Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hitman In the Hand of Buddha (1980) review


Hwang Jang Lee (Weng Cheng), Kao Hsiung (The Tiger), Fan Mei Sheng (Beggar Fan Yeh Mei), Tino Wong (Shen Hao), Tu Shiao Ming (Ah Chu)

Produced & Directed by Hwang Jang Lee

Monk to Weng Cheng: "Alright now, I wanna see how bad your kung fu is."

Weng Cheng to monk: "How would you like to take a long walk off a short plank?!"

Weng Cheng to Shen Hao: "One of us will die. Care to make bets on who?!"

The Tiger to Weng Cheng: "You must really wanna die bad. I'm not called the Tiger for nothin'. Today I'm gonna eat ya up and spit ya out!"

Weng Cheng arrives in a small town to visit his sister and see how she and her husband, Ah Chu, have been coming along. Working in the Weng Li rice shop, Ah Chu gets into trouble after using underhanded methods to snatch away customers lost to the more enterprising Han Cheung rice factory which is run by a small time gang of thugs. Weng rescues his brother-in-law several times from the villains until he is lured into a fight with a top Snake Fist fighter, Shen Hao. Easily defeating Shen, the Snake Fist specialist calls for his teacher, a gangster known as the Tiger, to come to the town to take care of Weng.

A local beggar, Fan Yeh Mei, being a former colleague of the Tiger, warns Weng of the Tiger's skills. Disgraced of his students defeat, The Tiger and his men rape Weng's sister, Ah Chan, and make her husband watch. The two meet and Weng is defeated. Beggar Fan stops the fight and cashes in a previous favor owed him by the Tiger by allowing Weng Cheng to escape with his life. Unknowing of his sisters death, Beggar Fan sends Weng off to the Tien Ching temple to improve his kung fu skills. While there, the Abbot secretly trains Weng for his showdown against the claws of the fearsome Tiger.

Possibly kung fu cinemas greatest villain, Hwang Jang Lee trades in his patently evil scowl for a portrayal of more heroic proportions. Not only does Hwang partake in the role of the lead protagonist, but he also acts as producer and director and does a fine job of it. Hwang manages to do something different from the laborious viewing experience of the typical independent kung fu movie. Instead of endless scenes of mindless incongruity that plagues most of the kung fu cheapies, Hwang's movie has no ridiculously meandering moments that string most of these movies together. In so many of these movies the real plot never gets going till 40 or 50 minutes in. Here, the plot is introduced from the get go and stays its course till the end.

There's a hint early on, though, that the picture has strayed when Weng Cheng finds a group of child thieves led by Beggar Fan. This meeting would seem to have been an afterthought but later serves the picture well as Beggar Fan proves to be an integral part of the story. It's a shame Hwang didn't direct more movies as he is a capable hand at it. HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA would appear to have been influenced by Shaw Brothers films such as SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS (1974) and DIRTY HO (1979).

Once arriving at the temple, Weng is forced to do strenuous, and (at the time) aggravating exercises which secretly build his skill level and power. This is similar to the plot device in Chang Cheh's instrumental Shaolin film, SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS wherein a short tempered student must learn the Eagle Claw through hard labor, a conceit that was later adopted for THE KARATE KID (1984).

In DIRTY HO there are a number of scenes that featured the hero and a villain of some sort engaged in a duel that was masked in circumstance. Whether looking at art or enjoying a fine wine, the two individuals attempt to kill one another in anonymity. A similar scene takes place when Shen Hao invites Weng to dinner and immediately makes it known it will be a heated discussion. The two (rather forcefully) have a drink together before battling each other. Hwang's film also contains bits and pieces borrowed from his two Seasonal movies he did starring Jackie Chan. The most obvious is the Beggar Fan character. This personality became a kung fu comedy staple with the film SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (1978).

Hwang Jang Lee starred in well over 50 movies most often as the main heavy. Some of his more notable performances are THE SECRET RIVALS (1976), INVINCIBLE ARMOR (1977), THE DRAGON & THE TIGER KIDS (1979), YOUNG HERO (1980), TIGER OVER WALL (1980) and KID FROM KWANGTUNG (1982). Hwang also did a handful of kung fu cheapies that signaled the end of the genre in American theaters in the early 80's. Some of these movies were EAGLE VS. SILVER FOX (1982), FIVE PATTERNS DRAGON CLAWS (1982), RAGING MASTERS TIGER CRANE (1983) and MARTIAL MONKS OF SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1983).

Most all of these flicks accentuated fight scenes and nothing else. Hwang played a hero on at least four occasions. The other three are RAGING RIVALS (1981), the awful BUDDHIST FIST & TIGER CLAWS (aka SECRET EXECUTIONERS;1982) and BLOOD CHILD (1983) in which Hwang (briefly) shares the screen with fellow Korean bootmaster, Kwan Young Moon.

Eddie Kao Hsiung was a natural at playing bad guys and he's pretty formidable here even though he only fights with both Beggar Fan and Weng Cheng on two occasions. Possibly his most nasty turn as a screen antagonist came in the indy film, THUNDERING MANTIS (1979). He also played villains in films such as SLEEPING FIST (1979), AVENGING EAGLE (1978), THE DEADLY BREAKING SWORD (1979) and SHAOLIN DRUNKARD (1983). Kao (or Eddie Ko) was also seen in the US production, LETHAL WEAPON 4 (1997) where he was quickly, and unceremoniously killed by the villain played by Jet Li.

Fan Mei Sheng will be instantly recognizable to Shaw Brothers fans from what is likely to be his most famous role as Li Kwei, The Black Whirlwind, from Chang Cheh's THE WATER MARGIN (1971) and it's sequel, ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS (1973). He featured in countless Shaw pictures throughout the 1970's including numerous character roles in many of Chu Yuan's swordplay movies. Fan moved on to Golden Harvest in the early 80's where he played comedic roles in such films as THE YOUNG MASTER (1980) and DREADNAUGHT (1981). In HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA, Fan plays Beggar Fan, a character that appears to have been designed for Yuen Siu Tien, who got a career boost carving a niche for himself playing lowly drunken beggars in over a dozen films between 1978 and 1980.

Tino Wong was a Shaw Brothers bit player for Chang Cheh before obtaining meatier roles in Season Films productions such as INVINCIBLE ARMOR (1977) and Jackie Chan's two breakout films for the fledgling indy company. An early memorable appearance was as an ill fated Shaolin student who challenges Wang Lung Wei in Chang Cheh's classic, SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS (1974). Tino Wong had a good face and got a chance to show off a bit in a couple of international productions such as LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974) and CLEOPATRA JONES & THE CASINO OF GOLD (1975).

The cross eyed character actor Tu Shiao Ming plays the recalcitrant Ah Chu (sounds like a sneeze). His role here is a bit more dramatic than usual but the horrid English dubbed voice calls upon comical connotations than it does pity. Tu played similarly put upon characters throughout his career (at least in the movies I saw him in) including such kung fu comedies as TWO FISTS AGAINST THE LAW (1980), LACKEY & THE LADY TIGER (1980), TREASURE HUNTERS (1981), FAKE GHOST CATCHERS (1982) and FAST FINGERS (1983).

The aforementioned dubbed dialog is hilarious and filled with the usual high pitched voices for the mousy characters and the deep baritones of the more dastardly individuals. There are also some humorous moments such as when the rival rice shop seeks the aid of some questionable people to fight against Weng Cheng. "Can't anybody help me? I need someone who can talk, who can jump and never loses a fight." He's answered by three different cronies with, "The judge can talk...Jackie Chan can jump...and Bruce Lee can fight." The boss responds, "That's enough. Tell me where I can find these people now?" Another funny scene is when the rival rice shop owner goes to the brothel to find Shen Hao, he first finds a different Mr. Shen. Different women continuously exit from his room all replete with an exhausted expression. Every time the man tries to enter, he is stopped by the house madam exclaiming there's still more girls to come out.

The fights are nothing short of amazing. Hwang doesn't disappoint in showcasing his repertoire of elaborate and powerful looking kicks. He unloads a flurry of these on some crooks during the opening credits and doesn't cut loose again with his dynamic and ferocious feet till the end fight. However, in between you get to see Hwang utilize some pole work and some strong fist techniques. He is so energetic in these scenes that it truly looks like he is really beating his opponents within an inch of their lives. This is all the more exciting in that Hwang is the main hero. Given that his bad guy roles only gave him one or two fight scenes, here, Hwang fights on multiple occasions.

The soundtrack is made up of music lifted from the Italian western, NAVAJO JOE (1966) starring Burt Reynolds. That films score is the work of prolific composer Ennio Morricone under the pseudonym Leo Nichols. The bulk of the score is taken from Roger Corman's SEVEN SAMURAI in Space favorite, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980). That films composer is the future Award winning musician, James Horner. The pilfered music is used much better than what normally passes for a score in these indy pictures where sometimes half a dozen different movies of various genres are raped for their music. The tunes fit the movie very well.

Hwang Jang Lee delivers one of the best Korea/Hong Kong indy kung fu co-productions to ever come out of Asia. It's not without faults but compared with so many muddled and nonsensical, liberally padded indy flicks out there, it's refreshing to see one that contains semblance of cohesion. There's even some interesting editing found here and there. There are two versions available of this picture, a Korean and a Hong Kong cut. The Korean version contains different scenes as well as different fights. This review is based on the more widely accessible Hong Kong cut. Highly recommended for kung fu fans.

DVD Availability: Tai Seng

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: It Came From Hollywood (1982) review


This is a new section devoted to rare, obscure and 'as yet to be released on legitimate DVD' movies. Some films may have been released in some parts of the world, or on some public domain label, or some may have never been released at all on the digital format. This section is designed to keep these films alive and to provide remembrance to those who may have seen them in some form or other; whether it be on the silver screen, video tape, or the small screen at home.


Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Cheech & Chong, Gilda Radner

Directed by Malcolm Leo & Andrew Solt

"Don't listen to them, c'mon, I'm the one plugged in, lemme tell ya what it is. It's you, it's fun, it's everything you, the audience is about...and there's dirty parts, too!"

An incredibly fun and sometimes shameless compilation of movie clips from some of Hollywood's most embarrassing productions and various other B movies. What's most astonishing is the inclusion of movies that are true classics of the genre. Movies such as WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) share screentime with such laughable and lovable trash as ROBOT MONSTER (1953), PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1956), THE GIANT CLAW (1957) and the colossal Korean Kong conundrum that is A.P.E. (1976) among so many more awful movie clips.

The film is broken down into segments which begins with a comedic skit starring one of the famous comedians of the cast. Aykroyd and Radner will no doubt be instantly recognizable from the famed Saturday Night Live television program which they shared most famously with Steve Martin and John Belushi. Candy also appeared on Saturday Night Live but also gained comedic status being a part of the cult comedy program, Second City TV (SCTV). Cheech & Chong made a long running career built around the drug culture which inspired a series of popular movies.

Gilda Radner starts things off with 'Gorillas', a collage of movies featuring murderous primates. This sequence is highlighted by Major Lance's 'Monkey Time' from 1963. The skit with Radner is one of the funnier ones as a radio announcer alerts listeners to an escaped "700 pound African Bull Gorilla", that is now at large. Radner attempts frantically to do everything to lock up and protect her home as the radio DJ runs off what one should do to avoid the angry primate.

The WHITE GORILLA (1945) clip is hilarious. Other movies featured here are THE WILD WOMEN OF WONGO (1958), THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), THE LOVES OF HERCULES (1960; aka HERCULES VS THE HYDRA) and the immortally awful, A.P.E. (1976) which contains the ridiculously absurd shot of the giant gorilla giving his attackers the finger.

Next up is 'Aliens'. Dan Aykroyd plays a post apocalyptic radio DJ amidst a war zone in this brief skit which opens to the hilarity of "Ambassador Phantom of the planet Krankor", from PRINCE OF SPACE (1959). The dubbed dialog in this Japanese B/W sci-fi fantasy is some of the most ludicrous you will ever hear. The Ambassador's slow, gratingly intermittent cackle is one of the most fondly humorous moments of bad movie lovers.

Aykroyd cracks jokes during all the clips (mind you this was years before the hit tv show Mystery Science Theater 3000). During a scene with the main villains from the dreadful FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER (1965), Aykroyd quips, "Hey, I'd like you to meet Mr. Spock's brother, Schecky and his wife, Shelley"

What makes this segment kind of jarring is the inclusion of clips from the award winning WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), one of the most beloved of all science fiction pictures. A brief scene from the timeless classic, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) looks uncomfortable wedged between clips from Z grade flicks like MARS NEEDS WOMEN (1967) and TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE (1959). Another notable movie that does not belong is EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956).

Next, is possibly the most hilarious, and the lengthiest sections of the film. Cheech & Chong play host to this skit titled 'Giants & Little People'. The marijuana championing dynamic duo go out to the movies to take in a viewing of a true classic, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957; another movie that doesn't belong here). "This is screen history, man, the first time a guys been eaten by a pussy, man." This skit is split up into several parts as Cheech & Chong hang out in the theater for their different comedic segments.

While in the theater lobby, Chong proceeds to purchase just about every variety of grub at the snack bar including the biggest order of popcorn ever seen by man. "No, that's the baby size, I want the mam...no, gimme the daddy size...you got a bigger size than that?" Once Chong joins his friend, this skit becomes as much a part of the movie as the clips that follow. The film cuts back and forth between the two. You will be stunned by the giganticism from such films as THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1956), ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (1958) and the small wonders of such silly endeavors as ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE (1958), one of many similar styled movies from director, Bert I. Gordon (Mr. BIG).

John Candy takes his turn for his tribute in 'A Salute to Edward D. Wood Jr.' In reference to Wood's "classic", PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1956), Candy says, "...made for about $37.00. When it comes to low budget thrillers, Ed Wood stands alone...at the foot of the heap." This spot is also one of the funniest as Candy pokes fun at the various scenes and delivers narration told in a serious manner but meant to evoke laughter (which it does). "And this is our first glimpse of the flying hubcaps the aliens flew in on....amazing, you can hardly see that string."

The jabbing of PLAN 9 moves on to Wood's infamous transvestite classic, GLEN OR GLENDA (1953). The salute ends with a return to Candy's skit with an appearance by Dan Aykroyd as they mock one of the featured scenes from Wood's character study of a man more comfortable in women's attire.

Gilda Radner returns for the tawdry opulence of 'Musical Memories'. One memorable moment comes during a scene from a film featuring dancing women dressed as Indians to the accompaniment of Johnny Preston's number one hit, 'Running Bear' from 1959. This section, despite not having any monsters, has some of the most hilarious and potentially offensive clips of the whole film.

One scene from WONDER BAR (1934) starring Al Jolsen features white performers (adult and children) made up in black face trying to get into heaven while a parade goes by with participants carrying signs that read, "Uncle Tom Tonight". But the most incredibly un PC moment comes just seconds after when some dancing girls (everyone is made up in black face mind you) open up a giant watermelon and a tap dancer comes out(!)

Intermission time begins with the famed cartoon snack commercial, 'Let's All Go To the Lobby'. This segues into another John Candy skit featuring 'Previews of Coming Attractions'. Here, you will be mesmerized by the audaciously awful THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING & BECAME MIXED UP ZOMBIES (1964), THE HYPNOTIC EYE (1960) and SPACE CHILDREN (1958).

Among some more movies that don't belong are THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1958) and I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE (1958). The hilarity continues with trailers for BLACK BELT JONES (1974) and the ultimate bad film, the immortal ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1977).

Dan Aykroyd returns with 'Troubled Teenagers'. This sequence revolves around the rebellious youth movies that featured teens on the edge turning to violence and often ending up dead. Aykroyd does a great detective shtick for his skit leading into clips from such flicks as HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (starring Russ Tamblyn) and HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS (both 1958); "Look at'em jump! Just like rabbits!"

Next, we return to Cheech & Chong in the movie theater. A man with a massive fro sits down in front of Cheech, "Oh, wow, an eclipse!" Cheech then nudges the individual blocking his view and says, "Hey, man, somebody just barfed on that seat, man." Once the gentleman gets up and makes his exit to the left, two simply marvelous specimens of the female persuasion, one blonde and a brunette, make their way to their seats in front of the duo. Cheech gets all excited when suddenly, Chong rather calmly states, "Excuse me...somebody just barfed on that seat." The two stunners get up and move along much to Cheech's chagrin; "The incredible shrinking brain, man."

This leads into their next segment, 'The Animal Kingdom Goes Berserk'. Here, again, there's classic clips (BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS) mixed with less than respectable sci fi movies (THE GIANT CLAW). Cheech has a funny line during a MISSILE TO THE MOON (1958) clip wherein the damsel in distress tied up inside a cave is rescued by two men from a giant spider. Upon shooting the outsized arachnid square in the mouth, a white, powdery substance erupts from the creatures maw, "Oh, they got'em right in the cokestash!"

C&C continue the quips with clips from such movies as THE DEADLY MANTIS, THE BEGINNING OF THE END (both 1957) Japanese monster pictures, THE X FROM OUTER SPACE and SON OF GODZILLA (both 1967). The skit ends with Chong having just bought a massive hot dog riling Cheech to playfully yell out, "Hey, 50 foot woman, we got something for you, man! Hey, can you plug this in?"

John Candy encores with a brief rundown of 'Technical Triumphs'. Candy makes some amusing, yet serious deliveries of budgetary limitations for a small handful of campy movies like BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955) and EVIL BRAIN FROM OUTER SPACE (1964).

Aykroyd returns next with 'The Brain', in which he plays a seriously mad scientist who enjoys eating brains. We then get a barrage of brain movies featuring giant brain creatures (THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS) and the classic sleaze fest, THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE (1959). There is also a few humorous clips from THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972) starring Rosey Grier and Ray Milland.

Grier's wife asks upon seeing a white man's head attached to he husbands body, "Do you have two of anything else?" The most unforgivable moment occurs during a serious scene from FRANKENSTEIN & THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1973). Cartoon sound effects have been added to a sequence with Peter Cushing and Shane Briant operating on the monster.

Cheech & Chong, still in the movie theater, feature in their final skit, 'Getting High In the Movies'. This is the most over the top segment in the picture rivaling the 'Musical Memories' bit. This section alternates between the film clips and C&C's antics providing possibly the most hilarious moments seen in IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD. The movie clips displayed include drug addled wayward souls seen in HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (1958), REEFER MADNESS (1936), THE COOL & THE CRAZY (1958) and THE WEIRD WORLD OF LSD (1967).

Gilda Radner wraps things up with 'Monsters', a lengthy assortment of clips from various monster movies. Here, she's dressed up as a small child who remembers being taken to the movies to see creature features. With each succeeding clip, Radner narrates with child-like wonder. Such is the case with the 1959 Japan-US co-production, THE MANSTER, "He has a little eyeball on his shoulder, like a little pal," and this classic Radner retort over FIRST MAN INTO SPACE (1959) "Oh, this is the burnt casserole man! They just made like a tuna noodle casserole and burned it up...and stuck it all over'em."

The unnecessarily included monster movie rears its head again with the questionable inclusion of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954). HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (1964) follows with a great shot of the "...monster with a lot of hot dogs in his mouth." Other clips include the cult favorite, FROM HELL IT CAME (1957) which is about a rampaging tree monster and the absurdly horrible movie, THE CREEPING TERROR (1964) which featured the world's first (and only) giant man eating carpet monster.

This wonderful segment finishes up with a montage of various monstrous creatures mugging at the camera in addition to quick flashes of the comedians doing some mugging of their own. This is to the accompaniment of the smooth sound of Don & Juan's great Doo Wop hit from 1962, 'What's Your Name?' The skit ends with Radner attempting to hitch a ride with the cross dressing Aykroyd and Candy riding a motorcycle with a side car last seen at the end of their Ed Wood Salute skit. They leave Radner in the dust till Cheech & Chong show up driving the same ice cream truck they sported in CHEECH & CHONG'S NICE DREAMS (1981).

Harry and Michael Medved are clip consultants for this film and considering they wrote the book, 'The Golden Turkey Awards', you would think they would know the difference between a true turkey and a highly respected genre classic. The inclusion of films that are held in such high regard (titles already discussed earlier in this review) have no place amongst so many of the titles featured here.

That is in no way meant to be a derogatory statement towards many of those movies, only most of them were made with the sole intention of turning a quick buck or two. Some are genuine attempts at quality entertainment, but budgetary limitations prevent serious attention. Still, most of the movies featured in IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD (1982) would likely be less enjoyable if they possessed good acting and above average production values.

A Paramount production, the film was set for DVD release back in 2002 but according to an executive at the studio, rights issues would make the film virtually impossible for DVD release. Even so, fans looking for the movie can still find it on VHS and a nice quality laserdisc. Numerous sites offer the film on bootleg DVD so there are alternatives to seeing this curious (and controversial) cinematic compilation of trashy gems from Hollywood's past.

No legitimate DVD release at this time.
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