1 | Varied Celluloid

Shaolin vs. Ninja

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 20 - 2011

Shaolin vs. Ninja (1983)
Director: Mai Chen Jsai and Robert Tai
Writers: Chang Chien-chi
Starring: Chi Ping Chang, Shun Chien and Alan Chui Chung San



The Plot: Set around a Shaolin temple in China, the film follows the exploits of the monk Wei Chin who finds it impossible to deal with the Japanese ninjas who have become lords over the region. The Japanese soon devise a way to set Wei Chin up, and it involves instigating a battle between Shaolin with several other martial art schools in the area. However, this proves to be impossible, so the Japanese take a more forceful point of action and kill off a prominent monk, and then lay the blame on Wei Chin. With this accomplished, multiple schools within the martial world are now turning their anger towards the Shaolin. Eventually Shaolin and the Japanese are wrapped up in a deadly rivalry. A tournament is eventually held, and pride certainly proves to be on the line for both nations. However, a revelation will come during this tournament that will shed light on the death that instigated all of this animosity. Will the Chinese manage to survive this horrific ordeal, and will the few Japanese with any sense of honor step up and fight back against the evil lords who control them?

The Review
As I discussed in my Wu Tang vs. Ninja review, few things were as popular as “ninjas” were during the eighties. They became the leading heroes, and villains, for a number of martial art films that were imported from multiple countries. Although I consider myself a fan of the “ninja” concept, I have to admit that I have seen far more bad movies featuring these hooded assassins than I have seen good ones. If the movie in question doesn’t feature white guys dressed up as ninjas, then the movies are so ridiculously cheap that they become exploitative. The film that we are reviewing today, Shaolin vs. Ninja, certainly falls into the latter category. While I would like to say that it is a fun and inventive ninja movie that delivers on all of the zany action that audiences crave, it unfortunately comes nowhere close. The ninja action is quite intense, I have to give the movie that, and for that I was very pleased. This isn’t one of those “Ninja on the box, but nowhere to be seen in the actual movie” sort of flicks. No, we get black cloth ninjas in all of their ninja-star throwing glory. Unfortunately, it is the rest of the movie that falls short of the mark in every possible way that this genre ever could.

Like many of the worst films within the kung fu genre, this movie treats its plot as a secondary concept. Honestly, if I had not hit rewind and been very specific in my notes, I probably couldn’t explain the plot. There really isn’t much about the film that seems to make much conventional sense. Why exactly are these “ninjas” in China? Why are they the masters of this particular area? The film doesn’t seem to be set during any period of Japanese occupation, instead it simply seems as if it were set in some sort of weird reality with a alternate version of history. I am over-thinking this far too much, however, as historical context was something that I honestly doubt ever entered into the mind of our filmmakers. Shaolin vs. Ninja is skin deep and doesn’t attempt to be anything other than what it is: a Shaolin movie with a bunch of ninjas running around. There would be a certain charm to this, if only the movie were relatively entertaining. Unfortunately, the deck is absolutely stacked against the movie in terms of cinematic decency.

Honestly, there comes a point in Shaolin vs. Ninja where the viewer simply stops caring. I am not one to go into hyperbole all that often, but I honestly began to dread the time that I was wasting on the film. Between all of the horrid technical merits and the disastrous job that the distributors did on the film, the movie is annoyingly poor in its presentation. However, even with bad picture quality/dubbing/localization aside, you can tell that this was never a solid martial arts film. Although the martial arts tournament between Shaolin and the Japanese may break up the slow pace, it still eats up a huge portion of this short film’s running time, and it serves little or no purpose. Once it begins, you might think that it will only last for two or three fight scenes, but you would certainly be wrong. The movie initiates the tournament, and it simply seems to go on forever. I found myself spacing in and out, only coming back to full attention when something creative would happen. With zero character motivation or narrative progress at stake, such a scene seems to have little meaning. At this point, honestly, you are only watching a series of kung fu demonstrations.

Featuring a dub that puts almost all other kung fu dubs to shame, Shaolin vs. Ninja rarely gives the appearance of being a legitimate “movie.” Made in the early part of the eighties, this was most certainly a cheapie production shot in Taiwan. Director Robert Tai was no stranger to the world of low budget cinema, but this doesn’t prove to be one of his most earnest efforts. The American distributors, when they grabbed ahold of this title, decided that they had no intentions of retaining any sort of artistic credibility. Knowing that a proper and professional mix for the new English dub would cost much more than they were willing to throw into this project, the distributors decided to maximize their profits by putting as little effort into the release of the film as possible. With performers who sound as if they are falling asleep while reading their lines, it seems obvious that few “actors” were actually used in the recording of this dialogue. The synchronization is done so sloppily that it appears that actors speak without ever even moving their lips. Several times throughout the movie you will also notice all of the background noise simply seems to drop out completely, and sound effects seem to be missing as well. During a pivotal moment in the film where a key character is killed off, he is stabbed by an assassin but is given no sound effect whatsoever. The only noise heard comes from the poor performance of the “actor” who whimpers in a very unrealistic tone.

As horrid as I feel that this film may be, I have to give credit to the fight choreography. Although it is nothing special for the most part, some of the intricate movements and acrobatic choreography almost gives this movie a additional point in its rating. During one of the many fight sequences during the “tournament,” one character actually uses a flying body-scissors in order to take down his opponent. I don’t think I have ever seen such a move used in a kung fu title from the seventies or eighties. That sort of thinking is certainly worth giving some credit. There are also a few scenes that feature nunchaku, which are impressively used, and this is something that is actually rarely seen within Chinese martial arts pictures. I appreciate this aspect of the movie, and I enjoy how it tries to veer off of the beaten path in delivering on some rare items for the genre. The mix of styles and varying techniques from outside of traditional Kung Fu makes for some visual eye candy. Unfortunately, the fight choreography is just about all that this movie has going for it.

The Conclusion
What else is there left to say about the movie? Aside from a few surprising moments during the fight scenes, Shaolin vs. Ninja is a painfully boring title. It is as vanilla as movies of this variety can come, and it will push the nerves of any hardened old school Kung Fu fan who dares give it a whirl. If you absolutely must watch it, however, keep an eye on the choreography and try not to fall asleep. I give it a one out of five.




Demon, The

Posted by Josh Samford On May - 14 - 2011

Review originally written by Prof. Aglaophotis



The Demon (1981)
Director: Percival Rubens
Writers: Percival Rubens
Starring: Jennifer Holmes, Cameron Mitchell and Craig Gardner



The Plot: This tale begins when a prowler breaks into the isolated Parker house, tying Mrs. Joan Parker up with a plastic bag over her head and running off with her fourteen year old daughter Emily. The father comes home in time to save his wife, but the prowler has his way with the daughter in the nearby forest. After days go by and the search for Emily fails, the Parkers hire retired Marine Colonel turned psychic Bill Carson who can identify the killer and find their daughter by using his telepathic powers. In the meantime, our bulky leather strapping killer picks up a ride, asphyxiates the driver and attempts to rape and murder unsuspecting young women. It seems the killer is trying to kill a sassy young kindergarten instructor named Mary, who lives with her cousin Jo who is trying to hook up with a flashy rich boy named Dean Turner. Col. Carson reveals two particular aspects about the killer: 1) he has a deadly obsession with random young women and 2) his faceless visage suggests that he is not human or is at least possessed by something evil. Knowing this and how every attempt to stop him fails with fatal results, will Mary have a chance to evade the killer once he comes for her?


The Review
When looking through obscure Slasher movies, you’ll often come across some generic titles to surprisingly entertaining Horror movies. There’s a genuine sense of reward you get when you pick up movies like Stage Fright, The Prowler, House on Sorority Row or even Joe D’Amato’s Horrible and find some creepy atmosphere or gut wrenching death scenes that make you wonder why they’re often ignored. Then there are the titles that sound generic but have no payoff to them. The ones that make you feel like an idiot after having watched it. The Demon is one of them.

I should be honest with you, dear reader, this movie doesn’t feature an actual demon; much like how the tag line to The Prey does not feature an axe wielding monster but instead a mutant beatnik played by the bad guy from Battle for Endor.

The easiest assessment would be the fact that our killer is simply possessed by a demon which is why he kills, but that information is hardly lucid in the movie itself. It is hard to say whether the killer is really a demon since there are times where we can clearly see the man’s face and hair, as well as times where he suddenly no longer wears a white Halloween (or Alice, Sweet Alice) mask and instead has white face paint on. ‘But why are you looking into this,’ you may be asking. ‘Why analyze the title and its connection to the movie?’ Why? Because that’s the only interesting thing about this movie. The Demon is a confusing, lagging, poorly shot crap-fest of an ‘80’s Slasher movie. The only demonic specification the poor chump carries is his propensity to grunt and growl and his nearly obscure distaste for midnight radio evangelists. I actually had a hard time re-watching this for a review. The structure of this failed ‘80’s Slasher Film is so broken that not even a modern day remake would fix it. This is one of those movies that you can clearly envision as a person, throwing its hands up in the air, shaking its head and failure and admitting “I just don’t know.”


We essentially follow three stories here one consisting of a brutally strong, strangulating, serial death-rapist, his plucky soon-to-be next victim’s cousin Jo and Cameron Mitchell. Rarely do these stories connect or represent any real conflict. Most of the Cameron Mitchell sections just consists of Cameron being a mysterious, but ineffective psychic as he occasionally sees the killer and how Mr. Parker wants to hunt the killer down. The Mary sections just consist of the build up to her young cousin Jo (rather than Mary), her life style and how it will be ruined once the killer finally attacks her.

The director seemed to have little idea how to make either story connect effectively, thus creating tension and conflict or make us care about any of the characters involved. Granted, some of the characters are well acted: Jennifer Holmes certainly breathes some life into the character, but despite all the screen credit she’s given, she’s given little screen time or dialogue compared to her heart struck cousin. Cameron Mitchell is pretty decent in the movie, too; he pulls the struggling psychic role off pretty well as he telepathically tries to track the killer by getting into his persona. However, it would’ve been better if he was the main character in the story and if he actually confronted the killer at one point. It would’ve felt more like a Halloween rip-off if he did, but at least HIS plot would’ve tied in with the the killer and even Mary’s plot! Plus, it’s kind of funny how he switches from being facetious to serious when he’s first introduced to the bereaved Parkers; maybe that explains why his story arc ends so abruptly and why a secondary character steals the best line in the movie.

The movie is so wildly obsessed with Mary’s cousin Jo and her relationship with Dean that the segments involving them get old fast; we spend several minutes watching these lame-brains getting to know each other through wine drinking, boat rowing and photo shootings. Ordinarily, I’d say these two characters are the build-up and the character development found in any good Horror movie. Unfortunately, these characters aren’t interesting! Sure, Dean has a back story and he’s acted fairly well, but he’s no different than Robert Taylor from the French in Action TV series (in kidding, they practically have the same back story… and why I remember that series so well I don’t know*)!! By the time the movie focuses on Jennifer Holmes’ character, there’s a very brief sense of fear and dread, but not enough to really care whether she makes it out all right.


The movie is flawed on a technical basis, too. The music consists of a relentless string quartet that goes to unbearably high pitches during the jump scares. There are rare moments where the soundtrack works, mostly in the Cameron Mitchell scenes or when Mary finally confronts the killer in the end. The lighting in the movie is quite horrible as the only real good lighting is natural light; some shots in the film were far too dark to notice any details. I kept adjusting the screen to the brightest notch on the gamut during nighttime and day-for-night scenes and I still had to squint in order to see anything. You may notice there’s very little shots of intensity or murder in the shots I picked. Don’t get me wrong, I managed to see a few shots that looked decent like close-ups of the killers claw-gloves, but because the lighting is so murky in the indoor scenes I couldn’t get a good enough shot without editing it. There are some continuity errors here and there, but nothing out-right hilarious, just confusing. There are moments where the killer is supposed to be wearing a plaster Last House on Dead End Street Mask but it’ll change to white face paint. There’s one scene near the end where Dean and Jo are in bed to which Jo says Dean has to leave, but the next scene shows them frolicking in the pool. Like I said, the continuity isn’t good, but it’s not hilariously bad, either.

Probably the biggest goof in the whole movie is when someone who has all ready been in contact with the police finds the killer and several other people know about this. So when the person gets inevitably killed by the killer… why doesn’t anyone take the initiative to get the police involved?? Seriously, the character finds the killer’s location, the killer offs him, dumps his body right where he’s staying and it’s found the next morning… What the Hell, are the police in South Africa really that dense?! After that character’s body is found, the killer stays there, too! The people who knew about the character’s going there could have easily sent more police there!! Why’d it take so long for someone in the movie to find Emily’s body? Was it just an excuse for the director to use that classic skeleton wearing a wig effect?

I will be a little fair to this movie, though: it’s not THE worst ‘80’s Slasher I’ve seen; it is ONE OF the worst ‘80’s Slasher movies out there, but it’s slightly better than The Prey. Unlike The Prey, The Demon has a few moments of intensity, mainly when Mr. Parker hunts the killer down and when Mary defends herself from the killer. In fact, the last five minutes of this movie are the most intense as Mary and the killer play a game of cat and mouse and the final scene itself is surprisingly inventive. The Demon also has its share of T&A which, again, makes it better than The Prey; Compared to another ‘80’s Slasher directed by and starring people involved in the Adult Film industry about horny young adults in the woods that featured no nudity whatsoever, The Demon certainly has the upper hand.


The Conclusion
I won’t kid you, though, The Demon is not an obscure movie tracking down, not even for Cameron Mitchell fans. I honestly can’t re-watch this movie without taking a break halfway through. I’m sure it had potential somewhere and somehow, but it certainly didn’t go very far and in short deserves to stay there.

Stinger: “Did your Extra Sensory Perception prepare you for THIS?”




*: Oh, wait, I know why I remember French in Action so well: Valérie Allain! Yuum!


Devil Hunter

Posted by Josh Samford On August - 22 - 2010
The Plot: Laura Crawford is a professional model and actress who is vacationing in a beautiful resort island location. Things turn out bad for Laura when those closest to her turn out to be kidnappers who take her hostage in order to ransom her off. Laura’s protectors aren’t willing to deal with these psychopathic kidnappers, so they send in Peter Weston (played by genre legend Al Cliver) who is a ex-Vietnam veteran and general toughguy. When Peter finds the jungle where Laura is being held, both groups discover the secret cannibal tribes who inhabit the island. They are lead by a living Cannibal God/King who thrives off of female sacrifices. Will Peter Weston manage to save the beautiful Laura or will she fall victim to this evil cannibal monster!?




The Review
Jesus Franco and I aren’t usually on the same page. Truth be told, I think it is pretty astounding that the man has developed as large of a cult following as he has. His forays into the cannibal genre have so far been pretty far from spectacular. Cannibal Terror (which he co-wrote) and Cannibals are two of the worst cannibal movies that I think the genre has ever produced. I suppose there are SOME glimmers of light in Franco’s filmography that have helped provide him with some cult appeal. Faceless was actually a really well made piece of legitimate horror. Before sitting through Devil Hunter, that was my last Franco piece in quite a while. So, I had that going for me beforehand and this time out Franco actually has a star in his film! The immortal Al Cliver delves back into the world of cannibal cinema, so maybe there would be some legitimate cannibal action and maybe this movie wouldn’t turn out to be quite as lazy and ridiculous as the previously mentioned cannibal movies! Also, maybe someone will donate ten billion dollars to me based solely on my writing abilities as displayed on this website!

Those were some big “maybes” going into Devil Hunter, and so far that donation hasn’t been made and Jesus Franco has not produced a worthy Cannibal title. Certainly not that I have seen! The worst sin that Devil Hunter commits is by being so terribly boring. Despite the intense setting, there is little to no atmosphere to be found. Despite the cannibal menace that should have been shaded in the background, there’s no fear or oppressive terror. Instead, there’s this incredibly clunky story with no real direction. Some of this could be attributed to the pretty horrible English dubbing that I originally watched the film in, but for the most part everyone else involved in this project seems as disinterested in the work as we are. Al Cliver sleep walks through his performance, as does the remainder of the cast and the very tired script boors along at a sluggish pace.

That english dub I mentioned is easily one of the worst I have ever seen for a piece of Italian exploitation. It gives the film a resounding positive effect as the comedic value skyrockets. A similar effect was found in the cannibal spoof Isle of the Damned that was reviewed here on the site last year. Both dubs are dull sounding, hard to hear at times and are so incredibly out of sync with the action on screen that it seems easy to grow lost in the conversations. These bad dubs aren’t something I am all that accustomed to in my exploration of Italian cult cinema. Generally I’ve always found the dubs to be very well made, especially with the better known and more widely released titles. Devil Hunter is entertaining due to the poor production, but it is generally more inept than it is entertaining.

As poor as the film tends to be, there is a case to be made for b-movie film fans. The prosthetic effects used on the Devil God Cannibal King are laughable, to put things lightly. Notoriously cheap, it appears they took this man and super-glued two golf balls where his eyes are and then covered them with latex and paint. The genuine creepy atmosphere that is evoked early on comes due to this character being hidden from our view at all times. Once the cat is out of the bag, the character lacks any disturbing qualities. I’m not one to pick on any gentleman’s lack of manhood, but how does one generate fear when there’s a completely nude black man (who’s eyes look to be made of sports equipment) and let’s just hope that for his sake that these jungle sets were desperately cold. It appears that shrinkage was in high effect as he ran through the breeze here. Although I don’t want this to be a review dedicated to penis discussion, which is about as low a blow as any one man can deal towards another, but a simple towel over this guy’s crotch would have helped me as a viewer stop seeing our monster as so desperately human.

In terms of nudity, our leading monster isn’t the only one shedding it all for the picture. There is an abundance of nudity all throughout Devil Hunter and while that may sound like a good thing, if you’re a teenager at least, but there’s a general lack of eroticism throughout the picture. Simply staring at a woman’s crotch does not neccesarily make your movie erotic. Although Franco is well known for his eroticism, Devil Hunter seems as lazy as your average exploitation title from this time and era.


The Conclusion
Is there really more to say about this movie? For every thing that Franco was able to achieve within this picture, there were two or three pointless scenes to dull down any sense of purpose. There is a word for films such as these, and that is: chore. Devil Hunter is just that. A chore to sit through, and writing this review has seemed equally as much because I don’t like to write out such negative reviews. To be honest, those who will search this title out could probably care less about what I have to say. Cannibal afficianados simply must search this one out to complete their collection. I will say that it’ll be a hard, slow and painful journey for them as well. I give it a 1 out of 5, which is the lowest I have scored anything in a really long time. If it were just SLIGHTLY less boring, Devil Hunter could have been a very average 2. That simply isn’t the case however.



Ultimate Ninja, The

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 21 - 2010
The Plot: You’re going to have to bear with me on this one. For reasons that I’ll get into with the review, the actual “plot” in The Ultimate Ninja isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world to wrap your head around. With that said, it goes something like this – we begin with a ninja practicing his martial arts before being ambushed outside of a shrine. The Red Ninja Master dies, but not before passing along the Golden Ninja Warrior shrine. A golden object that is supposed to grant the ultimate ninja powers to whoever possesses it. On the opposite side of the spectrum of the Red Ninjas, we have the Black Ninjas who’s leader desperately wants to get his hands on this Golden Ninja Warrior and will stop at nothing to attain it. So Red Ninja sets out on his journey for revenge and lures the Black Ninjas out into the open to fight him. At the same time, we follow the happenings of a small restaurant in the middle of a small village that is ruled by a corrupt politician named Roger. Roger has tormented the townspeople by enacting his own brand of law & order, using a group of martial art students to beat anyone who disobeys. This group is being instructed by an older gentleman who unfortunately is forced into the situation as it’s the only way he can make money to support his family. Unknown to all however, on the outskirts of town a young man who’s family was slaughtered by Roger and his goons has trained his body into an instrument of destruction. He is out for revenge, and thus Roger’s time is drawing to a close.


The Review
Who knew I would cover a martial arts movies so soon after the massive bender that was A Very Kung Fu Christmas, which usually burns me out on this sort of thing. However, about halfway through The Ultimate Ninja I knew I would have to put a few words down. My first ever Godfrey Ho movie, it seems to really resonate with everything I have heard about the filmmaker up until this point. Godfrey Ho could be seen as the Ed Wood of Hong Kong, a shameless filmmaker who made cheap and terribly inept movies with the hope of turning over a profit. Whereas with Ed Wood you get the idea that he really was just a simple guy trying his best to make a scary movie, Godfrey Ho lacks the heart of naivete that makes Ed Wood such a likable character. Ho just wants to make a cheap buck and whatever it takes to do that he seems okay with it. The Ultimate Ninja is a shining example that cutting two movies together just isn’t the most intelligent way to make a movie and at the end of the day. I mean, that point obviously doesn’t need to be made – but someone should have clued ol’ Godfrey in on that matter. When you work like this, no matter what you’re going to have a festering turd that almost no one would want to see. No one but a masochist like myself.

Godfrey Ho made his name amongst film geeks by his less than savory habit of recycling old and obscure footage within his movies. By taking older forgotten martial art movies from Taiwan, mainland China or wherever and then going out and shooting a few hours worth of footage with several Caucasian actors imported from all over – he was able to make filmmaking into a true assembly line. You see, with an infinite number of independent martial art movies and several hours worth of new footage with these White Ninjas – he would try and hack, slash and cut these movies together. Taking a few hours worth of footage and making it into ten or twelve different “Ninja” movies. The number of movies he could make with all of this footage was infinite. Although I doubt you could call it “loved”, I do suppose The Ultimate Ninja is one of the more known films of his. After sitting through it, if this is one of his better accomplishments then god help me if I dare try my hand at any more of his work. Expecting an over the top Ninja-sploitation movie, I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to find that The Ultimate Ninja turned out to be so dreadfully dull.

It might seem impossible to label a movie boring when there’s a fight scene starting or ending ever ten minutes – but believe me, when context and story are thrown out the window as they are in this movie; you can’t help but wonder just what the point is after a while. It is just so frustrating when watching, since I actually wanted to be engaged with the movie. I wanted Godfrey Ho to be some kooky filmmaker that I felt I could turn to for some easy entertainment, but Ultimate Ninja doesn’t really promise a whole lot. What hampers it and keeps you from ever actually becoming involved in the movie at all is that it is just unintelligible. No matter how hard I tried, there’s just no wrapping your head around this movie. It’s as if you’re watching a Kung Fu flick while high. Characters walk into the movie and disappear for nearly the entire portion of the movie. They fight and choose teams without ever actually having any kind of motivation explained. Plot developments come, go and if you’re lucky they might actually pop up again during the final minutes of the movie. While this may sound silly and dumb enough to be fun, trust me on this one, it’s just frustrating.

The entire addition of Ninjas within the movie feels as tacked on and uninspired as you may very well imagine. I halfheartedly expected Ho to somehow tie these two lines of thought together: the black and red ninja battling each other over a golden doll and the far more epic story detailing the forces of good teaming up to take down Roger (what a villain name!). However, these stories never tie into one another. It’s as if you’re watching two separate movies that are cut together every few minutes. On their own, I think either thread of story could have made a decent movie. The ninja plot, Ho’s contributions, are fun in all of the right ways I had expected. Ninjas are shown to be supernatural beings who can teleport, jump over buildings and probably eat trains if they wanted to. This stuff could have been really great in full length! It’s just unfortunate that we get this hacked to bits story that ultimately doesn’t even make sense. There’s a full subplot about the Black Ninja’s brother who is supposed to be coming to town that is actually NEVER resolved during the entire course of the movie. That can’t even technically be a spoiler, since there’s NOTHING to spoil! Now, the restaurant story dealing with Roger – this too possibly could be a decent little kung fu flick without Ho hacking it to pieces. The choreography, in both movies, isn’t really quality stuff. It’s pretty ugly sometimes, but it doesn’t look phony looking or slow. The story, if told in some way that actually makes sense, actually seems pretty interesting as well. Unfortunately, Ho went power mad and ultimately we’re given this mutant love child that denigrates all of the work completely.

The Conclusion
If you’re like me, no matter how much I warn – you’ll still explore Godfrey Ho’s filmography. Heck, I won’t lie, at some point I too will probably dig around for something better; but it won’t be for a while. The Ultimate Ninja just isn’t the movie to sell the filmmaker, I’ll say that. I give it a one out of five, because there is actually some promise within both streams of narrative. They don’t go anywhere, but it keeps the movie just barely watchable. Stuart Smith also goes way over the top, but he’s not able to add any brownie points for the movie like he was able to with Bloodfight. I wouldn’t really recommend this one, even for a netflix rental. However, if you just have to, keep in mind that you’ve been warned.



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.



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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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