Friday, June 28, 2013

The Magnificent 3

Director: Men Yu Ting
Starring: Yasuaki Kurata, Tony Poon, Tadashi Yamashita, Luk Chuen

After getting into a brawl in a Discotech in Dominica, three strangers; a Japanese tourist (Yasuaki Kurata), a Chinese resteraunt worker (Tony Poon) and an American (!) painter (Tadashi Yamashita)  find themselves thrown in jail together and left to rot there. Just when things seem their grimmest, the three are released, their bonds posted by an ex Army General. His intention is to put their supreme fighting skills to use against his famaly's black sheep, a powerful mafioso who employs top fighters from all over the world as protection.

This extremely quirky and mostly lighthearted curiosity is credited to one Men Yu Ting, a name I'm personally unfamiliar with and have found no info on whatsoever. This appears to be his lone directorial work, though he may well be an alias for longtime action choreographer Luk Chen. Either way, this is one fun and funky little martial arts flick. Though ultimately the storyline is revealed to be simplistic, I was really taken aback by the film's successful attempts at breaking from tradition. Of the three main leads, two are Japanese which is unheard of for a Chinese action movie of this vintage. It was a real blast to see Yasuaki Kurata and Tadashi Yamashita (here billed under his alter ego, Bronson Lee) in such unusual surroundings (Dominica?!) and able to yuck it up when called upon (the sequence where they go undercover dressed as cleaning ladies is a howler). Tony Poon lives up to his billing as "Kung Fu's hidden treasure". He fights not unlike Bruce Liang (a regular Kurata co-star) and this is a good thing as his spinning kicks and acrobatic antics are a lot of fun and nicely counterbalance the other two's karate style moves.

Other than the discotech (?!) brawl, most of the fighting is saved for the second half. After the henchmen are systematically taken care of (including a pair on roller skates!), we get to the tournament style battles, all against American opponents. After defeating in one-on-one bouts the likes of "Full Contact Karate Fighter from California, Alan Colavito" (Poon defeats him), "U.S. Full Contact Karate Champion, Howard Jackson" (Yamashita dispatches him) and the decidely goofy antics of "Full Combat Karate and Tae Kwan Do Fighter from Los Angelas, "Richard Kenton" (Kurata defeats him... after figuring out just what the hell kind of fighting style he's using), our three heroes must face the ultimate challenge, the Hercules-like "Mr. America, Nathan Le Blanc III" in an announced battle to the death. In each instance, the choreography is excellent, some of the best and most exciting (and again, most unusual) I've seen from this time period.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the surprisingly straight forward approach used in relation to the heroes' employer. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I fully expected some sort of evil doings on his part that would cause the three to turn against him or perhaps the General would attempt to dispose of them once the job is finished, but no such hackneyed plot device was forthcoming. He grew to genuinely care for their well being and even goes as far as to ask them not to accept the final challenge for fear of one or more of them getting killed on his behalf! After watching so many cynical and downbeat martial arts films, I found this approach refreshing.

'The Magnificent 3' turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises I've had in a while. Though it's  low budget is sometimes a hindrance, it's unique setting combined with it's most unusual combat (and combatants) make for extremely agreeable viewing. It's quickly become a favorite and one that I'm sure I'll be revisiting often.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Farewell "Pops"

The martial arts movie world just lost one of it's greatest and purest filmmakers with the sad passing of Liu Chia Liang aka Lau Kar Leung (July 28, 1936 – June 25, 2013). Far and away my favorite of all Shaw Bros. film directors, Lau was responsible for some of the greatest that the studio has ever produced such as The Spiritual Boxer, Executioners From Shaolin, 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Heroes of the East, Dirty Ho, My Young Auntie and my personal favorite, Legendary Weapons of China. Of the hundreds of kung fu movies that I taped off T.V. broadcasts during the 1980s, his were by far the most watched. For me, Lau WAS Kung Fu. He embodied it's essence more completely than any other screen actor/fighter that has ever lived. A master of Hung Gar, Lau learned the style under Lam Sai Wing who in turn was a student of the legendary Wong Fei Hung who has been portrayed in countless films including two of Lau's, Challenge of the Masters and Martial Club. Along with his younger brother, Liu Chia Yung aka Lau Kar Wing and his pupil and adopted Godson to his father, Gordon Liu Chia Hui aka Lau Kar Fai, Liu's importance to the genre cannot be overestimated.