Thursday, December 3, 2015



I don’t always find a lot to write about with regards to the films I watch- and I watch a lot of movies, especially with a subscription to Netflix and Amazon going. I also own a Roku, and that provides me access to several free streaming services with plenty of Public Domain footage.  And while I enjoy several films and may occasionally find something worth writing about with one film, often I  will just stream a series of films and never write a single word. I thought, with my recent marathon, that it deserved a little write up with only a little blurb and recommendation for each film.

And as these “Marathons” usually have one linking attribute to them, I figured I would start it off with a bit of an informative piece each time I write one of these.

Shaw Brothers Studio is a production company that mostly made a name for itself with a series of Kung Fu features that spanned from the 1960’s through the 1980’s with a “classic Hollywood” business model of pairing specific actors with specific directors for a slew of films. There are literally thousands of films from the company’s “Golden Period”; with stars like the “Venoms” and Gordon Liu featured prominently.  To be honest, Shaw Brothers films pretty much dominated the “Martial Arts” film business and only saw a significant challenge to their model when a pair of executives left the company in order to form “Golden Harvest” and signed a brand new star; Bruce Lee.

Several Shaw Brothers films are currently streaming on Netflix and, of course, I’ve been knee-deep in the epic awesomeness that is “classic Kung Fu” from the top studio of the time. As a young boy, I’d often be sticking to channel eleven or channel five during the Saturday double matinee to catch a flick- often horror or Kung-fu related, but always a degree of pure adrenaline that kept my eyes glued to the boob tube when I should’ve likely been out climbing trees and building snow forts. So revisiting the films is a bit of nostalgia and a bit of newfound appreciation for the things I loved as a child.

As a note, the only unfortunate slight I’ve been able to find is that the films are only available in their native “Chinese”… whether Mandarin or Cantonese, the only option on the Netflix “Language” selection is “Chinese”. There are English subtitles, but the traditional “awful dub” option is just not available and part of the nostalgic charm of these films are the terrible dubbing with awful accents and fake tenors designed to make characters as over the top as possible. It’s not that I dislike the language, but a little nostalgic value is lost when we don’t hear the same guy dubbing over several different characters with a different pitch, growl, or whatever it seems something is lost from my childhood. Luckily, something is gained when we’re able to hear the appropriate tenor, voice, and inflection to specific lines. So it’s mostly a fair trade off, but requires more reading when one may want to just be focused on the fighting.

“Come Drink With Me”-
This film is a bit of an oddity for its tone and rather progressive view of the female protagonist, played by Pei-Pei Cheng (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The story is a fairly simple one as the son of a Governor is kidnapped by a gang of bandits and held for ransom. The Governor’s sister is sent to investigate and free her brother, aided only slightly by the mysterious “Drunken Tiger”. From here on out the action fills in the blanks as she fights off the gang, infiltrates the area, and winds up wounded before the big climactic battle that will reveal the truth behind Drunken Tiger. There’s a bit of a romance that never goes much further than the occasional look between the leads and “Golden Swallow” is never portrayed as the damsel in distress. The action and choreography is terrific and there’s plenty of slapstick comedy to go along with the story.

4.5 out of 5.

Invincible Shaolin

The Qin General of an unspecified province is unhappy with the Imperial edict forcing him to employ Shaolin teachers to instruct his troops. The Shaolin are also unhappy with the Qin dynasty, preferring to return the Ming to power if fate allows. So the General concocts a scheme, demanding new teachers from the Northern Shaolin to replace those from the Southern Shaolin school. What follows is a contest that ultimately proves fatal for the Southern Shaolin teachers and creates a rift between the schools. Both sides are manipulated by the General into several pitched battles- can the Shaolin unite in time to prevent the General from succeeding in his plan to destroy all of Shaolin?

This is a very traditional Kung Fu film in that it features the detailed training sequences we normally come to see in such films as various fighters work to master a given style. The cast is very likeable and the General comes off as a terrific villain with a masterful hand at pulling a number of strings. Much of the story depends on the viewers acceptance of social customs in order to fully buy in to why the two sides would fight one another. The fighting is absolutely top notch and features a number of impressive battles with a fair amount of gore.

5 out of 5.

Disciples of the 36th Chamber

The third film in the “36th Chamber” (AKA: Master Killer) series of films features the terrific Gordon Liu returning to the role that originally made him famous. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite live up to the first film’s promise and features a much less engaging protagonist being trained by Liu. The film is played more for slapstick comedy and pratfalls than it is for the serious training that made the first film so amazing. A young teen and his two brothers are forced to hide and train in the Shaolin monastery when the buffoonish brother repeatedly insults the reigning Government. Liu takes the boy and his brothers under his wing and the rest is Kung Fu training.

2.5 out of 5.

Masked Avengers.

The title here is a little misleading and may be an issue of something being lost in translation or maybe just a misunderstanding- but the men in the masks are a group of bandits whose butchery, sadism, and cruelty have drawn the attention of a Martial Artist and his school of young warriors. When one of their agents manages to return to their school with fatal wounds, he leaves them with a barely muttered clue on where the Masked Bandits are hiding but not who these bandits may be. The school heads off to the province and start to investigate, only to run afoul of the Bandits in several encounters.

Are the bandits led by the charismatic merchant? The mysterious cook? Or the wealthy landowner? With their numbers dwindling, the school had better find out or they’ll be far too outnumbered to fight back. The film features some terrific fight choreography and the wonderful interaction between the characters builds to a brutal finale that sees the bandits base turned into a house of torture and death traps. A must-see for Kung Fu fans!

5 out of 5

Five Elements Masters.

I love me a bit of grue in my movies, and Five Elements Masters (AKA Five Elements Ninja and several other titles) features an awful lot of spurting blood, severed limbs, and massive physical damage to various victims of deadly Kung Fu. Probably one of the goriest Kung Fu films made, this was definitely a fun watch. The plot revolves around the Japanese “Five Elements Ninja” and their attempt to dominate the Martial Arts world by destroying the local practitioners through their five elements style. Fairly cut and dry when one member of the local school survives an ambush, he’s forced into hiding and trains to prepare himself for the style utilized by the Ninja.

4 out of 5.

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