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Dragon Lee Vs. The Five Brothers

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 19 - 2009
The Plot: Dragon Lee plays Han, a rebel against the evil Chings in the old days China. When his good friend is murdered by the Ching, he takes on a mission left by him. He is given a letter that he is to deliver to Song Yi town. He is also given a ring with several passwords written on it. He’ll have to track down the rebels inside of the town and give them this letter. The Ching’s are aware of the letter though and have dispatched five shaolin fighters to help put an end to the rebel invasion. Each of these five fighters are deadly in the martial arts and will do what it takes to put an end to the rebellion. Han finds himself caught right in the middle of the rebellion and in a battle to the death. Along the way he meets a mysterious young woman with powerful kung fu, he is unsure of this beautiful woman however as has past is very illusive. Will Han and this young woman be enough to put a stop to these Ching warriors or will evil conquer over all?

The Review
This year’s Kung Fu Christmas has really been about the Brucesploitation it would seem. We’ve seen the good, a word I use with caution but still certainly fits the description for Goodbye Bruce Lee. We’ve seen the bad, ever present and on display with Bruce Lee’s Fists of Vengeance. Now, as you might expect, we have the ugly. Dragon Lee Vs. The Five Brothers is unfortunately everything you hope not to find in a martial arts flick. With these movies, usually even in the event that you might find a bad one you at least expect to find some entertainment value. Whether it be from the bad dub and unintentional comedy or just from some decently choreographed fight sequences. There’s a certain level of expectation based on a film just because of its given genre. In the case of Dragon Lee… it delivers on these base levels, but it in no way covers for the rest of the movie. What could have possibly been an entertaining and wild piece of martial arts cinema turns out to be a rather boring dud that was far too hard to sit through as a viewer.

So far this month, sitting through these movies has been a real breeze. I had been having a swell time up until now picking them apart, discovering new and interesting ways to watch these flicks and commenting on some of the more outlandish things done throughout. Then along comes Dragon Lee Vs. The Five Brothers with its terrible picture and audio quality, it’s tremendous amount of plotting and completely uninteresting story that ultimately kicked me in the throat. Although it has its moments and there are some fun ideas at work in this movie, the attempt at creating a very plot driven Kung Fu flick without the interesting characters just doesn’t work. With movies like Master Killer and Five Deadly Venoms, you were able to get involved with these characters. You could sit back and really dig into them, then when the really great training sequences or super powered villains came into play it just seems like icing on the cake. That’s just not the case here. Characters are introduced, their ulterior motives are exposed, we follow them for a while and then the plot switches gears and we watch similar events transgress with these other characters until we’re left with the final showdown. There’s just no heart here and no matter how much Dragon Lee himself tries to ham it up, the movie just remains an uninteresting mess.

Although it’s a Brucesploitation flick just for having Dragon Lee in the star, if you come into this one expecting anything really over the top in terms of Bruce Lee copying you’ll be sorely disappointed. Dragon Lee does do his best at impersonating the famous Lee in his style of fighting, doing the Bruce Lee nose flick in almost every single fight scene at least three times, but aside from that it’s really just your average low budget old school flick. This is my first Dragon Lee vehicle, though I’ve heard a lot about him before and maybe seen him here and there, this marks the first time I’ve watched him in a starring role. His resemblance to Bruce Lee is, like most Bruce imitators, rather limited. He actually looks more like Jason Scott Lee who played Bruce Lee himself in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Maybe if Bruce had been more into pumping iron, Dragon Lee could be fairly passable. He’s just so much thicker than Bruce Lee ever was. Although not approaching Bolo Yeung standards, Dragon Lee is certainly one of the more physically impressive specimens from the time.

I suppose one positive comment I could make would be on the setting of the movie. Rarely do we get martial arts movies that take place during a winter setting. That’s kind of interesting, right? We get scenes of snow and a lot of smoke out of the mouths of characters as they speak. It’s one of the few things the movie has going for it that I haven’t seen elsewhere. Aside from that the five fighters are really the most interesting thing about the entire movie. Really if there’s something they really missed out on exploiting, ahead of the winter landscape, it would be these guys. Iron Hand is the real winner of the group and possibly the only character they got right. His “iron” hand is obviously just a silver glove in most scenes and I love how they didn’t even try to really hide this fact. During his first real fight scene, he seems like a Michael Jackson impersonator in contest against Dragon Lee’s take on Bruce Lee. The rest of the five fighters are simply regular guys though with better than average martial arts ability. It just seems to me rather unfortunate that there’s not as much focus on these characters, who actually could have been really interesting, but instead we’re forced to follow this very convoluted plot. I’m not against a decent story within a Kung Fu film mind you. Not at all. If you can deliver a really well plotted script with fewer fight scenes, I will be the first to commend that course of action. However, that just can’t be achieved when a movie is so poorly made. Believe me, there’s also difference in something that’s poorly made and then something that is boring and poorly made. If this movie had delivered more on the gimmicky Kung Fu fighters, it could have at the very least made up for the hard to follow plot. Instead, you basically get four tough fighters and one guy with an iron hand then a TON of plot that you’ll likely be bored with after the first ten minutes.


The Conclusion
To digress, I just have to comment on the title of the movie itself. Talk about your all time misleading titles. For a movie called Dragon Lee Vs. The 5 Brothers, it’s kind of strange that Dragon Lee is only in the movie for probably thirty minutes or so. He might break the halfway point (since this movie clocks in at an overly long 90 minutes), but he really isn’t in the movie as much as you might expect. There are various storylines going on at all times, with Dragon Lee’s possibly being the least interesting and least visited as the movie goes along. Also, there are no five brothers in this movie. There are five shaolin fighters, but they’re certainly not brothers and one might not even be a male. It’s definitely a case of distributors marketing a less interesting movie with a far more interesting title. I’m giving it a one out of five. It isn’t so unbearable that I had to shut it off and the final fight scene really stole the show and secured it at least one point. Still, if you buy the Fists of Vengeance box set full of Kung Fu crappiness, save this turkey for last.



Kung Fu Christmas! Cleopatra Wong Review!

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 17 - 2009
Hey everybody! I know it’s been a couple of days now, but it’s been crazy around here! Anyway, it’s been so busy here lately. Been working my butt off, but I finally finished up posting this review. I’ve been done with it for a while now, but just haven’t been able to do the internet work. So, with that out of the way, I present Cleopatra Wong! Yay! Does it really constitute a “Kung Fu” flick, befitting of the Varied Celluloid Kung Fu Christmas? It’s debatable, but there’s enough fighting going on here to more than qualify it. More than Bloodfight had that’s for sure.

The Plot: Cleopatra Wong is an agent with Interpol on vacation in Manilla. She is called into action though when a criminal organization has made big moves back in her home country of Singapore and are planning to spread counterfeit bills all over the market. Cleopatra goes undercover with many of these fake bills which she attempts to spend – only to be caught by the local authorities. She is bailed out immediately and sought by this criminal organization. When she actually manages to put an end to this racket with relative ease, Interpol sets their aim a little higher and decides to follow this case up the ladder, all the way to Hong Kong. With the information and the contacts, Cleopatra sets off to put an end to these counterfeiters once and for all! This case will take her on a quest for Strawberry jam and Catholic monasteries.



CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW HERE

Cleopatra Wong

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 17 - 2009
The Plot: Cleopatra Wong is an agent with Interpol on vacation in Manilla. She is called into action though when a criminal organization has made big moves back in her home country of Singapore and are planning to spread counterfeit bills all over the market. Cleopatra goes undercover with many of these fake bills which she attempts to spend – only to be caught by the local authorities. She is bailed out immediately and sought by this criminal organization. When she actually manages to put an end to this racket with relative ease, Interpol sets their aim a little higher and decides to follow this case up the ladder, all the way to Hong Kong. With the information and the contacts, Cleopatra sets off to put an end to these counterfeiters once and for all! This case will take her on a quest for Strawberry jam and Catholic monasteries.


The Review
You know, when I first saw the title for Cleopatra Wong, I just knew I had to see it. Knowing that it was claimed to be some zany Philippine action and it became a total no brainer. This was a film I HAD to see. Some flicks you go into wanting to genuinely see what they’re all about, to gauge whether they’re good or bad. Some you see just to take your mind off the real world and have some mindless fun. For a movie geek though, there are movies you have to see just to say you’ve seen them. Those obscure flicks that for good or bad, you just want to be able to tell people about them. Cleopatra Wong for me was one of those types of movies. Even before seeing it, I knew I wanted to have it just for the sake of being able to claim it. Now here I am, to tell you whether or not it’s worth all of that trouble. To be honest, I have to say it’s kind of a mixed bag. For a bit of mindless exploitation fun, it’s does pack some fun for sure. However, it’s not as mindlessly entertaining as something like Lady Terminator because the pacing just falls apart a tad and it never reaches that apex of being something really outlandish.

I think the best way to describe Cleopatra Wong is that it’s essentially the Filipino answer for not only James Bond, but also their answer for the Blaxploitation genre. In particular the female empowerment flicks such as Foxy Brown or Cleopatra Jones, which this movie gets its title from. It takes these two very different worlds, then mixes them in the world of Kung Fu. So you’ve got this very wild mix of styles that actually mesh together better than you might at first imagine. The James Bond and spy movie influences all come in the form of plot, with Cleopatra’s job as well as her regular nightly rendezvous with any given man she pleases. There are also some very James Bond style gadgets that come up during the last quarter of the movie, including her tricked out motorbike with machine guns attached, but there’s not really any kind of direct correlation between the movies really. There’s also that Blaxploitation vibe to the movie, where it’s so heavily rooted inside of the times. Where the fashion is so evident and on display and the girl power can make your head explode. So it’s easy to see where the movie gets its title and it’s nice that the movie at least packs a similar edge that movies like Friday Foster had.

I know my genre film fan friends though and if they’re interested in one thing about a movie named Cleopatra Wong that has all the things I’ve described so far, they want to know how ridiculous does this flick get. With a really fun grindhouse movie, especially one made in the Philippines or any other country capitalizing on a foreign fad, there’s bound to be some pretty crazy stuff thrown at the audience. Cleopatra Wong is no exception. There are a lot of strange moments throughout, plot lines that don’t tie to anything, scenes spliced together where characters jump in & out of frame and weird non-sequitur bits of dialogue of course. Cleopatra isn’t the “craziest” movie ever made or anything even close, but it does pack some pretty unintentional hilarious moments. The fight sequence in Cleopatra’s hotel room is really one of the best examples of b-movie greatness present in Cleopatra Wong. I liked it so much I even used it for the video opening to our VCinema movie gatherings in fact. The fighting is just so ridiculous and over the top that it’s really easy to appreciate. The choreography is outlandish enough, but the way that Cleopatra’s opponents react to her punches and grappling really sells how crazy it is. It’s essentially the same as in every fight sequence throughout the movie, but the ratty little gentleman that Cleopatra fights during this bit is really great in his role. Before even being hit with a strike, half the time he’s emoting his heart out.

The oddities that Cleopatra Wong presents are numerous though. There’s a sequence with her having to fight three very chubby, sweaty half naked men who have the appearance of pro-wrestlers from the 1980’s. Cleopatra dispatches of them relatively quick, fighting their grappling style with her control of the martial arts. Not to spoil the magic of the scene, but it concludes with her being surrounded by dozens of men in Karate Gi outfits before doing a quick twelve foot hop in the air that lands her over the fence. Towards the end, where the movie really becomes action oriented, we get nurses armed to the teeth, priests using foul language, a quad barreled shotgun, men in drag dressed as nuns and as much martial arts mayhem as you can possibly shake a stick at. Speaking of those tranny nuns, you’d think if you were trying to put on the illusion of being a nun you would actually shave your illustrious beard off. I guess that’s just part of the magical world that this movie takes place in.

Aside from all the crazy exploitation stuff and wackiness, I have to say I really liked Merrie Lee in her role as the titular Cleopatra Wong. Apparently getting her start as a secretary who was asked to step in for the role, she really equits herself well. Going into this I was actually expecting her to come across as very wooden or dull, but believe it or not she’s pretty lively in this role. She really sells the fact that she’s a cool and collected agent, or simply that she’s really cool herself. She’s probably the best thing about the entire cast, doing really well in her role while everyone around her is showing very little chemistry or charisma. That’s all to be expected of course. If I think there’s a real detriment to the film, it’s the pacing issues I mentioned before. For the first thirty minutes of the movie you’re entirely focused on the actions going on in Singapore and the villains we have there, however the focus then changes up on us around the halfway mark and instead the movie shifts gears and moves to Hong Kong and focuses on the story going on there. It takes us in a really episodic direction that really should have been avoided. I think creating two very different sets of enemies and dividing the movie up in half really blows out a lot of the steam that should have been held for the epic final showdown. A sequence that I really have to give credit to, as the action is done really well. There’s a lot of Sam Peckinpah style violence where we get slow motion and squibs going off in rampant order. Even though I had started to feel a little drawn out of the movie at this point, the massive gun battles and explosions brought me back in a big way.

The Conclusion
It’s low budget with big dreams but does fall short of being a really epic piece of b-movie madness. I think with maybe a little editing, it could have been something really mind blowing. I will also say that the movie is not available in any kind of decent quality anywhere and this could have had an impact on my viewing. The dialogue is so splattered that it’s hard to really get a grasp of some of the lines, so you’re already a bit standoffish with the movie in the first place. I would love to see a cleaned up DVD release that keeps the dubbed audio track in better condition, as it’s really the only way to watch something like this. Anyway, I have to give it a three out of five. I don’t doubt my opinion might change if I could watch a cleaned up version of the movie but as it is, there’s just too much going against it for it to be anything all too amazing. It is a better than average piece of over the top martial arts insanity.



Kung Fu Christmas! Bloodfight!

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 11 - 2009
During Halloween I covered nothing but the classics in terms of horror content, so during my Kung Fu month it looks as if I’ll be covering garbage for the most part! Don’t know what that is, but I just wanted to go through the worst flicks I could this month – just for laughs. Anyway, I’ll probably bring back some decency a little later on, but for now enjoy this very terrible ripoff of Bloodsport called Bloodfight!

The Plot: In Hong Kong, there is an underground tournament where the most skilled fighters in the world come together in order to challenge one another in a deadly game of mortal combat. The year is 1989 and it looks like Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) is set to take the crown, but Masahiko Kai (Yasuaki Kurata) watches on and will have his revenge. Two years prior he had found his personal protege. A young Caucasian kid (Stuart Smith) who was running with some pretty rough crowds. However, Masahiko saw potential in the young man and knew that he could be a great fighter. So he takes him in only to find you can take the thug out of the streets but you can’t take the streets out of the thug. When Masahiko stumbles upon his young student trying to assault a young couple, he finds an even better student in Ryu Tenmai (Simon Yam). He does not want to learn the martial arts, but when he is attacked again by the same group and beaten he must have his revenge and so starts their partnership. What transpires in these two years wll define Masahiko’s life and journey.



CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW HERE

Bloodfight

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 11 - 2009
The Plot: In Hong Kong, there is an underground tournament where the most skilled fighters in the world come together in order to challenge one another in a deadly game of mortal combat. The year is 1989 and it looks like Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) is set to take the crown, but Masahiko Kai (Yasuaki Kurata) watches on and will have his revenge. Two years prior he had found his personal protege. A young Caucasian kid (Stuart Smith) who was running with some pretty rough crowds. However, Masahiko saw potential in the young man and knew that he could be a great fighter. So he takes him in only to find you can take the thug out of the streets but you can’t take the streets out of the thug. When Masahiko stumbles upon his young student trying to assault a young couple, he finds an even better student in Ryu Tenmai (Simon Yam). He does not want to learn the martial arts, but when he is attacked again by the same group and beaten he must have his revenge and so starts their partnership. What transpires in these two years wll define Masahiko’s life and journey.


The Review: Bolo Yeung, what can you say about the guy? He’s this gigantic monstrosity of a man, a living breathing muscle that was born to play the bad guy. He’s just so huge he absolutely makes a mark in any role he takes no matter how bad it might be. With that said, here we are with 1989’s epic Bloodsport ripoff: Bloodfight. You know it’s Bloodfight when you see the red font that states it ever so plain during the intro. We’re talking about the plainest of the plain type that was oh so common in cheap straight to video flicks back in the eighties. The very next thing you may notice are the names continually popping up during the credits. If you’re fairly familiar with Japanese or Chinese name structure, you should take note of all the Japanese names involved in the production. So we’ve got all of these Japanese backers, shooting a movie in Hong Kong and everyone is speaking English even though it isn’t their first language. So, in the first ten minutes I found myself getting more and more excited. It’s everything you could hope for in a cheap knockoff video. This is going to be so off the wall and silly that I’ll be able to brag about it to all of my film geek buddies! Right? Well, not exactly. It’s the additions to the formula that unfortunately seem to sink this one. If only it had been more focused on being a cheesy ripoff rather than having an original idea behind it – it could have at least been fun to watch. It could have been that outrageous rip off that you show to all of your friends for a good laugh. As is though, it’s better to watch it and keep your finger on the fast forward button

Thankfully the movie doesn’t seem to last all that long and it really doesn’t take long to get into the action. I’m not kidding, it jumps right in there. The first ten minutes of the movie doesn’t even feature one word of dialogue, it’s all fight scenes for the most part. Starting with scenes that are directly lifted out of Bloodsport itself, including the famous bit where we meet all of the various fighters. We even get a monkey style fighter and a sumo wrestler, just like in Bloodsport. As stated previously though, if the film had stuck to doing this right it could have been a “so bad it’s good” kinda flick, but unfortunately right after those first ten minutes we go into flashback mode and the story doesn’t come anywhere close to being that awesome for another forty minutes. We have a ton of very cheesy melodrama that unfolds for us and I had essentially gave up hope at this point. I figured we’d have a lot of really bad drama with a concluding fight scene that truly would not live up to the hype. Thankfully though, we do get the return of Bolo and the ripping off of Bloodsport does get its chance to continue. We even get Bolo Yeung in the ring, after brutalizing a fighter, taking a bandanna from his head and waving it around to the audience just like in the Frank Dux masterpiece. Truly amazing that Bolo would sign on to do something that rips off another role of his so much, but I guess if you need the money bad enough…

For the ninety minutes that the movie lasts, there are about thirty minutes of it that are really worth talking about. Not that I look down on drama or decent character study, but here its done so poorly you really just want to drone out and wait for the next funny bits to happen. This is exactly what I felt when watching. Just a continual hope that the movie will make good on all of its promise of being an action packed, silly piece of fluff eighties action cinema. As a work of dramatic fiction, it just doesn’t begin to function properly. Mostly due to the odd performances and an infinite number of choices made during production. It’s hard to really come down hard on the cast because I know it’s not entirely their fault. Simon Yam, who is probably one of the best members of this cast, even he doesn’t get to put in a really great performance here. Yam usually doesn’t disappoint either. The young lady who plays Yam’s girlfriend also did a pretty decent job. They’re all overshadowed by the first disciple of Masahiko, played beyond compare by Stuart Smith. I don’t remember the character he plays ever being called by a name during the movie, which is weird since if anyone deserves special note in this movie it’s him. Regardless… he is AMAZING in his role. This may be the most over the top, ridiculous and terrible performance I have ever seen. It defies all that cinema has ever accomplished and spits in the face of all professional actors the world over. The guy reacts to everything like he’s just been told someone slept with his wife. Someone offers him free food? I WOULDN’T FEED THIS TO A DOG!!! Someone offers him free training at a gym? WHAT A DUMP!!! What about when a police officer mildly insults him? YOU BASTARD!!! This guy probably doesn’t deserve any other acting gigs, but I hope some day he comes out of retirement to blow all of our minds.

The story actually isn’t as contrived as you would expect from a movie as poor as this one generally is. There’s actually room in this script to make a fairly interesting movie if they got rid of all the Bloodsport references and shot the film in the native language of the actors. However, there’s just a massive amount of variables that got in the way and THIS is the movie that came about. It does have some silly little additions that keep it interesting. There’s the synth rock soundtrack and the endless stealing from Bloodsport. I personally find it hilarious that they didn’t even change Bolo Yeung’s character name from that film. Even though they change his look up slightly by placing a very fake looking snake tattoo on his forehead. Then, for those who might be wondering, Bolo doesn’t actually throw any mysterious powder into his enemies eyes this time around. No way, that would be far too easy. He does however use glass on his fists in a direct rip off of another Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece: Kickboxer. At that point I just buried my head in my hands. It is on one hand an extremely cheap ploy by the writer in order to cash in on the popularity of Jean Claude’s popularity, but at the same time it’s one of the best moments of the movie because it’s so unintentionally hilarious. Oh if only the rest of it were more like this!

Even though I think it’s overall a bad movie and not one I recommend highly, I’m going to give it a two out of five. I debated whether or not it deserved a one out of five, but I think it deserves the extra point simply for the balls it has in brazenly ripping off Bloodsport. No fear of lawsuits here for some reason! You can find the film in the Fists of Vengeance box set from Mill Creek. You’ll get it as well as 15 other varying degrees of Martial Arts awfulness, but some of it is actually worth having. I seriously doubt you’ll find this to be one of the better flicks in this four disc set though.



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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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