Movies: Shaolin List of Tears

There is typically not a whole lot of organization to my movie watching. Take last Thursday for instance. It hadn’t been a bad week, but it hadn’t been a great one, either. Bored, listless, I decided what I needed was some Kung Fu Treachery. So it was time for a movie I’d owned for years, but never watched: Shaolin Prince (1982).

This is, the box tells me the first of only three movies directed by fight choreographer Tang Chia,and at first glance it looks like pretty typical wuxia fare. Two infant princes manage to escape the slaughter of the rightful Emperor and his family by the villainous Lord Nine. Separated, one is raised by the Prime Minister as his own son, the other by monks at the Shaolin Temple.

You’re given some clue as the bizzareness of the rest of the movie by Lord Nine’s two underlings, who specialize in fire and water attacks. The Fire General’s attacks are especially impressive, blowing stuff up left and right. Then, when the other prince is handed off to the Shaolin Temple, he is adopted by what are basically the Three Stooges of Shaolin, who are living out a lengthy exile in a small building at the back of Temple, in punishment for doing… well, something wacky, I’m guessing. But it turns out that having nothing better to do, they have honed their kung fu to incredible heights, which they spend the next twenty years teaching their new charge. In wacky ways.

The Shaolin Prince grows into the always-wonderful Ti Lung, while the other prince tips his hand by traveling to the Temple to study the one style which can defeat Lord Nine’s Iron Fingers technique. This, of course, sets up a meet cute between the two princes, who have to join forces to survive.

Despite the fairly hoary plot, Shaolin Prince easily kept me entertained. The fights are creative, there’s a side plot with a murderous ghost the Temple monks must exorcise, Lord Nine’s sedan chair has more weapons than 007’s car… hell, the wacky monks, whom I was sure I was going to hate? I wound up warming toward them, too.

And there is lots and lots of Kung Fu Treachery, all the market could bear. The box also claims there were five choreographers at work, and some real difference in the tone of the various (and plentiful) fights bears that out.

The only trailer on youtube is in unsubtitled Mandarin and bears a pretty intrusive watermark, but I guess that’s what you get for not ripping the trailer yourself and uploading it:

The next night, I was casting aimlessly about (again), and finally decided to re-watch another movie I recalled seeing on TV while very, very young, but remembering almost none of: The List of Adrian Messenger.

List presents us with a British, moustached George C. Scott, a former member of MI-5, who is given a list of names by his writer friend Adrian, who is pretty coy about what the list means. He wants Scott to “see if those men are still living at those addresses,” and is unwilling to voice anymore of his suspicions at that point.

Well, when the plane Adrian is taking to America blows up the next day, Scott begins to realize what we, the audience, have privy to since the picture started – someone has been killing all the men on the list, and making it look like an accident, and Adrian is only the latest victim.

List is very oddly structured; we know the killer is played by Kirk Douglas and that he is a master of disguise; this revealed in a very effective sequence in an airport restroom where he first removes contact lens, revealing his true eyes – icy, steely grey in this black-and-white movie – and peels off the layers of his latex disguise. Though we know who he is, we discover his motive along with Scott, and The List of the title is completed about halfway through the picture; then Douglas reveals himself and begins the second part of his scheme.

The List of Adrian Messenger is going to appeal to a fairly narrow audience these days, I suspect; its story takes place mainly against a backdrop of genteel landed gentry – foxhunts play a major part in the proceedings – and though there is a fair amount of satire in those parts, it seems even more foreign and exotic here in 2012.

I almost forgot the best part – The List of Adrian Messenger is also a “gimmick” movie, though not in the same way as William Castle’s ballyhoo masterpieces. There are three other big name stars in small roles throughout the picture, disguised in Mission Impossible full-face masks, just like Kirk Douglas. Can you spot them? Spotting the make-up is easy, the identity of a couple of them, not so – and having Paul Frees do a substitute voice on one is just cheating.

Couldn’t find a trailer, and what is tagged as atrailer is actually the opening credits, but it does give you at look at these stars in disguise:

Saturday morning, I was the only one up and had unlimited control over the TV and Netflix, so I decided it was time to watch Tears of the Black Tiger, which continued my run of oddball movies.

The briefest way to describe Tears is: it’s a candy-colored Thai spaghetti western about two star-crossed lovers. Going deeper, though, what we find is a sweetly heartfelt romance blended into a parody of sweetly heartfelt romance movies, westerns in general, and even Hong Kong heroic bloodshed movies. Like many great parodies (Black Dynamite, Lethal Force, Lost Skeleton of Cadavra), it doesn’t single out one movie to target, it amasses all the cliches from the genres and incorporates them into a new movie, one that’s its own creature, reminding us of many movies but still establishing its unique identity.

The gunfights positively wallow in hyperviolent bloodshed, echoing Peckinpah and the more extreme HK gun-fu flicks. Director Wisit Sasanatieng manipulates color ruthlessly, creating a world that at its most realistic looks like a hand-painted postcard, at its most extreme, expressionist art. And still, despite all these boundary-pushing techniques, he keeps the love story affecting; you really come to care for the protagonists in this city-girl/country-boy plot, and want them to overcome the odds, to finally be together. The ending is not quite so easily spelled out as that, possibly Sasanatieng’s final nose-thumbing at these movies, but at least we get the impression that everybody’s cards are finally on the table. The girl is in the hero’s arms – what more can we ask?

Well, quite a bit more, but we ain’t getting it.

It’s Sunday morning as I finish this up. While unloading for last night’s show, a door pinned my foot and my leg stayed behind while my body moved forward. In short, I had a hell of a graceless, hard fall. Sleep last night was minimal, but at least I’m not too badly off this morning – the worst is a severe rug burn running the length of my right arm, which looks pretty gruesome. Finding a bed position where it doesn’t rub against anything is difficult, but I hope to give it another try soon. Thank heaven it’s short-sleeve shirt weather.

My wife is out of town this week, leaving me with a fourteen year-old who no longer likes my cooking. (But he does like making himself Ramen, so I guess that’s a win) I have three, count them, three City Meetings to work this week, so I won’t be watching another movie until Thursday night, it seems. Unless I sneak one in tonight, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to talk to you about that one.

So tally ho and all that. And watch out for doors. Those damned things will kill ya.

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