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Opium and the Kung Fu Master

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 25 - 2011

Opium and the Kung Fu Master (1984)
Director: Tang Chia
Writers: Ying Huang
Starring: Ti Lung, Chen Kuan Tai and Robert Mak



The Plot: Tang (Ti Lung) is a former-member of the famed Ten Tigers From Kwangtung, but he has settled in with his own school instead of seeking a life of danger and action. However, acting as the main form of law enforcement in this small town has lead him into some relatively dangerous situations. While trying to keep track of his rather silly students, he becomes a pawn in a rather treacherous plot being hatched by Brother Yung (Chen kuan Tai). Yung intends to move a opium den right into the center of town, and after bribing a official, this plan is put directly into action. Yun intends to hook all of the locals on his heavy drugs, and then he intends to assume power over all of the citizenry. Tang initially gives license to Yung in order to build his opium den, but not knowing the effects of the drug Tang soon becomes a addict himself. His star pupil, however, quickly realizes what is going on within the community. He tries to persuade Tang that the opium is evil, but it initially falls upon deaf ears. Unfortunately, great tragedy will befall the house of Tang, and only then will he quit the drugs and take on the evil do’ers who have ransacked his community.

The Review
There are a few things about Opium and the Kung Fu Master that should hopefully entice knowledgeable audience members before the credits even start to roll. The cast and crew for this title aren’t wholly unfamiliar to martial art movie fans, but they are a interesting enough assortment that audience members should find something to latch onto. Amidst the cast, we have Chen kuan Tai and the always classy Ti Lung who pair up with the young Robert Mak. Behind the lens we have Tang Chia, which is a name that might not be instantly familiar to audiences, but he served as Lau Ker Leung’s fight choreographer throughout much of his career. The context of the film also deserves a mention, because it seems as if this project was a last hurrah of sorts for the Shaw Bros. film studio. Made in the dusk of the Shaw studio peak era, 1984 saw the studio cutting back further and further from its one-time considerable output. That this film could look so impressive and feature such brilliant sets seems to show just how much the studios were banking on the film. Were they correct in their hopes? In many ways, yes. The legacy of the film, though, might come from its innate silliness rather than through the spectacle of its technical merits.

Although the movie seems to have been made in 1984, the project really looks like something that was made during the seventies. Although the camera isn’t as rigid as earlier Chang Cheh and Lau Kar Leung titles, this is certainly a movie that looks like it was made when the ShawStudio was at its peak. Similar films made from the studio during the eighties, such as Chinese Super Ninjas, had a considerable drop in quality in comparison to Opium and the Kung Fu Master. This is a film that features large numbers of extras, a plethora of extravagant costumes and even sets that are unfamiliar to myself as a Shaw Bros. film fan. The “rooftop” set that one of the earliest fights takes place upon, in particular, deserves a mention. Stunning in its decoration and vastness, this one scene is a early indicator for how big the budget must have been (comparatively speaking) with several other Shaw films from the decade. Made one year prior to the decision that the Shaw studio would cease to produce multiple films per year, Opium and the Kung Fu Master seems like a slight farewell for the studio. Featuring two of its biggest stars, pitted against one another in mortal combat, it seems like it may have had a nostalgic feel at the time it was produced. Although not a all-time classic, the film does prove to be universally entertaining. Surely with these talents being involved, audiences would expect nothing less.

The film deals with a rather taboo topic amidst the world of Kung Fu cinema. Although the word “Opium” is in the title, one doesn’t actually expect to see opium use displayed on the big screen. To see Ti Lung laying down and hitting the pipe, well, it is a slightly surreal experience. Although the film starts off with a slightly light, and dare I say humorous, look at the opium problem, things quickly start to escalate. Despite all the trials and turn of events that come about during the film, it still seem odd to me that the character of Su Ahn is used as the catalyst to portray the evils of opium. Introduced as a character whose central role is that of comedic relief, he simply doesn’t seem to be the best fit for any real cinematic drama. This character is the worst sort of comedic relief too, as he portrays the most base level and over-the-top type of Hong Kong comedy that one person could find. Featuring crossed eyes and nearly speaking with a stutter, the character isn’t completely unbearable despite his lowest-common-denominator appeal, but he certainly grinds on the nerves of any self respecting viewer. However, when Su Ahn’s story comes to a close, it becomes both surreal and highly disturbing. In one of the most bizarre and harrowing sequences within a Shaw Bros. film, we get to see the true anguish a person’s family is put through because of drug use. I won’t spoil it, but it is a scene that audiences won’t soon forget.

I think the most telling moment for Tang (Ti Lung), in regards to his drug abuse, comes early in the second act. Tang is shown smoking opium in his bedroom, high in a stupor, but he awakens when he hears a woman crying in the adjacent den. When he actually stumbles out to see what the problem is, he finds one of his student’s wives complaining to two of the other head-students about her husband having left for the opium dens. Knowing that his own students are filling in for him while he is getting high, Ti Lung’s face is riddled with guilt, but he still somehow remains stoic in the face of this. This stoicism doesn’t last very long, however, because Ti Lung is afforded the opportunity to go completely bonkers during the third act. After being defeated by Yung (Chen Kuen Tai), Tang decides that he must quit the opium. What follows is a series of scenes that should not be humorous, but they absolutely are. Watching the film with its American dub probably doesn’t help the silliness of the situation, but is there any other way to watch a Shaw Bros. film? The movie enters into some fairly ridiculous waters as we watch Ti Lung huddle in the corner, completely shaking, while we hear Robert Mak’s character annoyingly scream“OPIUM IS EVILLL!!!!!” While the first two acts seem to be building towards a dramatic crescendo, this third act almost makes the film into a comedy. This does not prove to be a bad thing, though, because it makes this film infinitely more entertaining than it might have been.


The Conclusion
A sometimes silly, but brilliantly choreographed, martial arts film, Opium and the Kung Fu Master may not be a title that immediately jumps out to audiences as legendary, but it is still quite entertaining. Featuring moments that are touching and rife with drama, as well as crazy moments of mass silliness, this is a title that may divide some audiences. I found myself enjoying it for what it is. I give it a four out of five. It is a weird film in many ways, but I think I like that about it. I highly recommend checking it out.




KUNG FU CHRISTMAS 25: Tiger Cage 2

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 25 - 2011

As I type this, it seems that I am a few minutes late in posting up my last reviews for our Kung Fu Christmas. For those of you who may have been counting on these final reviews during the early part of the day, I apologize. As with most of the readers, I spent Christmas with my family and I was unable to get on the computer machine. However, tonight I present the first of two final reviews for Varied Celluloid’s 2011 Kung Fu Christmas. The first up is Tiger Cage 2, a classic Yuen Woo Ping/Donnie Yen teamup. Hope you enjoy it! Click the artwork to read the full review!

The Plot: Mary Chang (Rosamund Kwan) is a divorce attorney working on Allen Chow’s (Donnie Yen) case, and she is in the process of taking him to the cleaners. Chow’s former-wife hated him being a cop, but the law is all that he knows. Wilson (Robin Shou) is another successful name in the law firm that Ms. Chang works for. After a unsuccessful attempt on Wilson’s life is made, he and his partners lose a large briefcase filled with laundered money. During a altercation in the hallways with these thieves, Chow chases down the group and helps thwart them. However, when one of the thieves highjacks Ms. Chang’s vehicle, she mistakes Chow for one of the robbers. As the robbers track down Mary, they accidentally end up kidnapping Chow. When they realize their mistake, they drop Chow off on the side of the road. Chow then sees Mary leave the hospital, and he decides to follow her in order to berate her for saying he was one of the robbers. Mary is dropped off at her friend Patty Lee’s (Do Do Cheng) home, who is also the girlfriend of Wilson, but it turns out that Wilson has sent a goon to kill Patty. When Mary and Chow find the body, the police aren’t far behind them. This implicates both Mary and Chow and they are soon running from the police. These two must quickly clear their name before the robbers, or the police, catch up with them.

Tiger Cage 2

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 25 - 2011

Tiger Cage 2 (1990)
Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Writers: Fong Chi-Ho, Patrick Yuen Yeuk-Gwong and Kwong Kim Yip
Starring: Donnie Yen, Rosamund Kwan, Robin Shou and Do Do Cheng



The Plot: Mary Chang (Rosamund Kwan) is a divorce attorney working on Allen Chow’s (Donnie Yen) case, and she is in the process of taking him to the cleaners. Chow’s former-wife hated him being a cop, but the law is all that he knows. Wilson (Robin Shou) is another successful name in the law firm that Ms. Chang works for. After a unsuccessful attempt on Wilson’s life is made, he and his partners lose a large briefcase filled with laundered money. During a altercation in the hallways with these thieves, Chow chases down the group and helps thwart them. However, when one of the thieves highjacks Ms. Chang’s vehicle, she mistakes Chow for one of the robbers. As the robbers track down Mary, they accidentally end up kidnapping Chow. When they realize their mistake, they drop Chow off on the side of the road. Chow then sees Mary leave the hospital, and he decides to follow her in order to berate her for saying he was one of the robbers. Mary is dropped off at her friend Patty Lee’s (Do Do Cheng) home, who is also the girlfriend of Wilson, but it turns out that Wilson has sent a goon to kill Patty. When Mary and Chow find the body, the police aren’t far behind them. This implicates both Mary and Chow and they are soon running from the police. These two must quickly clear their name before the robbers, or the police, catch up with them.

The Review
The original Tiger Cage didn’t turn out to be one of my favorite all-time pieces of heroic bloodshed, but it was a fun mix of aesthetics that was seldom seen during this peak-era in Hong Kong cinema history. A coming out party for then-protege to Yuen Woo Ping, Donnie Yen, the young actor lit up the screen in the few moments where he was able to take the lead, but the film did not seem to leave itself open for a sequel featuring the young actor. When I heard about the second Tiger Cage feature, I had wondered how they would bring Yen’s character back. As it turns out, they didn’t have to. A series only in name, the first two Tiger Cage films are simply tied to one another via their director and star. In fact, I suppose it is very likely that these films were never even intended to be seen as a “series,” but perhaps distributors seized their names and did what they wanted with them. I am not privy to this information, but it does seem quite likely. This second film in the series proves to be quite unlike the original, in almost every possible way. Featuring some returning cast members, it rearranges everything and instead places Donnie Yen in the lead role. In the role of a blue collar police officer, Yen completely unleashes all of his charisma and handsome charm. Focusing less on the strident heroic bloodshed antics of the previous film, Tiger Cage 2 instead delves into the action-comedy waters with aplomb. Tiger Cage 2, in comparison to the first feature, proves to be the far more entertaining film, and it does this by being its own entity rather than trying to capitalize on the success of what John Woo was doing.

Although there are definitely scenes where firearms are used, Yen and Yuen return to what they know best and deliver a film that primarily focuses on martial arts. There are several standout scenes within the movie, but a few of them are absolutely mind boggling. For instance, there is a fight sequence where Rosamund Kwan and Donnie Yen are actually handcuffed together. Yen finds himself fighting off David Wu, who later on becomes one of the “good guys,” as he corners them on top of a Hong Kong bridge. Spectacularly well choreographed and filled to the brim with comedy, the scene is a shining moment that comes early. It also features some brilliant editing, as there are shots in it where it seems obvious that Kwan has been replaced with a stunt double, but the editing is so tight that it becomes difficult to spot which shots are which. The final twenty minutes of the film are fairly notorious for being action packed, and it is surprisingly to see how varied the martial arts choreography becomes during this tirade of fight scenes. Donnie Yen, who has recently made a name for himself by reaching outside the borders of traditional Kung Fu choreography, introduces a few different fighting styles during these epic battles. There is a swordfight scene that certainly proves to be a highlight, but it seems more akin to a Western style swordfight than a traditional Wuxia battle. There’s also a fantastic bit where Yen combats a pro-wrestling style juggernaut who unleashes a variety of grappling based attacks. This wrestler even attempts a flying elbow drop, in true Randy “The Macho Man” Savage form. The one fight that most will tune in for, however, has to be Donnie Yen vs. Robin Shou, which turns out as fast, furious and surprisingly short.

In almost every way possible, Tiger Cage 2 is a rather extreme departure from the original film. Obviously, the films have nothing to do with one another in terms of plot, but even the tone is completely changed. While the original Tiger Cage was a very serious drama that bordered on the melodramatic, this is a much more entertainment-focused feature. The original had moments that were fun throughout, but for the most part it was a very serious affair that looked to emulate the extremely “tough” spirit of John Woo’s work. You skip forward to this second title, and the wind has completely changed. Similar to the lighthearted spirits of action comedies like The God of Gamblers, comedy and adventure are the primary focus for the film. The comedy that is played throughout the movie is actually very witty, and the characters are infinitely more intriguing than those in the original film. This turnabout from the original produces a less conventional feel, and seems to make it a much more beloved film than the original ever was. Even if it doesn’t feature Wei-lung and his intimidating shotgun, we do at least get to see Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat being a VERY bad man!

Much of the film seems to focus on the love triangle between Donnie Yen, Rosamund Kwan and David Wu. This actually factors into the story a great deal during the third act, and takes up a lot of screen time. While Donnie Yen and Rosamund Kwan’s chemistry gets to burn up the screen for the first quarter of the movie, the next half features her warming up to Wu, and the audience is a bit conflicted on who to side with. Although Donnie Yen scores points for his portrayal of a blue collar working man, the light hearted charisma of David Wu easily wins him points as well. The film really does engage its audience in this silly little love affair, and when the inevitably plays out and certain twists come about, there is a definite emotional resonance felt within the film. There’s no getting past the fact that this is a silly nineties era Hong Kong action title, but the performances and the quality of the writing, certainly deserves its credit as much as the action. Yen, who steps up from his supporting role in the first movie and becomes the leading man, handles both the action (obviously) and the drama with relative ease. The thing that any Donnie Yen fan can tell you is that he is a actor with screen presence, and he fills this movie up with his. Rosamund Kwan is as cute and lovely as she ever was. A adorable little thing, she brings her requisite humorous charms. If ever there was a actress that all of her costars had to fall in love with, it would be Rosamund Kwan.


The Conclusion
There isn’t a lot more I can say about the film. It certainly does what it set out to accomplish, and becomes the rare moment where a sequel is far superior than its predecessor. A action comedy that delivers on all of the adventure that one person could hope for, Tiger Cage 2 is certainly worth checking out. Don’t be afraid if you haven’t seen the original, because they have absolutely nothing to do with one another. I give the movie a four out of five.




Kung Fu Christmas 24: The Dynamite Brothers

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 24 - 2011

It is Christmas Eve, and today we bring you one of our strangest choices for this amazing Holiday. The Dynamite Brothers is a strange mix between the Blaxploitation genre and the world of Kung Fu, but Black Belt Jones this is not! Read on and discover why! Click on the poster art in order to read the full review!

The Plot: Our story immediately begins with Wei Chin (James Hong) showcasing his guards as they do a little Karate out in the front of his mansion. We quickly find out that Wei Chin is a drug pusher who is looking to bring in a huge shipment of heroin that will then flood the ghetto. Wei Chin is awaiting the arrival of Larry Chin (Alan Tang), a foe from his past who he feels may be a danger to his drug-smuggling business. When Wei Chin arranges for his soldiers to be waiting for Larry at the dock, they are quickly dispatched since Larry is also a master of Kung Fu. After roaming Los Angeles for a few days, Larry is eventually picked up by the police who try to put him in a squad car with Stud Brown (Timothy Brown), but the two manage to escape with their superior fighting abilities. Larry intends to search out his missing brother, while Stud simply intends to survive. After hooking up with The Smiling Man, a pimp who runs a bar, these two find work putting the hurt on Wei Chin and his drug business. Both men eventually find love, Stud with a mute girl who works at Smiling Man’s bar (Carol Speed), and Larry with a young woman who gave both he and Stud a ride into LA. However, their love lives will have to wait as they battle their way through the criminal element in order to put an end to the drug business and find out where Larry’s brother has disappeared to.

Dynamite Brothers, The

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 24 - 2011

The Dynamite Brothers (1974)
Director: Al Adamson
Writers: John D’Amato, Marvin Lagunoff and Jim Rein
Starring: Alan Tang, Timothy Ray, Aldo Rey, Lam Ching-Ying, Carol Speed and James Hung



The Plot: Our story immediately begins with Wei Chin (James Hong) showcasing his guards as they do a little Karate out in the front of his mansion. We quickly find out that Wei Chin is a drug pusher who is looking to bring in a huge shipment of heroin that will then flood the ghetto. Wei Chin is awaiting the arrival of Larry Chin (Alan Tang), a foe from his past who he feels may be a danger to his drug-smuggling business. When Wei Chin arranges for his soldiers to be waiting for Larry at the dock, they are quickly dispatched since Larry is also a master of Kung Fu. After roaming Los Angeles for a few days, Larry is eventually picked up by the police who try to put him in a squad car with Stud Brown (Timothy Brown), but the two manage to escape with their superior fighting abilities. Larry intends to search out his missing brother, while Stud simply intends to survive. After hooking up with The Smiling Man, a pimp who runs a bar, these two find work putting the hurt on Wei Chin and his drug business. Both men eventually find love, Stud with a mute girl who works at Smiling Man’s bar (Carol Speed), and Larry with a young woman who gave both he and Stud a ride into LA. However, their love lives will have to wait as they battle their way through the criminal element in order to put an end to the drug business and find out where Larry’s brother has disappeared to.

The Review
There are few things that could get me as hyped up as a genuine combination of the blaxploitation film genre and the Kung Fu film world. When you take two equally great things, there is the understandable belief that the end results will be even more spectacular. Although the main cast attached to this project are unquestionably third or fourth-tier for either of these genres, this combination is enough to immediately grab my attention. When I did just a wee bit of studying on the film, I did find a surprisingly strong supporting cast and a pretty sordid reputation. Not known as a fine piece of cinema, Dynamite Brothers has certainly developed a cult appreciation throughout the years. Knowing these few things about the film, I knew it was only a matter of time before I covered it here on Varied Celluloid. It could very well be seen as a Kung Fu title, or Blaxploitation pick, but most of all The Dynamite Brothers is a strange little number that at its very best paints a portrait of 1970s cinema in a nutshell. At its very worst, however, it is also a magnifying glass for what cheaply made independent exploitation titles were like during this era as well. The Dynamite Brothers works best as a distraction that shouldn’t be taken all too serious, but instead it would be best reserved for a fun evening with some friends.

Filled to the brim with colorful character, Dynamite Brothers is certainly a title that reflects the time and era that it was made in. Characters such as Razor J, a goon who wears sunglasses while in dark nightclubs and uses a straight razor to carve up his enemies, is only the first of many stereotypical villains within the film. Wei Chin is another money grubbing nefarious dweeb played by James Hung, from a long line of dweebs that he has played throughout his career. Carol Speed, the blaxploitation legend, shows up in a supporting role as a mute, which is really something surprising. Had she been able to speak, I am sure she would have had the best line delivery within the entire film. The police captains are everything one expects from the blaxploitation genre. Racist, fat, corrupt and terrible in their roles. Aldo Rey is surprisingly bad in his role, and seems to be cashing a check without the slightest bit of care. It might as well be Dolemite all over again, because Rey and the rest of the police officers are played without any sense of realism or subtlety. Then there is The Smiling Man. A bar owner and entrepreneur who is being pushed around by Wei Chin’s people, because Wei Chin wants him to push dope. Smiling Man has a distinguished look, as he deeply resembles some kind of strange cross between the idealized version of a voodoo witch doctor, and your run-of-the-mill Los Angeles-based pimp. He stands out in a movie full of over-the-top stereotypical characters, which is quite the accomplishment.

The movie is often filled with really unsightly cinematic mistakes. It becomes obvious why the movie was chosen by the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when they decided to create the roadshow known as Cinematic Titanic. Although it never delves so low that the entire production seems incompetent, it certainly isn’t far from being considered as such. When you watch the movie, there are simply moments that stick out as being laughable. Shots such as the one where Timothy Brown and Alan Tang jump out of the back of a “speeding’ truck that seems to be moving at about three miles per hour… these things are quite noticeable, and the movie doesn’t do the best job in hiding how cheap it appears to have been made. The acting, from the majority of the cast, also leaves a lot to be desired. The movie, due to the poor acting, is reserved for the world of b-movie cinema and it has no chance of being anything else. Al Adamson, who was a b-movie veteran well before this film was ever thought of, surprisingly doesn’t show off a great deal of talent in this production. You would think that a man who had been involved in so many productions would at least know how to make his project look or feel vaguely interesting, but unfortunately he does not deliver. Instead, the plot meanders at times and the movie lacks any sort of visual punch that might liven things up.

The fight choreography, which is always a important aspect of a true Kung Fu film, is actually well accomplished. This should come as no surprise, since genre veteran Lam Ching Ying was actually the choreographer for the film. Best known as the star in the Mr. Vampire series, he was always quite adept in his own fight scenes, and he was a solid choreographer as well. Although Timothy Brown certainly had no history within the genre, he does do a decent job at making his fight sequences look convincing. With a background as a NFL star, Brown certainly possessed the raw athleticism needed for such a role and it no doubt helped him to take on many of the very demanding action scenes. Alan Tang is also quite serviceable in his role, but he hardly seems up to being a martial arts cinematic hero. He has screen presence, but throughout most of the film he simply seems to stare off into space. Timothy Brown, it would seem, was the intended star for this vehicle. The former NFL star does a competent job, but he hardly impresses. Best reserved for action scenes, and filling extremely tight pants, his acting abilities are just enough to get him by. The actors who portray the police officers throughout the movie may be the weakest links during the entire movie, as they constantly drag the movie to a ridiculous halt.


The Conclusion
This is everything you expect from a cheesy piece of seventies exploitation. Extremely poor jazz music (think: the jangly piano tunes heard in Manos: The Hands of Fate), bad acting and a pulp plot that barely ties together. However, the movie can be quite a bit of fun when it hits its stride. The character introduced throughout the movie are all fun, and the action sequences are handled very well. I give the movie a high two out of five. It isn’t great cinema, but it serves its purpose.




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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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