Saturday, July 20, 2013

Zen Master 6

Director: Lo Lieh
Starring: Suen Gin Ming, Meng Chuan Sheng, Lok Yun, Fang Hua, Diang Wing,

I have always been a great admirer of Lo Lieh. One of the best and most dependable screen villains in the history of Hong Kong cinema (he was afterall among many other things, the original white haired villain, Pai Mei), it is extremely ironic that most viewers here in the West were first introduced the intense Indonesia native in the classic King Boxer (5 Fingers of Death) where he played the righteous and chaste hero. His list of screen credits is astonishingly long and varied, nearly encapsulating the whole of the genre itself. Not nearly so impressive is his scant list of directing credts. Starting with 1973's 'Devil and Angel', Lo has a mere nine titles in a twenty year span. This includes the cult favorite, 'Clan of the White Lotus for the Shaw Bros. and the curious brain horror flick, 'The Black Magic With Buddha. In 1987 he delivered his best effort, 'Zen Master 6'; a Hong Kong/Mainland co-production that melds the best of both territories.

In the film, the Abbott of Shaolin is dying and must name a successor among his young disciples. The short-tempered San Sau (Meng Chuan Sheng) seems the favorite, but the Abbott chooses the  more thoughtful Wai Nam (Suen Gin Ming) and sends his prized pupil out to find enlightenment. The furious San Sau recklessly sends his brothers out to track him down. Meranwhile on his travels, Wai meets a potential love interest (Lok Yun) and helps a small costal village fend off invading pirates.

I had very limited info on this rarity (what little I had heard was positive) so I approached it with cautious optimism. What I came away with was one of the best Shaolin films I'd ever had the pleasure of watching.  While hardly original (it's basic story right down to the outcome of it's proposed love story was lifted wholesale from 'The Shaolin Temple' starring Jet Lee), never have all the familiar elements come together quite so sharply as here. From the strong, understated performances to the swift and assured pacing (particularly in the oddly placed, yet totally agreeable pirate segment) to the excellent, creative, state of the art fight choreography, there is nary a false note struck through any of it's economic 93 min running time. The finale in particular where Wai Nam and San Sau settle their differences once and for all, is one of the best and most satisfying one on one duels in all of kung fu cinema.

'Zen Master 6' was obviously a labor of love for Lo Lieh (he also produced the epic) and it payed off with a derivitaive, yet thunderously satisfying  martial arts epic that has thus far gone criminally underseen.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ac Kartallar (Starving Eagles)

Director: Cetin Inanc
Starring: Nihat Yigit, Mecit Yavuz, Nilgun, Sarayli

 Another of director Cetin Inanc's no-budget whacky wonders, this one designed specifically to showcase the talents of Bruce Lee lookalike (yes, a Turkish Lee-alike) Nihat Yigit. From what I know about him, Yigit was a Bruce Lee fan and took up martial arts in 1973 (the year Lee died). He apparently studied all manner of fighting arts including Kung Fu, Karate and Tae Kwan Do. After competing in various tournaments throughout Europe, he drew the attention of Inanc who saw strong possibilities in him as a screen fighter. His uncanny physical resemblence to Bruce at the time also could not be ignored (all the more remarkable as Yigit isn't Asian; perhaps Lee's few German genes made more of a difference than initially thought?). After featuring him as the main villain opposite Cuneyt Arkin in Olumsuz and Son Savascisi (he was shown a fair amount of respect in both as he was the only opponent to have ever even remotely given Arkin a tough time of it), Inanc decided it was time to star him in his very own Lee-clone epic (never mind the fact that the subgenre had died many years before).

The story; while visiting Turkey from Japan, a noted martial arts master is murdered by a rival clan that also happens to heroin smugglers. The slain master's top three students get to the bottom of things and take revenge. That's a about it.

Inanc does his best to meld the typical kung fu revenge story with his own patented sense of sheer insanity and it ultimately makes for a mixed bag of entertainment. On one level, you have bad nartial arts moviemaking at it's finest and funniest what with exaggerated closeups, swiped music from Enter the Dragon (and in the finale, Raiders of the Lost Ark) bewildering edits, overracting villains and some hilariously awkward fight choreography (one moment in particular had me on the floor as Yigit attempts to swing two men around ala Lee in Fist of Fury, but doesn't quite pull it off). Yet as entertaining as it all is, there is also a slight feeling of frustration since genuine martial artists were used and several fight scenes tend to be unnecessarily sped up (and i'm not talking slightly as in Sammo Hung's preferred method, I'm talking about full blown Benny Hill-like shenanigans). In the typical Inanc/Cuneyt Arkin epic, this is fine, but here it and the poor choreography tend to take away from the combatants considerable talents. Fortunately, this "technique" is for the most part eliminated in the second half, as if Inanc realized halfway through that severely undercranking his fighters wasn't necessary here.

At the center of it is a very entertaining performance from Yigit. His Lee impression is spot-on, more so than many of his Chinese counterparts and his excellent martial arts skills are placed on full view here. Watching Yigit do his thing, one wishes that he were given more opportunities, perhaps in a Hong Kong lensed production with top flight fight choreographers. 

Overall, Ac Kartallar is a fun time and will appeal to both Turkish Cult fans and Bruceploitation enthusiasts alike.

Rating: 5/10