BRIDE OF THE
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
fighting is usually pretty good, even if the story is thinner
than rice paper. I've seen worse.
Shaolin Wooden Men
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.
"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.
part: you will go almost ten minutes into the movie before you
find out if it's dubbed or subtitled.
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.
Blood of the Dragon
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.
Tokyo has a review
if you want more details.
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
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,
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
Five Deadly Venoms
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...
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).
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...
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.