The Bad Movie Report

Land of the Cheapass DVDs

Cripes, how many discs did Beverly Wilshire Filmworks put out before they went under, sending their DVDs to languish in K-Mart Bargain Bins until somebody had pity and picked them up?

Quite a few, apparently, and a lot of folks have been having pity, because these discs feature some hard-to-find stuff in okay (not stunning) transfers for $4.99 or so. Considering that VHS tapes of these movies - even at the thrice-damned SLP speed - aren't that cheap, these things can be real finds. Or pieces of utter crap. Telling which is which is why we're here today.

Martial Monks of the Shaolin Temple

Martial Monks of Shaolin TempleDon't ask me what the plot is here. Okay, ask me. The answer is the same, no matter which question: Godfrey Ho directed this. Thomas Tang produced it. You do the math.

Ho and Tang are the perpetrators of a slew of those Ninja movies that are made up of segments from six or seven other movies, with ninjas popping up every now and then for no good reason except to justify the movie's title. I bring this up not because Martial is made up of the leavings from other pictures, nor because ninja fly out of the ground every few minutes. I bring this up because it perfectly explains how this movie is put together: mostly, in lieu of plot, there is a fight scene every minute and a half. The minute and a half is spent setting up the fight scene, often on the flimsiest of excuses.

Okay, some guy kills the Grand Abbot of the Shaolin Temple so the Wu Dung (or perhaps it's Wu Tang - the dubbing is abysmal) can take it over. Some Shaolin guys are searching for the killer, or maybe they aren't, because the're really working for the Wu Dung, and Dragon Lee (last seen in these pages as one of the Clones of Bruce Lee), the laugh a minute wiseguy of the story, is the real master searching for the killer. Characters get introduced just to be killed in the clockwork battles, so it's really kind of hard to care about anything, except when your next quip will be. This movie is eminently MST3K-able.

The film print is in very good shape, but don't expect anything wonderful from the sound. The transfer is very grainy, but the colors aren't as squashed as is sometimes the case - they're still pretty pale, but stable, which describes the picture in general. No pure blacks - the contast is too washed-out for that. The composition of the frame is asymmetrical much of the time - we're losing info in the sides, and likely the top and bottom, too, but not too badly.

The fighting is usually pretty good, even if the story is thinner than rice paper. I've seen worse.

SIGHTED: K-Mart PRICE: $4.99

Shaolin Wooden Men

A surprisingly entertaining early Jackie Chan vehicle, from the period when he was being groomed as the next Bruce Lee. Jackie is a mute student at the Shaolin temple whom the other students call, with typical sensitivity, "Dummy". Dummy picks up kung fu from a number of unusual teachers, like a drunken cook and a Shaolin nun; but most of his training comes from a man shackled in the temple basement, a criminal ex-Shaolin man who later breaks out and returns to his murderous bandit ways.

The "Wooden Men" of the title refers to a maze of wooden robots that form the final exam of Shaolin students. Make it a certain time without getting beaten senseless by these Pugilistic Pinocchios, and it's time to do the David Carradine lift-the-brazier-with-your-arms-and-get-a-free-tattoo bit. Dummy's release from the temple allows him to continue his quest to find his father's killer, whose identity isn't going to surprise anyone.

Best part: you will go almost ten minutes into the movie before you find out if it's dubbed or subtitled.

The print is speckled throughout and the widescreen presentation seems a bit squeezed vertically. Though the contrast could be better, the colors are generally stable, and this movie does have some nice photography in its opening scenes - I particularly enjoyed the little glimpses into the day-to-day life of the Shaolin Temple.

SIGHTED: K-Mart PRICE: $4.99

Blood of the Dragon

Jimmy Wang Yu is the White Dragon, a fighter of legendary ability specializing in the steel spear. When a street urchin comes into possession of a list of rebels fighting against the corrupt Mongol-backed emperor, White Dragon helps him deliver the list to the rebels - only to find that the rebel chieftain, Prince Ma Tung, is the son of a swordsman who was on the recieving end of a White Dragon Ass-Whuppin' years ago. Dad killed himself in shame, and the son holds a grudge. In the requisite Two Heroes Fight Each Other Because Of A Misunderstanding scene, White Dragon, not wishing to injure the Prince, is himself severely wounded. He and the urchin split, taking the list with them, and now both the rebels and the Mongols are looking for them while the Dragon slowly bleeds to death.

Stomp Tokyo has a review if you want more details.

I nearly always enjoy Wang Yu movies; they were made at the birth of the modern kung fu film, full of blood and thunder, and they always seem to end with Wang's character taking on a small army all by his lonesome. As an empty-hand fighter, Wang is only so-so; his training obviously comes from the street rather than a dojo (Teleport City's Keith Allison aptly describes his style as "angrily swinging his arms"), but put a weapon in his hands and he suddenly becomes very convincing. Blood of the Dragon has one scene that's always struck me as the picture of manliness: White Dragon, holed up in an inn, regards one of the major villains mouthing off at him. Weak from loss of blood, the Dragon gulps down an entire gallon of wine, rises to his feet, and lays the smack down on the Mongol, waiting until the bad guy retreats and the doors are shut and bolted before nearly collapsing. Damn, that's manly.

The disc we're talking about here comes from Platinum - easily distinguished by their DVD-sized jewel boxes, like CDs, only larger. Unfortunately, this full-screened transfer is one of the shabbiest I've seen since the days of Simitar and their horrendous versions of Horror Express and The Killer Inside Me. "Grainy" does not even begin to describe the picture quality - "gritty" is more like it - and the nighttime scenes are so full of artifacts that you seem to be looking at a picture composed entirely of dominoes. I compared it with my Woodhaven VHS and the videotape won, hands down. I know the usual feeling with these discs is, "At this price, how can I go wrong?" This version of Blood of the Dragon provides the answer.

SIGHTED: Best Buy PRICE: $8.99

Five Deadly Venoms

Well, this is it, the picture that establish the group of actors referred to popularly as "The Venoms", who made a bunch of films with director Chang Cheh, movies that scarred us for life on the Saturday afternoon "Kung Fu Theater"s that I miss so badly. These guys sum up the Shaw Brothers movie experience for a lot of us, so any reputable quality presentation of their flicks is appreciated. Too bad I can't use the word "reputable" and "quality" here...

The master of the Poison Clan has been training students for years in deadly martial arts, each specializing in colorfully-named styles like Centipede, Scorpion, Snake, Toad or Lizard; as he reaches the end of his life, he has trained one last student, allowing him to specialize in no style, but instead in how to counter each. This student is to seek out the other masters, and if any have turned evil, to join with the good ones and take out the bad apples. The trick is, all the students trained while masked , so nobody knows anybody else's identity (a recurring Chang theme).

Even for a Chang Cheh film, this picture's pretty cruel. One of the Venoms is framed for murder and tortured to obtain a confession (while unconscious, his hand is forced to sign a statement), and while he's weakened is slowly smothered to death in his cell with layers of wet paper. Then the bad Venoms take care of the stool pigeon and smotherer, one by ripping his throat out from the inside with a long steel hook, the other by jamming a knitting needle up his nose and into his brain. One of the bad guys senses that the killings are spiralling out of control, but far too late...

Well, back to Beverly Wilshire for the last of our reviewed discs (for the moment). The source material here looks like a second generation tape dub, very grainy and colors with a tendency to smear. It's nice to have this in widescreen, as we can see the entirety of the fight scenes, but it's hardly worth the trade-off. The sound is atrocious, too, and since the masked venom's voices are realistically muffled, that can be a real problem. It's not as bad as their disc of The Kid With The Golden Arm, but there are better versions of this film out there, and something this seminal deserves better treatment in your collection.

SIGHTED: K-Mart PRICE: $4.99

- November 11, 2001