Sunday, July 31, 2011

Terminal Island (1973) review


Don Marshall (A.J.), Sean Kenney (Bobby), Phyllis Davis (Joy), Ena Hartman (Carmen), Barbara Leigh (Bunny), Tom Selleck (Dr. Norman Milford), Roger E. Mosley (Monk), James Whitworth (Vander)

Directed by Stephanie Rothman

The Short Version: One of a number of great exploitation movies from Dimension Pictures, an indy company that usually "walked" in the shadow of New World Pictures, but delivered similar trashy thrills. This ambitious, if simplistic feature contains a wealth of unsavory attractions for drive in bloodhounds and sums up what made bad low budget 70s sinema so damn good. The title island is a dump for society's garbage where it's kill or be killed and the women are smacked around, humiliated and raped. Cheap thrills abound and there's a great cast including MAGNUM P.I. alums Tom Selleck and Roger Mosely.

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity***

"What's your opinion of Terminal Island?....It's where we dump our garbage."

When the California Supreme Court banishes the death penalty, the flood of violent insurgents are declared legally dead and taken to San Bruno Island to live out the remainder of their days. Dubbed Terminal Island, this hellhole harbors numerous rapists and murderers. Surrounded by strategically placed mines, escape from the island is impossible. Split into two factions at war with one another, women are treated as sex slaves amidst a bloody struggle to survive.

"If I tell you to kiss my ass I want you on your knees before I finish talkin!"--Monk explains the rules to new arrival, Carmen.

Stephanie Rothman goes to great lengths to not only carve out strong female roles in this exceedingly trashy exploitation treasure chest, but also packing as much misogyny and degradation as the films 88 minute running time will allow. Rothman got her big break with Roger Corman flicks like the New World classics THE STUDENT NURSES (1970) and THE VELVET VAMPIRE (1971). Shortly thereafter, she joined her husband at Dimension Pictures, an independent company that elegantly cloned the New World style, if only a bit more rough around the edges. Nonetheless, the films cranked out at Dimension were often perfect examples of the Drive In--42nd Street Era of exploitation excellence.

TERMINAL ISLAND is the kind of movie that doesn't get made anymore; at least not for a couple hundred thousand dollars. Resembling a Jack Hill picture, Rothman's sleazy endeavor is rife with irrefutably goofy dialog spoken with an energetic jingoism that's hard to resist quoting. The level of violence is typical of 70s drive in fare with a judicious helping of blood squibs, attempted rapes, female degradation, bountiful nudity and brutal stabbings with various sharp implements. The many fight scenes are extraordinarily accomplished for such a fast shoot and possess a gritty realism about them. Thankfully the bulk of the running time is made up of the less than tasteful aspects of the script for when the picture makes an attempt at exposition, it temporarily stalls.

The film begins with a brief infatuation with social subtext in reference to the way the media manipulates the public's perception of the news by making things more sensational than they really are. In this case, it's a television stations tinkering with heightening society's awareness of Terminal Island. Unfortunately, this angle is abandoned after the opening credits. A couple years later Paul Bartel would expand on mankinds fascination with televised violence in his DEATH RACE 2000 (1975). Also, it's possible John Carpenter was partially influenced by TERMINAL ISLAND's concept for his ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981).

The cast is made up of up and comers and seasoned professionals from television and other examples of drive in cinema. There's over the top performances from the likes of the lead heavy played by Sean Kenney (STAR TREK) and his henchman brutishly essayed by Roger Mosely (T.C. from MAGNUM P.I.). Speaking of Mosely, there's also Magnum himself, Tom Selleck as a wrongfully accused doctor sent to the island. Selleck isn't onscreen as much as some of his co-stars, but he gets the most poignant scene during the closing moments, which is uncharacteristically uplifting considering what has transpired during the first 80 plus minutes.

There's a bevy of beauties on hand here including the bosomy Phyllis Davis (SWEET SUGAR), the curvy Barbara Leigh (BOSS NIGGER) and Marta Kristen (BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS). Ena Hartman is apparently channeling Pam Grier's performances from her Filipino lensed WIP flicks, but without her dominating screen presence. Hartman's character is set up as the lead female protagonist, but she soon gets lost in the shuffle among the gaggle of other characters decked out in blue jeans and navy blue shirts.

"I'm breaking outa here! I'm goin after Monk...I'm gonna wipe out that big nigger faggot...I'm gonna smash his balls till they turn to jello!"--Carmen explaining what she has in store for Monk.

Some of the product produced or distributed by the unsung independent great Dimension Pictures includes such escapist entertainment as THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972), SWEET SUGAR (1972), THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT (1973), INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973), BOSS NIGGER (1975), DOLEMITE (1975), DR. BLACK & MR. HYDE (1976), BLACK SHAMPOO (1976), RUBY (1977), KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977) and SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS (1979). Quality ranges wildly for many of these, but all are terribly entertaining one way or another. For more information on Dimension Pictures, click HERE.

Aside from Tom Selleck and his future partner, Mosely, there's also Papa Jupiter himself, James Whitworth as Vander. Essentially America's version of Luigi Montefiore (George Eastman), Whitworth also took a major role in the low budget cult favorite PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS (1979). Don Marshall is the leader of the good faction although everyone looks the same considering they all wear the same clothes with little variance. Marshall will be instantly recognizable to fans of the original STAR TREK, particularly the episode 'The Galileo Seven' wherein he continuously bickers with Spock while giant ape monsters dwindle their numbers on an unknown planet.

The music is made up of stock music tracks (some of which you'll recognize from the 1979 no budget creature feature BOG) and a great country croonin' title theme, 'It's Too Damn Bad' sung by Jeff Thomas. The direction is solid and as mentioned above, perfectly apes the low budget excess of Corman's New World Pictures productions. TERMINAL ISLAND is tacky, terribly misogynistic and terminally unacceptable for those with discernible taste in movies. That being said, it's highly recommended drive in fodder for lovers of trash cinema.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD

Brute Corps (1972) review


Paul Carr (Ross), Joseph Kaufmann (Kevin), Jennifer Billingsley (Terry), Alex Rocco (Wicks), Michael Pataki (MacFarlane), Felton Perry (Hill), Charles Macaulay (The Colonel), Roy Jenson (Quinn), Parker West (Ballard)

Directed by Jerry Jameson

The Short Version: This rare 70s exploitation item is an occasionally interesting, if disappointing concoction of various elements that fail to gel into a cohesive whole amidst some good cinematography and a strangely out of place soundtrack. There's an astonishing flirtation with opposing views of those for and against the Vietnam War, but this gets dumped once the LAST HOUSE style humiliation takes over before that, too, is abandoned for a 'hunting humans' storyline peppered with moments straight out of a western movie. Only die hard 70s completists need sign up for the BRUTE CORPS. All others will likely go awol.

***WARNING! This review contains nudity***

A draft dodger and an amorous hippie are terrorized by Burckhardt's Bastards, a group of mercenaries camped near the US-Mexican border awaiting orders for their next mission in Central America. The girl is gang raped and the man is hunted down by the mercs. One of the group is sympathetic and aids the two outsiders in an attempt to escape a cruel death at the hands of the psychotic military specialists.

There's potential for a grim and grand good time here, but director Jameson frequently fumbles the ball keeping the proceedings from scoring an exploitation worthy trash touchdown in this recently uncovered obscurity. Still, the script does manage some striking social commentary and a few good scenes that make the film worth at least one viewing. While there's more or less zero plot, the storyline derives elements from STRAW DOGS (1971), LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) and any number of American or Italian made westerns. Probably the most satisfying portion of the film is its flirtation with America's involvement in Vietnam. Unlike other movies, these moments don't really condemn the war, but present a point of view from both the soldiers perspective and that of the "Make Love, Not War" counterculture.

The Vietnam allegory is blatant, but never heavy handed. In fact, this angle could have done with some more exploration. One of the most successful moments in the film is when the demented Wicks has a conversation with Kevin, the passive wanderer who escaped the draft. One side is turned off by death and the other is turned on by it. These fleeting minutes are among the best in the film and they add a lot of tension to this sequence where the mercenaries playfully, yet calculatingly let their true intentions be known regarding the sexually liberated woman. Not long after there's also a My Lai reference which ends the then current events subtext giving way to a lot of running around, some gun-play and an attempt to get the intimidated Mexican villagers to stand up against the militaristic oppressors.

The movie starts off on a wonderful, ghoulishly humorous note wherein Burckhardt's (Inglorious?) Bastards run afoul of a group of bikers prior to taking advantage of the citizens of a small Mexican border town. The opening is possibly the best portion of the film and if only the remainder was able to maintain that level of jovial insanity, this would likely be an uncovered jewel among exploitation enthusiasts. We then meet the two protagonists. One is a draft dodger and the other is a free spirited female who loves to "ball" and gets more than she bargained for later in the film. By the time the two wanderers are lured into the mercs camp, the notion that these men are far more sadistic than initially perceived creeps in.

Unfortunately, the movie stumbles about halfway through. It's not a total loss, it just fails to capitalize on several opportunities to expand on its brutal concept. Instead of embracing the savagery of LAST HOUSE, it instead segues into conventional western conventions culminating in a typical tumbleweed showdown. The films score is woefully out of place with not a single cue feeling like it belongs. The music is all upbeat and a detriment to the action onscreen. Instead of heightening what should be a perilous situation, the music perpetuates a less than suspenseful atmosphere. Nevertheless, there are a couple of shock surprises towards the end and the cast ultimately provides more consistent curiosity value than the film itself.

This type of offensiveness couldn't be done today, but if BRUTE CORPS had more of it, it would be a more satisfying piece of sleazy 70s cinema.

Alex Rocco (BONNIE'S KIDS) steals the show here as the deranged Wicks. When his character is disposed of, the film loses nearly all of its momentum. You could say that Wicks is the 'Krug' of the film although it's a shame he's snuffed out first. One gets the impression he will take over the unit, but when the Colonel (played by BLACULA's Charles Maucalay) allows the men to fight it out to see who gets first turn with the girl, it's surmised that all of the men are unhinged, just not as wacko as Wicks.

Prior to WALKING TALL (1973) alongside Joe Don Baker, Felton Perry played one of the demented mercenaries in BRUTE CORPS. His role as Hill is virtually interchangeable with the others, but all the performances are fine for the material. Genre stalwart Michael Pataki (ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA) also plays one of the sadists and partakes in a friendly Judo display with Perry's character.

The director of THE BAT PEOPLE (1974) and AIRPORT '77 (1977) fails to make his ingredients cook in this exploitation pie. The dichotomy between those who fought in the war and those who ran away from it makes for a startlingly feasible addition to a production that fails to take full advantage of its glaringly vicious subject matter. THE BRUTE CORPS (1972) has a great title and concept, only it could have been so much more than an average time-waster with barely enough brutality and lude behavior to satisfy the very crowd this type of picture catered to back in the day.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD

Brute Corps DVD link

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cool Ass Comics: Captain America Edition!

With the popularity of the new CAPTAIN AMERICA movie, I thought I'd display a few of the comics I have. All of these were given to me by my uncle and the condition of them ranges from "reader copy" to what I'd determine as Fine/Very Fine. The years of publication range between 1964 and 1973. Above is the first Silver Age appearance of The Red Skull.

Iron Man debuted in TALES OF SUSPENSE issue #39 and the comic became a two-fer with Capt. America with number 59. This title officially became CAPTAIN AMERICA with issue #100.

This is the earliest AVENGERS issue I have. Capt. America was discovered encased in ice in issue #4. Superheroes like Hulk, Thor and Iron Man were the popular members of the team.

This is a good one here wherein the Avengers battle it out with Dr. Doom. The cover for this one is quite good especially in displaying the confidence and villainy of Doom.

Namor, the Submariner is a unique character amongst the Marvel superheroes. He's not really a good guy, nor a bad guy. He's one of the earliest ever comic characters from Marvel and has either sided with, or battled against probably every major comic book character from Stan Lee's stable of heroes. Here, he's battling Capt. America. This issue was part of an 'Avengers vs. The Defenders' angle. THE DEFENDERS being a team of rotating members, but usually featuring characters such as Namor, The Hulk, Silver Surfer and Dr. Strange among a bunch of others.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Among the Fallen (2011) review


Jay Shatzer (Will Ashford), Erica Shatzer (Sophia Ashford)

Directed by Jay Shatzer

The Short Version: Modest, yet visually interesting take on the zombie movie--a genre that's been starving for fresh brains lately. Jay Shatzer's 60 minute indy movie may not satiate those seeking a strict diet of mindless flesh shredding thrills, but those open to a cerebral experience will find much to munch on here. There's blood and gore aplenty, but with a lot more going on than the standard living dead feature. Overly melancholic, the film is a love story at its core and bears some occasionally striking photography echoing a potential talent in its director and fellow hands behind the camera.

Will Ashford, a young writer mourning the death of his wife and unborn child, takes a trip out in the country to a secluded cabin by the lake. Upon his arrival, Will is haunted by bizarre occurrences including a growing number of walking corpses.

Jay Shatzer not only writes about horror movies on his blog, THE LUCID NIGHTMARE, but he goes the extra mile doing what many of us would love to do and that's actually make them. This 60 minute independent feature is a dialog deprived, but visually stylized take on the zombie film--a frequently "brainless" genre that's gotten so out of hand and virtually interchangeable these days, not even a bullet in the head can stop the monotony. Essentially a tragic story of lost love, the element of the walking dead is a cryptic addition that's "explained" by the end, but throughout, it's all up to viewer interpretation.

Thankfully, Shatzer's film, while obviously lacking major monetary backing, is far more creative and lovingly ambitious than a dozen or more of the zombie movie horde out there now. The filmmakers put their limited means to good use making the most of their locations with some truly captivating photographic touches as well as some brief experimentation with black and white shots subtly enhanced with color. The camerawork of Raimi and Peter Jackson (before the RINGS and KONG) puts in a cameo appearance as well. Whether intentional or not, you'll also notice influences from the likes of CARNIVAL OF SOULS, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (Shatzer and his team are from Pennsylvania, by the way), LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, THE EVIL DEAD and Fulci's ZOMBIE.

The use of running water is a recurring theme here whether from a sink, a shower, or the nearby lake. Liquid of the sanguinary variety serves as a metaphorical extension and sometimes the two are intertwined; their ultimate purpose coming full circle during the last scene. Ambiguity looms large over this production even if it loses some of its aesthetic merit once the zombies make their presence known 30 minutes into the film. The makeup and special effects are crude, but highly effective with an accomplished "Do It Yourself" fervor. The sound effects of the zombies are suitably eerie as well. These shamblers are the slow shuffler variety and not the overbearing marathon runners of today's "fast food" horror audience. The musical score is also very well done particularly the opening and closing themes.

If any negative can be applied here it's that some scenes tend to go on too long tripping up the pace, whose slow build otherwise works in the pictures favor. This applies to some of the zombie sequences, too. Some may find the artistic excess overly pretentious, but considering this is a fan made project much in the same way some of the horror genres best loved artisans got their start, it's far less an imperious project than it is an impassioned one.

AMONG THE FALLEN is definitely a recommended piece of indy cinema that uses a good deal of ingenuity to tell a simple story in a visually impressive way. Jay Shatzer shows a great deal of talent here and hopefully, he gets to take this aptitude to the next level.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Cinema of Excess: Chang Cheh & His Films Part 6

Behind the scenes on THE HEROIC ONES (1970)


The late 60s were banner years for the "million dollar director" Chang Cheh. Granted, other directors such as Lo Wei and Ho Meng Hua were also given this name, but its application to the Shanghai native was more significant. Cheh had single-handedly altered the perception of Hong Kong cinema virtually over-night with his generously violent scenes of bloodletting and human suffering married to the masculine machinations of the order of Chinese chivalrous knights. Having directed more or less the entirety of THE BUTTERFLY CHALICE (shot in 1963 and released in 1965), initially tapped to helm THE KNIGHT OF KNIGHTS (1966), directed the B/W experiment TIGER BOY (1966) and explored the Wuxia realm with the likes of THE MAGNIFICENT TRIO (1966) and TRAIL OF THE BROKEN BLADE (1966), Chang Cheh finally found his niche in 1967 with THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN. More moneymakers and innovations would follow.

Promo shots for THE INVINCIBLE FIST (1969)

With three back-to-back hits on his hands, Cheh's intriguing 1969 Eastern with a touch of western--THE INVINCIBLE FIST (see Chang Cheh part 5 for more on this movie) was the only Shaw swordplay to be entered into the 15th Annual Asian Film Festival. It was also the directors return to the genre after wrapping up the modern settings of the failed experiments THE SINGING THIEF and DEAD END. An ambitious production, it made a meager impression at the Hong Kong box office. Another Cheh picture, THE FLYING DAGGER (1969), shot concurrently with THE GOLDEN SWALLOW (1968), also floundered. An auspicious lead role for Lo Lieh and a notable supporting role for David Chiang, this was the first and last starring role for Lo in a Chang Cheh film having previously shared the screen with Wang Yu in both MAGNIFICENT TRIO and GOLDEN SWALLOW and Cheng Pei pei in that latter production as well as in THE FLYING DAGGER. Lo Lieh of course, would go on to garner even more notoriety over the next couple of years.

15th Annual Asian Film Festival Awards ceremony for entry film DEAD END (1969)

With a proliferation of similar swordplays bombarding theaters, Cheh began intermittently dabbling in modern day theatrics with the artistic flourishes of the aforementioned DEAD END (1969), the second of two Chang films to be entered into the above mentioned film festival. DEAD END was a tragic melodrama in the style of James Dean movies such as REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) and other similar Juvenile Delinquency pictures--a genre Cheh would experiment with over the course of the next few years (see Chang Cheh part 4). This first starring role for genre vet Ti Lung was a modern day drama feature that contained elements not too far removed from the tragic heroes of the Martial World the director had become famous for.

Behind the scenes of THE SINGING THIEF (1969); Below: Lo Lieh meets singing sensation Jimmy Lin Chong

Having problems with censors and another troubled, if peculiar modern day crime comedy by the name of THE SINGING THIEF (1969) under-performing in Hong Kong, Cheh had momentarily hit a 'Dead End' and retreated back to the safety of his martial homeland--the Wuxia universe. After the veritable failure of THE INVINCIBLE FIST, though, Chang remained undaunted carrying on behind the scenes much like his virtuous swordsmen in front of the camera.

Chang Cheh (right) on set of RETURN OF ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN

Armed with sword swinging titles such as RETURN OF THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN, HAVE SWORD WILL TRAVEL and THE WANDERING SWORDSMAN in production with a whole other slew of sword clanging tales of blood and vengeance in pre-production, 1969 was a busy year for the enterprising director and would only get bigger over the next couple of years. RETURN OF THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN wasn't of the same caliber of the genre defining first film, but it piled on the action and gore drenched spectacle to an alarming degree. Having to trim a number of scenes of violence, what this sequel lacked in exposition it made up for in escapist entertainment. Gone are the brooding scenes of Jimmy Wang Yu's Fang Gang coming to grips with his loss of his arm and his dedication and loyalty to not only his master, but to perfecting his skills. For the sequel, it's basically one fight filled bloodfest after another brimming with outrageous creativity that strains the level of believability, but nothing that isn't indigenous to the Wuxia universe.


Both Ti Lung and David Chiang turn up briefly and it would only be a matter of months before they were taking the Asian box office by storm. RETURN brought in good returns for the Shaw Brothers and Wang Yu eventually got to direct his own movie before the hot headed actor abruptly jumped ship to the competition at Golden Harvest (see Shaw Brothers & Kung Fu Cinema Part 2). Armed with his box office clout, Wang Yu made a string of (mostly) bad movies built around characters he played at Shaws, or moneymaking bonanzas produced by his former boss. A replacement was quickly required to fill the gap left by the controversial star so the Shaw's entrusted Chang Cheh and his uncanny ability to spot potential talent. He found it in Shaw stuntman David Chiang and former Southern Drama student Ti Lung. Combined with director Chang Cheh, these three were known as 'The Iron Triangle' and together this indomitable set of 'Triple Irons' were a force to be reckoned with. However, when separated, neither actor fared very well.


Interestingly enough, both actors tried their luck as a single (although some of these solo efforts were released afterward) before being paired up in HAVE SWORD WILL TRAVEL (1969). After THE INVINCIBLE FIST (1969) was finished, Cheh began work on THE WANDERING SWORDSMAN (1970), a solo vehicle for David Chiang, co-starring with Lily Li, an actress he was often associated with onscreen. KING EAGLE was also put into production, but that picture was built solely around Ti Lung. Shaws baby queen, the immensely popular Li Ching, was his co-star. Both films were built around the typical Chang Cheh righteous hero, but with some differences that reflected the strengths of the lead actors. David Chiang was a ROBIN HOOD styled character for his introductory lead role, a swordsman who helps the downtrodden and ultimately seeks redemption when his stubbornness leads to deception by villains when he's fooled into snatching a consignment of treasure.

This was familiar territory for the director and his brand of heroism--present an affable yet stoic personality whose righteousness and implacable attitude leads to eventual tragedy. While it's not a wholly worthwhile picture, it's a standard swordplay with an indelible performance by David Chiang which would become de rigueur for the actors onscreen mannerisms. It, like Ti Lung's solo outing in KING EAGLE, featured a few stand out moments mostly dominated by spectacularly gory heroism, but little else to differentiate themselves from other similar movies of the day. With KING EAGLE (production began right after DEAD END was completed, but not released till 1971) in the can, the director embarked on the profitable partnership of the two actors, a bond that would formulate a lasting friendship for many years and many memorable movies.

Since both Ti Lung and David Chiang were unproven commodities at that moment, Li Ching is showcased as the centerpiece of this poster.

HAVE SWORD WILL TRAVEL (1969) was a special film within the directors repertoire. It was the first motion picture pairing of David Chiang and Ti Lung in lead roles as well as adding Li Ching to the mix. It also featured a reasonably engulfing plot that was spearheaded by David Chiang's honorable swordsman, Luo Yi. As would become common practice, Ti Lung would often suffer being placed in the "back seat" in his movies with David Chiang. It wasn't intentional, but one of the directors numerous brainstorms was to put the strengths of his performers to their maximum capacity. In this case, David Chiang was the better, more charismatic actor while Ti Lung was the more masculine, rugged performer. Both worked off of each other incredibly well and it only became more evident with each succeeding movie the two did together.

Behind the scenes on HAVE SWORD WILL TRAVEL (1969)

There's a bit of a love triangle here between Siang Ding (Ti Lung), Yun Piao (Li Ching) and the mysterious knight in clouded armor Luo Yi (David Chiang). John (David) Chiang essayed a similar role in 1971's THE DUEL, a film that was later remade by Chang Cheh as FLAG OF IRON (1980). There's some obvious innuendo that Siang's betrothed harbors feelings for the more complicated character of Luo, the typically stoic, yet tragic Chang Cheh hero. As per many of the directors movies, this angle isn't explored with any depth, but is nonetheless there shuffled between scenes of slow motion bloodletting. Still, such male and female romanticism is clearly evident in many of the directors films predominantly in the formative years between 1966 through 1970 and sporadically up to 1973.


Aside from a brooding performance from David Chiang, his character is one step up from the dogmatic knight in that he has an affectionate relationship with his trusted horse. There's a somewhat touching scene where an almost starving Luo begrudgingly sells his horse so that he and his loyal equine can eat. The film is also notable for showcasing the enormous pagoda on the Shaw back lot, here representing the villains lair--each succeeding level housing various thugs brandishing assorted weaponry. Bruce Lee no doubt saw this movie and incorporated the pagoda plot device into his GAME OF DEATH (1977). The 100 foot construct was built specifically for this production and cost HK70,000 dollars. The studio got a lot of mileage out of this incredible set incorporating it in many more movies.

Taking a break during the shooting of VENGEANCE! (1970)

With this latest swordplay a big hit, the inspired director had the idea of bringing the knight errant into the 20th century and with it, his star pupils. The result yielded an award winning production, but just shy of another million dollar success at the HK box office. The film was VENGEANCE! (1970), a picture that has went on to accumulate a certain degree of respectability emboldened by the participation of John Woo as an assistant director. The plot is standard revenge fare, but told with a meticulous flair by Chang Cheh. While he became known for his smirkingly mischievous roles, David Chiang downplays his roguish image for a more solemn, melancholic aura as Guan Hsiao Lou, the younger brother of an opera performer who died unjustly at the hands of a malicious gangster.

Notice Chen Kuan Tai and Pai Piao to the right of this scene from VENGEANCE! (1970)

The modernity of updating the lone swordsman with knives and guns was a novel concept and Cheh treats the material in much the same fashion an artist would treat a great painting. VENGEANCE! is a work of art--of moving pictures with broad red brushstrokes throughout. Watching the film one can easily see just how influential Chang Cheh's style was on John Woo. There's relatively little difference between the two filmmakers with Woo adopting many of his teachers techniques and innovations which became increasingly apparent in his later works. But where John Woo had Chow Yun Fat, Chang Cheh had David Chiang and Ti Lung among a handful of others that became equally famous.

Awards ceremony with winners from VENGEANCE!, actor David Chiang and director Chang Cheh

It should be noted that while Ti Lung preceded his frequent co-star, it was David Chiang who caused critics and audiences alike to take notice to his acting abilities despite his slight build. Ti Lung took a supporting role here as the doomed elder brother. The film won two awards at the 16th Annual Asian Film Festival--Best Actor for David Chiang and Best Director for Chang Cheh. From here on out, most if not all of the pairs movies had David top billed and Ti Lung second. Something similar took place in the directors THE SINGING KILLER (1970), a non musical retelling of Cheh's lively THE SINGING THIEF (1969).

lunch break during filming of THE DUEL (1971)

During production, promotional materials attest to a much larger role for Ti Lung, but in the finished film his screen time amounts to little more than a brief cameo during the opening dance club scene. Interestingly enough, David Chiang explained his comfortability in portraying a musician, yet onscreen, he seems anything but comfortable. He does show off some flamboyant costumes and engages in some raw, but slick fight scenes. This film acts as something of a bridge between the directors action pictures and his series of rebellious youth movies. Nonetheless, THE SINGING KILLER fared much better at the box office than its similar counterpart did.

The Iron Triangle on the set of THE DUEL (1971)

There were two other movies in production during the early part of 1970--one was another modern day-early Republic Era gangster picture and the other was a sprawling period piece. The former was THE DUEL (1971), one of the directors more brutally gruesome pictures which began production in 1970. Following the template laid down by the more singularly focused VENGEANCE! (1970), THE DUEL is more expansive as an updated approach to the Wuxia conventions. Only here, the heroes are more anti heroic, but still righteous. This is also one of the earliest examples that glorified Triad organizations. Ti Lung's character also sports a tattoo spread across his chest. This was during a time when such a body modification was often associated with gangsterism, yet he's the good guy. The plot of THE DUEL is a convoluted scenario about rival gangs and the resulting treachery. If you've seen the directors later venom movie FLAG OF IRON (1980), then you have an idea what the storyline entails. It's virtually identical only instead of the acrobatic maneuvers of the latter film, there's wildly gory knife battles with dozens of combatants onscreen at one time. Both 'Iron Triangle' actors are given ample opportunity to shine here in this violent and successful effort from Chang Cheh.

The massive exhibit for THE HEROIC ONES (1970)

One of the biggest movies of the year as well as one of the directors biggest spectacles of his career was the enormous and expensive production of THE HEROIC ONES (1970). A very famous film in Asia, it's still remembered today. It's distinguished for several reasons one of them being the bloated budget of HK2.5million. Unheard of at the time, a gala exhibit showcasing the many props, costumes and even severed body parts and blood jelly used in the film were showcased. Not only that, but a documentary detailing the arduous production was also part of the show. In another bit of movie mogul magic, Shaw Brothers had a 'Heroic Ones' basketball game between the Shaws stable of stars involved in Cheh's picture and the camp at TVB several days before the films release.

Note Bolo Yeung among the players at top

All the key components that made up the Chang Cheh formula were on hand here and the expansiveness of the script allowed for a greater number of characters and a good deal of honor and treachery to boot. This majestic two hour epic had amazing battle sequences for the time period and Cheh's trusted chief choreographer, Liu Chia Liang had his work cut out for him. Hundreds of extras and teams of horses were required for the many wine guzzling 'Heroic Ones' and the armies under their guidance. The enormity of what was then called a "super production" cropped up on Cheh's filming slate with regularity up to 1977 when changing audience trends and high production costs made such expensive endeavors almost obsolete without the participation of a partner studio. But by then, Chang Cheh had lost much of his box office clout. However, during the early 70s he reigned supreme and was a force to be reckoned with for several more years.

Shaw Brothers movies dominated the Hong Kong box office in 1970 and two of the directors films were in the top five, those being THE HEROIC ONES and THE SINGING KILLER. Showing a striking assured hand at maintaining a tight ship on the set of such a huge picture, the enterprising director would soon be undertaking his ultimate ideological epic in late 1971. The fact that Chang would be shooting multiple big budget and opulent pictures simultaneously made his abilities all the more impressive for the amount of quality he was able to procure on what was undoubtedly a hugely hectic schedule. The year 1971 and especially 1972 would prove among the busiest ever for the visionary filmmaker.


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