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Oath Of Death (1971, Pao Hsueh-Li)

A more lean, basic version of a template seen subsequent in Chang Cheh's The Blood Brothers, this movie's sworn brothers are torn apart and betrayal and bloodshed follows as one turns power-hungry. With basic and stripped down comes a lot of elegant looking fun as Pao Hsueh-Li completes and executes. Combine powerful and very cool action (including the usage of a whip and its technique, which will come back as a signature-move), Tien Feng as a dependable villain and a continual focus on not just bloody but primal action. Oath Of Death turns angry but not pessimistic. But the plentiful blood-spurts, dismemberments and beheadings makes sure we have fun with very adult material (cue some nudity too) though. Bound to drown amidst the Shaw Brothers output, simple and direct is still a major strength for Oath Of Death. Also starring Lo Lieh, Wai Wang and Ling Ling.

Obsession (1993) Directed by: Biu Ga-Chun

Considering it came out in the midst of a constant flow of Category III movies (some of which were shockingly bad but knew sex and that the rating sold tickets) and it's a Hong Kong Fatal Attraction essentially, one time director Biu Ga-Chun delivers unexpected sharpness and focus. Shame there was no other movies to follow then as this is largely devoid of comedy and does well within the familiar template, especially psychologically for the character of Carrie (Yip San). Not dealing well with rejection and men behaving badly against ANY women, hammer murders, cat castration and mutilation follows. The erotica is part of the focus as well even though Biu clearly wants to get in and out quickly out of certain sex scenes. You've seen it before but knowing Obsession and its place in the timeline, it's nigh on a terrific standout. Michael Chan appears in support as largely a hungry cop.

Ocean Heaven (2010) Directed by: Xue Xiaolu

Hopefully showcasing the start of an ongoing trend where Asian performers and filmmakers go back and forth in order to be seen more globally in glossier action pictures in the West and progressing themselves as artists in the East by choosing personal projects, the Jet Li starring vehicle Ocean Heaven clearly represents this. Li plays Wang, the father of the 21 year old and autistic boy Dafu (Wen Zhang). Trying to commit suicide with his son but failing, Wang takes it as a sign that Dafu doesn't want to be taken (he swims away and enjoys swimming at local sea world where Wang also works) and makes it his mission to teach him take care of himself while also looking for caretakers. The latter being especially important because Wang is in the late stages of terminal liver cancer...

The structure is essentially the loving father trying to lay as much positive groundwork as possible before dying and really it's a love letter to parenthood (not a preachy one) by restrained director Xue Xiaolu. Initially distressing with the failed suicide, the difficulties of making Dafu understand how to get dressed, ride a bus, cook breakfast himself with Wang also concealing his illness from his caring surroundings (among others neighbour Chai played by Zhu Yuanyuan), Ocean Heaven does of course stir emotions but is still incredibly beautiful in its simplicity. Jet Li projects the love and physical pain he's in without the need of going big on dialogue and action while his young co-lead Wen Zhang is equally impressive expressing himself from within the shell of his condition. Especially infatuated with water, he also encounters possible love for the first time in Ling (Guey Lun-Mei). It's a lot to juggle because the need of projecting a simplicity in narrative and emotional beats but Xue does it beautifully. There's glossy shots captured by Christopher Doyle but no aim is made by Ocean Heaven to be abstract arthouse. It just need to be, need to reach the audience and the recipients of the love letter. They need the simple, heartfelt language. They and we get it.

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O.C.T.B Case - The Floating Body (1995) Directed by: Lam Yi-Hung

Considering the title O.C.T.B Case - The Floating Body (OCTB being short for Organized Crime & Triad Bureau), you would think someone like Danny Lee would've used it as an excuse for a a gazillion movies long, cheap series, all detailing one case per flick. This never happened as such, at least not in name or on the big screen. This Category III thriller from the director of Liu Jai (Home For The Intimate Ghosts) contains the oddities and pleasures you've come to expect from the genre, and also a minor dramatic element that's not entirely unworthy. Ben Ng plays the violent brother of Wong Wan-Choi's character and despite trying to be the sweet guy, it can't co-exist with the violent streak of his. All leading to the accidental murder of his brother's wife (Lily Chung, in a fully clothed role for a change) and subsequent chainsaw dismemberment of her remains. The latter being a gloriously satisfying sequence for us gorehounds and it seems remarkably enough left untouched by the censors. Director Lam certainly never does showcase a knack for subtlety though, including in this sequence and the bizarre choices that begins to pile up after this. While a standard murder investigation thriller follows (with the cop heading the case being played by Bobby Au, a character with only a select crew of bumbling idiot cops by his side. Now THAT is a change for the genre), Lam never underplays any critical moment, especially evident in his choice to feature a highly aggressive, sweeping score that feels more like library cues.

Ben Ng is a worthwhile element here though, staying true to his rep amongst fan circles as one of the most dangerous actors on two feet and it's a role that draws similarities to his Red To Kill-stint, only with a hint more sympathy directed towards him. Despite ticking off the genre requirements such as setting parts of the movie in flashback, O.C.T.B Case - The Floating Body has sporadic, very memorable elements despite. Yeung Yuk-Mui, Kwan Hoi-San and Teresa Ha co-stars.

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Of Cooks And Kung Fu (1979) Directed by: Ting Chung

Rarely have generic, all too familiar content in a kung-fu movie felt this entertaining, jaw-dropping and exciting. But Ting Chung's (The Mars Villa) does just that, introducing us to our Jackie Chan-esque hero played by Jacky Chen (also the film's action director) training cooking kung-fu under the watchful eye of his master (Ga Hoi). A masked opponent having to with the past enters the arena and all that bla bla you know is going to happen, DOES happen. Combine a winning male lead that is kept away from excessive comedy to instead focus on the power he can bring to screen and a plethora of incredibly complex fight scenes and you have one of the best basic, generic genre experiences out there.

Oh! My Cops! (1983) Directed by: Danny Lee

Cops Porky (Kent Cheng) and Big Mouth (Wong Ching) stumble upon violent criminals, the former gets a promotion, the latter is disgruntled and the rest of the movie is an unfunny mix of cops attempting to gamble so their Western superior won't see. Plus, there's some more criminals and a modeling agency/prostitute ring. Very much structured as a series of skits, few of which amuses, Stanley Fung as a new superior more obsessed with his farm doesn't add anything either but Lung Tin-Sang is terrific as Rocky who's got a temper to say the least. Danny Lee himself comes in and says a few words of wisdom at the end and that's it so it's age old Hong Kong cinema like they don't do anymore. Thank god. Also with Pat Ha and Liu Wai-Hung.

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Oh! My Three Guys (1994) Directed by: Derek Chiu

Out of all people that would not honor the part of a homosexual man, insane whirlwind Eric Kot should've been a candidate but his work in In Between (aka The New Age Of Living Together) and here in Derek Chiu's Oh! My Three Guys reveals an actor able to flourish a bit under set stereotypes and familiarity. It's the bright spot of an otherwise uneven drama-comedy about three lifelong and now homosexual friends. Chung Yu Hoi (Lau Ching-Wan) works as a marketer for condoms and establishes a connection with his co-worker Fok May (Wu Chien-Lien) to the point where love might actually be in the air. Kot's Kau is a movie extra mainly only capable of playing it feminine, the wife role if you will. Something that shows up all to evidently when he's asked to be a butch policeman, much to the amusement of the actor played by Anthony Wong. Finally there's Fa (an amazingly non-annoying Dayo Wong), a scriptwriter with dramatic intentions in his writing but within an industry demanding tits and sleaze to hail someone as creative. The trio have their share of shaky relationships to the point that Kau literally acts as the wife/boyfriend to get his pals out of situations and shaky belongs to the verdict of the film too. Talky passages and quirky dialogue within them, when entering the key plot with Lau Ching-Wan and Wu Chien-Lien. there are no steps conveyed that has us believing in her infatuation with him. It just is after a while and when going the expected places of homosexual prejudice and the issue of AIDS, parts of the film showcases really poor narrative skills. Crucial moments turn flat and it's only through Eric Kot's presence we sense some kind of emotional momentum happening. But it's supposed to be a quartet of goals accomplished across the board and Chiu strikes out the majority of the time. Also with Simon Loui and Manfred Wong.

Oilmaker's Family (1993) Directed by: Xie Fei

Ersao (Siqin Gaowa - The Postmodern Life Of My Aunt) manufactures sesame oil derived from an old family recipe for a living. The village she lives in is about to be put on the map though as the product is being picked up for larger distribution in the cities. With that fame comes the biggest hardships for the family. Matters that were brewing underneath the surface anyway, having to do with the lake crucial to Ersao's product. A lake of tragic legends. It starts with the mentally handicapped son Duanzi getting married to Huan Huan (Wu Yujuan) and the abuse that comes with it. It's a pattern repeated as Ersao also had an arranged marriage, choosing very little herself and she's living out a rebellious side as she has an affair going on well...

Awarded the Golden Bear at the 1993 Berlin International Film Festival (an honor shared with Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet), Xie Fei's Mainland drama manages to echo a reality of its tale by shooting on village locations and transforming each aspect and on-screen talent into a valid real subject. It's top notch technical direction in combination with attention to character, anchored beautifully by Siqin Gaowa but riveting on a master scale Oilmaker's Family is not. Rarely unclear, it merely lands on many notches above solid so there was power to be had that never developed fully. To me personally. Also known as The Women From the Lake of Scented Souls.

Oily Maniac (1976, Ho Meng-Hua)

Often the star of Shaw Brothers excursions into the weird, experimental and exploitive, Danny Lee got to play Inframan, Bruce Lee and adventurer Johnny Chen looking for the Mighty Peking Man before he found his voice as 'the man who plays cops' in the 80s. Whether the studio didn't know what to do with him or if Lee did seem like the suitable face for the unusual, we gladly add Oily Maniac to the list. Because it's fun diving into the B-movie sensibilities of it all and although no stranger to genres, the notion that this came from Shaw Brothers makes the film even more amusing. Originally made in 1958 at the Malaysian Shaw Brothers division as Sumpah Orang Minyak (translated as 'Curse Of The Oily Man'), it draws upon Malay ghost beliefs of the supernatural creature Orang Minyak. In one camp the tale leans towards the oily man being evil while in other renditions he's inflicted with a curse and he only deals in injustices. The 1976 version positioned itself close to the source therefore by shooting in Malaysia and pushes hard (and I mean HARD) in the direction of sympathy for the bullied hero (Lee) stricken with polio but getting a spell from his uncle on death row grants him the ability to turn into the titular creature.

Ho Meng-Hua (Black Magic) is a dependable director but it takes buying into the delight of the scenario to get the most of Oily Maniac. Because it's certainly not a frenetic, energetic time with accomplished effects work and action. Once you are comfortable with the melodramatic story that is quickly developed and executed (leading to unintentional viewer joy looking at the narrative choices such as the wild overacting from Danny Lee), it seems even mildly accomplished technical feats works in the movie's favour. Whether seeing Lee digging a hole to submerge himself in oil and then leaping out of the ground as the oily maniac (looking like Swamp Thing) ready to sideswipe most opponents to death or when actions are accompanied by the Jaws rip off score. One must respect Shaw Brothers for trying to be a premier studio, evolving the craft within and the transitional effects seeing Lee come down from his oily man-high are functional but the liquid effects (allowing fast travel and re-generation) are pretty abysmal. However the package dealing with righting wrongs and monster action from the Shaw facilities and its contract players remains a minor pleasure sometimes merely down to the fact that it was made in the first place. Made with enough belief and skill, even if it's seen through in an unskilled way partly. Also starring Lily Li, Chen Ping, Terry Lau, Wang Hsieh, Ku Feng and Wa Lun.

Once A Gangster (2010) Directed by: Felix Chong

About reluctant, next in line to be gangster bosses (Jordan Chan & Ekin Cheng), they'd rather focus on business and education. Felix Chong's (co-writer of the Infernal Affairs trilogy) first stint as solo director is bursting with ideas but perhaps too many in order to lay the groundwork for a clever and coherent gangster comedy. There's good instincts present as a piece of professional and stylish work, performers respond with the required big and low-key energy and any time you mess with triad movie conventions you get my attention. But Chong isn't taking the amusing tone any particularly noteworthy places and second half is unfortunately a big waiting game. Making the promising ideas and dedication all round peter out. Props for trying and this decade is certainly not the wrong one to continue turn genre conventions on its head. The Infernal Affairs parody featuring the character of Yan (Shawn Yue and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in the original) is absolutely hilarious however as here Yan (Wilfred Lau) is a terrible cop whose cover has been blown ages ago without him knowing it. Also with Alex Fong, Candice Yu, Conroy Chan, Wong You-Nam and Derek Tsang. Latter two playing young versions of our leads.

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