Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon


Viewed – 07 May 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

Generally, you can’t go wrong with a movie starring veteran action star Sammo Hung. He grew up with Jackie Chan, and although he has remained in Chan’s shadow, mostly due to not making his name in America – his movies and his Kung fu skills are clearly on the same level. This 1990 buddy cop movie has never had much fanfare outside its native Hong Kong, and after watching it … I’m surprised.

This is top-drawer Sammo Hung with some fun comedy and several quality Kung Fu fights. The plot is rather none-sensical though, serving more as an excuse from Hung and Karl Mak’s often funny squabbling banter. Karl Mak is comes across a tad misogynistic but still entertains, and proves a capable fighter in his own right. However as a vehicle for Hung, this showcases his comedy skills equally with his fighting, this time doing a spot-on Bruce Lee impression throughout – which I’d have liked a bit of explanation for, but it’s never explored.

Direction by kung Fu veteran Lau Kar-wing is decent with the fights well framed and delivered with often clever camera work (especially during the climactic warehouse scene). I’d say if you enjoy Hong Kong action cinema, this is one of the more immediate fun ones, with the action spread throughout the movie (not just at the end) with entertaining characters and decent comedy. Just a shame about that er… plot.

This new release from Eureka Classics boasts decent image quality. Not incredibly sharp but clear and detailed enough. The soundtrack offers up original Cantonese mono, or 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio English dub. Although this isn’t a showcase for your surround system. Dialogue is clear though and the English dub is surprisingly good. There are two audio commentaries, the first from Asian film expert Frank Djeng and martial artist / actor Robert “Bobby” Samuels. The second has action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema. Then there’s a collector’s booklet featuring an essay by James Oliver. Add to this interviews with crew and stunt co-ordinators. There is also a second disk covering the career of stuntman Mark Houghton. No interview or anything with Sammo himself though seems a strange oversight.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good+

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer


Viewed – 14 April 2022  Blu-ray

I saw this notorious drama on a heavily censored VHS rental years ago and decided it was one of the more disturbing serial killer movies I’d seen.  Of course over the years it’s shock value has diluted.  These days the boundaries of what is allowed to be seen on screen has been pushed to a much harder degree than what would have been banned back in the eighties.  That being said, this movie still has the power to disturb.

Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead) plays sociopath and killer Henry – loosely based on real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas who kills at random and without motive, drifting from town to town.  After befriending Otis (Tom Towles) and moving into his run-down apartment they are soon joined by Otis’ younger sister Becky and their simple dynamic is complicated once Henry begins involving Otis in his murderous ‘hobby’.

Directed my John McNaughton (Wild Things) with a cold, semi-documentary style this is a movie that doesn’t offer explanation or back story but simply explores a week in the life of a killer.  Rooker is unnervingly convincing, aided well by his co-stars and McNaughton’s ominous, matter-of-fact tone.  It doesn’t offer answers and is all that more powerful for it, offering some still-to-this-day shocking scenes (the home invasion).  The acting isn’t Silence of the Lambs Oscar stuff by a long stretch and some scenes are quite amateurish, not helped by a low budget and filmed-on-the-fly locations.  Yet it manages to pack a punch even all these years later.

I picked up the recent Arrow Video 4K Blu-Ray release. The picture quality, a new restoration supervised by the director is very grainy but close-up detail is good. The soundtrack is offered in its original 2.0 stereo and a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio option. Dialogue is mostly clear apart from one segment based under a bridge, which was very echoey. Extras consist of interviews, which are from a number of years back, censorship featurettes covering both American and British censor history, making of, deleted scenes and photo galleries. The limited edition set also comes with a poster, booklet and a separate booklet showing the original storyboards. Three director commentaries, one of which is brand new rounds off the presentation. Impressive stuff.

Verdict:

(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Once Upon a Time in China


Viewed – 12 February 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

During my obsession with all-things Hong Kong Cinema in the nineties, I considered this 1991 movie one of the top-tier titles. A historical Kung-fu epic that follows the story of Chinese folk hero, doctor and martial arts practitioner Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li). We’re dropped into a period in his life when western invasion looms on the horizon as he struggles to defend the way of life off the Chinese people during political and domestic turmoil.

Director Tsui Hark delivers a fine balance between historical drama and Kung fu action, in a beautifully filmed and highly entertaining movie. At times the budget feels stretched and there’s a few times it feels rough around the edges … and performances by the English / American actors are quite bad. However, where it matters it delivers. Co-starring Hong Kong veterans Yuen Biao and the exquisite Rosamund Kwan, we get strong scenes of character and emotional drama in between the action. The story which focuses on learning the right path, not letting other influences steer you astray etc. works well.

Yet it’s in the various action sequences where this excels. Tsui Hark knows how to showcase the various Wu Shu martial arts on display, and although some of it is of the ‘wire-enhanced’ variety – it’s exhilarating. That theme-tune also enhances every scene it’s used in. Main villain Iron Vest (Yen Shi-kwan) is a formidable opponent for Jet Li but is also a sympathetic character with depth I wasn’t expecting. Li himself is fantastic, and although an on set injury meant some stunts had to be performed by a stunt double, it’s barely noticeable. However his stoic yet likeable performance as Fei Hung is career defining and made the movie for me.

The Blu-ray, part of a Eureka Classics box set has the movie in decent condition, although I feel the picture could be a tad better for a 4K restoration. Soundtrack is presented in original stereo Cantonese, Mandarin or 5.1 English dubbed. Extras-wise there’s a commentary from Hong Kong cinema expert Mike Leeder and filmmaker Arne Venema. There’s also a documentary on real life historical figure Wong Fei Hung, which is in three parts spread over the first three movies in the set. Add to this interviews and a small booklet and this is decent treatment for one of the genuine classics of the genre.

Verdict:

(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Armour of God


Viewed – 05 February 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

(Hong Kong extended cut)

When a religious sect set their sights on an ancient collection of armour known as the ‘armour of god’ – a pop singer turned adventurer seeking the same collection finds himself caught up in a kidnap plot. Along for the journey is a rich collector’s daughter.

First time watching of this 1986 Jackie Chan ‘classic’ and I must say… I was disappointed. I found the story to be weak and it often dragged, with too much focus on an awkward love triangle and long scenes of silly banter rather than adventuring or action. Speaking of action… a five minute brilliantly choreographed end fight, does not make for a great movie. The chase sequence half way through was good though. As a Hong Kong take of movies like Indiana Jones, this had little of the depth or personality and only managed to deliver on a several (admittedly) eye catching locations. Not one of Chan’s best.

I picked up the recent 88 Films limited edition and intend to check out the other cut of the movie, namely the 88 minute international version, which may benefit from a shorter run time. There’s a wealth of extras here, including interviews, music videos, clips from chat shows, a stunts featurette and 3 commentaries. The set also comes with a detailed booklet, cardboard slip case, art cards and double sided poster featuring newly commissioned artwork. The movie itself has a detailed, yet occasionally very grainy image. The soundtrack has original Cantonese on the extended cut, along with an English dub. The international version is English dub only, but is fairly well done. So I’m guessing this made for a worthwhile purchase in the end. However, considering how famous this movie is (I’m guessing more for Chan’s almost died accident than anything else) I found this one of his least entertaining efforts. For a better time, check out the sequel ‘Operation Condor’.

Verdict:

(the movie) Poor

(the Blu-ray) Essential (for fans / collectors)

Merry Christmas


Well, it rolls around once again. This year seems to have flown. Today I again got some lovely gifts as pictured below… ranging from the 4K editions of No Time to Die and the Indiana Jones Collection. I also received the newly released special edition of Jackie Chan’s Armour of God. I also got a book exploring the visual style of the movies of director Wes Anderson, of who I have become quite a fan of. Oh, and of course I’ve had the official Scarlett Johansson calendar again. Add to this some clothing, smellies and vouchers etc.

So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all visitors of this blog. I hope you are having a nice time too regardless of if you celebrate this holiday or not. Ho Ho Ho!