Wong Fei Hung’s Whip that Smacks the Candle

October 13, 2011

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School is hard. Going to school while doing part-time work at the school is harder. Living far away from the school to complete all these things is the hardest of them all. Not only did I miss screenings of Missing in Action 1 + 2 at the Mayfair this month due to education interfering, I’ve found myself unable to even find time to blog. How horrid!

I refuse to put a blog on hiatus, so I’m going to try and provide bite-size posts inbetween the longer more visual ones (i.e:good posts). I was previously working on a post involving a good overview of the action films selected by the Hong Kong Film Archive for their list of “100 Must-See Hong Kong Movies”. That list had some strange choices (Dirty Ho over The 36th Chamber of Shaolin) and several Wong-Kar Wai films, but no Chungking Express. It’s an interesting overview at least to see how Hong Kong film experts feel are the classics compared to us Western fans.

Back to the point, I worked on a blog post that began to become a pain as I continued to try and write it. To cut it short, I’ll write about the one interesting looking film that I’ve never heard of before. Let’s watch martial arts films from the 1940s with Wong Fei Hung’s Whip that Smacks the Candle (1949).

Don’t believe me? This film is actually making rounds theatrically at festivals:

No actual candle smacking in this clip

Compare the pacing in this film to this film to anything else from the 1940s, and this is lightning fast with surprisingly competent choreography. The film was directed by Wu Pang who was previously known for making melodramas. His Wong Fei Hung’s Whip that Smacks the Candle was a big hit in Hong Kong and received a followup with an equally boss title: Wong Fei Hung Burns the Tyrant’s Lair which was also a hit.

My own reseach doesn’t tell me what Wu Pang followed these up with, but I personally like to assume his later films still involved Wong Fei Hung doing more things: Wong Fei Hung goes to Shanghai or Wong Fei Hung builds his Dream Home. Probably not the case, but someone with a better knowledge of Hong Kong films before the 1960s can help you out with that.

This film does not seem to be available on YesAsia or Amazon, but the internet savy among you will find ways to watch this. I know I will.


Heroes Among Heroes Review

August 27, 2011

Why did I take so long to write about Heroes Among Heroes? I should have whipped out this review a month ago! It could be that I left the screening a bit frustrated. Quick story: When I was rushing to get to the theater, I was parked less than a block away. What I didn’t take into account was that we would be getting the worst downpour of rain that night. I can suffer running through a storm but what I didn’t realize was that my iPhone would be caught in the rain and all of a sudden, have no audio when I tried to make a call! Quick Google searching later let me find out that if water gets near an iPhone’s headphone socket, it makes your phone think it is constantly connected in headphone mode. The Solution: Place your phone in a pack of rice overnight. Worked for me as it absorbed all the water out of that thing!

Regardless of being phoneless for a day, I had quite an enjoyable time watching a nice print of Heroes Among Heroes. It’s not the best Yuen-Woo Ping film, but it was good to see my faith in Yuen still last after a disappointing screening of True Legend. The story cribs a bit from other popular Hong Kong films of the era such as the Once Upon a Time in China series, but 1993 was a year of excess when it came to those kinds of films film. How much excess? There were over five Hong Kong films revolving around the Wong Fei Hong character! Not only that, but at least three of them were worked on by Yuen-Woo Ping. Talk about milking it! Imagine if next year there were five Robin Hood films and they were all directed or produced by Ridley Scott. Madness!

How did Yuen-Woo Ping not die of exhaustion? The Hong Kong Film Archive and Hong Kong Cinemagic websites state he was not alone in directing these, as Chan Chin-Chung is also credited as a director. Who the hell is he though? This seems to Chan’s only film credit. Joining him in a one-time only role is Yuk Wong who co-starring alongside Donnie Yen as the role of Wong Fei Hong himself. Then much like Chan: nothing ever again! It doesn’t really matter as it’s Donnie Yen as Beggar So who is the real star of the film. In fact, I think even Ng Man Tat (lots of “wasn’t that the coach from Shaolin Soccer?” after the screening) and Sheila Chan take up a large amount of the screentime. Sheila has some embarrassing prosthetic teeth in this film…people gasped in the audience when they first saw her pearly whites.

Sheila Chan's teeth
Prepare to see these chompers quite a bit when sitting down to Heroes Among Heroes

Both Sheila and Ng Man Tat both have a good amount of screen time for their comedy scenes. If you aren’t a fan of the comedy relief in Yuen Woo-Ping’s other films, this won’t change your mind. Personally, I found it forgettable outside the visual memory of her teeth.

Regardless of how you feel about the comedy, you have to appreciate a film that has a subtitle that attempts to explain the play-on-words as shown below

Ng Man Tat subtitle Heroes Among Heroes
Ng-Man Tat says this during the film…apparently!

Despite a confusing production history and joke-explaining subtitles, Heroes Among Heroes is an entertaining if lesser picture from Yuen Woo-Ping. The anti-drug PSA themed opium tale is not nearly as memorable as the more popular Iron Monkey also from 1993. On the other hand, we get the bonus of not having any child actors which is a definite downside to Iron Monkey for me. Kids ruin everything.

Many of the action scenes during the first half of Heroes Among Heroes are far too short. By the time you’ve asked yourself “was that it?” the characters are already on to their location. The later action scenes, are more extended and extravagant. These scenes include Donnie Yen fighting a member of the Red Lotus group which involves Donnie dodging the rivals long hair used as a fighting extension. Another strong action scene involves Chan Chin-Chung who sits at a dinner table and has a seated kung-fu battle…with his fist on fire! Perhaps he burnt his bad so badly that he didn’t want to do another film again?

What any man would do when they light their hand on fire.

If the above sounded interesting, I’m unhappy to report that Heroes Among Heroes has not been treated kindly on home video. Two Region 1 DVDs of the film have been released with one under the title Fist of the Red Dragon which is only available in an English dub. I’m feeling especially lucky now to have caught an actual film print. In comparison to much of Hong Kong’s modern day output, this film feels a lot stronger than it probably ever did in 1993. If you need something that has the Iron Monkey and Fong Sai Yuk kind of flavor, you might just find it in Heroes Among Heroes…that is if you aren’t bored about another tale of Wong Fei Hong.


The Suspect Review

June 27, 2011

Ringo Lam’s The Suspect (1998)

Now that I have your attention with the image, I have to ask, what happened to Ringo Lam? He vanished off the face of the earth after for a few years after a string of Van Damme films in the early 2000s, than returned for briefly for a project with Tsui Hark and Johnnie To for Triangle which no one really talks about too much. And then nothing. Twitch reports that Ringo Lam has given his first camera interview in ten years in a French documentary titled Tarantino: The Disciple of Hong Kong, but I doubt that interview will go into too much detail about his absence but discuss the comparison between City on Fire and Resevoir Dogs for the 400th time.

On that note, It’s a good excuse to look at one of Ringo’s films that I’ve forgotten I had in my DVD collection. I don’t even really remember buying The Suspect so it must have been a gift, a prize or someone lent it to me without me returning it. Regardless, it doesn’t hurt to investigate. The Susepct is about Don Lee (Louis Koo) who has been released from prison after serving about 12 years. Don wants to start a new crime-free life but is met with an old friend Max (Julian Cheung) who wants him to continue his work for the mob by assassinating the popular candidate in an upcoming election. Lee refuses which leads Cheung to pull the job himself using the same type of weapon left for Lee (the bazooka seen above!). This leads the police to believe that Don is the suspect as he is chased down by both the cops and his former friends.

I’ll keep it short and quick with this one. The Suspect is kind of dull. Both Julian Cheung and Louis Koo don’t have the charisma to breathe life into their roles that someone like Chow Yun Fat brought for Ringo’s earlier films such as Prison on Fire or Full Contact. Even if you factor out Chow, compare both Koo and Cheung to Simon Yam who plays the aspiring political candidate / triad leader in the film and you can see how the two are outshone by someone in a smaller role. Does Koo even change his facial expression?

The Suspect is also saddled with a pretty typical plot that lacks a lot of energy you’d expect form Hong Kong films. Perhaps he was influenced by his work in the United States Maximum Risk, but the plot feels kind of “quickie-American” thriller. At least half the film is in English at that as well so what does that leave us with? It’s a film that lacks Hong Kong flavour and it’s pretty damn average. Don’t expect a re-release on blu-ray anytime soon.


More Poster crap with True Legend

June 12, 2011

Despite almost never updating due to school applications, I assume I have the most read blog in the world that has the film industry shaking in their boots with my every post. Therefore, the company that is releasing True Legend in the United States is only listening to me and hanging on every post. Besides, whenever I complain about their posters, I get a new one. Here’s their third go at the True Legend poster:

True Legend Poster

This is what one calls, “eau de Photoshop“. So much grain, I can barely make it out. At least they got the tip to mention why the average-joe might want to see it due to Yuen-woo Ping’s American work.

But seriously, if they keep it up, this is what the next one will look like.

Horrible film poster lens flare

Mark my words…I’m fully expecting this to be the DVD cover.


Where to Buy Films in Ottawa #2

May 12, 2011

Before we start, I did a mild site redesign. This include me creating a Facebook fan page. Click on the Like Button on the right-side banner for great joy. In the meantime, enjoy this mostly picture based post.

Invisible Cinema in Ottawa

Let’s start out with the facts. Netflix in Canada is currently kind of crap. Most items I’d like to watch are only available in the United States. Want to watch an episode of Twin Peaks? Well you are out of luck as it’s there, but unavailable for us. Personally, I like supporting things in my town that I enjoy. It’s not fun to go downtown and find that one of your favourite locations has become a Starbucks or torn down to make room for another condo. One example would be that one of my favourite record stores in Ottawa (Birdman Sound) has announced that they’ll be closing their doors in a new year due to rent issues. They plan to continue selling records outside their physical entitiy, but it’s sad to see something interesting replaced with a Shoppers Drugmart or whatever will go there. On that note, let’s be thankful for what we have. Here’s a quick tribute to my favourite rental joint in Ottawa: Invisible Cinema.

Asian films Ottawa
Anyone’s love for Asian cinema is covered. (Click to enlarge)

American action films
Failing that, here’s another collection. Note how only Death Wish 3 is available.

If you like to watch before you buy (which is what I’d recommend), than look no further than this collection here. If I have a small complaint, it’s that I get a bit lost looking for certain things in the collection. Most items in store are sorted by director, while others are by themes. It makes it a bit difficult to try and find if you are looking for Full Contact and wondering if they have a section for Ringo Lam or not. Other sections are sorted by genre. These include areas for films based on comics, French policiers, and Italian Poliziottescos and so on. Basically all your bases are covered.

Of course if you’d rather buy, they have a smaller but still impressive collection of keepers. Some of it is kept under locked glass. That’s fine, except the border on the glass obscures some of the DVDs and blu-rays they have for sale. Hope those are just doubles.

Criterion DiaboliqueSometimes they sell things before you should! As of the date of this post, this copy of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique is not for sale yet officially.

Inglorious Bastards soundtrack
Soundtracks for sale! I wonder if someone will buy this thinking it’s the Tarantino film when they take home the Casterllari soundtrack.

Even the items not behind the glass have a good selection.
Who doesn’t want their own copy of Light Blast?

Invisible Cinema also doubles as an art gallery with new works regularly displayed whenever I revisit. If gas wasn’t so expensive and if I didn’t live so far away, I’d visit more often but I try to support it if I can rent and return within my own schedule. If you live in decent sized city, I encourage you to seek out and support your local independent rental store. Keep your town less boring and remember that films like Light Blast are not available on Netflix.