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Eighth Happiness (1988) Directed by: Johnnie To

1988 Lunar New Year and the recipe for box office success? A romantic comedy, stars such as Chow Yun-Fat, Jacky Cheung, Do Do Cheng, Cherie Cheung and Fung Bo Bo plus a plot with nothing of real importance. Still, this one has merit, mainly in Chow Yun-Fat's wonderful manic performance (not a patch on his role in The Diary Of A Big Man though) as the cheating, flamboyant womanizer. Johnnie To's movie also has an infectious energy that really make it hard to dislike.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

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.

The Enchanting Shadow (1960, Li Han-Hsiang)

While both this and the Tsui Hark produced A Chinese Ghost Story adapted the same short story from Pu Songling's 'Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio', the similarity between the films clearly shows the latter makers had the Li Han-Hsiang film in mind as they crafted their inventive take on merging romance, supernatural, fantasy and effects. Li's film, made at Shaw Brothers, packs a fine visual punch and even goes for the startling in terms of horror and effects. As Chao Lei's scholar and debt collector gets to know the tragic plight of ghost Nieh Hsiao Chien (Betty Loh Tih) he decides to, with the aid of a swordsman (Yeung Chi-Hung), help her reincarnate. But the demonic grandmother having a grip on her needs to be dealt with first. A fair amount of storybeats (including the swordsman's dance!) will be recognizable for fans of A Chinese Ghost Story and from a design point of view The Enchanting Shadow is captivating. Li Han-Hsiang expertly showcases the expansive sets at Shaw Brothers, crafting atmosphere out of the run down locations versus the impeccable nature of Betty Loh Ti's ghost as well as playing with stylized lighting. The effect is a slow, soft ghost tale at first and I can only imagine his latter reel surprises would scare the crap out of audiences as Li puts on a make-up show for certain key reveals. It further solidifies Li Han-Hsiang being very right for Shaw Brothers desire to be a studio making grand pictures and modern audiences owe it to themselves to take the 80 minute trek back to The Enchanting Shadow.

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.

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