The Bad Movie Report
For those of you wondering how my purchase of a house is going, two words of advice: don't ask. You likely don't have time for the tale, which is full of paperwork snafus, bizarre edicts, treachery, pathos and pig knuckles. Well, not pig knuckles, but you get the idea. In the meantime, I've got to do something, so let us visit the...

Land of the Cheapass DVDs

As DVD becomes more and more popular as an entertainment medium, something is happening that brings a fair amount of amusement to an oldtimer's heart, especially those of us who like to see the cycles in everyday life. When VHS was starting to take off, I remember walking into a store and seeing a copy of Andy Milligan's The Rats Are Coming, The Werewolves Are Here! I didn't buy it. Firstly, because I didn't own a VCR at the time. Secondly, because the tapes at that point were outlandishly expensive, especially when you compare them to the average price point of DVDs.

Once you get past the initial mastering and compression, DVDs are undeniably cheaper to produce - no moving parts, after all - and what we are seeing is a strong showing of budget-priced DVDs of, shall we say, marginal material. No Milligan, yet, but there have been some exciting finds in the "Under $10" section of the local video store. The sort of stuff you saw proliferate in the fist big video boom of the 80s.

At least one producer of bargain discs has already gone under - Beverly Wilshire Filmworks, which turned out low-priced discs of wildly varying quality. Their last hurrah was the production of several discs of K. Gordon Murray-imported Mexican horror films. Unfortunately, none of the truly warped children's movies, but let us be thankful for what we've got. Some of these discs have found a home in online merchants' coffers, but many have cropped up on the shelves of K-Mart, going for an amazingly low $4.99. Several threads at the B-Movie Message Board have been devoted to these, but otherwise not much has been written about them. Since I have a number of these close to hand, and everything else I have to review is packed in boxes (and has been for a #$@&! month! Sorry... I wasn't going to go there...), I hope to shed some light on these, and maybe even guide you in future purchases.

I won't be discussing discs like MGM's Midnite Movies collection or Rhino's impressively cheap offerings - these are usually stocked with the regularly-priced discs in their respective genres, and are more the territory of our sister site, Attack of the 50 Foot DVD. I'm going to concentrate instead on those discs hurled willy-nilly into the bargain section, where they might - might- be alphabetized. Maybe.

Lord of the Wu Tang

Lord of the Wu Tangis actually director Wong Jing's 1993 Kung Fu Cult Master. A lot of people hate Wong Jing's movies (not without reason, in some cases) but I had a lot of fun watching this one. Somewhat reminiscent of Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain, the fighting is more fantasy-based than anything, so don't expect to be wowed by star Jet Li's martial prowess: he still looks really good, but there's more wirework on display here than at a telecomm convention.

The plot - if there actually is one - is incredibly convoluted. Li is poisoned by "The Jinx's Palm" and grows up unable to learn or use kung fu. That's a problem because it means he can't avenge his parents' wrongful deaths at the hands of other Clans' leaders. When his kindly master (Sammo Hung!) retires to practice martial arts in seclusion, the elder student left in charge shows his true colors by trying to kill Li. A renegade monk (whom the master had defeated years earlier) tries to avenge himself by not only curing Li of the Jinx's Palm, but teaching him - against his will - a form of kung fu that makes him invincible! (Considering he had years to plot his revenge, you'd think the monk would have come up with a better plan...).

The five clans keep coming together to fight each other, people get poisoned, chicks fly around... and for all you Crouching Tiger fans, there is a glimpse of what Zhang Ziyi's character might have become: a martial nun named No Mercy, who keeps losing and regaining her magic sword. Basically the character only exists to act evil and then get beaten up for it. Li becomes the Lord of not one, but two clans, gets some measure of his revenge - and then the movie ends on a note that is even more indefinite than is usual for kung fu flicks, but would have led quite naturally and smoothly into a sequel.

Like a lot of Beverly Wilshire's discs, Lord of the Wu Tang seems to be mastered from a videotape, in this case a video dub of a HK laserdisc. The image is pretty stable, if grainy, and the colors are reasonably strong. The white subtitles sometimes get lost in the background. The image is slightly letterboxed at what appears to be the correct ratio.

And unlike a lot of products retitled by competitor Xenon, the Wu Tang actually do appear in this movie.

SIGHTED: K-Mart PRICE: $4.99

Rage of the Master

Rage of the Masteris actually the 1976 Rage of the Tiger (aka Hero). The box proudly states that it stars "Jackie Chan's Kung-Fu Instructor Ng Ming Tsai" and introduces Tiger Yang, "Twice World Tae Kwon-Do Champion". I can't vouch for either of those, though there is one character who uses tae kwon-do in the picture (he lasts about two minutes). The back promises you, "During the Ching Dynasty, commissioner Ma Chuicau is ordered to capture the infamous bandit Hsiung-Wu. But the ruthless bandit captures the commissioner instead."

Whatever movie they're talking about, it's not the one on the disc. The two photos, however, are of Jimmy Wang Yu in action, and actually are from the movie. Wang Yu's name appears nowhere on the box. Go figure.

The movie seems to start with the usual "Master, he insulted our school!" premise, but with a grim twist: the guy kicking in the door is the Master's estranged brother, who seeks revenge for... something or other that happened a long time ago. He's come back with five evil Thai boxers and a buttload of knife-weilding tong, who proceed to slaughter everyone in the place, except the Master's daughter (Chaio Chaio), who escapes and meets up with her brother in seclusion, to plot their revenge.

To combat the Thais, they try to recruit the fighter Tiger Wong (Wang Yu), but Wong promised his dead father he'd fight no more, and his aged mother is determined that he will keep that promise. The evil school-killin' brother, meanwhile, turns the compound into a gambling den and is fleecing the town with crooked games and loansharking. When he's not sending out a weasel cohort with plenty of tong to seek out and kill the missing brother and sister, that is. Pretty soon, all the good guys (except Wong, of course) are dead, and Wang Yu must forsake his promise and kill every bad guy in a five mile radius. The town must have been very quiet for a long time after that. Wang Yu's fight with seeming hundreds of tong is the film's highlight, though since we earlier saw his elderly mother, cane and all, whipping the thugs' butts , it's not quite as impressive as it might have been.

Rage of the Master comes from Platinum - their discs are highly visible thanks to their oversized jewel-case style boxes. It is a full-frame transfer with dubbed English that is especially horrible. The tight cropping of the frame becomes really obvious in the fight scenes, though you can still appreciate the quantity of ass-kicking on display. Colors are reasonably strong but the image is grainy - there's not a pure black in sight - but the image stays stable throughout.

I tend to really enjoy Wang Yu films, but there is a sameness about the ones I've seen; treacherous Thai boxers with their eccentric warm-ups, and, almost on schedule, the story coming to a dead halt for a martial arts tournament. Absolutely nothing new here, but a fun time for fu fans with some forgiveness.

SIGHTED: Best Buy, Amazon PRICE: $8.99

Magnificent Bodyguards

Magnificent Bodyguardsis the actual title of this early (1978) Jackie Chan movie! Excuse me, according to the credits, that should be "Jacky" Chan. It sort of stars him - though I note that in the stirring music video sequence, the other two Magnificent Bodyguards are mentioned by name - but not Jacky.

Jacky is Ting Chung, a super fighter and all around good guy who is recruited by a mysterious woman who tells him that her sick brother must reach a doctor in three days - but the only way to reach the doctor in that short time is to go over Stone Mountain, which has the densest bandit population per square inch of any region of China. Ting fires all the substandard fighters the lady has already hired, and calls in his two "brothers" - a superior swordsman and a deaf fighter - who, along with the lady and her identical twin swordswomen, set out to go where no innocent has ever traveled unmolested. To a catchy tune singing the praises of everybody except Ting.

The plot meanders a bit, but there actually is one, unlike some other fu flicks. Though the picture is letterboxed, there is still a lot of image cropped at the sides - subtitles will run off either side of the screen. This is another video from a HK laser disc, as evidenced by the several "rolls" in the picture at various points - in fact, the image is so soft and the colors so washed out, I suspect it may be a second generation tape. That it's also grainy goes without saying. The murkiness of the transfer makes the white subtitles even harder to read, and digital artifacts surface several times.

Still, I had fun for the price ($4.99 at K-Mart). The fights are good, Jackie is still Jackie - odd that I've become so familiar with his voice that I can now easily pick out when he's not doing his own dubbing - and I've saved the best for last. Firstly, about halfway through the movie, when our heroes are surrounded by bandits, a familar piece of music begins to play... oh my Lord! I can't believe it! They ripped off the "Approaching the Death Star" music from Star Wars! And it will continue to crop up through the movie...

This used to be a common practice in HK action films. So much so that, as I listened to the great score of Rage of the Master, I found myself wondering what movie it was stolen from.

Okay, really, the best for last: Magnificent Bodyguards was filmed in 3-D! Staffs, swords, open palms and poisonous snakes leap out of the screen at you!!! Actually, they seem to hit a glass plate and the camera holds on it too long, but you get the point, right?.

SIGHTED: K-Mart PRICE: $4.99

The Brainiac

Just to keep this from being a totally kung fu-dominated update, here's one of the aforementioned Mexican imports from Beverly Wilshire.

The eeeeeevil Baron Vitelius is found guilty of witchcraft in 1661 Mexico and is sentenced to be burned at the stake; instead he The Brainiaccatches a ride on a passing comet and vows to return in 300 years to wreak his vengeance on his accusers' descendents. Guess that was a good call on the whole witchcraft thing. Go Inquisition!

In the far-flung future of 1961, the comet hits the Earth - don't worry, this is no Deep Impact, it's about the size of a wardrobe closet and hardly lukewarm - and the Baron is back, capable of changing into a pulsing-headed monstrosity with a forked tongue that can forcibly extract the brain from your skull in a second. Then he changes back into a human and daintily eats the brain with a sherbet spoon.

This movie is thoroughgoing weird and even with the godawful dubbing and ludicrous effects, still manages a couple of horrifying moments - but overall it's a bizarre comedic experience. Watch it with friends. You'll be glad you did. A typically more complete review by Ken Begg can be found at Jabootu.

Sadly - sad because it is one of Beverly Wilshire Filmwork's final offerings - this is one of their best products. The black and white image is remarkably strong and clear. The film print shows a fair amount of damage, but it's never unwatchable. The audio lacks the hiss that is the curse of so many other bargain DVDs. Sure, the menu is a bit confusing, and can dump you into the picture just after the opening credits. Sure, a reel change doesn't go as planned, and the picture shows some video snow for a second. Sure, when the words THE END hit the screen, it's a digital freeze-frame that lasts for a full two minutes - but I'm picking nits - this is a surprisingly good copy of a somewhat hard-to-find movie, and shows that BWF was moving in the right direction. Just in time to go out of business.

And I just know that their next wave of discs would have included Santa Claus and Puss in Boots. Damn.

SIGHTED: K-Mart PRICE: $4.99


- September 20, 2001