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Friday, July 23, 2010

Hong Kong Godfather (1985) review


Liang Chia Jen (Mad Dog Wei), Tsui Siu Keung (Playboy Lung), Wong Chun (Hei Lan), Shek Kin (Uncle Han), Cheung Kuen (Sergeant Man), Sam Wai (Rotten Chi), Pomsin Shi (Lan thug), Wang Lung Wei (Lan's partner)

Directed, written & Action directed by Wang Lung Wei

***WARNING! This review contains images of graphic, bloody violence***

The Short Version: One of Shaw Brothers last productions has them deliver possibly the single most bloody gangster mini epic within a 95 minute running time. Many of Shaw's past stars of period martial arts films in either big roles, or supporting ones, figure into this grim Triad tragedy. The last ten minute ultra gory and frenzied finale is well worth the price of the DVD alone. Check it out.

Wong Chun (left) and Wang Lung Wei (right)

After receiving a life imprisonment sentence for a NY Chinatown massacre, Jia Shi Lan, alias Hei Lan, obtains a pardon through the Mafia's influence. Returning to Hong Kong, Hei Lan attempts to use the stature and fortitude of Brother Han, an elder, but good-natured underworld boss, to gain power and spread the Mafia's influence throughout Southeast Asia. After a deadly double cross leaves many of Han's society dead, two former members, one a cop, the other a florist, and the sole remaining loyalist join forces to bring down the criminal empire of Hei Lan.

Liang Chia Jen and Wang Lung Wei in a brutal boxing match during the closing moments of HONG KONG GODFATHER

Famed Shaw Brothers villain, Wang Lung Wei handles triple duty on this spectacularly gory gangster movie just shy of Shaw Brothers closing their filmmaking doors in favor of television productions. The Shaw's were a bit late coming to the New Wave party, and by the time they had arrived, their audience had already passed them by, unfortunately. They did manage to produce a small number of provocative action dramas before they called it a day, leasing their vast studio out to other local and foreign production facilities.

Films such as MERCENARIES FROM HONG KONG (1982), BROTHERS FROM THE WALLED CITY (1982), MEN FROM THE GUTTER (1983) THIS MAN IS DANGEROUS (1985) and DANGER HAS TWO FACES (1985) were either mostly, or totally successful in emulating the then fresh, new style of Hong Kong action cinema that was taking hold. Where some of these were both humorous and serious, HK GODFATHER takes itself very seriously from start to finish. There's some minor funny moments, but nothing to jar the tone as so many of the islands movies were known (and expected) to do.

The plot itself is nothing new and by the numbers in relation to this sort of storyline. Where Wang's movie excels is in its violence. There's plenty of it. Having gotten his big break working with the Godfather of Hong Kong Action Cinema, the venerable Chang Cheh (both Wang and Liang co-starred in Cheh's seminal SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS 1974), it isn't surprising to discover many of Cheh's themes and rousingly bloody plot devices present in Wang's script; not the least of which is the increasingly over the top violence.

One of relatively few lighter moments in HONG KONG GODFATHER. Fans will know Shek Kin as Han, Bruce Lee's nemesis in ENTER THE DRAGON (1973). He had previously played a gangster lackey in Shaw's equally gruesome production of THE CASINO (1972; reviewed on this site).

Three friends enjoy a good meal before all the screaming, killing and excessive bleeding

During the first 30 to 40 minutes, the film spends a bit of time getting to know the myriad number of characters. There are quite a few of them. Wei, the former chief bodyguard of Triad leader, Han (Liang), is now retired from the underworld and lives a life running a nursery and trying to keep his wild daughter out of trouble. Playboy Lung (Tsui Siu Keung) is as his name suggests, but is totally loyal to Han, who is the equivalent of a father figure to the men under his employ. Sergeant Man (Keung), now a cop, was previously in the gang, but keeps his ties strictly on a professional level remaining loyal to his job. Rotten Chi (Sam Wai) is a slimy rat of a man just as his name reveals.

After going through a psychotic rage in THUNDERING MANTIS (1979) and a profound desire for vengeance in SECRET SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL COURT (1984), Liang Chia Jen prepares to go into bloody battle in a modern day bloodbath in HONG KONG GODFATHER (1985)

The film doesn't spend a lot of time on exposition, but gives us a decent amount of characterization to make the viewer cringe just enough when terrible things happen to these people. All bets are off on pretty much everyone. It's open season on women, children and peoples pets. Violence towards women is strong in a couple of scenes, but one of the female characters proves to be very strong and capable of holding her own in fights. While misogyny is prevalent in this genre, HK films (particularly of the Wuxia and kung fu variety) were the first to showcase women in strong roles equal to men. There's even an entire subgenre of 'Girls & Guns' movies that are very popular with fans of modern style Hong Kong action movies.

This fellow to the right looks an awful lot like former venom actor, Chiang Sheng

While the action and violence gets more intense as the film goes on, it's nothing compared to the totally insane and riotously gore drenched finale inside a mall; apparently the same mall that gets demolished in Jackie Chan's POLICE STORY (1985). In addition to the demolition of an entire upper floor office level, the mall is covered in blood and body parts from the bottom floor, to the escalators, to the staircases and then the upper levels.

The joys of digital restoration and also the use of the freeze frame reveals such things as this cable jerking the stuntman backwards after a devastating kick

As with seemingly all Shaw Brothers movies, it doesn't end on a happy note. That's one of the beauties of Shaw productions. You never know just how many, or if any of the heroes are going to make it to the end. Previously available in a cut bootleg version minus much of the nastier bits, this new DVD from Funimation is the complete version containing the full frontal nudity and extreme bloody action cut from the previous versions floating around collectors circles. When Celestial Pictures announced their plans to release the entire Shaw library, fans rejoiced, but their planned 20 titles per month proved to be an impossibility. A number of titles were moved around, announced and removed multiple times, or simply never released at all after their five year lease with DVD distributor, IVL expired at the end of 2007.

Norman Tsui Siu Keung slashes his way through the enemy during an ambush

The release of HONG KONG GODFATHER became the talk of the HK movie community when it was announced it was one of the ten titles procured by BCI. But then the cheers of fans salivating to finally see the movie restored and uncut were once more silenced when BCI was closed down by their owners, the Navarre Corporation before it could be released. Now, Funimation, another company under the Navarre umbrella, has taken over these titles and now we finally have the film to see in its uncut glory. Was it worth the wait? Most definitely.

THUNDERING MANTIS, Liang Chia Jen (left) and THE BASTARD SWORDSMAN, Tsui Siu Keung (right)

Although dated by the eye opening 80's fashions and hairdo's (for those who tend to pay attention to those things), HONG KONG GODFATHER makes up for its kitsch factor with its amazing amount of gory violence. Known for their incredibly violent action movies, the Shaw's do not disappoint here, either. Much like Chang Cheh's movies, Wang Lung Wei piles on the red stuff as if his life depended on it. Possibly the single most gruesome and wildly bloody knife wielding gangster flick, there arguably hasn't been one this enthusiastically drenched in red since Cheh's period gangster movies, VENGEANCE! (1970) and THE DUEL (1971).

Cheh was also responsible for starting this style of HK action film with his hugely successful gangster epic, THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972). Possessing a high degree of energy and spirited ferocity, HONG KONG GODFATHER (1985) was one of the last really entertaining Shaw productions to get a theatrical release in its native country. Highly recommended for HK action fans and blood hungry sadists that fancy seeing alternative uses for saws, knives and machetes.

This review is representative of the Funimation DVD


Fazeo said...

Talk about odd coincidences, I just finished watching this film ten minutes ago, then I log on here and see your review for it. Freaky.

I concur with your review totally, this was the first time I had ever seen this film and I enjoyed it immensely.

The finale had that intensity only 80s HK films could conjure, it was totally insane, like being on a wild roller coaster.

Funimation's DVD looks fantastic, I couldn't have asked for a better picture.

It is sad that Shaw Brothers Studio films were on the wane by the mid 80s but this is as close to a perfect swansong as you can get.

Highly recommended.

Armando H. said...

I really need to see this movie!

venoms5 said...

@ Fazeo: I finally sat down to watch it Thursday night, myself. And looked at it again, Friday. I would also recommend checking out DANGER HAS TWO FACES and MEN FROM THE GUTTER. Hopefully, we'll get to see some more of the movies that IVL didn't get around to releasing prior to the license running out.

@ raculfright_13: If you like HK modern style action/gangster movies, I think you'll not be disappointed.

Fazeo said...

I will check those two films you mentioned Venom, I have not seen them yet, thanks.

I have seen Long Arm of the Law which is another fine 80s HK gangster film.

R.A.M.'67 said...

Quite frankly, this appears to be the first write-up for "Hong Kong Godfather" I've read that packed this much info into so little space! Now I know I will definitely check out this one in the not-too-distant future!... MY "odd coincidence" with this was getting a copy of "Shaolin Martial Arts" yesterday, featuring [the Shaw debut of] Wang Lung Wei and Lang Chia Jen (WITHOUT his beard); hours later, I read your review! If anybody else mentions more of those "coincidences" in regards to the review, you may want to retitle your blog "TimeLife Books"!

venoms5 said...

@ Fazeo: Those two, so far, are only available as R3 DVD's and VCD's. The latter format may be more easily obtainable.

@ Fang: SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS is one of my favorite kung fu movies. It's one of a handful of Shaw's I can watch over and over again. I think its Cheh's best constructed of his Shaolin cycle. Beardy reminded me of a lithe Steven Seagal in that movie especially without his beard.

I had a very enjoyable evening watching this one. I preceded HKG with a viewing of the new Funimation release of INVINCIBLE SHAOLIN and Media Blaster's THE MASTER. It'd been a long time since I sat down and enjoyed some Shaw Brothers goodness.

Fazeo said...

I have a region free DVD player so I'll look into the R3 DVDs. Thanks.

Speaking of Shaw Brothers DVDs, in the last few days I've watched Invincible Shaolin, Kid With The Golden Arm and Life Gamble.

And this afternoon I just finished watching Return of the One Armed Swordsmen. I enjoyed all for different reasons. It was nice to see a 60s SB film for a change.

venoms5 said...

I rewatched RETURN OF ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN recently myself. As much as I prefer the original soundtrack, I watched part of it with the dub. It was one of the worst dubs I'd ever heard. Most of the voice dubbers sounded like they were on some kind of drugs. The guy doing Chen Sing's voice was hilarious, I might add.

Dragon Dynasty will be releasing CRIPPLED AVENGERS and 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER in the next month or two. I imagine NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN isn't too far down the road, either.

Fazeo said...

The English dub on RETURN OF ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN was bizarre. I'm used to hearing British accents in SB English dubs, but it sounded like Chinese people who didn't have full grasp of the English language were doing some of the voices. Also the guy doing the voice for Chan Sing sounded like Fozzie Bear, I swear he was was going to break into Wakka wakka wakkka any second.

venoms5 said...

I was thinking the same thing about the Muppets regarding Chen Sing's voice dubber, lol.

achillesgirl said...

Yet another coincidence: I was just reading Cool Ass Cinema for the first time today...and then I hear from Venoms5! So I hopped right over to get your take on this film. You made some good points and wow - Chiang Sheng!
Lol@ "Three friends enjoy a good meal before all the screaming, killing and excessive bleeding." haha, awesome!

venoms5 said...

Wow, this movie attracts so many coincidences!

Hey, it's great to see another Shaw Brothers fan! If you're into Chang Cheh, check one of the side bars to the right. I got a multi part CC article over there as well as some other Shaw stuff. Up to part 5 right now. Nobody did bloody chivalry movies quite like Chang Cheh and the Shaw's in general!

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