RETURN TO THE
the thread begun in our
last update, let us continue with our examination of those
shadowy budget discs hidden away in the dusty corners of stores:
Samson in the Wax Museum
get the non-kung fu entry out of the way first this time. This
is another good-looking edition of a K. Gordon Murray Mexican
import. Samson is, of course, El Santo, most famous and
popular of luchadores, the Mexican masked wrestlers. Judging
America in the 60s to be unready for an Hispanic hero, the wrestler's
name was changed to "Samson, the Silver Maskman". All
other names are similarly anglicized, although any written text
throughout the movie stays firmly en Español. Samson
enjoys a free hand with the law that Batman would envy, which
is not bad for a guy who never wears a shirt in public. Then there's
the Santomobile, a phat little convertible which has no perceptible
gadgetry, but you just know El Santo would drive a car
Museum revolves around a series of disappearances - actually
kidnappings, as we see in the movie's prologue - and the proprietor
of the title's museum, Dr. Caroll. Though Caroll protests his
innocence, even to the point of recruiting Samson/Santo to investigate,
it's a foregone conclusion that the Doctor is a dangerous looney
who is creating monsters for... some reason or other. Something
to do with his being tortured at Auschwitz (This is likely the
least efficient plan to take over the world I have ever seen).
Where does Caroll get the money for his lab? Is business that
good? Where did his two normal henchmen come from, and why are
they working for him? I also had no idea that wax, when sufficiently
heated, can melt flesh and bone...
should have a couple of chilling scenes, but the traditionally
horrid Murray dubbing dispels any tension the picture might have
developed. Samson's voice, for instance, is ridiculously
deep. But we do get a look inside the Santo Cave, which is more
like the Santo Converted Dining Room. As is usual for a Luchador
movie, the plot stops dead for no less than three wrestling matches
(which, to be fair, are well-filmed and more interesting than
I've seen in other luchador flicks). The fight scenes
are also unusually long and involved, almost like a kung fu film
without the overblown sound effects or acrobatics; my major feeling,
after the movie was finished: "Man, that Samson sure can
take a beating..."
Brainiac, Samson in the Wax Museum features a nicely clean,
if slightly blue, transfer. The audio is very clear, but once
again, we have a reel change/tape switch that floods the screen
with snow at one point. Still, it's great, enjoyable Santo
at the price.
Deadly China Hero
that's why people hate Wong Jing.
known as Last Hero in China, it is perhaps best to think
of this as the Airplane! of Wong Fei-hung movies. Jet Li
once more appears as the Chinese folk hero, but his love interest
Cousin Yee is written out at the very beginning of the movie,
leaving Wong free to concentrate on ass-kicking. The comedic sidekicks
here, Ah Foon and Bucktooth So, are far more overt than in the
Tsui Hark-directed Once Upon A Time In China movies, even
to the point of So possessing a set of Komedy teeth which must
be seen to be believed; Wong's overcrowded clinic/school, Po Chi
Lam, is relocated next door to a brothel (komedy!); and
yes, this is the infamous movie where Wong Fei-hung dresses up
in a chicken suit to fight a giant fire-breathing centipede (complete
with bawk bawk sounds from our hero).
the fight scenes are directed by Yuen Woo Ping, and seldom fail
to thrill. Gordon Master Killer Liu Chia Hui guest stars
as a villainous monk who is moonlighting as a white slaver - if
the phrase "white slaver" can truly be used in this
context - providing a much more appropriate foil for Wong than
the prototypical eternally-laughing (and completely annoying)
villain played by Cheung Man. References to other Wong Fei-hung
movies abound, and the climax even features a return to drunken
boxing. I laughed out loud several times. It's not canon, but
it is fun.
more, we're dealing with a videotape of an HK laserdisc; subtitles
drool off the sides of the screen with alarming regularity, but
aren't as hard to read as in other BWF releases. Colors are a
bit washed out, but stable. It's watchable, at the very least,
The Kid With The Golden Arm
was my first Beverly Wilshire disc. Consequently, it was almost
Kid With The Golden Arm is my favorite of the old-school Shaw
Brothers kung fu movies. Directed by Chang Cheh and featuring
"The Venoms", a group of actors made popular by Five
Deadly Venoms, this outing tells the simple story of a shipment
of gold being escorted to an area devastated by famine; bad guys
want to steal the gold, and the good guys escorting the wagon
want to stop them. Simplicity itself, but the overwrought theatrics
and hyper-kinetic fight scenes transform this into something more
than mere chop-socky; these guys might as well be superheroes
and super villains, endlessly vying for that issue's McGuffin,
testing their special powers one against the other. I swear I'm
going to do a full review some day.
I was quite happy to find this on DVD, some time back - when BWF
was still a viable company. And I was incredibly disappointed.
I should probably take it as a given that all BWF discs are mastered
from VHS, but this is from a second generation tape at least.
The picture is so grainy it looks like your TV screen is covered
with ants and the colors smear like a low-budget acid trip. There
is an attempt to letterbox the image by applying slivers of black
matte at the top and bottom over the picture. Admittedly
I've seen this movie enough times that if a frame is missing,
I notice, and I instantly spotted the upper frame shearing
off the tops of heads. Speaking of missing frames, any blood or
death blows are scissored out of this print causing the soundtrack
to jump - and this is a Chang Cheh movie, for God's sake! People
die at regular intervals, especially if by "regular intervals"
you mean "every 1.7 minutes, on the average".
cannot tell you how many times I have, apropos of nothing,
posted "Do not buy the Beverly Wilshire Filmworks disc of
Kid With The Golden Arm, for it is evil! EEEEEEEEEEVIILLLLLLLLLLLL!!!"
onto unsuspecting Message Boards.
imagine my delight - and simultaneous sinking feeling of suspicion
- when I found another disc of Kid - this time from NS
Video, whose boxes employ the Shaw Brothers Logo; they remind
me - likely for a reason - of those questionable SB tapes you'd
find in better, weirder record stores and comic book shops. Questionable
only because I suspect they have no real relationship with Shaw
Brothers. But as the Shaw Brothers seem to have little interest
in exploiting their library themselves*, I will take what I can
get, and I own several of them. The image quality on the tapes
were variable, but never very strong; If it is the same
company, they've upgraded their source materials and equipment
picture in this version is beautifully sharp and clear, if tending
toward heavy speckles in the last reel, but that's the print,
not the transfer. There is still some missing footage, but the
fights are intact (and I know what's important to me, anyway).
The major drop is of about three lines of expository material
in the beginning, which takes an already thin plot to a state
of near-transparency. The picture is from an actual widescreen
source, but it's still not ShawScope, as evidenced by the cutting
off of the letters on either end of "ShawScope". Sound
is good, preserving some of the worst lines in dubbing history.
I found this at Best Buy for $9.99 - the extra five bucks is way
offers two different discs of this, but neither appears to be
this excellent version. Addendum:
formerly, I had only known of NS Video's disc of Five
Element Ninjas, or as we know it in the States, Super Ninjas,
retitled by NS as Chinese Super Ninja. Shopping at Sam
Goody's, I found many more NS discs of 70s Shaw Brothers entertainment,
although at mall prices (still a relatively low $14.99). Screw
The Mummy Returns, I'm pretty sure as to where my DVD money
will be going for a while.
PRICE: $4.99 (bad)
SIGHTED: Best Buy
PRICE: $9.99 (good)
Five Fingers of Death
am an optimist. No, really, I am. Which is why, when I ordered
the BWF disc of Kid With The Golden Arm (which is, you
will recall, evil), I also ordered their copy of Five
Fingers of Death. Envisioning a bag of cash with wings flying
away, I popped Five Fingers of Death into my player, and
was astounded by what is the best BWF disc I've seen, even surpassing
the K. Gordon Murray discs.
are actual, true blacks on the screen. The whites are blown
out and have no detail in them, but the color otherwise is rich
and steady. This does not look like a bargain DVD.
Plot of Five Fingers of Death is fairly simple, yet hard
to encapsulate. Those interested would be better served by checking
out the review by Shaolin-trained movie critic Ken
Begg. There is a tournament, and the master of a shady school
is willing to kill, maim and mutilate in order to win. As no money
is ever shown changing hands at the all-important tournament,
this homicidal urge to win must be one of those "martial
world" things, which I usually don't really understand, because
the closest I ever get to being a part of "the martial world"
is playing Tekken 3 with the cheat codes on.
to say, this is more an historically important picture than an
actually good one. This is the flick that blew open the
doors of American movie theaters in the 70s and ushered in the
kung fu movie craze. Unlike a lot of "historically
important" films, though, it doesn't disappoint - it's just
that next to films like Kid With The Golden Arm and Iron
Monkey (getting a theatrical release! Hot damn! Thank you,
Ang Lee!), it just seems so - typical, so - normal.
disc, though, and excellent quality for the price. Watch out for
the bad guy's Three Stooges Style kung fu!
are more of these discs - many more, and that's just on the shelf
next to me. Hong Kong Cavalier - by night, the proprietor of The
Speakeasy - constantly tells of new marvels hitting the shelves,
PD versions of Death Race 2000, more cheapass editions
of Kid. He posts these discoveries onto the B-Movie
Message Board, thus insuring the envy and dismay of all. I
will likely continue to chronicle my findings here, but I would
also recommend dropping by the board to see what HKC has dug up
now - and witness the cries of the damned, the rest of us who
do not live near his fabulous K-Mart of Wonders in the Land of
Milk, Honey and Cheap DVDs - Ohio.