Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Mandarin (aka The Godfathers of Hong Kong)

Director: Chin Shu Mei
Starring: Kin Jin Pai, Cheng Liui, Chiang Nan

As with 'Brutal Boxer' (which I previously reviewed), here we have another so-called 'lost' kung fu movie from the early '70s. The difference is that this film has elected to stay lost... sort of. Apparently there is an English dubbed print in existence, though we're unlikely ever to see it. The reason seems to be that this lone print is owned by a single individual who refuses to part with it or make it available to the general public (such are the ways of the hard core kung fu collector, it seems). Fortunately a while back, a German dubbed print was discovered so at least we die hard types have that to fall back on...

The story (as well as i can gather as I cannot speak a lick of German) deals with a wanderer (possibly a detective) played by real life Hap Ki Do Grandmaster, Kin Jin Pai who in the film's oppening scene, attacks a group of drug smugglers and sets fire to their shipment. This understandably irritates the local big shot (Chiang Nan) who sends his lackeys out to kill him. They are no match for our nearly invincible hero as they are easily dispatched one by one and group by group. When the 'Godfather' finally learns that his new found enemy has a family, he has them kidnapped, setting off a grueling, showdown that is about as intense as any seen in the genre.

It's all very simple and obvious, but what separates 'The Mandarin' from others of this period is it's highly dramatic approach. The plot may be going by the numbers, but the execution is anything but. Kin Jin Pai's hero is shown to be as brash and naive as he is invincible. He is almost always smiling as he dispatches the increasingly volatile lackeys so when he is ultimately betrayed, it hits home like a sledgehammer. As I mentioned, the finale is especially powerful stuff. I can see why it wowed U.S. audiences back in the day under it's 'Godfathers of Hong Kong title. Director Chin Shu Mei (with rumored asisstance by a very young unknown named John Woo which may be more revealing of the film's content) drains every ounce of tension throughout, giving parts of the film an impressive gloom and doom atmosphere (you get the feeling that something bad is on the horizon for our hero, even while things are initially going his way) and this fuels the impressive fights considerably, especially the aforementioned climax. The final moments in the film are about as bold and outrageous an idea as any I've seen.

 'The Mandarin' despite it's simplistic plot, is one of the best and most draining kung fu movies of the early '70s. Worth seeking out, even in untranslated form.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spiritually a Cop

Director: Shum Wai
Starring: Fung Sui Fan, Lui Fong, Mong Hoi, Yukari Oshima

"Get the fuck out!" growls Yukari Oshima (in English, yet!). Sadly, this should have been her sentiments when shown the script of this otherwise lousy (and somewhat offensive) action ghost comedy. 

The bizarre storyline tells of a male chauvenist vigilante (Lui Fong) who impersonates a cop and is killed while attempting to stop a gang of transvestite jewel thieves whom he mistakes for being women. His spirit returns to Earth ('How can I be killed by women? I am a man!") seemingly for the sole purpose of persuading the senior officer (Fung Sui Feng) into replacing Lin Lin, the female officer overseeing the case (Yukari Oshima) with a man. He goes so far as to persuade the superior (who also just happen's to be Lin Lin's lover) that her undercover meeting with diamond criminals is actually a secret affair.

'Spiritually a Cop' joins the ranks of tasteless Hong Kong comedies of the era and is probably one of the genre's worst offenders. The anti female stance that our 'hero' takes is so forced and so unfunny that it's completely overbearing. So why am I giving this turgid little flick as high a rating as I am? Two words; Yukari Oshima. Her snarling turn as the hot headed officer is breathtaking and far, far better than the movie deserves. There were times where I wished Lin Lin would just lose it and take out every member of the cast. Sadly this didn't happen but when the fights finally do kick in, they are actually very crisp and exciting  (courtesy of fight choreographer, Mong Hoi who also co-stars as a monk who communicates with the dead vigilante). Among the diamond thieves is a familiar face, Elaine Liu and her final smackdown with Yukari actually ranks as one of the best in either's career (she certainly holds up better against Osh than she had in 'Angel')

Ordinarily, a film with a couple of excellent fights and the awesome Osh would be enough to recommend it. Here however, there is a bit too much loathsome nonsense on display for me to fully do so. That said, Yukari's scenes are strong enough to warrant multiple viewings... just as long as I fast forward everything else.

Rating: 5/10