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Vengeance (2009) Directed by: Johnnie To

Johnnie To returning to a more international friendly venture for the first time since misfiring with Fulltime Killer and Vengeance represents yet another. In fact, it comes off as To fulfilling an obligation rather than wanting to invest stylistically and dramatically. A far too long revenge movie, Johnny Hallyday stars as Francis Costello who hires a trio of hitmen (Anthony Wong, Gordon Lam and Lam Suet) to find his daughter's killers. Using English language in a way that makes sense and therefore not letting his Hong Kong performers tackle a language they aren't capable of acting in (Gordon Lam and Lam Suet are both dubbed. Very well to boot), the cinematic cool consisting of blood and ruthlessness is initially cool but one thing becomes evident very quickly. I.e. the fact that Vengeance is familiar Johnnie To but done on autopilot without any heart or assuring cool that To often excels at. Assigning some of his regulars like Anthony Wong and Simon Yam (who's the sole saving grace here, echoing a fun the movie possibly isn't calling for) to create iconic imagery, it works for a short while before that and the blood squibs being puffy clouds of smoke all throughout in a puzzling decision drags down the movie. Ultimately Vengeance is a huge failure that feels like an aspiring director at Milkyway trying to be Johnnie To. Problem is though, it IS Johnnie To.

Vengeance Is Mine (1988) Directed by: Lee Chi-Ngai

Before the mellow times writing and directing at UFO, Lee Chi-Ngai (Lost And Found) debuted with Vengeance Is Mine. A mostly standard rape and revenge story, Lee as expected asks his cinematographer to bring out the blue filters and his writer to create stereotypical bad guys (that you do genuinely hate however). With several very chilling scenes of Tony Leung directed action and violence plus sympathetic turns by Pat Ha and Derek Yee, Vengeance Is Mine easily ends up on par with Her Vengeance, a solid effort released the same year. Rosamund Kwan also stars.

Despite claiming otherwise, the Megastar vcd reportedly contains no subtitles. Mei Ah's old laserdisc did however.

Buy the VCD at:
Yesasia.com

Vengeance Of The Phoenix Sisters (1968, Chen Hung-Min)

A basic revenge piece within the swordplay-mould, there isn't much to distinguish Vengeance Of The Phoenix Sisters from the crowd but it does its job in a dependable manner. Chen Hung-Min (The Big Calamity, Little Hero) sets up the revenge-cycle through a very extensive and quite brutal opening. Featuring an active camera, sound design and black and white photography aiding this, stylistically there is something brewing here. It turns out Chen doesn't have many more tricks up his sleeve but brevity and coherency become complements for the production ultimately. Action is rather stiff but performers generally perform with a sense of force.

The Vengeful Beauty (1978) Directed by: Ho Meng-Hua

A very inviting running time of 78 minutes also reveals efficiency by veteran director Ho Meng-Hua (Black Magic, The Kiss Of Death) who may set up an epic, tyrannical world ruled with an iron fist by Wai Wang's character but it's simplicity itself, for very good reasons. Rong Qiuyan (Chen Ping, also The Kiss Of Death) loses her husband after the flying guillotine forces go after them (watch out for some recycled footage here from Ho Meng Hua's The Flying Guillotine). Pregnant and on a road trip where there's a love triangle formed between her, Ma Sen (Norman Tsui) and Wang Yun (Yueh Hua), Jin Gangfeng (Lo Lieh who appears multiple times during the finale. Watch to find out) has also sent his children (among others Johnny Wang and Siu Yam-Yam) to finish off Rong. Cool weapons action, twists and deception (plus dipping toes into exploitation as Ho has nude performers at his disposal here), The Vengeful Beauty is effective, confident product from the Shaw Brothers factory.

The Venturer (1976) Directed by: Cheung Pooi-Shing

Dull historical action-drama with salt traders and revolutionaries trying to overthrow the current rule. Pai Ying stands on one side as a charismatic leader and is drawn to the gunslinger daughter (Polly Kuan) of a warlord. Certainly well-customed but incredibly boring with no character distinction and drive whatsoever, the focus on guns is welcome and the violence reaches fairly epic proportions during the finale. But don't think for a minute you're invested in any minor drama even. Tin Yau squints through his entire performance as the evil Captain Yu which indeed sounds cartoony and is further reason why The Venturer reaches no level whatsoever.

Vice Squad 633 (1979) Directed by: Wa Yan

Portraying the special unit called 'Vice Squad 633' whose aim it is to crack down on the gambling, prostitution and drugs in Hong Kong, the flashback structure which this has reveals that two undercover cops were killed at a love hotel. Then the rather unfocused narrative and overpopulated character gallery takes over. For a while it deals with a bus driver that quickly (and I mean quickly) gets addicted to drugs that leads to him being an informer for the police while they chase killers that poison their victims. Or something. Everything is pretty anonymous in Vice Squad 633 and Wa Yan's (who did the more impressive Four Invincible a few years before) direction would've benefited from making a film about ONE character in a gritty world of so many others. There's nothing wrong with the street realism captured on film though.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

Victory (1994) Directed by: Andy Chin

The confidence of the Wah Shui women's volleyball team is shattered when they lose to the evil team in black, the Devil Women. Without support by the heads of their university, they threaten to go public with discrimination rumors but they're allowed to keep on playing. Only problem is finding a willing coach and when all options are exhausted, they turn to substitute teacher and insect geek Ma Chi (Derek Yee)...

Andy Chin (Changing Partner) takes the themes of the sport movie nowhere particularly special but deserves kudos for maintaining a focus on delivering the familiar essentials, reaching pleasant levels with Victory in the process. Employing patriotic cues surrounding the need to unify makes for a good thematic ground for this kind of story and amazingly, it doesn't feel cloying or bothersome. While there's no huge care towards characters, the whole package is put together with care, with Chin logging good impact during the volleyball scenes and cinematographer Poon Hang Sang (Kung Fu Hustle) provides fine camera work. Likeable performers gets you a long way also, with Carman Lee and a suitably dorky Derek Yee providing fitting turns. The attempts at satire aimed at the decision makers of the school may very well be poor attempts but with otherwise great director Derek Yee involved, one can also argue that the behind the scenes team actually are adept at this sort of thing. You be the judge. Also with Josie Ho (in her film debut).

The Villains (1973) Directed by: Chor Yuen

Chor Yuen knew his swordplay, erotica, martial arts and drama but The Villains from his way more interesting period of the early 70s unexpectedly favours a mix of GUNS and drama rather than fists. While having no high aims to be massively impactful emotionally, there's focus and skill from Chor Yuen here. Yueh Hua is the good son arriving to a family where the father (Cheng Miu) has spoilt the other gambling animal of a son played with that exact intensity by Chen Hung-Lieh. After raping his cousin (Shih Szu), the animal of a son also adds murder and robbery to his tendencies. and the previously outcast GOOD son now in a position of authority within the law has to stop him. While there's scenes of gritty fighting and stuntmen flying through walls, guns take center stage but also a brutal family drama where Cheng Miu's stubborn father orders Shih Szu to be whipped despite being the victim of rape. It's an effective descent that goes for the melodrama but also features a few understated snippets where Chor Yuen gets to flex muscles the latter output in the 70s didn't allow for.

Virgins Of The Seven Seas (1974, Kuei Chuh-Hung & Ernst Hofbauer

Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers add to their history of co-productions by this time teaming up with Germany. A group of English girls are kidnapped by Chinese pirates and subsequently auctioned off as sex-slaves. But through their own internal fighting spirit and help from some Chinese characters (including from Yueh Hua and Lau Wai-Ling), the girls strike back. Watchable for the co-production aspect, this isn't Shaw Brothers at their finest though. The production values are expectedly solid but since the talent on display is largely not action-trained, it does stumble when channeling this aspect. As an exploitation-piece it's handled in a basic manner and there's plenty of nudity for the audience looking to have their requisite fulfilled. But with no real effective grit when trying that nor comedic gold present as the girls humiliate the horny buyers, Virgins Of The Seven Seas is stale. It's a contractual fulfillment rather than furthering the voices of anyone involved. Also with Gillian Bray, Tamara Elliot and Wang Hsieh.

Visa To Hell (1992) Directed by: Dick Wei

Jiu Mou (Lam Wai) goes to hell to avenge the death of his wife and kids at the hands of Black Panther (Dick Wei). Starting out as a cops chasing gangster film and even within this section not afraid to make rapid mood changes, from the murder of Lam Wai's family (where the kid actors are rigged up with squibs as well) and onwards debut director Dick Wei has the balls (like many Hong Kong directors of the time. Bless them) to go wacky on us as a priest sends Lam Wai to hell. The fact that this is even a plot strand, that for once the "I'll see you in hell"-line from a movie gets to be featured on screen, is amusing in itself but that Dick Wei has it in him to execute is the inspired bit. Filling his reels set in the netherworld with tons of design (on a minor budget) and unpredictable elements (because we're not as viewers fully aware of the rules of this setting), amazingly enough Visa To Hell never feels overstuffed. It's simply a delight to go from one scene to the next, whether they feature gunplay in hell, ninjas, green blood and a type of imagery you'd expect out of something actually animated. It's terrific Hong Kong cinema energy from yesteryear, especially for those who enjoy the anything goes-stance a lot of these movies employed. Also with Emily Chu, Shum Wai, Chin Siu-Ho, Lung Tien-Hsiang and Chan Sing.

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