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

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Japan Edition! The Monsters of Tsuburaya!


By August Ragone

Hardcover; 208 pages; Color & B/W

One of the most noted authors and experts on Japanese monster and science fiction films, August Ragone realizes a lifelong dream in his exhaustive, massively informative hardback tome on that grand old man of Toho and Tsuburaya productions, Eiji Tsuburaya. Just seeing the book up close and personal it becomes obvious a lot of love and passion went into this book. From the front and back cover, to the thick, glossy pages, to the side of the book opposite the spine where Eiji's name is visible on the edges of the pages, a devout attention to detail has been paid for this undertaking.

One of the most striking attributes of this book are the sheer amount of jaw dropping behind the scenes shots from the various movies and not just the Kaiju films. There are also a handful of surviving shots from Tsuburaya's war pictures as well as images of the man himself in his younger days. The amount of 'making of' images is astounding. Fans will truly be in awe of this book. Not only does it cover all of Tsuburaya's Godzilla movies, but also his many science fiction television works including ULTRA Q and ULTRAMAN and its many spin offs. Other Japanese monster movies are covered as well with a chapter set aside for Gamera and other Kaiju creations.

What's On the Back Cover?

A number of additional writers participate on this book in addition to Ragone. Ed Godziszewski, Guy Mariner Tucker, John Paul Cassidy, Shogo Tomiyama, Akira Tsuburaya, Brad Warner, Norman England and Mark Nagata all contribute chapters to this lavish publication. Quite possibly the single best book out there on the subject, the back cover has a list price of $40.00. While it's worth every penny, the book can be purchased at amazon for $26.40 (see below), or cheaper from amazon sellers. The highest recommendation for Japanese sci fi/monster movie fans.


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