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King Drummer (1967, Inoue Umetsugu)

One of three movies Japanese director Inoue Umetsugu did in his first year of working for Shaw Brothers and at least compared to Hong Kong Nocturne, the one that is stepping back from the musical-genre which would become a trademark for the visually gifted filmmaker (who also was allowed to bring over technical crew from Japan). Adapted from one of his previous films Man Who Causes A Storm (1957), King Drummer mixes the rise, fall and cruelty within the entertainment with the family melodrama. While often conceived well dramatically, its contrasting moods makes for a disjointed and patchy experience. It's all a bit stock as Lily Ho is the manager that seems to favour breeding talent rather than looking at them humanely, Chen Hung-Lieh is the baaaaad golden boy drummer replaced by the new kid on the block (an overacting Ling Yun), we got a mother who does not approve of music as a line of work and rather upsetting bloodshed towards the end. The frame and musical performances go nicely hand in hand, allowing for the Hong Kong and Japanese side to work in tandem and for many stretches King Drummer is basic but enjoyable. It's only when it decides to hammer home that music and fame will bring you down that it loses that momentum. However mild poignancy towards the end having to do with forgiveness and finding a new path amidst tragedy is commendable. It's on the nose but intelligent enough in that moment.

King Of Beggars (1992) Directed by: Gordon Chan

Occasionally very funny period Stephen Chow vehicle. I say occasionally because the structure actually divides it's time a bit equally between Chow's trademark comedy, exciting wire action (choreographed by Yuen Cheung Yan) and even a touch of drama. All of high quality and Gordon Chan's solid direction makes King Of Beggars one of the better looking Stephen Chow movies. He even employs CG at one point, not something that was used extensively in Hong Kong cinema in at the time and the movie was mixed in Dolby Surround as well. (sadly not re-produced for the dvd) Norman Tsui (Duel To The Death) brings veteran prescence to create an intimidating flying fighting villain and Sharla Cheung not only looks gorgeous but handles the action adequately. Also starring Ng Man Tat...of course.

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

King Of Chess (1992) Directed by: Yim Ho

Yim Ho (director of Kitchen) and Tony Leung Kar-Fai wrote the screenplay about two respective masters of chess and how they're treated by two different eras of Asian history. In flashback, we witness Wong (Leung), the king of chess, and a band of fellow citizens unwillingly caught up in the cultural revolution and having their desires and skills suppressed by the regime. In modern day Taiwan, a psychic young chess master being treated the opposite as his skills are exploited.

The connections between the different stories are there but not interest or involvement. Yim Ho gets most power and poignancy out of the flashback story and the sentiment about getting the government to recognize a skill not created through the revolution but held on to by the ordinary man. The modern day segment is more sketchy and frankly barely made to work in connection to the past story so it's half an interesting and well-shot film, half filler.

Yim Ho's original version was entirely set in the 60s but reportedly, the end result was not pleasing to producer Tsui Hark who thought Yim Ho was too soft on communism. Tsui stepped in as director and shot all of the modern day footage in Taiwan with John Shum for it to work as a parallel story. As much as I love Tsui, it doesn't really work and it would be interesting to see the full extent of Yim Ho's work instead (who still gets sole directing credit). Thanks to Mark for the above information.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

King Of Gambler (1990) Directed by: Johnnie Kong

Lau Siu-Ming opens the film with some nifty gambling skills, a trait that soon sets up one of the cooler character to come out of this genre in combination with the heroic bloodshed one. Namely Lam Wai (Long Arm Of The Law), who plays a number crunching invincible one who puts his particular skill to use in various creative, acrobatic ways. Too bad King Of Gambler can't shine a better light on this character emphasis and the film ends up playing out more like a stock genre picture, with the typical exaggerated gangster types all too visible (including the usually growling Alex Man). There is some slight positives to take away from the film though, especially the last 30 minutes or so that is an almost constant assault of gunplay. The biggest joy here comes from the extensive weaponry used and hordes upon hordes of robot-like henchmen up for slaughter (somewhat reminiscent of the various Agent Smith's of The Matrix movies). Lam Wai continues to shine in these scenes and the momentum sees director Johnnie Kong's (Madam City Hunter) minor quirky skills come to life. But with this comes the price of the quite extensive action being devoid of style and even good technical execution largely so what could've been an eventual classic merely ends up as being noticeable. Also with Kathy Chow, Jimmy Lung (in the villain role as always), Tommy Wong and a confused looking Roy Chiao.

King Of Kings (1969) Directed by: Joseph Kuo

A meatier and more dramatic side to Joseph Kuo's filmmaking side can be found via Fusian's unearthing of his 1969 swordplay drama. Compared to latter fan favourites such as 7 Grandmasters and Mystery Of Chess Boxing, King Of Kings is a welcome, different beast indeed. Sure it's basic story telling and partially crude filmmaking but in this case, even crude emotional impact is actual emotional impact. Witnessing their father being killed by the swordsman Thunder Sword after just having been appointed the escort for the emperor, young Siao Tung and Siao Chun are subsequently separated. We meet with the adult Siao Tung now known as Ku Chung (played by Peter Yang) and he's on a relentless, bloody quest to kill Thunder Sword in the name of revenge. He meets up with a blacksmith (Ma Kei) that sees the uncontrollable anger in the young man and wants to teach Ku Chung to stop spilling blood. The interesting dual nature to the young swordsman starts here. The portrayal of being driven by blood coupled with a twisting plot that you can spot a few miles off for sure is adequate and no staple presented (such as split items that are paired up for the finale of the film so that characters truly know who they are facing) is a letdown for the film. In fact, Kuo easily rises above them to deliver the surprising impact to Kings Of Kings where even the theatrical ending in terms of performances rings true to intended, valid intentions. With fight action on display making sense in the context of the story and also being quite fluid for 1969, Joseph Kuo's early gem is no longer destined for obscurity. Nor is his skill at providing substance.

King Of Robbery (1996) Directed by: Billy Chung

Ye Kuan (Simon Yam) is on the top of the most wanted list, thanks to his robbery- and AK-47 exploits. Together with his gang, they roam the streets of Hong Kong, leaving much blood and mayhem behind. The cops chase, lead by Bowie Lam and director Billy Chung churns out a a trashy dud. He does use the opportunities to be nasty as the robbers do pretty much annihilate everything they see but the whole affair manages to creep over to the shoddy, embarrassing side Hong Kong cinema can often walk and when Chung also adds some truly bizarre editing techniques (having to do with repeating scenes but in different color grading), he doesn't crawl over to the fun side cheap cinema like this can. In fact, it's barely cinema and the expected story beats of doubt within the gang, a possible undercover among them and the role of a woman (Anita Lee) within all this doesn't... just doesn't. The sole "what the..."-moment that does register is the sight of Yam going "undercover" on the streets as the wanted man he is but in a buddhist monk robe. Also with Roy Cheung and Chin Kar-Lok.

King Of Stanley Market (1988) Directed by: Jamie Luk

Fu (Richard Ng) is a regarded clothes salesman in Stanley Market but when a rival (Sylvia Chang) tries to outshine his business, the new competition generates hatred. Hatred turns to friendship and friendship into love...

Jamie Luk (The Case Of The Cold Fish) injects a pleasant enough tone into this romance, getting simple but sincere chemistry from his leads. While Richard Ng is carrying his comedy persona at times (a highlight comes when he's relegated to being a referee in the soccer game between the markets but keeps playing it into his team's favour), he's allowed more to lean back on a character afraid of commitment. A childish sweetness Ng conveys quite well. The script later invents situations that does very much feel manufactured for the sake of closure though and King Of Stanley Market loses a bit of its pleasant touch eventually. Lowell Lo, Charlie Chin, Elaine Kam, Lydia Shum, Wu Fung, Sandra Ng and Derek Yee also appear.

The King Of The Kickboxers (1990) Directed by: Lucas Lowe

Another example of how well Hong Kong based company Seasonal played the market by producing approachable vehicles in English with a Hong Kong touch to the action, The King Of The Kickboxers is neither art nor does it reach the highs No Retreat No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers did but it's still a fun entry. Loren Avedon is a cocky cop sent to Thailand to bust s snuff film ring whose main villain Khan (Billy Blanks) killed his brother 10 years earlier. Avedon puts on a wisecrack-act that mostly embarrasses as he simply can't embody it but the continual energy is admirable and his latter scenes with Keith Cooke (whose kicking is amazing) as master and student are amusing as they also are very Hong Kong genre staple in nature. In fact acting is across the board comes locked and loaded without subtlety but if Seasonal's action director Tony Leung had not delivered it would've been up for way harsher criticism. Injecting the Hong Kong style quite well through the Western players and Chinese doubles, the flow is far from the stiffness often inherited in Western productions NOT going with a Hong Kong choreographer and it generates the best excitement in the cage match at the end with Avalon and Blanks (who makes an impact as Khan in what is quite a silly role).

The Kinmen Bombs (1986, Ding Sin-Saai)

Depicting the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis where the People's Republic Of China extensively bombed the island of Kinmen (and closeby islands). The tactical thinking and retaliation from the Defense Force the Republic Of China (ROC) had setup on the island is therefore also depicted in this nationalistic piece of action-drama. Which makes veteran Ding Sin-Saai's filmmaking calculated but he scores high technically. Using his first half to establish characters, quirks, friendships, dedication and brotherhood, as basic as it is he knows exactly the structure to pursue for this to translate to an audience. Sympathy needs to be in place which will lead to loss being felt and rousing spectacle as heroic counter tactics are employed (sometimes emphasized through singing, crying and cry-singing as well). An interest in how propaganda works aids appreciation of The Kinmen Bombs as well but mostly sharp production qualities takes us places of acceptance. Gradually the widescreen frame gets blessed with well done pyrotechnics, model-work, huge activity in back- and foreground using military hardware that really does give off the vibe that this was war. Not without its harrowing beats either, it ultimately shows its cards in terms of intentions early but when you nail the spectacle and noise accompanying that, there's no reason to put it down as a production. Starring O Chun-Hung , Sun Ya-Ting with minor appearances by Ti Lung, Don Wong and Dr. Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields).

Kiss And Kill (1967) Directed by: Ching Gong & Daai Go-Mei

The 60s was a decade for spy entertainment in the vein of James Bond, something Shaw Brothers gladly capitalized on. Not being ashamed of that fact and even featuring the James Bond score for this one, Paul Chang is the handsome and cool Liang Tianhong who comes back to Hong Kong to find the secret plans for a ray transmitter that could bring world turmoil if ending up in the wrong hands. It's never explained really what it does but Kiss And Kill relies well on a rather pleasant aura to this spy adventure. It's mildly silly escapism with Paul Chang (along with Wei Ping-Ao) even going undercover in drag at one point. While there is some bloodshed and violence in the underground lair complete with an acid bath of sorts (bodies explode when hitting the water), largely Kiss And Kill is designed to be breezy and is in and out of your life quickly without much impact. Not a truly great nor bad thing that. Also with Tina Chin Fei.

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