Human Lanterns (1982)

HumanLanterns_GoldenSwallow_SC36Before I descend into the madness of another Movie Challenge Month, I should probably talk about one of the movies I did manage to watch during my burnout from the last one: Human Lanterns, a piece to 80s horror nastiness from the Shaw Brothers. It is on The List, after all.

When the craze for Asian movies started up again in the 90s, I was right there with it, searching out movies in an age when the Net was just starting out and a person in my position had to make do with books, magazines, and mail order. I still have a ton of VHS tapes in boxes in my garage, most of very iffy quality and downright scurrilous sources. But one of the movies spoken of as a sort of HK video nasty was Human Skin Lanterns, later amended to Human Lanterns. And here it is, in my hands, in a pristine DVD.

A company named Celestial Pictures started putting out remastered, gorgeous DVDs of the Shaw Brothers back catalogue in the early 00s, and again, there I was. The American Dollar was very strong against the HK dollar, and I was importing close to 20 discs a month for under $200. There were movies I thought I would never see in my lifetime, movies familiar only in their cropped, dubbed versions on Saturday afternoon TV, and movies I took a chance on and was rewarded handsomely.

Human-LanternsAs all good things must, the contract I was working on at the time ended, and I was back to my duller, more financially strapped state. But then domestic American editions of the Celestial discs began appearing, and look, there it is in my hands: Human Lanterns. With the Image Entertainment logo.

So here’s your plot: There are two kung fu bigshots in town, Tan (Chen Kuan Tai) and Lung (Tony Liu). There is the usual rivalry between the two, but the difference here is that both men are real douchebags, and their antics are the sort of things that make their friends look away uncomfortably. Their latest achievement is wrecking a party at Tan’s over a prostitute both men frequent.

The upshot of the evening is that both men swear they are going to win that year’s Lantern Competition, and Lung journeys to the town’s market to find out who has really been making lanterns for Lung in past years – the merchant he actually pays for them doesn’t have the skill. To his surprise, Lung discovers this masterful lantern maker is none other than Fang (Lo Lieh), a man Lung beat in a duel seven years before, leaving him with a facial scar and a brooding hatred.

Lung beseeches Fang to let bygones be bygones, to make him a truly beautiful and unique lantern that will beat Tan’s entry. In return, Lung promises riches and a way out of the hovel in which Fang lives and works. Fang agrees, as this is the spark that will power a vengeance seven years in the building.

human-lanterns-2_webFang begins by kidnapping the aforementioned prostitute and skinning her alive. There are gorier instances of this in genre cinema, but this particular version is low-tech and pretty nasty. Tan and Lung cast suspicions on each other for the woman’s disappearance, and the local policeman (Sun Chien) is pretty ineffective, as in all horror movies.

Fang continues his plan apace, eventually kidnapping Tan’s younger sister, and finally Lung’s wife, who we discover was the cause of that duel seven years before.  Things build to a massive kung fu fight and a fiery finish, which only one of the characters will survive.

There are, as I said, gorier movies of this sort, but Human Lanterns manages to be unpleasant in its own, personal ways. Thankfully, we only see two of the women being skinned, but Fang, in the full throes of his villainy, has to rape the woman who caused his defeat and disfigurement. We never see Tan’s younger sister go through this, only Fang’s gleeful playing of cat-and-mouse with her in his hellish underground workshop. We entertain a bit of hope that she might still crop up, unharmed toward the end… but no. This is a horror movie, a slasher film in period garb. Don’t let the accouterments of an action movie fool you.

There is a special kind of chill when Lung finally finds that underground charnel house and sees the completed lanterns, and is held transfixed for a moment by their beauty, not realizing that the one he is admiring features the “beautiful red mole” on his wife’s back that he so treasured.

lantern25The cast is quite good. Chen Kuan Tai, a superb martial artist and star of many a Shaw Brothers blockbuster, seems pretty wasted in his role; Tony Liu is given much more screen time and fills it well enough, but neither of these men are given any way to truly gain audience empathy; the only people we feel for are the victims. Poor Sun Chien never got a break – we always see him playing second fiddle to other members of the Venom Gang, and here he has to play the Asian version of Barney Fife.

Lo Lieh was a very versatile performer; he could certainly handle hero roles – witness King Boxer/Five Fingers of Death – but where he really excelled was playing villains, and Human Lanterns gives him more than adequate atrocities to sink his teeth into. While doing his wetwork, Fang wears some sort of hairy ape suit with a skull face ,and watching this figure, swinging through the trees, loose-jointed and cackling, is pretty chilling.

lantern17Human Lanterns has its share of fight scenes, but none are dynamic enough to cement the movie as a kung fu flick – and the horror segments are memorable enough, but often seem imported from another movie. It’s an odd creature to be sure, worth a watch from horror fans, but probably not action-packed enough for martial arts mavens.

The Man With The Iron Fists (2012)

man_with_the_iron_fistsIt’s not going to surprise anyone when I say I love kung fu movies. That’s a label that covers a wide variety of movies, and while I can’t claim to love them all, I do find almost all of them interesting on some level. One thing that puzzles me – and mainly in a rhetorical sense – is why there has not yet been a Great American Kung Fu movie. Now, kung fu tropes have been a part of American cinema for years; I’m talking here about The Matrix movies or Kill Bill. But there the kung fu is in service to another story – it is not a primary motivator, they do not take place in jianghu, The World of Martial Arts. Their characters are proficient in the martial arts, but those arts do not permeate the very fabric of the world the way they do in Asian movies.

And now, perhaps, The Man With The Iron Fists has answered that question.

Man With the Iron Fists, in case you’re not familiar, is a movie directed by, co-written by, and starring RZA, a man likely best known as a musician, rapper and hip hop producer. His credentials there are exceedingly strong, and there is no doubt that he is also a fanatic about kung fu movies. The monster group he co-founded in the early 90s was The Wu-Tang Clan, and their first album was named The 36 Chambers, for pete’s sake. I can’t judge the music, I’m not the target audience for hip hop, but there’s no doubt RZA knows what he’s talking about, kung fu movie-wise.

That said, Iron Fists didn’t do so well at the box office; reviews have run the gamut from lukewarm to outright hate. The most even-handed one I ran across is Paul Freitag-Fey’s at the Daily Grindhouse site – and even that one is all too aware of the movie’s flaws. But, as always, I have to see these things myself and make up my own mind, and so, after a hellaciously busy two weeks, on the verge of exhaustion, I put the disc into my player and willed everyone to be wrong about it.

My will was weak.

Take THAT, viewer!

Take THAT, viewer!

Now, the first remarkable thing about Iron Fists is that RZA actually set out to make a wuxia film. It is set in China in the mid-to-late 19th century, and is pretty much concerned with the jianghu as centered in the largely corrupt and extremely violent Jungle Village. Iron Fists shares a Macguffin with my favorite Shaw Brothers flick. The Kid With the Golden Arm: a cart full of government gold, headed for (mumble mumble). In Kid, it’s for the relief of flood victims. In Iron Fists… I’m just not sure.

Because here is the most severe blow against Iron Fists: the first cut reportedly came in at four hours. The same report says that RZA wanted to release it as two movies (which may have worked, we’ll never know), but it was instead cut down to 95 minutes – 107 if, like me, you watched the unrated extended version on disc. That means the first half to two-thirds of the movie is driven by narration, which is always a sign of trouble.

The-Man-with-the-Iron-Fists_07The first thirty minutes are incredibly frenetic and confusing. There’s a huge fight under the opening credits that I’m still not sure has any bearing on the story itself. A patriarch of the Lion Clan, Gold Lion (Chen Kuan Tai, himself an old school kung fu movie star of no small import) is assassinated, which does have a bearing, and the gold is being sent down the road for whatever purpose… it’s either for Jungle Village, or it’s just passing through Jungle Village… in either case, I’m not interested enough to go back and check.

The treacherous lieutenant of the Lion Clan, Silver Lion (Byron Mann) wants the gold, and is aided by a mysterious cloaked figure who will later be named as Poison Dagger (Daniel Wu, eventually). Gold Lion’s son, Zen Yi (Rick Yune) calls off his marriage to look into his father’s death. Zen, I should mention, is supposedly, anachronistically called The X-Blade, but seemingly only in the trailer. He has a “suit of knives”, which pops out porcupine-like quills as needed, though God only knows where they retract to when he’s finished. Not that this is the most outrageous weapon I’ve ever been asked to accept in a kung fu movie.

Meanwhile, at the Pink Blossom bordello (the finest in the region) Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu) welcomes an unusual traveler – a British expatriate with the unlikely sobriquet of Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), who wields a combination pistol dagger that whirls like a drill. Jack books a room with three prostitutes and settles in for his vacation.

the-man-with-the-iron-fists09 (1)Got that? Good. Now realize that none of these characters is the star of the movie, the main character. The title character.  That would be the perfectly-named Blacksmith, played by RZA, who is not only a blacksmith, but is also black! Get it? He manufactures the bizarre weapons for all the local clans, like the Lions, the Wolves, and the Rats (we are not allowed Tigers or Bears for the obvious joke).

No wonder Blossom – and nobody else, really – bats an eye when a lone Brit arrives in town. He has no novelty value.

The tale of how Blacksmith came to be in China is a fairly interesting story that will just have to wait until the third act, we still have a lot of narration to get through.

Zen Yi arrives and is promptly waylaid by the villainous Brass Body (David Bautista) who can, yes, turn his body to brass. Zen Yi barely escapes, rescued by Blacksmith and hidden by his girlfriend, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), one of Blossom’s finest.

The gold arrives, escorted by the Gemini Killers (Grace Huang and Andrew Lin), a matched pair whose fighting styles play off each other and whose weapons, when locked together, form a yin-yang. The worst casualty of the truncated running time is character development, and it is apparent the Gemini Killers were meant to have a much more significant chunk of time. As it is, they arrive, have a quick meal, are set upon by the Lion Clan, and then polished off by Poison Dagger in typical cowardly fashion. In just a little more time than it takes to tell about it.

man-with-the-iron-fists-img05Also when Poison Dagger finally takes off that cloak, we are obviously supposed to recognize him. We don’t. Or maybe it’s a kung fu joke, because Poison Dagger has the same flowing white hair as Pai Mei, villain of many a Shaw Brothers flick. Wait, I just saw a press photo of him in court garb – so he’s in one of the Imperial Court scenes back in Narration Land. No wonder I didn’t recognize him.

We recently crossed over a 1000 words, so let me try to be brief(er), The bad guys try to make Blacksmith tell where Zen Yi is, and when he refuses, they cut off his arms. He’s rescued by Jack Knife, who turns out to be an undercover agent for the Emperor. Blacksmith has, yes, iron fists made for himself  while we are regaled by the Origin of Blacksmith. A) he’s a freed slave B) his mom was Pam Grier C) blamed for a white man’s death, he jumped onto a ship D) which was wrecked off the China shore E) where Blacksmith was found by a bunch of monks out for a stroll.

liuNot bad. It explains what a black man is doing here, how he learned Chinese. Then, we learn, after being taught by none other than Gordon Liu, he is also a kung fu master of some skill (he just strayed significantly from The Path – to say the least! – which is why karma was such a bitch). Skillful enough to make the iron fists work as if they were actual hands. And skillful enough that, later, he will punch Brass Body so hard he apparently opens a singularity and makes the metal guy explode.

The last third of Iron Fists isn’t that bad; it’s just that the hectic patchwork of the first two acts has used up all the viewer’s patience, and without the necessary time spent developing the characters, there is no empathy for any of them, no sense of tragic loss or ultimate triumph. At least the damned narration vanishes.

We expect a lot from seasoned pros like Lucy Liu and Russell Crowe, and we get it. The movie provides some nice roles for Asian actors, but only Byron Mann and Daniel Wu get to make any impression, with Mann truly outstanding as Silver Lion. Sadly, the weak link is RZA, who possesses a low-key charisma and some personality, but not the presence or intensity necessary for an action star.

Man-with-the-iron-Fists-RZA-on-Set-with-Cinematographer-Chi-Ying-ChanHe fares a lot better as a director. Iron Fists is well-made and pretty assured when it isn’t trying to patch holes created by slashing the story to ribbons. I can’t fault RZA’s ambition, but I would have loved to see what he might have done with a script without such an epic scope, with a story that could have fit comfortably in 95 minutes. Judging from the final 30 minutes of Iron Fists, it could have been sweet.

The end credits set up the sequel, but that’s likely never going to happen. I do,  however, look forward to whatever RZA does next. This had to have been a tremendous learning experience, and I want to see where that education leads.

Damn it, I wanted to love this movie.

Fury & Vengeance with Ric & Nic

So, my busy week got a little less busy when one of the city meetings was cancelled. I made some snap decisions about movie watching.

First I checked out Films of Fury on Netflix Instant. It’s based on Ric Meyer’s book of the same name, which is about martial arts movies. I will give the movie props for pointing out that Buster Keaton and Gene Kelly were superb athletes, doing their utmost for their craft; not really sure if what they did could truly be called kung fu, but hey, it was a fair point. The movie also manages to work in the fight scene in From Russia With Love before getting to the meat of the matter, the Chinese martial arts movie.

The only real problem with documentaries like this crops up if you’re already a fan of the material. Fists of Fury does a really good job of hitting the high points and avoiding the low in its accelerated history, highlighting the major players, directors and plot points (I would have liked to have had a dollar for every time the world “revenge” is used). I spent most of the running time thinking “Damn, but I want to see that movie again!” The Flash animation interstitials are amusing but disposable.

If, however, you’re curious about the genre and haven’t had that much experience, it will provide you with an excellent list of where to start.

I picked the next movie almost at random. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. My kid is a big Ghost Rider fan, so its purchase was necessary. Especially when I found the Blu-Ray for cheap.

The great thing about second movies in these superhero franchises is that the origin story can be dealt with in three sentences and we can get on with the rest of the movie. (Hell, The Incredible Hulk did it under the opening credits, which was a smooth economic move). Staring 50 in the face, Nic Cage may be getting a bit old to pull off Johnny Blaze, but he can still break off major pieces of the scenery with his teeth and chew them up like few other actors will even attempt, and directors Mark Nevaldine and Brian Taylor – also responsible for the frenetic Crank movies – probably had script pages that were blank except for the words NIC GOES NUTS HERE.

The plot’s not going to dazzle you with originality: the same Devil whom Blaze made his original deal with has sired a son, and the kid is necessary for a ritual that will cement Old Scratch’s power on Earth. A radical sect offers Blaze a counter-deal: if he can find the boy and bring him safely to their Sanctuary, they will undo his satanic pact and separate him from the Rider.

Nevaldine and Taylor have a dizzying visual style they perfected in those Crank movies and is put to dazzling use here; their best addition to the Rider mythos is that any mechanical device the Rider controls is imbued with Hellfire, so we not only get to see the stock flaming motorcycle, but at one point, a flaming strip miner. The cast they put together is pretty fine, too; we find ourselves rooting for Idris Elba very early in the movie, then we get surprised by Anthony Head and Christopher Lambert.

Not stellar entertainment, but satisfying. Worth the rental for fans of frantic action, over-the-top performances, and pyrotechnics.

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.

The First Crap of Spring

So there were a bunch of us who had Good Friday off, for a variety of reasons. Enough of us – back in February, we did it with only four people, and frankly, it has been done with three. At any rate, it was time for an impromptu Crapfest.

We were pretty determined to take it easy, and the first hour – Rick and I arrived at Casa Dave at 3:00 – was spent on the patio, watching Dave grill and smoke these Flintstone-style brontosaurus ribs he had hand-rubbed the day before. Alan made a surprise appearance, having been given the day off at the last minute, and when Paul arrived – his first Crapfest in a while – we began.

How Dave’s ribs tasted: artist’s representation

Well, first, we had some of those ribs. Let me say I am not a great fan of pork ribs, but Dave’s alchemy had wrought magical changes in this meat. The very last scene in Lynch’s Eraserhead, where Henry embraces the Girl in the Radiator in heaven, all white light and one sustained, heavenly note? That was the first bite into these ribs. And every subsequent bite thereafter.

Then we began.

At one of those Crapfests, in the faraway land of 2011, while we were watching 70s variety TV and watching Dave scream with horror, Paul had brought up the subject of Alice Cooper: The Nightmare, an ABC special done in the In Concert time slot. Basically, it’s Alice’s then-current album, Welcome to My Nightmare, done in long video form… in 1975. Well, I dug up a copy – it had ever only been released on VHS – and here is Vincent Price making damned sure the producers got their money’s worth:

(Or rather we would if the YouTube version of Scrooge hadn’t scoured any excerpt from that special off the Innernets. Somebody give me lots of money so I can start hosting videos on my site.)

Shorn of commercials, The Nightmare is only an hour long, and frankly, even then, it comes close to wearing out its welcome (and mind you, this is an Alice Cooper fan talking here). But just when it reaches that point, it ends, so the worst thing that can be said about it is I have been walking around with Alice Cooper music stuck in my head ever since. Not such a bad thing. (again – Alice Cooper fan)

But then, as Dave arose to change discs after the end credits rolled, something happened… somebody had put something on the disc after Alice Cooper. Something horrible. Who could have done such a thing?


Yes, it was the full infomercial for Harvey Sid Fisher’s Astrology Songs, shot with two cameras, a simple video switcher and probably two hours in a studio with three or maybe four interpretive dancers – we kept losing track. Mr. Fisher is still around, and still selling music – give him a shot.

You know, I was expecting the “stop” button to be hit after a couple of minutes, the joke told. But no, you guys surprised me: you stuck it out through the entire zodiac. Respect.

I also suspect that the desire to go through the whole thing was fueled by Dave’s heavy sighs and eye-rollings. And also when his wife, Ann got home and Dave was heard telling her, “No, we are not running it back so you can hear your sign!”

After that… well, the whole thing was so impromptu, we hadn’t really established a battle order. I had brought a stack of DVDs, and Dave had brutally gone through it and arranged them in order of *harrumph* quality (and totally dissed my copy of Wicked World, autographed by Barry “Things” Gillis!). When it was commanded we watch something with “lots of kicking”, it was time for The Magic Blade. Here, have a window-boxed, spoileriffic trailer:

Ti Lung plays Fu Hung-hsieh, a complete badass who may not have been based on The Man With No Name, but he is certainly wearing the only poncho in the World of Martial Arts. He also carries a remarkable custom sword that is a combination of a machete and a tonfa. If that isn’t enough for you, he’s come back to fight Lo Lieh’s character, Yen Nan-fei, a year after their first duel; the rematch gets postponed when somebody tries to kill Yen repeatedly, and Fu as well. As ever, somebody is trying to take over The World of Martial Arts, and is eliminating all competitors in his quest to obtain the legendary Peacock Dart, a sort of martial arts neutron bomb. And he’s doing it with a small army of colorful henchmen, with names like The Wood Devils and Devil Granny.

If, like me, your major exposure to old school Shaw Brothers kung fu flicks had been Chang Cheh’s blood-and-thunder exercises with the Venoms, the films of director Chor Yuen are a bracing breath of fresh air. Largely doing film adaptations of the pulpy wuxia novels by Ku Long, these are like detective novels infused with distilled Chinese martial arts flicks, and they are amazing. I started really getting into Hong Kong martial arts flicks with Chang’s Kid With the Golden Arm, when I realized that, for all intents and purposes, I was watching a comic book made flesh, all superhero battles and internecine conflict; Chor Yuen and Ku Long’s universe embraces that fully, right down to the colorful noms de guerre of the bad guys. Black Pearl, Iron Flute, The 5 Poison Kid, Serpent King… and in my limited time, I can’t find the exact reference, but I recall a villain translated as something like Venomous Eddie, the Stun-Dude.

I am thankful Image Entertainment put out a nice DVD of this using the Celestial Pictures restored print, but with the added option for the English dub. Those old, familiar voices I’ve heard for years. Best of all, if you want to severely injure your friends, use the “But still” drinking game. One of the phrases used by English dubs to fill up lip movement is “But still”, and The Magic Blade has a metric ton of them. Guaranteed alcohol poisoning by the end of the flick.

We had our second wind now, and while Rick warmed up the delicious pulled pork he had brought (which would be enriched by a variety of fruit salsas – amazing stuff) we filled the time with movie trailers from the 42nd Street Forever: Alamo Drafthouse Edition, wherein I discovered that Dave had never seen Message From Space, which I found astounding in someone who had been the Ultimate Star Wars Nerd until the prequels broke him of that behavior – and that Sonny Chiba’s The Bodyguard looks incredible:

Then, our bellies full and far too torpid to make a run for it, Dave decided it was time for his contribution. Keep in mind, now, that Dave is a vengeful monster, probably still smarting over Astrology Songs. Hell, probably still smarting over Things and Darktown Strutters. Therefore, he began the 1997 unsuccessful TV pilot for The Justice League of America. Never shown in America, it was instead shipped over to Europe, because we hate Europe.

(First, HD trailer, my ass, second of all… isn’t that the theme from the infinitely superior animated series?)

If you were smart enough to not click on that, here’s an overview, of sorts. Our licensed DC heroes are The Atom, Flash, Green Lantern, Fire, and Ice – all turned into young twenty-somethings, so it’s a sort of proto-Smallville, though I didn’t hate that series as much as I hate this idea. You see, they’re almost all sharing a house, and there are, therefore, pseudo-Big Brother interludes where the heroes, in their civvies, talk humorously about being superheroes.

Besides the obvious – who are these guys, who supposedly guard their secret identities jealously, making these interview tapes for… well, there’s a plethora of things wrong. The Flash here is Barry Allen, supposedly dead for twelve years in continuity, and chronically unemployed. We never see his origin because that took place on his freaking job as a police forensic scientist. And well, also because they stole his origin for Ice’s origin. A guy trying to get a date with Fire’s secret identity recognizes her as the heroine on TV largely because all she does is smear some makeup under her eyes. Dave, when he wasn’t giggling like the Riddler at our pain, was complaining about the off-model costumes or moaning that Green Lantern was being a dick. That, at least was to expected, because it was Guy Gardner.

Well, not all of us were too stuffed to run away, because Paul and Alan, who are always our designated wusses, slinked out during this. If you are not a Designated Wuss, you can check out the whole heavy-sigh-inducing thing on YouTube. I do not recommend it.

So we remaining three needed a bit of fresh air afterwards, and I convinced Dave to put on Point Blank, because Lee Marvin being a badass can heal many wounds.

I’ll be frank: since the last time I’d seen Point Blank,I’d read the source novel, The Hunter, by Richard Stark aka Donald E. Westlake, and I’d conflated the two; the movie is quite definitely drawn from the book, but the novel is leaner, meaner, more tense. John Boorman directed the movie, and there’s quite a bit of Boorman angst and psychedelic melancholy at play here, way more than I remembered. But it’s a good flick, a good way to decompress, and man, Lee Marvin really does want his money, which became our riff for what was left of the evening. “That guy must really want his money.”

It was late, we started packing up, and Dave found a showing of Mortal Kombat on cable. Rick said goodnight, but I remained through the end. Hey, it was Mortal Kombat, and if you can’t understand that, then I’m afraid you can’t understand Crapfest, either.