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Eight Hundred Heroes (1975, Ding Sin-Saai)

Nationalism and propaganda is at the forefront of Ding Sin-Saai's war movie. Set in 1937 during the Japan's occupation of Shanghai, a small group of resistance-fighters (well, the titular 800 heroes) find themselves defending a warehouse as the opposing forces decimate them. A team of girl scouts, led by Brigitte Lin's character, aids and support the men in super-heroic fashion while leader Chin Yuan (O Chun-Hung) is separated from his family (wife is played by Hsu Feng) when putting the nation first. Incredibly well produced to a degree rarely seen in Taiwanese cinema, with the opening bomb raid showcasing terrific foreground and background action. Convincing imagery but as much interest and adoration isn't sustained as we get such an abundance of war-action throughout. Also being truly affected by a piece that's designed as propaganda is pretty tough. Because with that comes melodrama and HUGE emotional beats clearly tailored for a local crowd. But combine quite a compelling roster of stars (movie also has appearances by Sylvia Chang, Carter Wong, Chin Han, Peter Yang, Chang Yi and Got Siu-Bo), a restoration that finally brings out the production qualities, an understanding of its intentions and you have a fairly intriguing example of how impressive Taiwanese cinema could be. Technically at least. Especially in a decade that saw romantic melodramas and martial arts pictures being cranked out in high numbers mostly.

The Eight Immortals (1971) Directed by: Chan Hung-Man

Depicting what I assume is one of many legendary adventures of the Chinese fairies collectively known as The Eight Immortals, the episodic story narrated from modern times present pretty much the entire group in little vignettes showing them helping out humans deflect death and robbers amongst other things. This is almost children-friendly but not acceptable as a film. However this trend does get broken when it's time to collectively battle the "Blood-sucking red demon that inhabits the mainland", a device one review called "a delightfully unsubtle bit of propaganda". In comes a movie, out goes the kiddie-friendly material. Thankfully for us WANTING a movie, a very crude (special effects-wise) experience gets thrown at us that makes up for its in general lack of everything by bringing the right spirit and energy. Showcasing a plethora of weaponry in the Wuxia tradition that very few will be able to see coming, the animated special effects also give way for battles involving nasty looking birds, poison gas, the real forms of villains (pigs in one instance) and for good measure, we get some whipping and torture as icing on the cake. A weakness for this type of cinema energy and content helps as it's coming from Taiwan cinema in early experimental stages when it comes to special effects and at best getting sub par results (one scene involves basically action figures meant to be miniature work) but for more on the subject of right spirit and energy, turn to Ding Sin-Saai's The Ghost Hill from the same year. There you get a full on assault of colourful Wuxia madness that gets an A+ for creativity and for usage of technology in 1971.

Elixir Of Love (2004) Directed by: Riley Yip

From Riley Yip (Metade Fumaca) comes this beautiful looking (no surprise that the production was designed by Hai Chung Man, costumes by Dora Ng and director of photography Chan Chi-Ying shoots some wonderful scenic views), Lunar New Year period comedy. Revisiting the plot about aromatherapy, as also seen in Yip's Lavender, a lowly expert in the field, Kai (Richie Ren), is one of two that are given the task of making the perfect perfume for the Emperor's Princess (Miriam Yeung). Why? She has Severe Atypical Reeking Syndrome (yes, that spells SARS). The one who succeeds, also gets the Princess hand in marriage. Kai befriends a local, also very smelly, fishmonger, Heung to experiment on but unbeknownst to him, but not unbeknownst to us, Heung is actually the Princess herself.

Nothing astonishing happens in terms of storyline or characters but the mentioned look of the production and the likable stars Miriam Yeung & Richie Ren, makes this a rather pleasant 100 minutes of Hong Kong romance and fun. Admittedly, some of the comedy sadly is on the less sophisticated side but Riley's script still manages to find time for emotions to be invested in characters and there's clearly a few more notches of effort in Elixir Of Love than in most Lunar New Year offerings. Pace is brisk overall although in the end, the feeling is that somewhere in the middle material could've been trimmed. This film does nothing to progress Riley Yip as a director, nor is the romance the greatest. However, it clearly doesn't stink. Co-starring Kenny Bee, Eric Kot and Lam Suet.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

Emmanuelle In Hong Kong (2002) Directed by: Dick Lau

KENNETH'S REVIEW: Matrix Productions, Dick Lau, Emmanuelle 71 and Cary Grant (yea sure...). All main players behind this shot on video exercise that ends in perverse nonsense. There's something in Lau's attempts to examine A psychology behind a married couple of the cold kind. If I tell you it's a Category III equivalent of Eyes Wide Shut, you have some idea of what to expect. While that certain something probably lies more with Lau's cinematographer, I won't dismiss the attempt. But the issues behind the husband Dr. Lam's (Eddie Lam) frustrations in his sexual desire towards his wife (basically caveman-like desire) is more on the tedious side which is the downside to the slow, fairly well-shot images. Kudos for making sure we know of the wife Emily's (Crystal Suen) own journey but again, tedium and WAY long sex scenes makes Emmanuelle In Hong Kong very fast forward friendly... even though it does have scenes with squirt-orgasm and whipped cream.

Empire Of The Spiritual Ninja (1987) Directed by: Bruce Lambert

TROY'S REVIEW: Straight off the bat, I feel I must award top marks to the script writer of this somewhat glorious trash-fest. Here we have the story of Captain Scott who is said to be and I quote, "A CIA action man" and "A tame ninja". Anyway, moving swiftly on, the 'plot' details that Scott is hired by his superiors to bring down the Spiritual Ninjas of the the title who are led by a bearded fellow who adheres to Nazi philosophy, as indicated by the large swastika he bears upon his head. Alongside this we also have a Filipino crime tale featuring lots of scenes set in a seedy looking disco, filled to the brim with all of about five people who dance as though afflicted with severe pelvic and spinal injuries. Oh, did I happen to mention that this also features a female cop who has a curious propensity to hurl spiked knuckle-dusters into suspects throats at any and every given opportunity? No? Oh well... Yes indeed, yet another cinematic triumph for lovers of crappy cinema from Filmark International.

Encore (1980, Clifford Choi)

Not the most punishing of youth dramas out there despite being part unflinching, Encore proves to be sincere for the first half anyway. Dealing with romances (perhaps the first for some of these characters), the joy of connecting with somebody even if it does move fast, on the other end of the spectrum you find characters in over their head. Abortion therefore becomes an issue, disapproval by parents but someone is also talented at singing and there's a singing contest at the end! These are basic beats, tropes even and director Choi for a while handles the common template with sincerity. But the story gets way too busy on characters and ones in need of closure that the movie enters such basic territory that it becomes a bit anonymous. There's little to no beating heart for these people as made by the end. Choi just sort of technically brings it home. Sufficiently but not enough. Starring Danny Chan, Chung Biu-Law Phillip Chan, Peter Yang and Leslie Cheung as the main competitor at said singing contest.

Encounter Of The Spooky Kind (1980, Sammo Hung)

Hung's hybrid of Hong Kong horror, martial arts and comedy remains a groundbreaking, clever and incredible genre-bender. When setting in motion Courageous Cheung's (Hung) adventures with hopping vampires, zombies, a murder charge and dueling black magic brothers, it's the start of a finely balanced touch when bringing in the lighter side of the movie as well. Mostly in banter but when horror makes its presence felt, there's a sense here of smooth transition between elements. Hung is therefore a director out to craft a wild but consistent tone and therefore setting in motion a breakthrough that would be solidified in producing capacity with Mr. Vampire 5 years later. From great momentum intercutting Peter Chan's priest performing rituals at the altar with Hung's trying to counter a vampire to smoothly inserting complex martial arts in the finale, momentum is exemplary and as local as the content may seem in terms of the supernatural, there's a valid case for Encounter Of The Spooky Kind being a way in for Western viewers that either have Mr. Vampire behind them or in front of them. Co-starring Chung Fat, Huang Ha and Lam Ching-Ying's comedic chops as a stubborn police chief.

Encounter Of The Spooky Kind II (1989) Directed by: Ricky Lau

The standalone sequel to Sammo Hung's genre classic is saved by a few nifty ghostbusting and action set pieces (in particular the cockroach zombies and the greatly energetic finale) but the film is only on par with most genre efforts of the time. That fact is disappointing considering the talent involved that includes Sammo again in a leadrole, Mang Hoi and the always stern but also hilarious Lam Ching Ying.

End Of The Road (1993) Directed by: Chu Yen-Ping

An empty shell of what definitely seems like a more solid movie, yet again one of Chu Yen-Ping's Taiwanese creations was deemed too long for Hong Kong so viciously a shorter edit was created. But as opposed to the likes of Island Of Fire and A Home Too Far (which End Of The Road is a sequel to) that had Taiwan released alternatives on home video, End Of The Road has yet at the time of writing had that blessing so 95 minutes of potential is all we get here. The strengths of A Home Too Far was in the downtime between war mayhem, the quiet moments if you will but its short edit contained little of it. So a product of glimpses it became and incoherent in the process too. Much seems alike in the sequel where Tok Chung-Wa and O Chun-Hung return. They're stationed in the Golden Triangle while trying to maintain safety of their fellow men and families. A tear in the group occurs as one (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) wants to acknowledge the possibilities of joining forces with the drug dealers in the region. It ultimately leads to former soldiers turning enemies as O Chun-Hung's men are fighting against communists with the Thai who also want to eradicate the drug dealers.

Structurally similar as the big Hong Kong talent on display breaks loose (in the first film it was Andy Lau) and again about the little people fighting for survival amidst the dirt and blood, the choice of theme has been handled well by Chu and probably was here as well before the scissors came in. So as it stands now, End Of The Road never lingers on its possibilities before moving on so we're never emotionally involved in any of the war mayhem or the over the top melodrama. In fact, now the latter is up for criticism while more elaboration on scenes with for instance Ng Man-Tat and Jimmy Lin would've become more felt come ending time. One performer seriously left out is lead Tok Chung-Wa though who compared to mentioned performers screen time is seriously more of a side character (as is O Chun-Hung). I so seriously doubt anyone cutting this film down thought of filmmaker's original intentions. Watch the end credits for snippets of deleted footage. Also with Ray Lui and Rosamund Kwan.

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com
Yesasia.com

Enemy Shadow (1995) Directed by: Chan Dung-Chuen

One of the better Jade Leung (Black Cat) movies as it turns out although it's not without pretentiousness and therefore is problematic. Heading out of the gate full steam ahead with shaky cam action, there's definite spark and energy created through this weapons mayhem. After smoke is cleared, the story is personal as newly examined cop Jade (yes, Jade Leung) loses her man and faith in the ability to perform in her profession. Narrating the film as well, there's the psychology put forth about our inner shadows, something that rings very true as Jade crosses over to the world of decadence and thieves, in particular evident in the relationship she has with Panther (James Pax - Remains Of A Woman). Having corrupt cops (headed by Kenneth Chan) after the duo and Jade recognizing something bad AND good in Panther, the stage is set for an actual exploration too. The problem with most of these philosophical turns the flick takes is that director Chan is way too infatuated with the style of Wong Kar-Wai. Even to the silly point where every motion, every event is in blurry slow-motion. You can be deep about matters, am not arguing against that but since Chan isn't trying to create something of his own, most of Enemy Shadow loses depth in areas it wanted it to be there. Thankfully many latter parts of the film lays off the WKW style and sees Chan creating multiple scenarios of bloody death and action, culminating in Jade's final realization that her uncertainty of the world is also due to the world fooling her at every turn. It erases some of the memories of the cheap knock-off Enemy Shadow at times is. Moses Chan, Ben Ng (as a gay triad), Shing Fui-On and Peter Chan Lung also appear.

Buy the VCD at:
HK Flix.com
Yesasia.com

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