Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Country of Beauties (1981) review


Linda Young/Elsa Yueng Wai San (Queen Nadanwa), Wong Tao (Lu Tin Ying), Fong Fong Fong (Chung Chi), Ng Hau Ling (Chin Chi), Wong Ma Lee (Yin Chi), Ha Kwong Li (Chau Yi), Tsui Jun Jun (Fei Wan), Ching Sau Ying (Su Chi), Hsu Pu Liao (Da Hai), Pa Gwoh ("doctor" Pa), Cheng Fu Hsiung (Pirate Captain)

Directed by Ou Yang Chun (Au Yueng Jun)

The short version: An occasionally goofy, but extravagantly chintzy adventure-martial arts movie jam packed with a series of increasingly strange and outlandish elements. The director is successful in conveying both humor and pathos in several crucial moments during the movie. Not so much a kung fu film as it is an adventure movie, those looking for something on the outskirts of cinema might well be entertained by this First Films curio. An underrated cult item.

An island of beautiful amazons live in hatred of men condemning any male babies fathered by those they capture to the sea. The men are then castrated to live as outcasts. With frequent attacks by pirates, three other bumbling male treasure hunters land on the island of the amazons and become objects of interest. To save themselves from being castrated, one pretends to be a doctor, another a breeder and the other is truthfully a cannon maker. His skills are put to use in aid against the marauding pirates. Meanwhile, a representative from men's island seeks an audience with the Queen in an effort to allow them to return to the land from where they were born. However, the presence of these men causes a ripple of emotions to disrupt the natural order of the amazons.

Two eggs and a banana--the preferred meal of castrated men everywhere

I first saw this movie on the old USA Network program, NIGHT FLIGHT back in the mid 80's. It was under the title of ISLAND WARRIORS. It's one of the wackiest and weirdest martial arts films I have ever laid eyes on. It's a difficult movie to pigeon hole. There's humor, action scenes, nudity, romance and just plain hysterical situations.

Princess Pai, aside from being very attractive, can kick major ass

The male born children are sent out to sea while the men that bred them have their nuts cut off

This hilariously ambitious Taiwanese hokum is great fun mainly for those seeking goofy thrills. It's a reworking of Alfonso Brescia's BATTLE OF THE AMAZONS (1974) which was remade by the same director as a cheap-jack and childish comedy action flick under the title of (among others) AMAZONS & SUPERMEN (1975). There's also a hint of SHE (1965) in there, too. This Chinese version differs slightly in several ways. The men captured by the women have to wear chastity belts. Castration is also a cruel and unusual punishment featured throughout. COUNTRY OF BEAUTIES goes one step further by making the men homosexuals after their jewels have been removed.

Taking away a pirate's "jewels"

I bet that tickled just a little bit

There's also a totally weird Chinese disco main theme that is heard at regular intervals during the movie that only adds to the nuttiness of the whole thing. In addition to this seemingly original piece of bizarre music, cues from sources as varied as FIRST BLOOD (1982) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968) are included. 'Jill's Theme' is put to good use here I must say. It fits the film quite well. There's also a brief cue that sounds a lot like a version of the James Bond theme with a backing 'wa wa' guitar sound.


Another script addition different from its Italian counterpart is the inclusion of a second faction of amazons on the island. Residing in 'Virgin Palace', the beautiful, but lethal Princess Pai (an actress whom I cannot find a listing for) trains the women in the fighting arts. The Princess practices 'Virgin Kung Fu', a style that gives her eternal beauty and superhuman strength so long as she remains a virgin.

"Only my kung fu can save him!"

There's a great scene where the male interloper, Chun Ping, who knows how to build a cannon, is injured and his body is taken to the Virgin kung fu princess Pai who says, "Only my kung fu can save him!" We're then treated to a shot of her breasts getting bigger and exploding out of her vest.

Bust forth...and multiply

Exhausting her strength, the man wakes up to a gorgeous and very naked women laying beside him. Aroused, he decides to make his move and the princess is slightly resistant at first. Once they're making love, the bamboo trees in the forest begin exploding all over the place. This humorous moment symbolizes the princess having her first orgasm. But this has disastrous consequences on the princess since she has now lost her virginity.

COUNTRY OF BEAUTIES shows us Chinese pirates wear toboggans with skull and cross bone emblems sewn on them

Kung fu fans will probably not enjoy COUNTRY OF BEAUTIES that much. The fight scenes are average at best with little to recommend them. The scenario and varied plot elements are what's most attractive about this one. Seeing it in widescreen improves the overall experience, but does nothing to enhance the lackluster action choreography. Perhaps it's because so much of it occurs on a sandy beach? None of it is overly memorable, just basic action. However, the finale is quite expansive culminating in a massive battle complete with lots of explosions.

Da Hai ends up being forced to breed with two wild women in one of the funnier scenes

"I never realized it was so ugly!"--Doctor Pa pretends to know how to deliver babies

The women are pretty to look at...that is till they raise their arms (The Queen is shaved, though). There's several plots going on all at once which makes me wonder if this film didn't transmogrify several times during the script stage, if there was a finished script ready by the time this film went into production. These indy movies were often shot on the fly and scripts were made up, or abruptly changed as they went along. Some of the main characters disappear at the end and we never learn of their fates. Such is the case with the three treasure hunters.

The amazons try to force Chin Ping to sex up an old woman

Yun Chung Yue (left) and Wong Tao (right)

The movie jumps back and forth with the tawdry shenanigans of the three stooges and the seriousness of Wong Tao's character when trying to barter for the men's return to the island where they were born. He ends up falling in love with one of the women and this creates a huge problem for the Queen and the others. Meanwhile, one of the oversexed treasure pilferers tries to make it with one half of a lesbian couple. Stealthily snatching the key to his chastity belt, the horn dog gets caught with his pants down resulting in his painful castration. What makes these ball busting scenes humorous are the array of 'small to large' hooks used to tear the testicles from these poor saps.

An amzonian funeral in a truly poignant sequence in the movie

Interestingly, the version of this film that has floated around for years as ISLAND WARRIORS on various VHS labels such as Best Film & Video as well as cable television, has translated credits in English. These credits also appear in different places as opposed to this widescreen Chinese version, but dubbed in English. Instead of having their names listed in a credit title card, the actresses (most of them) have their names appear onscreen adjoining their first appearance akin to the way Chang Cheh did in many of his movies.

Linda Young has been in a number of indy flicks including NINJA AVENGER, LIFE OF A NINJA and CHALLENGE OF A LADY NINJA (all 1983)

Containing a great many elements for a raucously cheesy good time, COUNTRY OF BEAUTIES has it all: Beautiful women, lesbianism, sex, dancing, martial arts fights, buried treasure, pirates, a giant statue that shoots cannonballs from its eyes, humor, male babies thrown to the sea as shark food, 'virgin kung fu' and anything else in between. Fans who only care about lots of fighting will probably not find too much to interest them here. Trash flick fans and kung fu freaks will want to check it out.

This DVD can be purchased here-- FAR EAST FLIX

Raging Rivals (1981) review


Hwang Jang Lee, Jacky Lee, Sam Yuen, Stan Yuen, David Yuen, Alain Chung, Benny Hui, David Chan, John Lo, Bob Kim, Philip Min, Pearl Chi, Lee Hoi Lung, April Ko, Bobby Mah

Directed by Godfrey Ho

The short version: Typical bad movie from prolific hack, Godfrey Ho is held together by a bravura performance from Hwang Jang Lee. What makes it so special is that Hwang was most closely associated to his villain roles and to see him in a heroic role (which he did a couple of other times) was unusual. Hwang does things here in terms of character nuance he's never done before and seems to be having a ball. Recommended for Hwang Jang Lee fans as they will appreciate this role far more than casual viewers.

Traveling street peddlers are pressured to pay protection money to the mob and refuse. Meanwhile, a rich college student learns that his father has ties with gangsters. The young man joins the poor gypsies against the criminals.

This is one of the most unusual and probably the most ambitious movie to star Korean super kicker, Hwang Jang Lee. It's a typical Asso Asian production from hack director, Godfrey Ho, but Hwang's varied performance is the reason to watch. As per most of Godfrey Ho and Joseph Lai's movies, the picture operates on the flimsiest of plot lines. It's so disjointed at times, it's difficult to tell what's going on. What holds it all together are the amazing kicking abilities of the star, Hwang Jang Lee.

Ho's movie also bears similarities to Chang Cheh's THE CHINATOWN KID (1977) with the inclusion of a rich kid/poor kid scenario. This plot contrivance really isn't necessary and adds nothing to the film aside from coming off as an afterthought to pad out the running time. Still, Hwang Jang Lee's plentiful scenes of ass kicking is the sole reason for watching this movie. Godfrey Ho was a "master" at making movies seem like two pictures spliced together. Actually, that was the case most of the time when it came to his directorial efforts.

Aside from HJL, none of the other cast stands out. It's all a jumbled mess and the dubbed dialog grates on the nerves. The word 'bastard' is uttered some two dozen or more times leaving the "plot" nearly incomprehensible. I've seen the movie some three times and I still can't remember if any of the characters are ever called by name save for one or two occasions.

Despite how awful it is, what makes this movie special is the fact that Hwang Jang Lee plays a hero; something he only did a few times. This is his best hero role only because he shows off a side of his personality you never get to see. He gets decked out in various costumes and disguises, plays a trumpet, has a sex scene, does comedy and shows off a lot of his trademark kicking ability. Outside of HJL, there is literally NOTHING else to recommend here.

Even with its jumbled together storyline, RAGING RIVALS is one of Godfrey Ho's most cohesive movies if you can believe the word 'cohesive' could ever apply to anything on his resume. A terrible movie, it's not nearly as bad as Ho's other modern day brawler with HJL entitled SECRET EXECUTIONERS (1981). HJL also played an effective hero in his directorial debut, HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA (1981) and his other good guy role in FIVE FINGERS OF STEEL (1982) in which he shared the screen with his colleague, the renowned Korean master kicker, Kwan Young Moon.

Hwang Jang Lee, Korean kung fu fans and Godfrey Ho completists are the only ones who will find enjoyment out of this. As has already been stated several times, the only reason to watch from start to finish is the tour de force of Hwang Jang Lee, a performance whose English dubbing attempts and fails to derail the picture. Godfrey Ho's career lasted some 20 years and outside of his Shaw Brothers work as an AD and a scant few brainless and enjoyable kung fu quickies (MAGNIFICENT NATURAL FIST, FURY IN SHAOLIN TEMPLE), that was about 15 years too long.

This DVD can be purchased here-- FAR EAST FLIX

Dragon On Shaolin Tower (1977) review


Lung Tien Sheng (Lin Ke Chang), Tung Li (Master Ching Yu Shan), Wu Fong (Master Hsu Tao Mu), Yun Chung Yue (Kao Chin), Li Chiang (Pan Tien), Chai Kai (cameo during opening fight)

Directed by Chang Jen Chieh

The short version: A highly entertaining indy kung fu feature that benefits from a good, if standard storyline. Some excellent choreography is found here with some familiar faces and an intriguing set piece in the vast battle tower. Thankfully, there's no comedy to disrupt the proceedings in this recommended China vs. Japan kung fu flick.

Every year the 'Ghost Festival' is celebrated in Taiwan. Offerings are given as consolation to the lost spirits that have not made it into heaven. Over the years, this tradition turned into a competition as various martial artists tried to climb to the top of the enormous tower to claim a red flag. When the Japanese occupied China, this Festival underwent another change. The Japanese decided to use the festival/competition as a means of eradicating patriots sympathetic to restoring China to its former glory.

Tung Li (center)

Master Shan attempts to abolish the mangling of the tradition by training a new group of disciples led by his top pupil, Kao Chin. When Kao is shamed after losing a fight and later bribed by Master Hsu and the Japanese, it's up to the younger brother, Lin Ke Chang, to train and defeat the Japanese fighters and stop the senseless killings that have transformed a revered festival into a bloodbath.

There have been literally thousands of kung fu and swordplay movies made between the late 1960's up to the mid 1980's when the genre morphed into its new wave style. So many of them are relatively interchangeable with the major difference being how intricate, or exciting the choreography happens to be. DRAGON ON SHAOLIN TOWER is one of those movies, but has enough plot contrivances to be more interesting than most.

Bearing some similarities to Lee Tso Nam's EAGLE'S CLAW (1977) released the same year, Chang Jen Chieh's (not the Shaw's Chang Cheh) kung fu epic utilizes the tried and true Japanese against Chinese motif which has been the 'go to' plot device ever since THE CHINESE BOXER in 1970. What sets this picture apart from so many others is its attention to character. Despite the English dubbed voices, the character traits still manage to shine through. No doubt had this movie been made after '77, it wouldn't be as engrossing as there would be a massive onslaught of comedy as that was all the rage the following year.

Even without the pathos and the dramatic elements, DOST would be great entertainment for some choice choreography and an intricate setting in reference to the tower itself. This construct contains lots of weapons such as sharp knives aligning a walkway and ladders leading up to the next level. If one's kung fu is good enough, they can stave off being cut. The style of Hard Chi Kung (Qigong) is a major style on display here. It focuses on the concentration of blood flow to certain parts of the body to avoid cuts from bladed weapons. Real Chi Kung practitioners are used in the film.

During his training, Lung Tien Sheng is called upon to slice a vegetable on his stomach with a razor sharp implement, the camera quickly cuts to a close up of a real practitioner performing the action. Ditto for the shot of the actor walking atop the very sharp and very large knives.

The fight sequences are very well done especially those that take place atop the dangerous tower. There's an assortment of fight scenes, but none of them are padding as is the case in so many kung fu comedies that came later. Choreographer, Chim Lung does a grand job of creating exciting battles whether it be one on one, or two against many. The Shaw's choreographers were experts at featuring a multitude of attackers against one, two, or more adversaries. Lung handles these sequences expertly with special mention of the finale. The editing is also quite good with special mention during the final moments when a certain bone crushing maneuver comes into play.

Ng See Yuen attempted a similar movie with the inferior RING OF DEATH in 1980. Even the participation of Hwang Jang Lee (who is underused in that film) wasn't enough to make that one interesting for me aside from a bright spot here and there. The fighting platform seen in that one is underwhelming compared with what is seen here.

Yun Chung Yue

Lung Tien Sheng has an early lead role here as the young, but astute Lin Ke Chang. His character is only mildly interesting when compared to his older kung fu brother, Kao Chin played by Yun Chung Yue. He gets blackmailed into leaving his school after a supposed liason with a woman requires he remain with her. He eventually becomes a drunk, shaming his teacher. But at the end, he appears at the competition claiming it was all a ruse! This abrupt plot point seems all the world like a last second addition to give the last battle atop the tower some extra punch and kind of hurts the flow a bit. But still, it does lend this sequence some added tension in that Kao Chin's skill level isn't up to the others who must traverse the bladed obstacles. Yun Chung Yue also played the leader of men's island in the wild and woolly COUNTRY OF BEAUTIES (1981).

Lung Tien Sheng

Lung Tien Sheng soon found himself in Chang Cheh's company in 1979 when he was brought over from Taiwan to co-star in TEN TIGERS OF KWANG TUNG, a movie that had been shut down for various reasons. He brought his family with him and made a decent career at Shaw's. He was used best by Chang Cheh who brought out the actors best attributes in films like FLAG OF IRON (1980) and THE SWORD STAINED WITH ROYAL BLOOD (1982).

Tung Li was in some early Shaw Brothers swordplay movies such as hero turns in unusual men and women on a mission movie, THE IMPERIAL SWORDSMAN (1971) and the gruesome delights of THE BLACK TAVERN (1972). He also played a villain opposing Tang Ching in THE BLACK ENFORCER (1972). The director, Chang Jen Chieh, also helmed the Taiwanese horror BLACK MAGIC clone, THE DEVILS (1981). DRAGON ON SHAOLIN TOWER (1977) is the best independent kung fu movie I've seen in a long time. It doesn't seem to get a lot of mention anywhere, but it definitely is a highly recommended action film for fans of the genre.

This DVD can be purchased here-- FAR EAST FLIX
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