Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 27: Sammo Hung!


  1. I go first this time? Okay.

    Critics often pan martial arts movies by saying they’re nothing but fighting, but this one really is nonstop fighting! I completely lost the plot, other than it’s heroes on an adventure. But the action is great. It’s stylized fighting, with lots of big jumps and whatnot, but still thrilling. There’s also an old guy who uses his impossibly long eyebrows as whip-like weapons, which is not something you see every day. Sammo Hung doesn’t get much screentime, so I fear I failed the assignment. Beyond that, this is light, breezy entertainment, and I had fun with it.

    Old fave: MR. NICE GUY (1997)
    Sammo directs Jackie Chan in this, about a celebrity chef (!) who runs afoul of gangsters. I saw this in theaters during Jackie Chan’s run of big-screen US releases in the late 90s. It’s better than I remembered. The emphasis is on stunts as much as it is on hand-to-hand fights, with Jackie and the stunt team really going for it. When Jackie’s not on screen, the plot gets surprisingly dark and gritty, like something out of the first LETHAL WEAPON. It’s about half a typical Jackie Chan slapstick/action movie, and half a lean n' mean crime/action flick. Great stuff all around.

  2. Project A (1983, dir. Jackie Chan & Sammo Hung)

    In late 19th Century Hong Kong under British rule, pirates torment seafarers and the Coast Guard... oh, who cares about the plot? It's a Jackie Chan film, so it's filled with impressive fights and stunts, plus cringey comedy. Sammo gets a few fun fight scenes too.

    The Blank Check podcast recently called Jackie Chan Buster Keaton's closest modern equivalent, and there's definitely something to that. Both excel in meticulously choreographed, expertly executed stunts and goofy comedy, with flimsy stories only designed to hang the stunts and jokes together.

  3. IP MAN 2 (2010)
    dir. Wilson Yip

    Nothing much better than watching Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen punch each other with fists of fury on an unsecured table top.

    Kinda strange tho seeing dudes wearing 2000s beanies and skinny jeans in a story that supposedly takes place in the 1950s.

    “How much to learn martial arts from you?”
    “What’s your name?”
    “My name is Bruce Lee.”
    “Why do you want to learn martial arts?”
    “I want to beat up people I don’t like.”
    “Cocky kid. Come back later, after you’ve grown up.”

  4. Encounter of the Spooky Kind II (1989, dir. Ricky Lau)

    Sammo plays the Lou Costello type, terrorized by all kinds of monsters, demons, vampires, etc. but then he has amazing kung-fu battles against them. This is and the first film are really fun delivering action, horror, and comedy in equal doses. What's not to like? I think the first film is superior so I would recommend checking that out, and if you like it this is a fun and worthy sequel.

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  6. Dragons Forever (1988)

    Sammo Hung directs and co-stars in this kung fu action rom-com alongside his good buddies Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao. A convoluted plot about a mob-owned chemical plant with a secret agenda that's polluting the waters and killing fish in a fish farm is just a pretext for a series of elaborate physical gags and goofy fight scenes, including some crazy three-way scuffles between our main trio. But the best part is the double romance plot where Hung and Chan try to clumsily woo the lovely fishery owner and her young cousin, respectively. Their cheesy "seduction" scenes are something to behold. These guys really are like human Looney Tunes cartoons.

  7. SKINNY TIGER & FATTY DRAGON (1990, d. Lau Kar-Wing)
    First-time watch on Eureka BluRay, 8/10.
    The fun-factor of Jackie Chan's modern action flicks is in effect here. Goofballery mixes with serious threats (dig those lady killers) to a backbeat of great fighting. Sammo has the subtle complexities of Lou Costello, only sometimes more subtle. I know, Lou is often playing it broad, but he offers the mix.
    Sammo Hung is one of the forces of HK cinema that I've only just been discovering over the past few years. I love him!

  8. Ip Man (2008)

    The martial arts choreography for Ip Man comes from Sammo Hung and Tony Leung Siu-hung. Hung had previously collaborated with Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen when he acted with them in SPL: Sha Po Lang. Hung was the perfect person to be the choreographer for this because he’d already worked on two other Wing Chun movies, Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son.

    But Donnie Yen had the roughest challenge, as he spent months preparing to play Ip Man by doing intense Wing Chun training and only eating once a day. His goal was to show the special skills of the martial art and play Ip Man as a cultured man.

    He lives in Foshan, which was a central part of Southern Chinese martial arts, a place where the many schools of combat would compete in often secret matches. One of those matches, Ip Man against Liu (Chen Zhihui), gets publicized by a young boy named Yuan (Wong You-nam). But the fights stop when the Second Sino-Japanese War begins.

    Ip and his family are forced to leave their mansion and move into a small apartment, as the Imperial Japanese Army has taken their home to use as a military headquarters. All Ip can do for work is to toil in a mine, where he meets Yuan’s brother Lin (Xing Yu) and becomes his friend. But not for long, as when the Japanese General Miura (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) challenges any miner to a fight — for a bag of rice — he kills Lin.

    Things have gotten so bad that even Liu has taken to stealing rice, which ends up with him shot in the head. Miura’s karatekas are destroying the Chinese kung fu experts, so Ip Man demands to fight ten at once and easily defeats them. He must also stop Jin Shanzhao (Fan Siu-wong) and his gang from bothering the town. Once he learns that Yuan is in the gang, he takes steps to save his friend’s brother.

    Miura asks Ip to train the Japanese soldiers, but Ip refuses and challenges the Japanese soldier to a match. Miura accepts the challenge to uphold his honor and crush the Chinese spirit. One of the other Japanese soldiers, Sato (Tenma Shibuya), promises to kill Ip if he wins.

    As Ip Man became Bruce Lee’s martial arts master, you can guess the end of the movie. But getting there is incredible, as Hung’s fights are incredible. The closing fight is an amazing dance of violence and as the Chinese swarm their Japanese enemies, Ip Man and his family run through the chaos and into, well, four more movies.

  9. Where’s Officer Tuba? - 1986, dir. Philip Chan & Ricky Lau

    I’m not sure how in the ever-loving fuck I came across this title but I remember thinking it had to be fake. Fake like one of the Tracey Jordan movies from ’30 Rock’ where you know it COULD be real, but you know it isn’t. Well this one is real and it’s actually not that bad. Hung plays a chucklehead, love-starved policeman who plays tuba in the officer’s marching band. Just as he meets his grocery store manager dream girl (Joey Wang - ‘A Chinese Ghost Story’), Tuba gets pulled into an undercover gig by his also-police-flunkie roommate played by Jacky Cheung (‘Bullet in the Head’, ‘Once Upon a Time in China’) in his debut role. The officer charged with bringing down the drug gang, Rambo Chow (David Chiang - ’The One Armed Swordsmen’, ‘Election’), is killed during the sting, but his ghost continues to reappear to Tuba, often in compromisingly inconvenient and funny ways. Tuba makes a vow to the ghost that he’ll take down the gang and avenge Rambo’s death.

    Despite being roughly 80% comedy, the action in this one is still pretty solid and surprisingly violent. Por ejemplo: Rambo gets gang executed into ground beef like pre-“Robo” Murphy and then in the next scene ghost Rambo is causing embarrassing goofem-ups during Tuba’s first dinner with his new girlfriend’s parents. That juxtaposition of tones is interesting and can most definitely be attributed to director Chan’s comedy background (‘The Return of Pom Pom’) and director Lau’s horror background (‘Mr. Vampire’ series). What’s more intriguing is that the movie is specifically a ROM com with a heavy spoonful of action and horror. It’s like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich but you added a banana. Or potato chips. It feels like it’s too much, and I’m not sure there’s anything deeper going on beyond the basic premise (what if a deadbeat New Orleans saxophonist became a hip werewolf nightclub sensation only to find the girl of his dreams and discover she’s allergic to dogs?), but it somehow still works. Give it a watch.

  10. THE PRISONER (1990)

    There is a lot to like about The Prisoner. This is an ensemble film, with each character (Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Tony Leung and Andy Lau) having a distinct plotline that revolves around the prison. The film certainly is never boring, yet it never does feel cohesive. Sammo Hung portrays a prisoner desperate to see his son. Escape is always on his mind. Jackie Chan is barely in the film. The fights do not stand out from other movies of the period. The ending feels like a completely different film from anything that happened before. I wish Tubi offered more than an English dub for this, but you cannot always get want you want. Overall, it’s fine.

  11. Project A (1983)

    Technically started this on Sammo day and finished it the next day, but who's counting?

    Jackie Chan plays a guy named Dragon and Sammo Hung is credited as Fei, but I swear they call him "Fats" throughout the whole movie. Those names are in keeping with the spirit of the movie.

    Jackie starts out as a Navy guy, then he's a cop, then he's just pretending to be a cop, then he's back in the Navy, and then he's an undercover pirate. Sammo is a thief pretending to be a gangster and then pretending to be a pirate. The plot is mostly about gangsters and pirates trying to get their hands on 100 rifles. Said plot doesn't really matter.

    This movie exists to provide stunts and kung fu fighting, and as you'd expect from a flick starring Jackie and Sammo, it delivers. For my money, the best scene is a fantastic, prolonged chase sequence in which Jackie is running from both the cops and the bad guys. Running a close second is a sequence where the cops fight the bad guys in a ritzy club that involves some borderline frightening balcony and stair falls. When Sammo Hung double-footed flying kicks the main pirate villain in the back, it looks like he may have broken the real-life actor's back. Pirate Big Bad's ultimate demise is also pretty cool.