Monday, June 14, 2021

Junesploitation 2021 Day 14: Kung Fu!

38 comments:

  1. Ching Siu-Tung's DUEL TO THE SUN (1983, Amazon Prime).

    I watched this for the first time last March for a Facebook Jury Room 4.0 watch-along, and I knew then I wanted to rewatch it for JUNESPLOIATION! A Golden Harvest Production, "Duel to the Death" is one third an ambitious wuxia tale of an annual one-on-one tournament between Japan and China's best warriors for national pride about whose country's fighting styles is better. Norman Chui's Hashimoto is an honorable Japanese samurai while Damian Lau's Bo Ching-wan is an expert Shaolin swordsman. The second third concerns the dishonorable actions that both the Japanese empire, personified by a bunch of crazy-cool ninjas executing a secret plan, and the Chinese (personified by Paul Chang Chung's bitter Master Han) using a princess-disguised-as-a-prince (Flora Cheong-Leen's Sing Lam) as bait to lure in both competitors. The last third are just endless scenes of characters walking and talking, of which only Bo's repressed romantic attraction toward Sing adds-up to much of anything. The pace might be off but every 10 or so minutes something insane happens, building to one hell of a final showdown between two honorable warriors giving it their all for national and (most importantly) personal pride.

    Imagine if young Joel Siver, Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson accidentally lost their briefcases full of cocaine in Honk Kong while on a business trip, that all that blow somehow ended at Golden Harvest's production lot and got snorted by "Duel to the Death's" cast and stunt teams. That just might START to explain the batshit insanity that overcame these folks whenever the ninjas appear. Never mind that Chui and Lao's one-on-one duel atop a mountain with waves crashing below is pure Kurosawa and rocks harder than Black Sabbath on a bender! "Duel to the Death's" ninjas perform suicide bombings (from which they miraculously survive to kill again!), join together to create a 10-foot-tall "Voltron"-style giant ninja, fly through the air (sometimes on giant kites, others just plain flying), burrow through sand like gophers, split in half before gluing themselves whole again... I could go on! Come for the comfort food of acrobatic kung-fu fight choreography and wuxia scope, stay for the decapitated ninja head stuck on a tree branch talking trash while pulling a "Scanners." 4 GIANT SPIDERWEBS TO TRAP CHINA'S BEST WARRIORS (out of 5)

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    1. DEATH! 1983's "Duel to the Death." 😫😤🤬

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    2. J.M.....LOVE your write ups and all the flicks you are doing for Junesploitation. Thanks so much for all your posts. This one caught me immediately and i will absolutely be watching this flick ASAP...maybe for today!

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  2. Hua Shan's LITTLE DRAGON MAIDEN (1983, Netflix) for the first time.

    Netflix's been barren of most anything exploitation-y in years past, but this June there are a handful of decent-to-great kung-fu titles from the Shaw Brothers archives. Neither the best or the worst the studio has to offer, "Little Dragon Maiden" follows a beggar named Yang Guo (Leslie Cheung) as he ping-pongs between masters that either don't want to deal with him (his uncle's family), teach him peculiar and silly-looking hopping techniques (the local homeless crazy, who might or might not be Guo's father) or needlessly bully him (sadistic Taoist monks with a proclivity to rape). It's no surprise that Guo ends under the tutelage of The Dragon Maiden (Xiao Long Nu), a disciple of a fighting technique so complex it requires two people to perform and both participants risk catching on fire (or have their naked bodies blowing steam) if they're not completely in synch.

    The narrative is hard-to-keep-up-with fantasy nonsense (the middle act is dreadfully slow and dull) punctuated by 'meh' fights, melodramatic conflicts and one hell of a final act reveal. The ending doesn't redeem "Little Dragon Maiden," but it has perhaps the craziest 'where did that shit come from and why?' third act deus-ex machina twist I've ever seen in any kung-fu flick. 3 TOWN DRUNKS HOPPING LIKE FROGS CHASING AFTER LOOSE CHICKENS (out of 5).

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  3. Wong Jing's and Corey Yuen's THE NEW LEGEND OF SHAOLIN (1994, CON-TV) for the first time. NOTE: CON-TV has the uncut original 95 min. version in Chinese with subtitles, but the video transfer is shit (looks like compressed 4:3 Video-CD). PLEX, TUBI, IMDB TV and Amazon Prime have a censored 87 min. English dub version known as "Legend of the Red Dragon," which is widescreen and looks much better but has terrible English dub. I switched back-and-forth between both versions, but I'm ultimately reviewing the original Chinese cut.

    Everybody betrays Jet Li: his best friend and brother to the corrupt government, his employer (Chen Sung-Yung's wealthy Ma Kai-Sin) by assuming he'd take advantage of his bride 'Red Bean' (Chingmy Yau), etc. As seen during a stunning opening set-piece that reveals the origin of the feud between Li's heroic Hung Hei-Kwun and now-assassin Ma Ling-Yee (Chunjua Ji) while corpses, logs on fire and sharp spears fly back and forth between them (did I mention Jet Li's holding a months-old baby during this battle?), this is a warrior and man of honor that only wants to live long enough to pass his knowledge down to his 7-year old son Hung Man-Ting (Miu Tse). By being in the right place (Ma Kai-sin's estate) at the right time (wedding ceremony), though, father and son become involved in a plot to kidnap Shaolin-trained children with partial tattoos of the location to a secret treasure. The government wants that treasure to finance wars while 'Red Bean' and her pretend-dead mother (Deannie Yip, who sounds like Fran 'The Nanny' Drescher in the English dub) want to steal as much as they can for themselves. Hung Hei-Kwun only cares to save the children, which is easier said than done when a revived-by-witches Ma Ling-Yee returns for revenge.

    Jesus, "New Legend of Shaolin" is insane! Jet Li remains a stoic badass warrior through it all, but he's surrounded by a freak show. There's old ladies farting in little kid's faces and viceversa, adults beating on children (or midget stuntmen pretending to be children), horny female "ghosts" raping sleeping men for comedic effect, an effeminate metrosexual Shaolin priest working for the government etc. The over-powered bad guy, in addition to having all his skin burned, drives a metal silver car that can also fly and stash little children within itself... I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP! There's a subtext about the kids being bullies to Hung Man-Ting, and the latter repressing his tendency to explode into rage whenever provoked, that compensates for young-in-'94 viewers' wish-fulfillment of seeing Jet Li and his son beat ass like a unit. Though the finale atop a clock tower doesn't land as strongly as earlier set-pieces, "New Legend of Shaolin" doubles down on trying to entertain by showing Jet Li's mad skills at their finest. 3.5 WEDDING GUESTS PRETENDING TO BE DEAD CORPSES (out of 5).

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  4. Teddy Chan's KUNG FU KILLER, aka KUNG FU JUNGLE (2014, PLEX) for the first time. Also streaming free with commercials on TUBI, Pluto and Crackle.

    A serial killer (Baoqiang Wang's Fung Yu-Sau) is targeting martial artists that are each proficient in different techniques (grappling, weapons, legs, etc.), but he's using his jack-of-all trades, master-of-all imperfect body as a weapon. Only disgraced martial arts teacher Hahou Mo (Donny Yen), serving a prison sentence for accidentally killing a man three years prior, sees the connection and offers Inspector Luk Yuen-Sum (Charlie Young) his help in exchange for conditional freedom. Good premise, and even neater is that the killer's motive, private life and personality are more fleshed-out and seen by us than the hero's. We think we know what Hahou Mo's all about, but director Teddy Chan (2001's "The Accidental Spy") keeps the reveals and twists coming about both men to build-up toward the inevitable mano-a-mano between them. He overacts a little too much for me, but Baoqiang Wang proves he can go up against Donny Yen and make him sweat. ;-)

    Most of the earlier fighting scenes keep the CG to a minimum (including a boat chase through a narrow canal and some parkour roof jumping), but the final fight happens in a too-obvious digital environment that neuters audience fear of someone stepping out of line. The closing credits reveal "Kung Fu Killer's" cast to be a murderers' row of HK actors, stuntmen and filmmakers, which is a nice touch for martial arts movie fans. 3.5 STOLEN POLICE WALKIE-TALKIES (out of 5).

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  5. A Lethal Ladies double feature for Kung Fu day.

    MY YOUNG AUNTIE (1981, dir. Chia-Liang Liu)

    I have watched a lot of Shaw Brothers productions over the years, but I do not remember one quite like My Young Auntie. It is a strange mix of goofy comedy, kung fu, romance, and musical. Then there are also a lot of modern things (cars, green military fatigues, sunglasses) not normally seen in SB kung fu flicks. With all of those elements still clashing in my mind, I am not sure what to make of the film. When a young woman (the familiar Kara Wai) marries an elderly dying man trying to keep his brother from inheriting his wealth, the brother does not take kindly to being cut out. He hatches a plan to steal the will, which unleashes a lot of fight choreography. There might be too much of it for the film’s good, though. Kara Wai is the best part of the film, showing off her dance background and getting the chance to look glamorous. (She even has a couple of fights while wearing dresses.) I can at least appreciate that My Young Auntie veers away from what was becoming a stale Shaw Brothers kung fu formula by the early 1980s.

    FURIE (2019, dir. Le Van Kiet)

    Hai Phuong does not have much happening in her life that is positive. She lives in poverty in a rural part of Vietnam eking out a living collecting debts, a profession that wins her few friends. Her one joy in life is her daughter Mai. When Mai is snatched during a visit to the local market, Hai’s fighting skills and perseverance are put the to test as she pursues the kidnappers to Saigon. This is one of those films whose plot does not hold up to rational analysis, but the viewer tends to be too busy waiting for the next action sequence anyway. Hai is played by an actress named Vanessa Ngo, who has appeared in some American films. Hai takes a tremendous beating as the film progresses, but she keeps getting up to continue her mission. Her daughter faces a gristly fate if she fails.

    I had a good time with Furie. Though I am still adjusting to the fast editing of modern action films, there was enough continuity between shots in the fights to give me a sense of what was happening. Part of the fun of Furie is seeing modern-day Vietnam, which looks like it would be an interesting place to visit. For a DVD blind buy that cost only a few dollars, this delivers more than I expected.

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    1. The actress' name for Furie is Veronica Ngo, not Vanessa.

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  6. No Retreat, No Surrender (1986 - Corey Yuen)
    I think I saw this film when I was a kid - I did not remember a lot, though... now I want to forget. Okay, it's the first "sizeable role" for Jean-Claude Van Damme and that's nice, yet I have to admit reading about him kicking the other actors all the time is not (still a bit funny). But who thought it would be a good idea to introduce the black sidekick playing basketball, rapping and breakdancing? Cool? Yes - but not in this movie, where the fat asshole kid is shown smearing a chocolate cake into his face (and all the other food, too) - like wtf? How offensive do you want to be?
    At the same time, it's a perfect fit for this month, but I can't say, I've enjoyed it a lot.

    1 out of 4 Bruce Lee imitators.

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  7. Man of Tai Chi (2013, dir. Keanu Reeves)

    Finally got around to this Blu-ray I've had sitting on my shelf for years.

    A mysterious millionaire (Keanu) is impressed by tai chi fighter Tiger Chen's performance at a tournament, and invites him into his illegal, underground fight club. What follows is a battle for Tiger's soul, and the soul of tai chi itself.

    The story's what it is, the fight scenes are well shot and the actors do their job, but what kept me most interested were the weird small touches in the directing and editing. A fourth-wall break, cuts to black, a CGI tracking shot across the city and through a window, and best of all, one strange cutaway shot of Keanu just growling at the camera which sent me into hysterical laughter with its audaciousness. I hope Keanu's first movie as director isn't his last.

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    1. I watched Man of Tai Chi as well, it had been on my list for a while since Patrick has championed it over the years. I'll echo your thoughts Mikko, what I will remember most about this movie is that fourth wall break (movie magic!) and how cool it is to see Keanu hamming it up! I agree, hopefully he'll take on more directorial gigs, as well as villain roles!

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  8. The 3th Chamber of Shaolin, dir Lau Kar-leung, 1978

    Really solid movie.

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    1. I watched the semi-sequel Return To The 36 Chambers (1980), and it was very good too. There's a bit more comedy in it. It stars Gordon Liu as well, but he's not playing the same character.

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  9. THE QUEST (1996)
    Famously a Jean-Claude Van Damme vanity project, with him not just starring, also co-writing and directing (!). It’s Tibet in the 1920s, and there’s a top secret high-stakes martial arts tournament going on. JCVD plays a Dickensian pickpocket who gets caught up in it all. Roger Moore is a lot of fun in this, basically playing the Connery to JCVD’s Nic Cage. Universal must have spent a fortune on this movie because it looks great, all lush production value and scenic vistas. And the fight choreography finds a nice balance between fancy jumps n’ flips and brutal punches. I really liked this one and I want to get the Blu-ray right away.

    30 days of Chinese fantasy movies, day 14
    NE ZHA (2019)
    OK, enough with all these YouTube obscurities. Today I’m watching this, the third-highest grossing film in Chinese history. Thanks to convoluted fantasy magic, a child is born with great demonic powers. After a lot of dorking about, he must eventually face his rival, a dragon-human hybrid born with angelic powers. On the plus side, this has a lot of great fantasy visuals with demon battles and giant dragons and paintings come to life and so on. But, this is more Dreamworks than Pixar with lots of pop culture gags and scatological humor. I enjoyed this well enough, but I wish it had a more consistent tone.

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  10. The Vengeful Beauty (1978)

    I'm not well-versed in vintage Hong Kong kung fu movies, but I had a great time with this one. There are flying guillotines decapitating people left and right, every other weapon can disassemble and turn into another secret weapon, and everyone has superpowers allowing them to jump onto (or sometimes straight through) rooftops like it's no big deal. Our fugitive heroine has to fight off wave after wave of assassins sent by the emperor's secret service, and while at it, she gets involved in a melodramatic love triangle with two proud warriors, one of whom has a smaller sword hidden inside a larger sword and the other is a master at throwing porcelain bowls which come back like boomerangs. I definitely need to watch more Shaw Brothers stuff.

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    1. The Vengeful Beauty is a highlight in the Shaw Brothers film catalogue. It was a Junesploitation watch a couple of years ago. Unlike many kung fu films, the story does not flag in middle. There were hundreds of films made by Shaw Brothers studio from the 1960s into the 1980s. Even seeing only a fraction of them will keep you busy.

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  11. The Paper Tigers (2020)

    For me this is the one to beat, easily my favorite movie I’ve watched so far this month. Three middle-aged former kung fu prodigies get back together after a couple of decades apart to avenge the death of their master, the only problem being that none of them have kept up their skills over the years.

    The three leads (Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, and Mykel Shannon Jenkins) are all relatable and funny and have terrific chemistry that makes them legitimately seem like lifelong friends. Some of the comic beats are pretty broad but the characters keep it grounded and they’re just so likably scrappy that you can’t help rooting for them. So much fun and 100% my jam.

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    1. Yes! This was definitely in my top 5 discoveries for this year. Every scene has something funny packed into it... including the only time I've heard the Konami code successfully placed in movie dialogue.

      Everyone should watch this tonight.

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  12. Shao Lin Temple(1982) Dir: Chang Hsin Yen

    The first martial arts movie to be filmed in mainland China and the debut role of Jet Lee. No that's not a misprint Jet would not get the Li moniker till this film was released in the Philippines. According to Wiki the Filipino publicity company found his original last name to hard to pronounce. Though this is Jet's debut role you wouldn't be able to tell. He is a star and it shows.

    The film opens with a quick history and travelogue bit about the Shao Lin temple its history and some of the murals on the wall. One of the murals is the inspiration of our film. After the fall of the Dynasty a warlord rises up and claims power. He kills Jets dad. Jet escape to a temple and is taken in by the monks. He then learns Kung Fu intent on murdering the Warlord, even though killing is against the temples teachings.

    The award winning fight choreography is the highlight of the film. Being a history of Shao Lin many of the Shao Lin styles are represented throughout the film. Drunken Stick being my favorite and the "Drunken stick vs Drunken Sword" my favorite fight scene. Animal lovers beware you might have a few issues with some scenes involving a dog and another with the slaughter of some goats.

    Overall an entertaining film well worth watching for the fight scenes alone. Its on Amazon Prime.

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    1. Ok. Some of these Shao Lins should be Shaolins. Not all of them but most. I trust all of you to know which is which.

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  13. Geung see ga zuk [AKA Mr. Vampire 2] (1986, dir. Ricky Lau)

    The second “hopping vampire” film from Ricky Lau is just as charming and ridiculous as the first. Set contemporaneously (as opposed to the early 20th century in the first film), a family of vampires are unearthed by an unscrupulous archaeologist who accidentally reawakens them, causing havok and hilarious confusion on Hong Kong.

    Chinese physician Dr. Lam (Lam Ching-ying) is roped into vampire hunting when a patient with a vampire bite comes calling, and his auspicious lineage makes him the man for the job. The slapstick kung fu between the hopping vampires and the humans has a delightfully fun choreography. There’s no unnecessary gore or mean spirited violence, and at no point is it actually scary… this is, dare I say it, a family film. There is a side plot about a boy vampire who befriends a little girl with the most absurd montage I’ve seen all year, but it all works in this goofy as hell movie.

    Bonus ‘sploitation points for a hilarious set piece where a gaseous sedative is unleashed causing the vampires and humans to battle in mock slow motion.

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  14. Hand of Death, aka Countdown in Kung Fu (1976) - Directed by John Woo and featuring Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung (but starring Tan Tao-liang and James Tien). Found this searching 70s Kung Fu on Amazon Prime and really enjoyed it. Shaolin fighter seeking revenge against bad guy is pretty straightforward, but it's very well-executed.

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  15. Ninja Zombie (1992)

    Shot on Super 8 in Chicago and never released on any format, Ninja Zombie made its way to our world via Bleeding Skull! and AGFA.

    Karate expert Jack has been stabbed through the heart by a martial arts master with a spider on his face named Spithrachne. He becomes a ninja zombie with the help of Brother Banjo, a voodoo master and tennis lover who wants to help our hero get his revenge.

    Writer/director Mark Bessenger is making a movie right now called Satan’s Not Dead which is all about a kid who escapes a church’s mass suicide ritual in order to kill the Devil. I mean, the guy knows how to put together something I want to see.

    Ninja Zombie is a great example of that. A spider cult of martial artists versus an undead ninja with a mullet but shot on Super 8? That’s exactly the kind of movie that I demand goes directly into my eyes.

    Sure, it’s not the kind of movie that would play in theaters, but when has that ever stopped you from liking something? If it has, wow, you’re on the wrong site.

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  16. Knockabout (1979) and The Victim (1980)

    A couple movies earlier in Sammo Hung's directing career, both co-starring Ka-Yan Leung, and Sammo himself (as well as Yuen Biao in Knockabout). Neither of these are Sammo's greatest works, and they're presented on Prime dubbed and not in any sort of great visual quality. Sammo's usual sense of humor shines through though and each movie at least has one or two notable sequences. For Knockabout there's a pretty good jump rope training scene with Sammo and Yuen Biao, and The Victim has Sammo fight in a bath house at one point and while he gets the dignity of a towel there are a whole lotta naked asses in that fight which is something I can honestly I hadn't seen in one of these kung fu movies before.

    I wish Eureka's blu-ray of Millionaire's Express landed one month earlier as it's a Sammo movie I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to everyone for Junesploitation. At least I should have Encounter of the Spooky Kind by the end of the month.

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  17. The 13 Styles Strike aka: 8th Wonder of Kung Fu(1979)
    Dir: Chang Ying

    Not a fan of this one. Some criminals are holding fights. Boxer vs Kung Fu. Boxer gets his win streak ended by our hero. Bad Guys hire a guy who may or may not know kung fu. Theres a tournament. Some other stuff happens. I'm really not sure what was going one. Bad dub. Ok at best fight scenes. A lot of obvious space between fighters in this one.
    If you must its on Tubi

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  18. FLASH POINT (2007, dir. Wilson Yip)

    Donnie Yen plays a Dirty Harry type cop who's partner is targeted by gangsters after his cover is blown. It's mostly a copy vs. gangsters drama, but once the martial arts kicks in in the third act, you could never complain. Really enjoyed Yen's swagger and insane fighting skills. Recommended on Tubi!

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  19. Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

    Also called Fist of the White Lotus, and IMDB lists it as Fists of the White Lotus.

    A martial artist trains to take down the leader of the White Lotus, who killed all his friends.

    Overall I liked this one. The humor didn't always work, but all the attempted dick punching and ball grabbing was definitely different.

    I think the ending makes the whole movie worth viewing.

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    1. I really liked this one. Both for the dick punching, and the "more is less" fighting technique it centers around. Mark Ahn wrote a piece on it a couple years ago you might be interested in reading.

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  20. The Paper Tigers(2020) Dir: by Quoc Bao Tran

    May be my favorite movie I've seen this year. Its new so no spoilers. Well worth a rental. Its everywhere.

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  21. THE FEARLESS HYENA (1979, dir. Jackie Chan)

    The first movie directed by Jackie Chan, billed here as Jacky Chan. I love him and his movies so much. It's a weird mix of tones and styles but it all works. I've been warned off the sequel.

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  22. ROMEO MUST DIE (2000, dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak)

    Not quite a great action movie, but a fun, sweet, and kind of adorable action movie. I enjoyed this so much. Aaliyah and Jet Li are a great pair, and Li playing football is the best thing I've seen this month.

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  23. The Victim (1982 dir. Sammo Hung)

    I’m no expert, but favorite Hung movie I’ve seen. It all worked for me.

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  24. Fist of Fury (1972)
    Directed by Lo Wei

    Simple plot: feuding Japanese and Chinese martial arts schools are in conflict after the Chinese teacher’s death. The most skilled graduate (Bruce Lee) beats up the Japanese students after they insulted the school, setting even more conflict. Bruce discovers they had a hand in his teacher’s death. Bruce unleashes the Fist of Fury on ‘em. Yet the plot is irrelevant to the movie. The scenes between fight sequences are boring and slow.

    It’s the style with which Lee fights that’s so incredible, combined with slow motion, zooms, after-images, and his facial acting. The camera just loves his face, and he emotes in a totally different way than any other actor in the movie, every body else is just wooden compared to him. Grunting, whooping, making all kinds of crazy sounds, funny faces. It’s impossible not to watch him. Great stuff. Honestly, skip the rest of the movie, and just watch the fight scenes. 4 / 5 stars just for those.

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  25. Martial Law, dir Steve Cohen, 1991

    What a strnage little Kung Fu World I stumbled into. Where everyone one can high kick and mullets are okay. I like to think that this is one of Bill's (David Carradine) adventures befor we he hooked up with the Bride. Martial Law is Delightful.

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  26. One-Armed Boxer (1972)

    This was a fun movie that lives up to its name with some crazy action scenes (mostly coming before it eventually lives up to its name). However, most of the movie is one action set piece after another, so it really moves along, even if there is only a tiny thread of a story holding it all together. I watched the US version that was on Amazon Prime, which was scored with funk that I'm sure was included in the US version to appeal to "urban" audiences of the time--it works well enough, but I'd like to hear the original score (unless that IS the original score...). I'm also really not a fan of dubbing--it could make for a good time in a theater because it is so ridiculous, but, at home, it just makes it hard for me to feel invested in the characters.

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  27. Kill Bill 1 and 2....

    couldnt help myself...it may not be an original Kung Fu Sploitation but boy-howdy is it an amazing homage to said genre! Im a huge fan of QT and KB1/2 may stand the test of time as my favorite..or at least most rewatched..of all his work. Watching it today for Kung Fu day was a chance to revel in Sonny Chiba, Gordon Liu, Yuen Woo Ping! Also allusions to Flying Guillotine, bruce lee, chang cheh, and so so much more.

    The House of Blue Leaves is, of course, a martial arts masterpiece segment. However i'd like to give a special shout out to the writing and execution of The Bride being buried alive. It sets up a literally impossible escape scenario and then finds a way to put an old school classic kung fu training segment into a modern movie, seamlessly, which not only helps us understand how The Bride became the master that she is BUT also show how she can beat the impossible escape scenario AND lay the groundwork for incredible matchups to follow (Elle and Bill) AND establish the checkovs gun 5 Point move. BRILLIANT!!!!

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  28. Return To The 36th Chamber (1980)

    This movie has Gordon Liu returning, but he's playing a different character, even though the character he played in the first one is still in it. But that aside, I really liked this one. It's quite a bit more comedic than the original.

    The story follows this guy who is pretending to be a Monk Kung Fu guy. When he's found out he goes to a temple, and instead of teaching him, they just get him to fix roofs (with lots of scaffolding) for 2 years. Then kick him out. He goes back and get in a huge 20 minute fight with some baddies, using a "Scaffolding Style" kung fu. Recommended.


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