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The Assassin (1967) Directed by: Chang Cheh

Released just after the influential and immortal classic One-Armed Swordsman, Chang Cheh turned to same personnel again (Jimmy Wang Yu, Chiao, Chiao and Tien Feng mainly) and more than adequately lived up the reputation set by the prior effort. The Assassin therefore operates for the majority of the time in dialogue and melodrama with only select few action set pieces, all of the high quality Chang Cheh infused into his works during this period.

Jimmy Wang Yu plays historical figure Nie Zheng, a swordsman with dreams of bringing the finer aspects of life into his and Xia Ying's (Chiao Chiao) relationship. When his master is assassinated by a disgruntled student, he loses all faith and takes on a lowly life as a butcher to support his family. The opportunity to achieve something great arises when he's approached by Yen (Tien Feng) to carry out an assassination mission of a rival official...

Featuring several strongly layered themes, The Assassin is not for the impatient as long stretches are about meticulous dialogue exchanges. Chang Cheh's script isn't exactly subtle as character speak out all the themes and messages of the story but it goes deeper places despite. Self sacrifice for the greater good, bonding between brothers are once again staples in Chang's work here but it doesn't feel repetitive and The Assassin is largely a very affecting story, both concerning patriotism and love. Further enhancement comes via the Shaw Brother's stages, especially the outdoor set where Wang Yu and Chiao Chiao share their most intimate scenes.

Action directors Lau Kar Leung and Tong Gaai has less to do but offers up some excellent, fast moving swordplay and a requisite gory climax that should come with a Chang Cheh movie of this type. Huang Tsung-Shun, Li Hsiang-Chun and Cheng Lei co-stars.

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The Assassin (1993) Directed by: Billy Chung

Billy Chung's new wave swordplay effort can be easily summarized as very slight. At barely 80 minutes, the potential for an epic, sweeping Wuxia isn't there but Wen Shui-On's original novel isn't extensive as such and naturally, the movie seems to correspond to that. While there is a theme of swordsman Tong Po Ka (Zhang Fengyi - Farewell My Concubine) trying to regain and maintain his inner soul, Chung doesn't prove adept at dramatic beats. We move way too quickly into and away from everything but The Assassin does possess better traits on an entertainment level.

Cinematography by Chiu Fei and Jonathan Wong's (Dr. Lamb) traditional score gives the gritty nature to the film a boost while the Category III rating allows action directors Tung Wai and Benz Kong to more constantly amp the blood and guts compared to other new wave efforts at the time. This darker aspect is otherwise a minor Chung forte (see Love To Kill) and outside of the action, he presents a fair few grisly in your face sights, including torture involving sewing prisoner's eyes shut. Still, when no performer makes an impact either (film also stars Max Mok and Rosamund Kwan), you should turn to Ringo Lam's Burning Paradise and The Blade instead as they succeeded on many more accounts.

The old Star Laserdisc and vcd (both had no subtitles) featured the full cinema edit but subsequent video versions (including releases by Tai Seng and Winson) are missing about 6 minutes worth of footage.

The Association (1975) Directed by: Jeng Cheong-Woh

It's nice to know your jaw can still hit the floor hundreds upon hundreds of martial arts movies into your fandom. And that genre is what you expect out of The Association being a Golden Harvest production after all, directed by King Boxer's Jeng Cheong-Woh, co-starring Angela Mao, Whang In-Shik, Sammo Hung and Carter Wong in a cameo but what you get is a whimsy sleaze fest that thankfully entertains. In his only role in a Hong Kong film, Korean martial arts expert Byong Yu stars as a cop who is going to take down an evil general (Chiu Hung), an association performing abortions due to unwanted pregnancies and thief Chu Yan Kwei is approaching fast to also do something the no nonsense cop will stop. Containing an undeveloped love story and tragedy between Byong and Angela Mao, her character is executed and in comes the sharp shooting sister but this isn't potential drama the production is interested in. Sure the martial arts is of high quality when it does appear but the adult factor with rape, murder, nudity, weird dances to accompany the abortion ceremony is priority one for the movie despite barely being finished and tied together. This flimsy nature to the film still adds up to a fast moving, entertaining whole that shows, just like Stoner did, an open mind by Golden Harvest when it comes to pushing for sleaze.

The Attractive One (2004) Directed by: Matt Chow

Acclaimed writer Matt Chow (Bullets Over Summer, Juliet In Love, Going Home) scored critical acclaim eventually as director with Itchy Heart only to totally hit a brick wall with 2004's The Attractive One. Showcasing no confidence in making simple romantic and comedic material fly or in his stars (Lau Ching Wan and Joey Yung), the film wanders endlessly in unspecial territory until it hits you during one of Chapman To's aggravating scenes. However it's not a positive revelation, it's just the definite proof that Chow has strung together contrasting material, hoping it will be poignant, funny and strangely does not realize that it's stupid decisionmaking all the way here. Somehow I have my doubts that surreal wacky material such as Joey Yung's character growing a moustache whenever things are going bad or the breakout into further surrealism is audience pleasing (and Lau's Ching Wan with his huge birth mark never gets an even slight mention or examination. Now that's money wasted on make-up!). Others do this better, others do romantic comedies better. When you summarize a film like The Attractive One as weird, you're approaching disastrous levels and Matt Chow's film can't be embraced for the poor level it's at either! Now, when is Lau Ching Wan, who does showcase a second or two of his undeniable coolness and charisma, going to choose movie projects more wisely?

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Autumn Moon (1992) Directed by: Clara Law

Teenage girl Wai (Li Pui-Wai) and Tokio (Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase) share an autumn's tale, not a love story but a story of emotions. From Wai's point of view it's about daring or choosing to show emotions towards the school boy she's in love before immigrating to Canada where her parents are waiting. A fear is also to lose a big emotional anchor in the form of her grandmother, who is going to be left behind for practical reasons. Tokio is at the other end of the spectrum, having experienced so many emotions that he's now numb and completely disillusioned...

Much featured can be recognized from previous Clara Law movies but Autumn Moon is a different beast nonetheless. Law and partner Eddie Fong this time again explores issues surrounding immigration but shot within an art house style, utilizing voiceover of self contemplation, long uninterrupted takes and slow pace. But what's important to point out that it's never painfully slow nor is the film abstract. Law shoots in her natural static ways, mixing video and film, adding a subtlety not previously visible in her work but she proves to be very adept in communicating through that narrative choice. Adept is also her direction of leads Li Pui-Wai and Masatoshi Nagase, both mainly using rough English delivery but not in any way does that hinder the emotions, intentions and journeys they both have to embody. Li reportedly never starred in a film again which is a shame because she's a definite natural talent.

The Category III rating is due to a few scenes of fairly graphic sex but Autumn Moon represents a rare example where it's definitely part of the storytelling. Tony Cheung's cinematography is simple but beautiful without being intruding and comedian Tats Lau switches to composer with very atmospheric results.

Avengers From Hell (1981) Directed by: Lee Pooi-Kuen

Three ghost stories in one, the titles Avengers From Hell pretty much fits all the tales on display here from Shaw Brothers. Never released on dvd or vcd by Celestial/IVL, it's an attempt that won't be highly missed. First up, Alex Man is the cop who sees a woman in a mansion that's been abandoned for long and she's been dead 30 years. Involving his girlfriend, Man's Sunny may in fact have more to do with the past tragedy than he first thought. Second up to bat, Phillip Chan is businessman Jack who have no qualms about sleeping around despite a good life, wife and pending fatherhood. Pending fatherhood times two though as his Phillipino fling Jenny tells him she's pregnant. After accidentally killing her, home is not secure anymore as Jenny turns up to have her revenge. Finally, Lau Hak-Suen finds a pair of glasses who used to belong to his dead next door neighbour. He receives luck in gambling from wearing them though, just as long as he shares his winnings...

There's sporadic eerie imagery in in particular the first two stories and the short format is always a good opportunity to practice telling stories that should not be stretched out. But nothing really flies here, despite the second adding exploitation and increased supernatural elements. When the third story goes all out on the gambling circuit to channel the local residents favourite past time, matters are extremely boring and start mattering little even sporadically.

The Avenging Eagle (1978) Directed by: Sun Chung

Detailing the break and the igniting of consciousness of Chik Ming Sing (Ti Lung), one of the Eagles of The Iron Boat Gang trained by Yoh Xi Hung (Ku Feng who is bringing an evil aura but an evil aura with depth), he's got blood on his hands and owes the world a huge debt but together with Cheuk Yi Fan (Alexander Fu Sheng) he takes on his former assassin brothers and ultimately his Godfather. Sun Chung brings sufficient depth for a very valid morality tale despite not lingering on too many beats. A very good thing as this is Shaw Brothers with depth, efficiency which is then wrapped in a darkness, regal design and creative weapons action choreographed by Tong Gai & Wong Pau-Gei.

The Avenging Quartet (1993) Directed by: Stanley Siu

Kickass poster art, the uniting of fighting, shooting females Moon Lee, Cynthia Khan, Yukari Oshima and Nishiwaki Michiko sets up potentially classic material but in the end The Avenging Quartet ranks as one of the most forgettable that came out of the genre-boom. To his credit, director Stanley Siu doesn't seem to possess the worst eye for visuals and story driven cinema. He does grow tired of trying eventually and just mixes up action and useless comedy (co-star Chin Ka-Lok as wacky cop being responsible for that tangent) that sacrifices the actual small story at hand. Saving grace would've of course been action of the highest order but without much flow or excitement, what seems to be a lot going in is in fact very little and standard. An attention grabbing violent and gory final reel doesn't make the last parts of the film boring but they don't mean anything on any level.

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Avenging Trio (1989, Cheung Gik-Laam)

The children of assassinated parents pursue the heist-path as well while the police (led by Gordon Liu) is working on the case. Low budget and very anonymous in feel type of time. Mainly because of a very flat frame and unknown leads (Liu and Leung Kar-Yan are barely supporting actors here) but the very familiar broad comedic AND violent frame that often represents the uniqueness of Hong Kong cinema is an underwhelming one here. Annoyingly broad and unimpressive action-wise too, there's a couple of flashes of gritty gunplay and fight-action but such temporary noise does not save the movie.

Awakening (1994) Directed by: Cha Chuen-Yee

Part of what arguably is a 1990s roll for creative director Cha Chuen-Yee (writer Rico Chung played a crucial part too), ending up being best utilized in the satirical Once Upon A Time in Triad Society in 1996. Awakening plays with more manic tools and certainly can be argued to belong to a large, distinguished family of Hong Kong movies being all over the place. But few have the vision Chuen-Yee has in Awakening. Feng Shui master Liu Sheng Ming (Anthony Wong) gets in the eyeline of vengeance desiring Lam Cho Wen (Simon Yam). Dissatisfied with Liu's services prior that apparently meant the loss of his wife and kid, Cho Wen, in magical and sneaky ways, goes about destroying the life of the master...

On a minute budget, Cha Chuen-Yee goes to work by involving his camera heavily and in quite clever ways talking of transitions alone. Certainly eccentric, quirky, broad and disgusting, the plate of Awakening manages to cohere ALMOST all throughout and it even dips into a serious re-examination of lives of the characters (the awakening of the title). With elements in interaction between Anthony and Simon involving the latter combing Wong's hair, wanting to lick his finger clean of germs and the appearance of a white horse on the streets of Hong Kong, these out there elements can't be argued against logically as Cho Wen is countering with magic of his own while trying to expose Liu as a fraud. Even targeting his wife Dicky (Anita Lee) who Liu constantly neglects and shoots down, here enters the fairly successful awakening. It's basic drama but within a rather extreme frame, it manages to resonate. Anthony going insane at points and engaging in the "Double Practice" (it is indeed sexual) with various clients (including the mysterious Fei Fei, played by Carman Lee and her appearance means Hong Kong now has their own moment also present in a famous Forest Whitaker movie...), the mix doesn't always cohere but it's still a thorough pleasure to see Cha Chuen-Yee engaging his cast in this emotional insanity. Also with James Wong.

Axing Of The Coffin (1969) Directed by: Fu Ching-Wa

Also known as Chuang Tzu Tests His Wife, swordplay in the Wuxia style tradition isn't the primary focus here despite early signs seemingly cementing that fact. Blending in layered character depth with an eventual more ghostly angle, debut director Fu Ching-Wa showcases some novice strengths while unfortunately letting the film go about its business in far too boring ways in other areas. General Tieng is murdered by ninjas sent out by the people behind Duke Hsuan Ch'i (Tung Lam), unbeknownst to the Duke however (bringing in the point of main rulers being the ones scheming less compared to the people around them). Left surviving is Tieng's daughter Szu Chin (Sam Suet-Jan - Lady 9 Flower) as she is rescued by Chang Chou (Cho Kin). The two flee, fall in love but Ch'i Chuan wants to win over the love of Szu Chin and take revenge against Chang Chou who scarred his face...

Featuring only a small array of crudely staged fight scenes (this is still 1969 folks), what Axing Of The Coffin tells of is pretty much the tragedy of its female character Szu Chin. As she actually eventually loses her love Chang Chou, she's a character having difficulties surviving loneliness and will embark on new marriage as long as rituals concerning the burial of Chang Chou and the aftermath is handled correctly. It makes for an interesting sympathetic/unsympathetic character portrayal but it's wrapped in far too stagy direction (it really does feel like a filmed play more often than not). Getting more mileage out of a later spooky reel, director Fu Ching-Wa displays noble stylish and technical desire for his Taiwan cinema. Transitions into dreams are accompanied by effects not commonly seen at the time and there's even basic composite work done for a very atmospheric, latter reel terror ride as the titular coffin takes center stage.

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