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Executioners (1993) Directed by: Johnnie To & Ching Siu-Tung

The sequel to Heroic Trio and released merely months later, the trio of Tung aka Wonder Woman (Anita Mui), Invisible Girl (Michelle Yeoh) and Cat (Maggie Cheung) are apart again, especially so after a nuclear holocaust has destroyed large parts of the society. Tung has retreated to be a house wife, Cat continues to catch thieves for money and Invisible Girl fights on the side of the resistance against the Clean Water Corporation (led by the scarred Mr. Kim played by Anthony Wong) that is holding back the supply of clean water. Violence and personal death forces the trio into action again (albeit largely working on their own or being incarcerated) to find the last source of clean water...

While the first movie wanted melodrama at its heart and had a cool future design, its most memorable sections involved supernatural shenanigans and mainly Anthony Wong armed with a flying guillotine. Executioners is a lot darker and gloomier. That's not to say Johnnie To and Ching Siu-Tung stroke gently as melodramatic storytellers but also missing seems to be the out there outrageousness. The film certainly says a lot of valid things, portrays an apocalyptic future on a budget quite well and no doubt all action (in particular the wirework but less so for the gunplay) is put together by Ching Siu-Tung with an aura of cool and creativity. The leading ladies are dedicated to the cause as well and Executioners is a worthy, albeit dark follow up that you have to be warned beforehand a little about. Paul Chun, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Damian Lau and Lau Chung-Wan appear in support.

Executioners From Shaolin (1977) Directed by: Lau Kar Leung

Coming off portraying the Hung Fists most famous performer Wong Fei Hung in Challenge Of The Masters, Lau Kar Leung turned to what has been said to be its founder, a Shaolin temple monk and rebel called Hung Xiguan (portrayed here by Chen Kuan-Tai and a few years earlier in Heroes Two, directed by Chang Cheh and co-action directed by Lau Kar Leung). The typically high quality display of kung fu is as always a prominent factor in Lau's work but he's in actuality celebrating heroism and family for Executioners From Shaolin.

A significant time is spent with Hung Xiguan and his wife Fang Yongchun (Lily Li), detailing their particular family dynamic as Hung prepares to take revenge on Master White Brows (Lo Lieh). Why this is strong direction lies in Lau's excellent portrayal of Fang as a strong woman, very much adept at martial arts while combining the duty of home wife. The two have made a promise to not teach other but it will eventually come down to Fang's acquired skills in combination with the teachings of Hung to bring their common enemy down. Lau injects the relationship with a sweetness and playfulness, getting strong chemistry and performances from Chen Kuan-Tai and Lily Li but at heart also lies the age old revenge storyline, taken to greater heights through Lo Lieh's presence as the classic movie villain and historical figure Master White Brows (or Pai Mei).

Lo Lieh is seemingly the true embodiment of the Shaolin temple traitor that Pai Mei is (although there are no historical facts confirming that story), being a master of body protection and making such an impact that he was called upon to reprise the role movies such as Abbot Of Shaolin, his own directed sequel/remake to Executioners From Shaolin called Clan Of The White Lotus and more recently, Gordon Lau under the direction of Quentin Tarantino took on a more comic portrayal of Pai Mei in Kill Bill Vol. 2.

While Lau Kar Leung's climax, featuring the son of Hung (Wong Yue) may feel a little short and under whelming, Executioners From Shaolin is unusually well-rounded for a martial arts movie but it certainly comes as no surprise that the master martial arts filmmaker Lau Kar Leung is behind it. Cheng Hong Yip's annoying performance gets the movie in trouble sometimes but Gordon Lau logs a fine fighting cameo during the opening. Lee Hoi San and Donald Kong also appear while there are brief flashes of Lau Kar Leung himself, Fung Hark On, Wilson Tong, Hsiao Hau and Lam Ching Ying.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

Execution In Autumn (1972) Directed by: Lee Hang

Craftsmanship is high but emotional investment isn't AS high. This well regarded Taiwanese period drama concerns Au Wai's character scheudled for execution after killing in self defense AND cold blood. Fu Pi-Hui is his grandmother trying desperately to get her grandson granted his freedom. When all seems fruitless, she tries to get the son to marry in jail to continue the bloodline at least. Expertly shot and designed, there is a lot of thought to character, nuances in dialogue and storytelling. We're fairly engaged in not necessarily a mystery but a narrative that reveals beats slowly along the way. That makes the work admirable rather than emotional though. Noble and driven home well by the end, it's difficult to escape that despite the dedication in all departments Execution In Autumn is a bit of a cold experience. Also with Tong Bo-Wan.

The Executor (1981) Directed by: Chan Chuen

A boring montage of the Hong Kong night accompanies the opening credits and this being an early Chow Yun-Fat movie we know didn't get acclaim, in a way (wrongly or not) we've made up our mind early. Danny Lee and fellow cops try and bring down a nasty gang boss, solve corruption within their own force and later there's a vigilante streak to go on as a triad hitman (Chow Yun-Fat) raises hell. Attempts at a gritty street look is a poor one (this ain't no Jumping Ash after all) and about only a scene and a half got any tension to speak of. What there is to remember is the fairly rare sight of Chow Yun-Fat playing it very evil and in a confrontation with Danny Lee, he urinates in the face of his future The Killer co-star. Some kind of classic image I guess. Also with Ng Man-Tat, Paul Chun and Tien Feng.

Released on Hong Kong dvd as Heroic Cops while a VHS release in America tried to sell it as a sequel to The Killer by blessing it with the title Killers Two.

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Exorcist Master (1993) Directed by: Ma

Taoism and Christianity, represented by Lam Ching Ying and Wu Ma respectively, team up for battle in this lesser effort amongst all films that folllowed in the wake of the hugely influential Mr. Vampire. Wu Ma fails to inject the action with that energetic spark but the more memorable moments of Exorcist Master not suprisingly comes from Lam Ching Ying. The character have always been comedic gold when placed in situations he's not comfortable in and Lam truly made such scenes work to the best degree. Also starring Ngai Sing, Yip Wing Cho and Chan Gai Gwan.

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

Explosive City (2004) Directed by: Sam Leong

A high ranking officer (Joe Cheung) becomes the target of female assassin Jade (Japanese actress Hisako Shirata - Tomie: Revenge). After the failed attempt, she is injured and caught while the cop unit, headed by Cheung (Simon Yam) assigns CID officer Yiu (Alex Fong) to the case. Yiu soon becomes the an involuntary victim of a plan to re-attempt the assassination as the Japanese bad guys (headed by a mostly a sitting Sonny Chiba) murders his wife and kidnaps his son...

Considering the state of Hong Kong action cinema with a thriller touch, it's encouraging to see a low-budget film being executed with a fair amount of skill. Originality is not what Explosive City will ever be associated with and director Sam Leong, whose Color Of Pain received mostly poor reviews, certainly is in the viewers face. 90% of the film is a dizzying, headache inducing handheld experience, also within the gunplay scenes and it's more a strained attempt to provide style. Even when going for character depth, Leong's choice is to have the film being a visual- and audio exploration. But in the long run, Explosive City manages to not falter that much at all actually. Leong's echoing of plotlines from 24 and to a certain extent Shiri is less intrusive than it sounds and he supplies a decent amount of edge of your seat-entertainment throughout this ride. The intrusive cinematography even works with the desired choices at select points and it's a tight experience for a surprising amount of minutes. Simon Yam may look like he's phoning in a performance but his dead cool is still an immersing act while Alex Fong's trademark quiet dignity gets another worthy showcase.

Towards the end the energy starts to peter out, Sonny Chiba's brainwash scheme towards kids feels just a little too sci-fi for this film and the mixed language usage provides its set of problems but Hong Kong cinema have before thrived on low-fi vehicles that delivers desired genre entertainment. Back then, Explosive City wouldn't have turned heads. Today, it's kind of welcome. Eddy Ko, Samuel Pang and Lam Suet also appear.

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

Express (1984) Directed by: Yeung Laap-Gwok

Well meaning and with good instincts for its dark tale, Express is also hard to grasp and connect to. Essentially the story of an ill-fated family and how the son Lin (Ralph Chan) goes from drop out student to committing manslaughter and kidnapping a woman. He unexpectedly connects to his kidnapee, supermodel Sophia (Tsang Hing-Yu) and she to him. Suitably shot straight and with a sense of everyday grit without being overbearing, the basic structure is there but director Yeung Laap-Gwok never finds a true footing. When that does seem to happen, the extent of the rewards is knowing the basic and appreciating the filmmaking instincts and style ocassionally. Therefore not a problem to follow through on but an empty experience mostly despite. Also with O Chun-Hung, Don Wong and Michael Chan.

An Eye For An Eye (1990) Directed by: O Sing Pui

Wong Fung-Yee (Joey Wong) inherits the top spot of her father's triad activities after he's arrested. Immediately closing down the profitable nightclubs and gambling dens, Wong earns herself enemies amongst the senior members. In particular with Cheong (Lung Fong) who goes all out to thoroughly degrade her. Wong's relationship and friendship with cops Tats (Wilson Lam) and Ching (Max Mok) becomes increasingly strained as well.

From the era where gangster movies were being churned out in dozens, it was hard to be noticed. In the long run perhaps acclaim would surface but definitely not during the initial run. An Eye For An Eye probably didn't strike a chord with anyone then but looking back at it, several aspects do come to life despite the movie relishing every opportunity to be generic. The main compelling aspect comes in the portrayal of the fairly affecting love triangle between Joey Wong, Wilson Lam and Max Mok's characters. Lung Fong also gives us a truly heinous and memorable villainous act while Benz Kong and Tony Poon's action is on the intense and gory scale. There's something for everyone and despite rough filmmaking, ill treatment of women, O Sing Pui's contribution to a busy genre comes with fine dramatic chops.

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