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Diamond Hill (2000) Directed by: Soi Cheang

May (Maggie Poon) and her brother (Woody Chan) are separated as young when she is adopted by a family (mother and father are essayed by Carrie Ng and Hui Siu-Hung). However the bond is strong and the two won't be apart for long, even if it means crawling into and living in a confined, dark place the rest of your life...

Soi Cheang (Love Battlefield) occupied himself early on directing Digital Video movies, achieving acclaim for his debut Our Last Day. Diamond Hill represents the step forward as most of the production is shot on film with the DV look being reserved for flashbacks.

The premise is slightly far fetched (as you will find out by watching the film, not just by reading my synopsis) and the low-budget look for a while feels like a hindrance. Soi does grasp the audience quickly, giving us ventures into horror but primarily, a sweet little tale of poignant bonds of love between sister and brother. That's really the only thought that runs through Diamond Hill but it doesn't have to be anything else than that. With quirky touches visually and generally affecting performances, Diamond Hill succeeds (also thanks to composer Tommy Wai and DOP Lam Wah-Chuen's splendid work) in giving us something fresh at almost no cost.

Cheung Tat-Ming co-stars as a thief who shoots all his break-in's on DV and the late Joe Lee briefly appears.

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Diary Of A Serial Killer (1995) Directed by: Otto Chan

Otto Chan's true calling became glaringly obvious with this seemingly true life re-telling and his San Francisco set Gates Of Hell the same year. Being interviewed from his prison cell after having killed 14 women, Lau Shu Biu (Chan Kwok-Bong) in voice-over tracks back to his 1992 persona. An intense one that eventually starts murdering prostitutes. His reasoning being that they're now allowed to reincarnate. Still, Lau isn't to be considered a saint as he stuffs dynamite up his victim's privates, plays with them post-death like puppets, cuts off body parts for his scrapbook and has sex with them...again post-death. All taking place in his private loft while the unknowing wife (Farini Cheung) works in the field at their village home every day. The one he couldn't kill as Lau claims is Jade (Strawberry Yeung), a relative of the family who's in Guangzhou to seek out her boyfriend and start a marriage. Lau and Jade strike up an unlikely bond where the fragile, actually kind side of Lau's is allowed to breathe but the urges to kill aren't taking a step back...

Certainly adhering to what Category III aficionados witnessed again and again during the 90s Hong Kong exploitation craze but Chan provides more skill and subtext than one of its closest comparison pieces, the Danny Lee/Billy Tang co-helmed Dr. Lamb. Being quite extraordinary cruel, graphic and with a lead performance where singing, giddy laughing and twitching is key, exaggerated aspect, Otto Chan has more control over his moods. For one the movie attempts and succeeds well with its darkly comical touches. One being that Lau's family almost eats fish caught in the waters where he dumped his first victim and the mentioned dynamite scene wanders the line of cruel and comical in terrific fashion. But it's when putting Chan Kwok-Bong and Strawberry Yeung at center that the dramatic magic happens. Their shared emotional story is a melodramatic but a very effective piece of Diary Of A Serial Killer, maintaining momentum and even poignant beauty all till the end. The couple would register required emotions equally in Chan's Gates Of Hell the same year.

Dirty Ho (1979) Directed by: Lau Kar Leung

Part of what can be perceived as a comedy stretch of films (among those Mad Monkey Kung Fu, Return To The 36th Chamber and My Young Auntie), Lau Kar Leung and Shaw Brother's probably unknowingly made sure that a lot of units were shipped overseas thanks to the English title Dirty Ho. However translating the Chinese title reveals the film as Rotten Head Ho, something that will makes much more sense as you follow Wong Yue and Gordon Lau's adventure together.

While I'm sure countless fans can name 3-4 other movies of Lau's that rank higher than Dirty Ho, it deserves praise and remains very enduring thanks to a sly sense of humour that also carries over to the highlight choreography of the film. Gordon Lau (in one of his coolest roles) takes on Johnny Wang and Wilson Tong in fights concerning civil manners on the top surface but deadly, sneaky confrontation underneath and there's as much meticulous detail in here as in any other great fight in Lau Kar Leung's career. Even the finale, not the most memorable one among Lau's films though, can't overpower these set pieces. Weaknesses exist, tracking back to Wong Yue who is on his own a grating comedy presence but thankfully comes off much better when bouncing off Gordon. Another concept that doesn't flourish is one concerning crippled fighters and a confrontation with a team of fighters either summed up as masochistic or cartoonish goes nowhere. Lo Lieh, Kara Hui, Hsiao Hou and Peter Chan also appear.

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Yesasia.com

Dirty Trick (1982) Directed by: Tse Kwong-Lam

You could blame the fully impenetrable nature of Dirty Trick on the old VHS print but in all honesty, the mix of prison, conman, gambling and action movie with an end reel twist would be abstract even in fully visible form. A cast of notables, some with only a few minutes of screentime includes Lo Lieh, Norman Tsui, Wilson Tong, Chen Kuan-Tai while Wong Goon-Hung and assistant takes on the gambling syndicate. Maybe. No distraction in the form of gritty, bloody action either makes Dirty Trick a thorough dud.

The Discharged (1977, Alan Tang & Stanley Siu)

Standard and ultimately below average rags to riches story in the gangster world with co-director Alan Tang at center, a deadly sign of this not attempting much of an impact can be found in the voice over narration talking up the fun and cool of Tang's character to a degree. Then the dual directing team rushes through his rise as we get glimpses of incarceration, prison-riot and conflicts with other gangsters when at the top. With no violent edge or real passion for the genre, Tang's evolving visual image is entirely forced and actual effective grit and darkness towards the end does nothing for the mood of the movie. It seals its fate way before.

Disciples Of Shao Lin (1975) Directed by: Chang Cheh

Despite the opening with star Alexander Fu Sheng doing martial arts in front of one-tone backgrounds and the English title being rather generic, here's a late, thoroughly engrossing and dramatic effort from a Chang Cheh I always thought left those skills behind earlier in the 70s before embarking on a journey to make movies with plastic heroes (i.e. his Venoms flicks). Disciples Of Shao Lin is something to treasure then, featuring the age old tale of innocence abused by corrupt forces. There's a better take on the theme in Chor Yuen's The Bastard but the story of orphan Guan Feng Yi's (Fu Sheng) rise through the ranks of society only to face deception, brotherly abandonment and redemption the gory way is admirable because of its lack of hurry into martial arts esthetics. In fact, it could've worked sans it as well. Chang Cheh remains fairly subtle and has the characters talking a whole lot in order for the hard edged drama to become really painful come ending time. But we're not talking overdone melodrama here, just a fairly hefty running time for the genre allowed to reach a sensible boiling point. In between there's even an unexpected amount of well honed symbolism, particularly well represented by the higher division possession in the form of a pocket watch and its melody. For anyone who's had a problem with the antics of Alexander Fu Sheng, here's a reference performance that's tailor made for the late star. A country bumpkin without any knowledge of the city he's heading into but with a martial arts knowledge that has him being playful in the beginning and being forbidden to fight by his brother, played with the correct amount of stern that actually is torment by Chi Kuan-Chun. Treated as a savior and treated to the good things in life this universe has to offer, including the clock, Fu Sheng switches effortlessly between the light, being a ferocious fighter and the transformation in progress where the character of Guan only catches a glimpse of himself when it's far too late. An eclectic mix of jazzed up, modern music score feels out of place at times but the main melody enhances the often quiet atmosphere of the film very nicely.

Lau Kar-Leung's action blossoms the most when channeled through its lead, being very fluent and to the point. Lau would return in the same capacity for the 1993 remake The Barefoot Kid (directed by Johnnie To). Starring Aaron Kwok, Ti Lung and Maggie Cheung, pre-Milkyway master To injects way too much melodrama into his take on the story that does have the upper hand via a new development Chang Cheh's version didn't take: the understated romance between Ti Lung and Maggie Cheung's characters.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

Disciples Of Shaolin Temple (1984) Directed by: Hua Shan

Mainland set martial arts production and more Mainland in feel, Inframan director Hua Shan mounts an impressive looking production and playing genre cards but quite tedious ones that negates any high production values despite impressive action. Largely a light romp making this akin to a 'Shaolin Temple Academy', there's no distinction in the group portrayed or the conflict involving a fighter challenging Shaolin and it's honor. Despite the incredible setting and the action working both when employing comedy but in particular weapons and gritty intensity, Disciples Of Shaolin Temple is far from another Shaolin Temple touchdown for the Mainland.

Disciples Of The 36th Chamber (1985, Lau Kar-Leung)

With this finale to the '36th Chamber' trilogy, Lau Kar-Leung returns the role of San Te to Gordon Liu (in Return To The 36th Chamber he played a conman impersonating the monk in a clever twist). Sharing the screen with Hsiao Ho's Fong Sai Yuk who manages to upset both the ruling Manchurians and also his teacher at the Shaolin temple, it may be Fong's quirky way of standing up for the Han People. Definitely the weakest out of the three movies but not weak overall, Lau Kar-Leung still has trouble nailing the mix of characteristics within Hsiao Ho's character. Granted, it has a purpose and it really does seem like a match made in heaven for the acrobatic actor to tackle this role. It just doesn't fully get to endearing and heroic places. But within a basic framestory of mentioned conflicts, a few wonderfully depicted training chambers at the Shaolin temple (the steep wall in particular that even includes fight choreography) and an intense finale involving dozens of fighters for Hsiao, Lau and Lily Li (as Fong's mother and possibly the performer who gets the most outstanding pieces of fight choreography here), basic martial arts movie quality from a filmmaker like Lau Kar-Leung is still high quality. Also with Jason Pai and director Lau himself in a supporting role.

Disco Sex Fever (1980) Directed by: John Chan

The brainchild of John Chan who's the director, writer, producer and heck, could even be the star as cast info is sparse for Disco Sex Fever. But there's no muddled cloud hovering over Chan's intentions. Oh no. Essentially the story of rich boy George coming to Hong Kong and he has his assistant set up various encounters who in themselves should setup various SEXUAL encounters, the disco in the title actually takes a backseat although its inclusion is classic film that sets up Chan's adult intentions. The long, boring shots of sunny Hong Kong either in streets or on beaches leads to long, boring shots of nightlife. That is until the dancing women take their clothes off and the ride is only starting. Done on the cheap but with a sense of shameless fun, George's type of sightseeing leads him to wanting celebrities, visiting a French artist using naked women as models, picking up girls on planes, on boats etc. All of this shameless and sometimes rude behaviour is never justified as such but it's amusing to hear males talk of women like difficult roads to navigate with Chan cutting to twisty, turny roads to symbolize this. An arty touch made even more so since certain sex scenes are shot on very sparse sets meant to represent a beach for instance. Puzzling, very entertaining and despite the lack of intention with his intention, John Chan's film ultimately has a light spirit about it that doesn't bore and is very funny thanks to George's adventures with everyone he can think of (and some he couldn't think of).

Divergence (2005, Benny Chan)

Mixing murder mystery with well conceived action, for slick and reliable commercial Hong Kong cinema you would turn to the late Benny Chan for results. But at this time he was also oddly insecure about what pitch to play drama at and that gets Divergence into trouble... despite one of his actors winning an award for his performance. Setting up the trio of psychologically unstable and obsessive cop (Aaron Kwok, said award winner) searching for his girlfriend (Angelica Lee), assassin Coke (Daniel Wu) and the barely animated barrister Ekin Cheng plays, the latter also seems to be married to Angelica Lee's character. Mystery. Plus, a rainy night killer adds to the intrigue.

While he does push awkwardly and hard with the first hints of Kwok's mental state as he sees his girlfriend's face everywhere including on a plane, Chan does way better depicting a shocking assassination and the haunting images of death in the wake of it (the startling and abrupt is a key to this sequence). It is a busy plot when adding up the entire trio and their focus, including Ekin's very still and robotic barrister having doubts about defending criminals but the thriller narrative mostly works. It's when going heart wrenching and when Kwok's character wears his emotions on his sleeve that Benny Chan disrupts the movie heavily. Obsession he conveys well but melodrama and audience manipulation through score is not a refined choice for a veteran filmmaker. The emotional trauma gets a nice counter weight via Eric Tsang's performance and we're fairly often treated to solid action including a messy foot chase, car stunts and gunplay while the mystery unfolds in a coherent manner. Deaths feel dirty and hard at points here and it aids a film that may not drive towards a rousing end but involves despite. Not emotionally mind you and blame has to come from the top and not Aaron Kwok as his cop has downright bizarre outbursts in the face of heartache and sadness (including going backwards in traffic at one point). Also with Gallen Lo and Ning Jing.

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