Goddamn You! Your kung fu is lacking...

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Lone Hero (1973)

Background:  Taiwanese basher starring Tien Wen Chung, Ling Fong Chiao, Chu Chiang Hua, Chang Ping, Sha Lee Wen and Kam Kong.  Distributed by Goldig Films.  Action Directed by Hsieh Hsing.  Produced by Alex Gouw.  This version is fullscreen, with custom English subtitles.

Story (SPOILERS): Fei Hsiung (Chu Chiang Hua) is a rebel fighting against Japanese rule.  He has lost his four brothers and father in the uprising, and carries his mother to safety on his back.

Pfft, family.  All they do is hold yer back.  

They reach his uncle's house, and settle in nicely.  Hsiung is engaged to his cousin, Li Ying, but feels guilty about what has happened to the family.

Meanwhile, a trio of local toughs, led by Kao, steal Uncle's fishing boat and beat up his workforce.

Kao returns to his Boss, Lee Tien Ho (Tien Wen Chung), and informs him that Uncle is waiting to speak with him about the boat-stealing outrage.  Lee is forced to cut short his session with his lass:

Snake fist?

Boss Lee explains to Uncle that the boat has been impounded for ten days, because Uncle has violated some random shipping regulations.  Uncle won't accept this, and they get into a quarrel.  Boss Lee tells Uncle to sod off, and orders Kao to chuck him out and burn his vessel for his impertinence.

The subs can be rather amusing.   

Kao's men give Uncle a kicking, causing the fishermen to rush in to defend their employer.  A brawl breaks out in the courtyard, and spills out into the open.

Despite warnings that he should stay hidden so that no-one informs the Japanese of his presence, Hsiung rushes to defend the fisherman, killing Kao, and attacks Boss Lee in his compound.

Calm down.  Take a seat.

After he dishes out a kicking, Hsiung forces Boss Lee to reveal the whereabouts of the boat.  On the way, he meets Boss Lee's lass, who remembers Hsiung from the past and takes an immediate fancy to him.

Licking his wounds, Boss Lee visits Uncle and offers him a sizeable fee to borrow his boat for ten days, on the proviso that Hsiung is kept on a leash.  Uncle refuses when he finds out that the boat will be used for smuggling.  Boss Lee kidnaps him.

After various threats, Hsuing is powerless to help - or so he thinks.  He manages to persuade Lee's girl to take him to Uncle, on the understanding that he will marry her.  After the rescue, he tells her the truth - he cannot marry her because he is promised to another.

Hsiung decides to hunt down Boss Lee, and persuades a lackey to take him to the smuggler's warehouse.  Boss Lee learns of this, and his two best fighters throw dice to decide which one is going to tackle Hsiung, and which one is going to nob a lass.

This leads to a bizarre scene, where the action keeps cutting between Hsiung and the expert trading blows, and the other fighter getting a mouthful of naked girl.  Hsiung chases the fighter back to the warehouse, and after another brawl they manage to trap him in a wooden crate, nail the top down, and chuck him off a cliff into the sea.

Wave goodbye, rebel scum.

Unfortunately for Boss Lee, Japanese soldiers arrive and demand that he hands over Hsiung.  Boss Lee retrieves the crate from an inlet, and takes it back.  Hsiung bursts out and kills all except Boss Lee, who escapes.  He rushes back to Uncle's house and gathers Li Ying and his mother to escape on the boat.  They are intercepted by more soldiers, who have killed Uncle for hiding the rebel, and Hsiung gets shot while disposing of them.

This is possibly the slowest exchange of blows in the film, with movements that don't run much faster than this still.

Lee is waiting on the boat, and there is a scuffle to the death.

Despite his injury, Hsiung prevails, and the boat chugs off into the distance with Boss Lee's lass watching on longingly from the shore.

No bed kung fu ... for you.

Impressions:  Erm, I'm not sure.  The central conceit of the story is run of the mill - Japanese occupation, smuggling, and a corrupt local gang boss - but the film moves at a reasonable pace.  The locales are grotty and unimaginative, but some interesting camera angles occasionally liven this up.  The sound loses synch at some points - with punch sounds being heard well off the pace.

The main problem lies with the central character.  Chu Chiang Hua, according to hkmdb, only made this single film.  Surely that can't be correct?  Or can it?  He spends most of the film looking bewildered and vulnerable, hardly the double-hard bassa he's supposed to play.  This 'sensitive tough guy' performance would be ok - he has lost most of his family, after all - if his fights weren't so hit and miss.  It speaks volumes that the faster, more energetic fights in this film were between other people.  Any fight scene featuring Hsiung is slow and methodical, and often unconvincing.  It's as if his co-stars had to hang back to deliver very deliberate, measured attacks.  I'd expect a central badass figure to be a lot more powerful, violent, and furious than Chu Chiang Hua presents.  It seems as if the fight choreographer was stifled by the limitations of the lead.  Maybe I'm being unkind.  I'm not even vaguely qualified to comment on stances, posture, etc, of real martial arts, but on screen, the main character's action scenes are, to my mind, not as exhilarating as they should be.  There's no real sense of justice and revenge in the blows.  Shame, as I expect as a dramatic actor he'd be fine.

As such, my enjoyment of this film was limited.  The print is good (bar what-looks-like the same droplets of water on the print in the same position throughout, but that's a minor quibble), the subtitles were fine, and as bashers go, it's not bad.  I feel bad that the central character dampened my enthusiasm for the film.  His shocked good guy routine could have been a winner if his fights were livelier, faster and more powerful.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Only Son For Four Generations (1977)

Background:  This is a film originating from South Korea.  Details on it are sparse.  It stars Bobby Kim alongside Ahn Ku-Soeb, Ahn Kil-Won and Heo Eun-Sil.  The print is in a watchable (though bashed up) condition, and seems to be sourced from an old VHS.  It is English dubbed, with Greek (I think) embedded subtitles.

Story: Bobby Kim lands on a dock and makes for town.  He holes in at a local watering hole, witnessing a young lad get a shoeing from assorted toughs.  After they attempt to humiliate him, he kicks them in good and proper.  The young lad thanks him and flees.  

Later, the kid meets up with his old grandpa.  The boss of the toughs has sent men out to find out what happened (presumably), and the kid hides while Grandpa gets arrested.  He receives a slapping, but refuses to cooperate.  The kid informs Kim that his Grandpa has been taken away, and explains that the area is under the boot of local scumbag bosses.   

Grandpa is strung up on the beach, and the villagers protest.  Kim appears and dishes out some violence.  One of the bosses recognises Kim as a man he wronged twenty years ago.  The story then enters flashback mode, with Kim and said boss driving a truck full of cash.  They are stopped by a rozzer and asked if they can help transport an injured man to town.  They agree, though it is made known to the viewer that the man isn't injured at all.  After a while, the rozzers and the 'injured' man are transferred to a car, and the guys continue on.  Kim goes to see his wife, who is pregnant.  As they leave the hospital after an assessment, Kim is arrested and charged.  The money has gone missing, and his partner (one of the future bosses) has pointed the finger at him.  He is sentenced to twenty years.  To compound his misery, his wife dies during childbirth.

So then, following his release, Kim is clearly on a revenge mission.  There's a sequence on a train where he smashes up one boss, and the other two become increasingly concerned.  The young lad seems to brood on the happenings, and in one bizarre scene tries to rape his lass, before coming to his senses.  Kim accepts an invitation to meet another boss alone, but is doubled crossed, and faces death until the young lad saves him.  That boss is speared by a sword.  

The final boss has a nightmare about Kim, and decides to get someone else to do the dirty work.  He approaches Grandpa, and promises to relax his grip on the town if he challenges and kills Kim.  For the good of everyone, Grandpa accepts.

Kim ends up victorious and the young lad, unaware of the deal, wholly blames Kim.  He challenges him to a fight.  Kim effectively surrenders, and reveals to the young lad that he is his father.  The young lad is furious, and takes out his wrath on the henchmen of the final boss.  He just about stops himself from killing him.  In hospital, Kim and his son reconcile, and they walk off into the sunset with the lad's fiancĂ©.

Comments: OK, first off, the film itself.  It's decent enough, but nothing remotely special.  It's steady away for the most part, with a reasonably-delivered but stilted dub (where sentences are stopped ... to fit ... in with the movements of ... the actor's lips).  The story suffers somewhat due to the film's paltry running time - at just over 70 minutes surely this version is cut?  Nevertheless, it's easy to understand and Kim's performance anchors it well enough.  Scenes where he reflects on his situation and what might have been are wordless, yet his 'nothing-to-lose' attitude is conveyed competently.  

The budget on this film must have been rock bottom.  Bar a few pleasant outdoor settings, everywhere is quite 'everyday' and forgettable.  Perhaps the most interesting scene of the entire film is the flashback scene involving the truck.  The hammering rain makes it more atmospheric than most of the other sequences, but that's just my personal preference.  The train scene is dark, and more confusing than anything.

The martial arts are a mixed bag.  Frankly, it's all mid-level stuff at best.  There's some decent kicking going on, but the camera work is too erratic, and the cuts too fast, to really showcase the skills.  It all looks at bit early-to-mid 70s.   Kim and the young lad open up once or twice and put together some impressive moves, but the film suffers from a lack of confidence on the part of the choreographer.  Even the wire-assisted kicks look funny rather than impressive.  There's not even that much fighting - the film is more like a drama with martial arts sequences.

As for the print - what a mess.  The early parts of the film are cut up badly, with lots of dialogue cut mid-sentence, and the bar fight in particular missing sequences and moves.  I don't know if the print has just degraded, or if someone has removed video rolls, but there needs to be a better copy of this found.  Hell, there isn't even a title card.  Although, Bobby Kim's name is clear enough, albeit in a stange alias:

As mentioned before, the film is very short, and some scenes are so random and obviously chopped that the film is weakened by this.  It's a shame, because as a low-level melodrama it works quite well.  Kim gives a neat performance and I was never bored.  I just wish there was more fighting at the hands of a better choreographer!