Saturday, June 10, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 10: Kung Fu!


  1. I watched Ninja in the Dragon's Den last June, and that song is still lodged in my brain. Shaka Ninja!

  2. Young Dragons: Kung Fu Kids (1986, dir. Mei-Chun Chang)

    Taiwanese action-comedy about three young martial artists from the country going on an adventure in the big city. This is aimed at a younger audience but I was still entertained. Seeing little tykes beating the hell out of adults is pretty funny. While cartoonish, the violence is a couple notches up from something like 3 Ninjas, they brandish guns, get shot at, and straight up choke a dude out at one point. Recommended.

  3. Gymkata (1985)

    It’s real easy to make Gymkata a punchline. But how many movies have ninjas on horseback and Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas as a secret agent?

    Based on The Terrible Game by Dan Tyler Moore, this was directed by Robert Clouse, who seemed to have a talent for making movies that I love, including The Ultimate Warrior, Force: Five, The Pack, China O’Brien and its sequel, Game of Death, Battle Creek Brawl, Enter the Dragon and The Pack. Its writer, Charles Robert Carner, also made the amazing Blind Fury.

    Jonathan Cabot (Thomas) is tasked by the Special Intelligence Agency (SIA) to play The Game, the athletic spectacle that the country of Parimsitan makes foreigners play. It’s like American Gladiators but to the death with the winner getting any wish they want. The SIA wants that wish to be allowing the United States to place a Star Wars early warning satellite system in the country. Cabot is told that he can save the country and also learn about his missing father, who they claim was an SIA agent. He’s trained in the fighting arts by Hao (Conan Lee) and soon falls for Princess Rubali (Tetchie Agbayan) who he saves from the enemy by using his combination of karate and gymnastics or, as the movie says in the title, Gymkata.

    Can Cabot defeat Commander Zamir (Richard Norton)? Will he find his father who supposedly died in The Game? Does he win The Game which no outsider has succeeded in winning in 900 years? Certainly you know the answers to all of these, right? How about this one: Is it strange that we’re cheering on American imperialism?

    There’s also a “Town of Crazies” that luckily has a pommel horse in the middle of downtown so that Cabot can thrill us all with his abilities. And the leader is called The Khan and he’s played by Buck Kartalian who was Julius in Planet of the Apes and Peter Fudd in Please Don’t Eat My Mother. Isn’t his real name better than his name in this?

    Kurt Thomas was a great enough gymnast that he has several moves named for him: the Thomas flair, the Thomas salto, the Thomas on High Bar and the Thomas flair on pommel horse. I never knew that in gymnastics, new moves are named in the gymnastics rule book after whoever first performs them in an international competition. So Scott Steiner would not get to call the rana the Frankensteiner, because Huracán Ramírez did the huracán rana first.

    For all the worst movies this film is on, it’s never boring and always ready to delight you with people screaming, fist fights and yes, gymnastic chop sockery. There are way worse movies, trust me.

    dir. Jimmy Wang Yu

    Pretty amazing that you can decapitate a man and the body doesn’t bleed, at all. Deadly braids!
    Eagle claw pantsing!
    Reed Richards arms!
    Fighting in a frying pan!
    Free spinning heads!

    I was going to see this at the New Bev on QT’s birthday but then the pandemic closed the world for a while, and I couldn’t wait any longer.

    Jimmy Wang Yu’s ONE-ARMED BOXER is a stone cold classic and this is an appropriately awesome sequel.

    “Take the two winners away!”

  5. The Heroic Trio (1993, dir. Johnnie To)

    An evil mastermind is sending her reluctant number one warrior, an invisible woman (no relation to the Marvel character) out to steal newborn babies because that's a part of her evil plan for some reason. The cops, along with the masked superhero Wonder Woman (no relation to the DC Comics character) and bounty hunter Thief Catcher, are on their tail.

    The movie's full of ridiculous wire stunts and magic-fu, slo-mo action shots, quirky characters and over-the-top acting. The almost cartoonish tone is at times in conflict with the plot: a newborn baby is accidentally killed only moments after a silly wire-fu fight with cartoonish sound effects. Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung as the titular Trio are awesome badasses, and when the kung fu fights really kick off towards the end, they're pretty great, if disappointingly brief. The decapitating net weapon used by one of the villain's henchmen is an amazing creation.

  6. There are so many movies to choose from for this day. I went with a couple in my collection. This is the first Junesploitation that I have not watched a Shaw Brothers production.

    THE UNITY OF HEROES (2018, dir. Lin Zhanzhao) – When China is threatened by a form of super opium, it is up to Wong Fei Hung (the hero of countless films) and his students to deal with the evil foreigners who are behind the drug. The jingoistic element is very strong throughout the film, with the villain being a complete caricature of Western disdain for China. If you can get beyond the politics of The Unity of Heroes, there is an enjoyable martials film that harkens back to an earlier period of the genre. The style of fighting is frequently the kind that defies gravity; characters fly through the air delivering kicks and punches that send opponents hurling backwards The emphasis on plot development during the first half means that you have to wait a while for the action to truly begin, but the conclusion delivers with several fights almost all at once.

    KUNG FU WONDER CHILD/i> (1986) – Sorcery and kung fu mix in this bonkers Taiwanese production about a wizard who captures the souls of people and keeps them in jars. It is up to the titular wonder child, his grandfather, his friends, and a young woman to use their martial arts and magic to defeat the wizard and free the souls. The wonder child is actually portrayed by a women. There is a lot more weirdness to mention with the colorful sets, random plot, slapstick comedy, fights with characters flying around, and ridiculous dubbing. You cannot predict what is going to happen next, and it is such a 1980’s product in every way.

  7. New-to-me: TRIPLE THREAT (2019)
    A whole bunch of cult fave movie stars -- including but not limited to Iko Uwais, Scott Adkins, Tony Jaa, and Michael Jai White -- do the Expendables thing. Except they're not the Expendables because they're all on opposing factions. This allows for a lot of 1-v-1 matchups. As you'd expect, there's not much in terms of plot our character (why are they fighting, again?) but the action is generous and finds a nice mix between stylized choreography and brutal hits.

    Old fave: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)
    We all love this movie, right? Upon rewatching it this morning, it occurred to me that although this is a far-out fantasy without consistent rules or lore, we the audience don't question it. Carpenter and company immerse us in this world right from the start, so we're along for the ride. I don't know how the movie succeeds at this, when others of this kind feel more uneven. Or, maybe I just love 80s blue lightning effects that much.

    1. Triple Threat was a disappointing watch a couple of years ago. The lack of a story was the big problem. A martial arts film, or any kind of action film, does not require a deep plot, but there needs to be something tying the action together.

    2. I can see that. I enjoyed it, but in a turn-your-brain-off kind of way.

  8. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    Gordon Liu is the last son standing from a house of proud warriors after his family is betrayed by a treacherous lord conspiring with barbarian invaders. He enters a secluded monastery where he purifies his heart and learns insane staff fighting techniques, a skill that will come in handy when the inevitable final confrontation with the enemy arrives.

    The movie keeps one-upping itself with one big, bloody and beautifully staged fight sequence after another, the best of which is probably Liu's intense duel with the head monk. I've only seen a handful of Shaw Brothers joints, but I think this was my favorite one so far.

    dir. Robert Clouse

    A Jackie Chan takes on the mafia movie set mostly in 1930s Chicago.

    Hard Boiled Haggerty and the Kiss of Death!
    Mob boss Jose Ferrer!
    Luca Brasi!
    Pre-Conan Mako!
    Roller derby relay gauntlet of death!

    “Well, it’s a pretty strange way to fall in love, licking stamps.”

    “Don’t grandmama me you lazy fart.”

    “I’m gonna skate the crap out of this place.”

  10. Life got in the way, so I got a bit behind with my watching and reviewing on here. But I watched The Stepfather, Enter The Ninja and 1990: The Bronx Warriors for Slashers! Cannon! Fred Williamson! days respectively. I was hoping to have the time for 2 movies today as Kung Fu is one of my favourites, but won't have time. Just about to settle in to watch Drunken Master II (1994), a movie I've been anticipating for a while. I watched the original last year.

    1. Also went to see Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse this afternoon, because I had to drive my son to the theatre where he was watching with friends. I wasn't invited, so I snuck in like a ninja (with a poof of smoke!) and sat somewhere else.

      Also watched The Treasure of the Sierra Madre a couple nights ago a the indie theatre. HOLY. MOLY. What a picture. Is John Huston the best? Yes, yes he is.

      Ok, time for some Kung Fu. I've been waiting all day for this!

    2. The Legend of the Drunken Master II (1994, dir. Lau Kar-leung) was fantastic! Big step up from the first one. Bit of a shame how it ended for Jackie Chan's character.

  11. Millionaire’s Express - 1986, dir. Sammo Hung

    I wasn’t sure whether to slot this in for kung fu, Sammo Hung, or westerns but I ended up having much more specific picks for the other days. For kung fu day, this feels like a bit of a whiff since it’s really more like 85% comedy. I was certainly expecting more action from a movie that’s supposedly all about several competing groups all trying to rob the same train. Turns out, the plot was really about stranding the train near a rural town so the passengers would have to offload and dump their money into the local watering hole and businesses. Sure, there are bumbling thieves, bumbling cops, bumbling adulterers, bumbling samurai, and bumbling mafiosos, but none of these elements really come together in any cohesive or satisfying way.

    For a movie that boasts so many kung fu superstars such as Hung, Yuen Biao, Ma Wu, Yuen Wah, James Tien, Hwang Jeong-Lee, Jimmy Wang Yu, and CYNTHIA ROTHROCK, basically all the fighting is shoved into the final 15min. The rest of the runtime is filled with slapstick hijinks that, while still fun, lacks any momentum and wastes the serious amount of talent that’s been assembled. Even the comedy seems low effort as it’s mostly just stuntmen falling from buildings and attempts at getting the audience to laugh at fat, old, or ugly people. If you’re really looking for a solid kung fu/western mashup, specifically with a humorous bent, just watch ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Weird’ or ‘Shanghai Noon’.

  12. I just wanted to watch a kung-fu movie that had been on my watchlist for a while, so I finally had a reason to watch it.

    Enter the Dragon (1973)

    And wow, what a soectacle, non stop thrills. Ive never really watched a kungfu movie before, I didnt know what to expect, but I was very happy with this.

  13. Fists of the Red Dragon (1993)

    AKA Heroes Among Heroes

    Donnie Yen! He gets to wear a lot of fun hats!

    Most of the fights have an element of silliness to them...and then Donnie gets addicted to OPIUM! And the fights in the last 20 minutes have so much blood. Recommend.

  14. LADY WHIRLWIND (aka DEEP THRUST, 1972, d. Wong Fung)
    First-time watch on Eureka! BluRay, 8/10.
    The fight choreography isn't as intricate or involved, but this picture offers plenty of fighting, bright red blood, overlapping vengeance, a snake-bitten Korean, Sammo Hung as a bad guy, Japanese nogoodniks, mild melodrama to string it all together & the ferocious eyes of Angela Mao.

  15. Hero (2002)

    Damn this movie is beautiful. My favorite fight was Jet Li vs Donnie Yen, which is in the beginning, but the rest are good too.

  16. #JuneSPLOiTAtion
    Jackie Chan Day!

    POLICE STORY (1985)
    dir. Jackie Chan

    How the hell have I never seen this perfect movie?!?!?!?

    How did he not win best actor and best director for this performance in 1985?

    “What a waste of perfectly good cake.”

    Another first-time watch for me, and I loved the hell out of it! Carpenter escalates the craziness in such a fun way, and his score, as always, was awesome. Can't wait for an excuse to watch this one again.

  18. Raw Force (1982)

    Bonkers little movie that checks a lot of Junesploitation-type boxes - kung fu, zombies, cannibals, pirates (of a sort), human trafficking, and so many boobs. Definitely a so bad it’s good kinda movie - recommended!

  19. Finished today but started yesterday so it counts - Police Story (1985), first watch; is this the greatest movie of all-time???