Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shaw Brothers Cinema: Vintage HK News & Unreleased to DVD Treasures

This new entry of 'Assorted Bits & Pieces' contains a treasure trove of old gossip news, information and pictures of rare Shaw Brothers movies that never made it to DVD as of this writing. I hope you enjoy this edition.

The first piece of news information is from the November 10th, 1979 issue of Saturday Weekly. It deals with the famous married couple, Jenny Tseng Yen Lei and the late actor, Alexander Fu Sheng....


Jenny had her own TVB variety show and had planned to go on an international tour (including America). Fu Sheng was supposed to have accompanied her. The troubled actor suffered several accidents while shooting movies at Shaw Brothers....Fu Sheng and his wife appeared on screen together in several Shaw productions. These include BOXER REBELLION (1975), NEW SHAOLIN BOXERS (1976) and CHINATOWN KID (1977).

Second is an article from International Screen number 184 from August 1971. It involves the marriage of superstars, Chin Han to Ivy Ling Po. What makes this article interesting is that Ivy was apparently engaged to the recently departed Paul Chang Chung who passed away February 5th, 2010. All three performers were under contract at Shaw Brothers at the time...

Chin Han was a popular Wuxia and martial arts film actor at the time. He was the wisest brother in Chang Cheh's classic production of THE HEROIC ONES (1970) and the star of THE KILLER (1971) directed by Chu Yuan, another announced, but not released to DVD. Ivy Ling Po was a hugely popular singer/actress. She was the star of THE LOVE ETERNE (1963) and also one of the 14 AMAZONS (1972) in Cheng Kang's massive swordplay production. She was also prone to doing her own dubbing.

Next is a brief snippet of interesting information regarding Ti Lung and his wife appearing in a movie together for the first time. The film in question is listed as GOLDEN SWORD. However, this is a curious production...

Ti Lung had just recently been given permission to freelance from Shaw's. They appeared in at least two known films together, THE REVENGER (1980) and THE KUNG FU EMPEROR (1981). Judging by the brief synopsis given in the above news bite, neither film fits this description. The only one that comes reasonably close is the former. Shi Szu (in both films) does fall in love with Ti Lung's character, but the story doesn't pan out the way it's described in the article. Possibly GOLDEN SWORD was never made, or completed, or that plot device was altered to fit into THE REVENGER, a Wuxia action drama from Chang Cheh protege, Pao Hsueh Li. It should be noted there was a Shaw Brothers film entitled THE GOLDEN SWORD (1969) directed by Lo Wei.

Here we have a news piece on frequent media magnet, Tony Liu Yung. This is in regards to his often tumultuous love life....

Liu Yung was one of Shaw's best actors. He was originally with Golden Harvest in all of Bruce Lee's pictures. He found fame in a series of films playing the character of Emperor Chien Lung. His martial arts weren't very smooth when compared with other more capable performers, but Liu more than made up for it with his acting. Some of his best movies include the ultra violent HK crime movie, BROTHERHOOD (1976), CONVICT KILLER (1980) with Ti Lung and SECRET SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL COURT (1984) where he vied for screen supremacy against Liang Chia Jen in one of the Shaw's best of their latter output.

Now on to the pics of rare, unreleased Shaw Brothers movies. This first pic (from Southern Screen June 1972) is from IMPERIAL TOMB RAIDERS (1973) which initially had a spread showcased here. What makes this picture of interest is the way the film is described...

Here's a spread on Ho Meng Hua's THE BLACK ENFORCER from 1972. The film itself is quite good. It wasn't released on DVD, but is available in collectors circles in a bootleg of old VHS releases. There are at least two versions floating around. One from King Video and another of unknown origin without the video stamp in the upper corner....

Women were still big draws at the box office so Wang Ping is mentioned first in the page above. Wang Ping was an actress possessing exceptional beauty. She appeared in a handful of Shaw Brothers action pictures like Chang Cheh's VENGEANCE! (1970) and THE DUEL (1971). She also played Lo Lieh's love interest in the huge international moneymaker, KING BOXER (1972). Interestingly, these two pages above and below are from the October 1969 issue of Southern Screen magazine. THE BLACK ENFORCER bears a '72 release date. Considering it's a Korean co-production and was shot there (as was THE SHADOW WHIP around the same time), it's possible the film wasn't even released in Hong Kong, but I don't have that information.

Tang Ching is the main star in this movie. He plays a wronged constable, the Black Enforcer of the title. He's placed in prison after a group of killers he was escorting to the Capitol escape his grasp. Having to watch his family butchered in front of him, the Black Enforcer seeks out his enemy (played efficiently by ace villain actor, Tien Feng) only to find him living in solitude up in the mountains. Tang Ching was a leading actor at Shaw's during the 60's and very early 70's. He was visible in a lot of their James Bond style movies. In his later Shaw career, he played a lot of elder roles in Shaw Wuxia drama features.

Next is a spread of an unreleased to DVD oddity from 1972. This is Kuei Chi Hung's THE GOURD FAIRY....

I have some other magazines with pictures from this production, but these are the two I chose. This spread mainly shows off the characters and the stars that play them. These two pages are from the September 1971 issue of Southern Screen magazine.

An interesting cast is assembled here including then heartthrob Tsung Hua and Bolo Yeung in one of the lead villain roles. Yang Chi Ching is featured above. At the time, he was often featured as a main villain, or sometimes as an old teacher. At his age, the fact he was getting lead fighting roles was amazing. It's obvious, though, in many of these fighting movies that Yang is doubled. Nonetheless, he was with Shaw Brothers for some 30 years in a variety of roles.

Finally, we take a look at a rather intriguing production. It's award winning director, Chang Tseng Chai's REDBEARD from 1971....

You'll notice from the pictures above and below that the costumes are unusual and quite different from the normal attire seen in countless action films of the time. The director helmed a nice number of Shaw Brothers productions during his relatively brief tenure there. These include productions like THE FUGITIVE, THE CASINO (both 1972), RIVER OF FURY (1973) and two additional unreleased to DVD titles, GAMBLING SYNDICATE and QUEEN HUSTLER (both 1975).

The late, great Chen Hung Lieh is among the cast in this ambitious production. There was an additional two pages showcasing the various characters in this film. This spread is from the October 1971 issue of Southern Screen. Shaw's were seemingly banking quite a bit on Chang's film. Sadly, it was released in the summer months of 1971 and only managed to accrue 473,393 HK dollars. There is a bootleg in collectors circles of this title. It was one of the more anticipated titles that didn't get a restored release from Celestial Pictures through IVL.


Reel Bad Cinema: Yor, The Hunter From the Future (1983) review


Reb Brown (Yor), Corinne Clery (KaLa), Alan Collins/Luciano Pigozzi (Pak), John Steiner (Overlord)

Directed by Antonio Margheriti (as Anthony Dawson)

Yor, a warrior caveman in a land of dinosaurs attempts to learn about his past in relation to a medallion he has had since childhood. On his journey, Yor battles prehistoric creatures, ape men and a futuristic society of robots led by the evil Overlord.

Famed fantasy and action director Margheriti took on this hysterical prehistoric-fantasy-sci fi adventure that cross pollinates ONE MILLION YEARS BC with STAR WARS. An Italian-Turkish turkey, this (kind of) ambitious co-production was based on a novel(!) and was initially shot as a miniseries for Italian television. It was later recut to accommodate a theatrical release. Possibly on a high with their impending release of KRULL (1983) in addition to maintaining a foothold in the fantasy film market, Columbia picked this up for US distribution.

Margheriti was an accomplished director of action and fantasy movies having dabbled in various genres including peplums (GIANTS OF ROME), horror (CASTLE OF BLOOD), action (CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, THE LAST HUNTER) and movies like YOR. The director was like a big kid who loved fantastic cinema and obviously enjoyed his work immensely. He often did the special effects in his movies as well as movies for other directors such as Sergio Leone (on DUCK, YOU SUCKER! in 1970). Margheriti and his son, Eduardo did the "special" effects for this one, too.

However, YOR is one of the most ridiculous movies I've ever seen. I first caught it on HBO one morning back in the mid 1980's at the babysitters house. I remember seeing the first five minutes before the sitter switched it over to her usual game show grind. I did manage to see it later in the week, though. Even then (I think I was around 9 or 10) YOR left little impression on me; nothing like CONAN, BEASTMASTER or THE SWORD & THE SORCERER(1982). About the closest film I can compare with YOR would be the far more cheap and gaudy, ATOR, THE BLADE MASTER (1984; ATOR, THE INVINCIBLE 2), or under its more familiar MST3K title, CAVE DWELLERS.

Yor goes from one adventure to the next accumulating clues as to his past. He meets a blonde woman named Moa who is the keeper of a bunch of people trapped in solid ice. Why ice is inside a cave surrounded by waterfalls is never explained. Anyway, this woman has a medallion like Yor's (Yor's as in the character, not you, well you know what I mean; bad joke) and he discovers they come from the same tribe. This doesn't sit well with KaLa and leads to a cat fight between the two beauties. Ultimately, Moa is killed by the return of the Ape men which no doubt relieves KaLa to no end, but she plays it off well.

John Steiner hams it up as The Overlord

They then make it to a village by the sea where an object resembling a headlight with a handle attached is found. The village is destroyed by laser blasts from an unknown location, so Yor and company take a boat to a mysterious island. This is where the film takes a turn into STAR WARS territory...well, TURKISH STAR WARS would be more correct. Yor discovers his real name is Gallahad(?), the son of a man named Asgard(??). He meets John Steiner who states in a dubbed and overbearing Darth Vaderish voice that he is "....the Overlord. The ruler of my people and yours."

Then we find out that a nuclear holocaust wiped out most of mankind leaving a handful of society's remnants and apparently starting the human race over again. There's no explanation given as to why there are cavemen and dinosaurs. The Overlord states he wants to replace all barbarians with his rickety robots. This leads to a mediocre laser battle (complete with BATTLESTAR GALACTICA sound effects) in the requisite empty factory (found in most post apocalyptic movies) where Yor and his friends escape in a space ship.

Columbia released the movie to a little over 1,400 theaters where it made 2.8 million in its rather quiet 7 days of theatrical play. YOR was unable to dominate cinema goers like so many dinosaurs and plastic robots seen throughout the films 88 minute running time. It later found a brief home on cable TV and a much wider notice on VHS.

Yor saves the day with his Pterodactyl glider

The movie has a handful of choice scenes of unintended hilarity. One of which mirrors a similar scene in the aforementioned ATOR, THE BLADE MASTER (1984). In that film, Ator (played by Miles O'Keefe) makes a modern style hang glider to get inside a modern style castle in what is supposed to be a barbarian movie. In YOR, it's only slightly less anachronistic in reference to the time period. After killing a pterodactyl, Yor rips away the creatures wings and uses them like a hang glider to get inside a cave to save one of his women, KaLa.

Just turn around, damn it!

Another is a 'hall of mirrors' sequence which takes place in a room surrounded with glass. For whatever reason, Yor and KaLa have the hardest time finding each other in this small room in a scene that seems to go on forever.

The aborted YOR action figure toy line put in a couple of appearances in the movie

Another scene that would surely make Barnum & Bailey squirm with jealousy, has Yor set a charge to blow up a reactor. He can't get back across so Pak swings over on a cable. Flipping upside down in mid-swing, he grasps Yor and both swing back to safety. What makes this scene funny is that if you slow the film down, you can see it's just two action figures on a string(!)

Probably the single funniest aspect of the whole thing is the totally bonkers theme song designed for the movie. Within the opening few seconds the blaring screeches of 'Yor's World' pounds your ear drums with its repetitive insipidness. There were a number of other "songs" composed for the film, but were seemingly omitted. John Scott contributed music for the US version of the film. Scott, who did amazing scores for such films as THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) and GREYSTOKE (1984) contributed to a handful of fantasy and exploitation movie scores in addition to his work on YOR (1983). The original music is the work of Maurizio and Guido De Angelis, although they are credited as "additional music by" in the opening credits. It's pretty easy to distinguish Scott's cues from the De Angelis brothers work.

Reb Brown is in the lead as Yor. Although energetic in action scenes, he's never been much of an actor. He possessed an imposing look about him and Italian producers were obviously impressed by him as he made a career out of starring in awful European action filler. Prior to all this, you've probably seen him in various popular television programs in the 1970's. He played a bully who comes to a bad end in the horror film SSSSSSS (1973) and also took the lead as Captain America in two television movies of the same name.

Later on, he got roles in movies that glaringly ripped off popular American action productions. STRIKE COMMANDO (1987) from Bruno Mattei was a carbon copy of the already ridiculous FIRST BLOOD 2 (1985). Mattei struck again with Brown in the lead of an incredibly bad PREDATOR clone entitled ROBOWAR (1989). Very entertaining, but these films will never be mistaken for good movies.

Corinne Clery (left) and Luciano Pigozzi/Alan Collins (right)

Rounding out the cast, the sensual Corinne Clery looks like she's in a daze much of the time. John Steiner chews up what few scenes he is featured in and Luciano Pigozzi makes the best of it in his role as Pak. He does look to be enjoying himself firing a ray gun during the big finale. Clery will be most familiar to fans as the Bond girl who comes to a bad end in MOONRAKER (1979) at the hands of Drax and his hungry dogs.

Additional gratuitous shot of Corrine Clery

She also stayed unclothed a good portion of the time in HITCHHIKE (1977) with David Hess and Franco Nero. Even with her skimpy attire in YOR, her top threatens to fall down at any moment, but fails to do so, so don't get your hopes up, people! Pigozzi (Alan Collins) has been in dozens of genre movies in supporting roles such as BARON BLOOD (1972) where he has a memorable death scene. Steiner is one of the most recognizable faces in Eurocinema. One of his earliest roles was as the sympathetic doctor in the excellent political western, TEPEPA (1968).

The oversized Triceratops looks like a big balloon. The Yor action figure with the kung fu grip puts in the first of two cameo appearances

The dinosaur effects are of the variety found in the Kevin Conner directed quartet of fantasy films produced the decade prior; three of which were for Amicus and the last for Columbia--LAND THAT TIME FORGOT(1975), AT THE EARTH'S CORE(1976), PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT(1977) and WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS(1978). The second half of the film turns into a futuristic style movie once Yor and company reach an island ruled over by the Overlord. The usual footage of an abandoned factory standing in for a post apocalyptic setting is trotted out again replete with laser guns and robots. This portion of the film borrows the ending of PLANET OF THE APES (1968), but offers hope in the form of a loopy closing scene narration.

The laser guns in "Yor's World" can't even fire in a straight line

YOR (1983) is a movie whose storyline holds a lot of promise and potential, but delivers goofy cheap thrills and lots of laughs instead. For some, this movie will hold little to no interest whatsoever. For me, YOR is mostly a bore and a chore to sit through even by bad movie standards, although it has a few chuckle worthy moments. Most trash cinema lovers should have fun with it. It wasn't intended as a comedy, but damn, if it didn't turn out that way. If seeing a caveman armed with a laser rifle is your idea of fun, than this movie is definitely for you.

The source of this review is a DVD-R I made from a Turner Classic Movies(!!!) widescreen broadcast about two years ago. I believe there is a German DVD, but I don't know if there are English options.
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