arts epics in the 70s and 80s, they made their share of horror flicks, too and here they mixed the two genres for this particular cult classic. Period piece has the arrogant and vain Lung Shu Ai (Tony Liu) in competition with his rival, another entrepreneur, Tan Fu (Kuan Tai Chen) for the upcoming Lantern Festival. He is so intent on winning, he turns to former enemy Chao Chun-Fang (Lieh Lo) to make him a lantern sure to win. Deranged and vengeful for being humiliated by Lung seven years earlier, a masked Chao begins to sadistically murder beautiful women to use their skin to make his ornate lanterns. Soon there is a trail of mutilated bodies that has the local village terrified and is leading, unknowingly, towards Lung’s wife (Ni Tien).

This martial arts horror has developed a cult following and a reputation over the almost forty years since it’s release. It is directed by Chung Sun from his script with Kuang Ni and is a bizarre midnight movie indeed, mixing slasher and swordplay. It has all the elements of a Shaw Brothers martial arts film, such as beautiful costumes, gorgeous settings and sumptuous cinematography, here by An-Sung Tsao. There are plenty of martial arts battles and sword fights, too, but it is also drenched in blood and body parts, as any traditional horror flick might be. Chung Sun has quite an eye for horror visuals, such as fog shrouded forests, a leaping, cackling, skull-masked villain and a fiend’s lair filled with, bones, body parts and bound damsels. There is plenty of blood and gore as the psychotic Chao Chun-Fang kidnaps beautiful ladies and torments and kills them, gruesomely taking their skin to complete his lanterns. The scenes are just long enough to be effective, and the gore effects are well done enough to work, but nothing overly shocking by today’s standards. The cast are all good and it is interesting that, aside from the female victims, there are no sympathetic characters or outright heroes to root for. Tony Liu’s Lung is simply a self-centered jerk, Kuan Tai Chen’s Tan isn’t much better and obviously, Chao Chun-Fang is a complete nut-job. Even the local police are easily fooled and befuddled. Still, there is a well tempered mix of bloody mayhem and martial arts pageantry that works far better than it should, even if, overall, the flick doesn’t quite live up to it’s reputation on a first time viewing. It’s ultimately not as disturbing or gross as expected, considering it’s notoriety for so many years, though it is still quite gruesome at times.

So, if you’re thirty-eight years late to the gory party, you may not quite understand what all the fuss is about. Back in 1982, the mix of gruesome horror and martial arts action may have taken audiences by surprise and well it should have. By today’s standards, it’s not quite as horrifying as it’s longstanding reputation would have one believe. It’s still entertaining and effective, as both gory, 80s horror movie and martial arts adventure, and even if it doesn’t quite have the “wow” factor expected, it is still a bloody fun midnight movie that has earned it’s niche as a cult classic on multiple continents. Flick is now streaming on Amazon Prime for those wanting to check it out.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) lanterns made out of ???

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978)

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THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978)

With the passing of Shaw Brothers Studios founder Sir Run Run Shaw, I thought I’d take a look back at one of his most famous classics and a film highly regarded by martial arts film enthusiasts as one of the greatest martial arts films ever made…

This martial arts classic tells the story of a village that has been taken over by oppressive Manchu warriors. A rebellion is brewing, but the Manchu’s are making a strong effort to squash it before it can overthrow them. Student Liu Yude (Gordon Liu) wants to get involved, but his involvement soon puts him on the run and hunted. Injured from an encounter with his Manchu pursuers, he finds himself going to the Shoalin Temple for help and once there, begs the monks to take him in as a student and train him. They reluctantly do and now going by the name of San Te, he trains and becomes their greatest and most skilled student and is granted the privilege of taking charge of one of Shaolin’s 35 chambers of training. But, San Te asks to start a new 36th chamber to train common folk in the ways of martial arts. His rebellious request gets him sent out to collect offerings as penance, but it also returns him to his village where he finds his fellow students and family dead and the rebellion all but destroyed. Greatly skilled, San Te is now in a position to finally help his people overthrow and cast out the Manchu thugs once and for all…but should he?

We all know the answer to that question, but it sure is fun watching it transpire. The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin…also known as The Master Killer…is widely regarded as one of the greatest martial arts films ever made and in regards to the spirit of these kind of films, it is. It has everything you could want from one of these flicks…an unskilled hero up against insurmountable odds, grueling training sequences where our hero slowly gains the skills he lacks, then his ultimate return to exact vengeance against those who wronged him and his people/family…and of course fights, fights, fights. In this, director Liu Chia-liang delivers all the above in exciting and dramatic style. We are treated to some of the greatest training sequences ever filmed and some really exciting and well choreographed fight scenes and all with a very colorful and grand visual style, despite being on what must have been a very small budget. We are also treated to a really cool opening title sequence, which perfectly sets the mood for the rest of the film.

The cast are all good with star Gordon Lui leading the pack with a portrayal of a brash, angry and somewhat arrogant young man being gradually humbled and turned into a noble and strong warrior, who seeks peace through the enlightenment and strengthening of those around him. Lui is considered a legend of the martial arts cinema and this film is why. He is also a skilled martial artist and his fight scenes show it. The rest of the cast do well in creating noble monks, rebellious villagers and evil villains accordingly and help bring this time-honored story to vibrant life. While it is a story told many times in martial arts cinema, this is one of the best examples of how it should be done.

Despite the advancements in FX and technology, the expanding of budgets and overall progress the Hong Kong cinema has made since the prolific days of the 70s era, this film still holds up and with added nostalgic charm, can proudly still be considered one of the greats. A must see for martial arts movie fans of all generations…and a hell of a lot of fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) legendary Lius!

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FAREWELL and R.I.P. SIR RUN RUN SHAW 1907-2014

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Sir Run Run Shaw 1907-2014

Today one of the most important figures in the history of Hong Kong martial arts cinema, Sir Run Run Shaw, passed away at the ripe old age of 106.  Shaw founded the legendary Shaw Brothers Studios which produced over 1,000 films including the martial arts classics The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin and Five Fingers Of Death (King Boxer). Shaw was also one of the producers of the classic film Blade Runner. Farewell to a true giant in the world of film.

 

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