Monday, July 23, 2012

Valley of the Double Dragon (aka Kung Fu of Tai Kwan Do) (aka Fist Fighter)

                                              Director: Ulysses Au Yeung
                    Starring: Kim Jin Pai, William Shiela, Robert Baker, Lin Chen Chi

This unusual film takes place during Japan's occupation of China during WW2. A downed U.S. fighter pilot (William Shiela) forms an uneasy alliance with a small group of Chinese freedom fighters as they oppose the Japanese soldiers who have been pillaging the countryside along with help from a sadistic Nazi (Robert Baker).

A choppy, uneven, yet fairly entertaining affair, Valley of the Double Dragon marks the directorial debut of one Ulysses Au Yeung. The ubiquitous Ulysses had directed everything from straight kung fu fare (Thou Shall Not Kill... But Once, Ming Patriots) to classic wuxia (Big Land Flying Eagles which may be his masterpiece), to slapsticky fu comedy (Three Shaolin Musketeers) and even dabbled in Brucesploitation (Bruce Lee, We Miss You). VOTDD displays the same energetic, swift paced, rough and ready style of filmmaking that seems to be the director's forte.

Ultimately, the film is probably most notable for it's cast. Star Kim Jin Pai is a real life 10th degree Hap Ki Do black belt who starred in several films during the early '70s, most noteably the hard to find (dubbed in Englsh, at any rate) cult favorite, 'The Mandarin' (aka Godfathers of Hong Kong). Easily the best martial artist in the film, Kim throws a mean screen kick and his battles tend to generate most of the movie's excitment. This I believe is the one and only film appearance by William Shiela. Very unusual to see a black actor in a Chinese production of this vintage. He appears to be a real life martial artist (from what I can tell, anyway) and does a competent enough job in the action scenes. The role also allows (or possibly forces, depending on your point of view) him to be all over the place in the thesping department. Starting off as angry, viscious and distrustful of his soon to be Guerilla allies, he soon enough finds himself in disguise as Guan Yu (!) as the team attempts to infiltrate the Japanese HQ. Robert Baker's claim to fame was playing the Russian 'Petrov' in Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury. This film marks Baker's second and apparently last film role. This bit of casting alone is enough to spark interest for genre fans. Unfortunately, Baker's 'acting' as the ruthless, sadistic Nazi is just as stiff as it was in the Lee film. Not that much was actually required of him for the role; his familiar appearance alone seemed to do the job. This film also marks the debut of the beautiful and talented Lin Chen Chi. An intense actress with a perpetually wild look in her eyes, I first took notice of Lin's work in Tsui Hark's 1980 rage filled masterpiece, 'Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind'. Sadly she's underutilized in this film as her character is relegated mostly to onlooker status (not a fighter, it seems). Still she manages to stand out in every scene she's in.

All in all Valley of the Double Dragon is certainly no Eastern Condors (what is?), but it is a worthwhile low budget 70s style war-fu oddity. I'll admit I went into this one thinking it's sole interest would be it's cast, but I came away enjoying it a bit more than I thought I would. Worth tracking down.

                                                               **1/2 / ****

Sunday, July 15, 2012


                                                 Director: Joseph Velasco
                            Starring: Bruce Lei, Peter Chen Lau, Leong Wong Ko

Not only is this curiosity not to be confused with the Stallone movie of the same name, it's also not to be confused as a Bruce Le (as in one 'E', as in Bruce clone) starring vehicle. Though billed as the star of the film and his face plastered all over various posters (the one used here excluded) and vhs boxes, he is nowhere to be found. Apparently, this Indonesia lensed flick decided to use his name purely as a selling point as his films were popular there at the time (can you imagine; a second rate Bruce Lee clone falsely billed in order to lure patrons?!). The actual star is Bruce Lei and no, this isn't the actor who's better known as Dragon Lee. That was a different 'Lei'. I'm not sure who this Bruce Lei is, possibly Steve Lee of the film 'Steel Fisted Dragon'. Maybe, maybe not...

Onto our story: 'Bruce' is the favorite pupil of your typical white beard, kindly old teacher/father figure. He is also in love with the old man's daughter (of course). The old master is killed one night by an unidentified assassin who calls himself, The Cobra . His dying wish is that his daughter and fave pupil forget everything, get married and move away. And believe it or not, that's what they do! They have a kid and 'Bruce' lands a job after unwittingly fending off a few gangsters who were harassing a rival. His job is basically as a collector/enforcer, something he does not enjoy. He let's his boss know he's quitting after one last job (you know exactly where this is heading). The 'job' is botched and the boss sends his goons to kidnap 'Bruce's' wife and child. It goes horribly wrong amd the two are accidentally killed (this scene is one of the more excrutiating ones that I have seen in a kung fu film of this vintage). This sets the tone for the last thirty minutes as an enraged 'Bruce' lays waste to the rheumatism stricken boss and his henchmen (the top assassin turns out to be identical twin brothers leading to the line, "So the two of you were born on the same day and you will die on the same day!"). It ain't over 'till it's over however as at the last instance, The Cobra (whom 'Bruce' and the audience had basically forgotten about) shows up to finish what was started (or something like that), leading to a final freeze framed 'surprise' ending that will cause one to shake their heads in disbelief (if they weren't already doing so, that is).

If the above plot rundown makes this film sound like some careless, convoluted mess, that's because it is. 'Credit' one Joseph Velasco who among many others, directed such no budget wonders as the entertaining 'Ninja Strikes Back' and the notorious 'Clones of Bruce Lee' (both of which DO star Bruce Le). He lends his typical air of incomprehension to this film. Still, this wobbly inducing affair does have a minor cult following and this is mostly due to the gory carnage on display in the last half hour. After a slow, somber buildup, Velasco just seems to say screw it and pile on the martial arts mayhem in earnest. This sudden change in tone only adds to the confusion, but in a so bad, it's good kinda way.

Again, not positive who star Bruce Lei actually is, but he is a decent Lee-alike. Not the best I've seen, but not the worst either and he does display some half decent acting chops to go along with his welcomed  subdued Lee impression. His underplaying of the role actually lends some genuine drama to the proceedings.

As these Bruce Lee clone flicks go, I found Cobra strangely intriguing. It's jarring shifts in tone combined with the gore filled climatic battles and nonsensical final shot (to say nothing of it's score, which at one point incorporates a muzak instrumental version of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'!) make it ideal viewing for insomniacs everywhere.

                                                                   **1/2 / ****

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Invisible Man vs the Human Fly

                                             Director: Mitsuo Murayama
                        Starring: Ryugi Shinagawa, Yoshiro Kitahara, Joji Tsurumi

This is the followup to Daiei's 'The Invisible Man' (which I have yet to see) and is quite a quirky little sci fi thriller.

Tokyo is gripped with a series of murders committed by an unseen madman who kills his victims with a knife plunged through the heart. The only apparent warning sign being a buzzing sound preceeding the attack. The police are baffled. One officer quips that the murders could only be committed by an invisible man. Little does he (or the others) realize that through light ray technology, such a being has already been created. Unfortunately once someone is transformed, there is no way to bring him back without causing a fatal form of cancer. The actual killer however, is using a different method; an invention that can allow him to shrink to the size of a fly. The noise that accompanies our deranged mini murderer is because (as science points out, cough!), that creatures when they are shrunk to a small enough size, can float through the air while creating a natural humming sound.  Once the killer is found out, it is reasoned that only an invisible man can stop him. But will anyone be brave enough to alow himself to be transformed knowing he cannot become visible again?

Invisible Man vs the Human Fly is a fairly fun watch, but not quite as much fun as it ought to be. Director Mitsuo Murayama lensed this little pic as something akin to a police procedural. As such, the film has a rather deadpan 'Dragnet' like feel that is at odds with the decidedly loopy sci fi story. Though it does manage a faint B/W Film Noir quality that is appreciated, one need only watch Ishiro Honda's 'The H-Man' (lensed in vibrant color) to see how unnecessarily subdued much of the material is presented here. The effects are pretty cool; the human fly is just that, a man shrunk down to the size of a fly (with no insect-like appendages which would appear in the U.S.s 'The Fly') and just sort of floats around (and above and under) things, waiting to strike. The Invisible Man ('People" actually, at the risk of giving too much away) is compentent, but is not up to the level achieved by John Fulton in Universal's 1933 classic. Arguably the best 'special effect' on display takes place during the nightclub sequences featuring various scantily clad dancers (again predating 'H-Man') that most definitely livened up the lethargic first half. It also led to the film's most amusing moment as our villainous Human Fly having an unhealthy obsession with one of the dancers, buzzes around her while she relaxes in her dressing room only to find himself mildly swatted by the unsuspecting hottie.

Recommended mostly for Kaiju completists. Fortunately, I tend to fall into that category myself, so all is well.

                                                                    **1/2 / ****