Another Kung-Fu Triple Bill

My good friend and longtime sparring partner Hong Kong Phooey had noted with concern the recent lack of activity on the blog, especially in the Asia-thon 2016 Film Project. So he paid me a visit and upon finding me in good health proceeded to deliver a well-aimed roundhouse kung-fu kick to my head in order to focus my efforts. Suitably reprimanded, I sat down with him to watch a trio of cult martial arts films, which those nice people at Film4 had shown as part of their Martial Arts Gold season.


Come Drink With Me (King Hu, 1966) is a very influential martial arts movie from the Shaw Bros, not least because it had a strong female protagonist at the center of the story. Indeed, viewers may be puzzled by some of the opening scenes, in which various opponents mistake kung-fu expert Golden Swallow for a man, despite the fact she is clearly a young, beautiful woman. Cheng Pei-Pei was chosen for the role due to her background in ballet, and her graceful movements add a real elegance to the fight scenes as she glides around beating the shit out of clumsy, expendable opponents. The split -level tea-house scene is particularly memorable. So it's all a bit of a shame that half way through the film, the plot demands she suffers the indignity of being rescued by a male sidekick; Drunken Cat, another kung-fu expert masquerading as a drunken beggar. She was doing quite okay by herself, ye drunken bum - piss off to your own film! Anyhow, it all ends up in a big fight, which calmed my inner feminist a little because a kickass team of girls rock up to help. This is a big favourite of Quentin Tarantino (who once planned a remake and paid homage in his Kill Bill films), the wuxia genre in general (homage also paid to Pei-Pei who was cast as Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and the Drunken Master films from Jackie Chan (who allegedly appears as one of the singing children).


Five Deadly Venoms (Chang Cheh, 1978) is also a cult favourite, the title referring to five martial-arts experts with different fighting skills; The Centipede, the Snake, the Scorpion, the Lizard, and The Toad. Pitted against these fearsome foes is inexperienced kung-fu student Yang (Chiang Sheng), who has been taught the secret weakness of each by their former master. But will this knowledge be enough for him to avoid defeat? This is good fun, with ludicrous-sound-effect-enhanced chop-socky action, dramatic use of slo-mo and crash-zooms, impressive maniacal laughter, some splendid sideburn action and - WHAT THE HELL IS THIS??!! A PLOT??!!
*insert exaggerated reaction shot here* 
Well, so it is - and it turns out to be quite an entertaining whodunnit as a Scooby-Doo masked villain must be caught - those masks are pretty cool, actually. No surprise that it was a big hit on original release and it went on to spawn numerous official and unofficial sequels, many of which are in fact very crap. It was a big influence on the films of John Woo (a protege of Chang's), and is the inspiration for the deadly skilled teams in the Kill Bill films, the Kung Fu Panda films, and the, er, the Power Rangers.


It's not surprising that Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (Lau Kar-Leung, 1984) has a similar style to Five Deadly Venoms since director Lau had a close working relationship with Chang Cheh, choreographing the action for many of his films. Here, Gordon Liu (who previously worked with Lau on the classic 36th Chamber of Shaolin) plays a warrior who is forced to hide out in a monastery after most of his family is killed where he learns to both fight with a pole instead of a sword, as well as learning to control his rage, before he exacts his revenge. Again, this is great fun, principally because almost every single time characters meet each other they end up in a fight. Sometimes they even fight inanimate objects. But that's okay, because they're great fights, with some fabulously choreographed and colourful chop-socky action - watch out for the bit where Liu continues to hold his own in a fight despite having an arm and a leg immobilised and a girl strapped to his back. It's probably the weakest of the three films featured here, but it does features the best extraction-of-an-opponents-teeth-with a-pole moment in the movies, which must count for something.

And so I thanked Hong Kong Phooey for kicking some sense back into me and showed him out, before dashing out the back, clambering over the roof, vaulting over the garden fence and surprising him at the bottom of the drive with a good old-fashioned flying kung-fu karate chop to his nether-regions. Ha! It'll be a while before he can take Rosemary the Telephone Operator out for dinner again! Incidentally, the Asia-thon 2016 Film Project is my New Year's resolution to watch more films from the Far East, a project which is both laudable and insufferably pretentious. A full list of films viewed can be found here.

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