Thursday, November 10, 2016

Random Movie Reviews, Volume 2

Kung-Fu:

The Association (1974): This Gold Harvest flick is clearly inspired by the sleazy Japanese karate movies of the day (“Street Fighter,” “Sister Street Fighter,” etc), with copious nudity and exploitation. It’s Shanghai, apparently the ‘50s or ‘60s (not sure of the date, but one dude does drive a ‘50s Buick in it), and the movie gets off to a sleazy start with a lecherous creep murdering a rich old man – and then raping his pretty young wife! And this ain’t implied, either; it has all the creepy qualities of a Japanese movie of the day, with rampant exploitation factor, as the guy rips off the gal’s robe and starts pawing her boobs while humping her. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more lurid, the dude strangles her while he’s climaxing!!

Daughter Angela “Enter The Dragon” Mao shows ups just in time to see poor mom and dad dead; she kills the rapist/killer with a brutal head chop that makes his left eye pop out (this bit of gore another indication of the flick’s indebtedness to gory Japanese karate movies). But then our hero, an uptight cop with a sort of Chinese afro, shows up, arrests Angela – and has her shot! So what that he’s in love with her, she broke the law! This chump is our hero. The movie proceeds to get more sleazy and crazy, capped off with an outrageous scene where, with no warning, we cut to a roomful of white chicks in diaphonous robes (wearing nothing beneath them), converged before a demonic statue in a pagan temple. A nude (and very busty) Chinese gal lays on an altar, and the lead white cultist chick does a crazy dance while this awesome jazz-funk tune with blistering acid guitar blares on the soundtrack…for a good three minutes! It’s awesome.

Anyway, this is occuring in the titular “Association,” ie the Welfare Association, and the nude Chinese chick wants an abortion, and the nude dancing chicks are the abortionists! The dance is to lure her into a trance, so they can perform their grisly operation on her – but stoic cop shows up just in time to stop them. More sleaze ensues…we later cut, again with no warning, to a nude Japanese gal making out with a nude blonde gal…including closeups of the Japanese gal sucking on the blonde’s nipples! And it goes on and on, the camera lingering…later we will see this same blonde, nude as ever, riding an obese Chinese dude who has paid for her services.

But while the sleaze is phenomenal, the movie itself is lackluster…Afro uptight is a lame protagonist (the actor did nothing else, apparently), and the kung-fu fights are sporadic. Most notable is a fight between our hero and Hwang In Sik, a Korean martial artist most known for his appearance in Bruce Lee’s “Way of the Dragon.” The sleaze and exploitation goes away in the last third, and digressive plots take over, like boring hero staying with some woman who’s in danger of being the latest victim of a notorious brigand. Also, Angela Mao shows up in another role, playing a mainland Chinese cop who is the spitting image of the murdered character in the beginning of the film – this element is not much explained or explored. Also, humorously enough, after beating up the bad guys, stoic uptight cop struts off into the sunset – and is gunned down by two lowlifes!! Whether he lives or dies is not stated by film’s end, but to tell the truth I could care less. Also featuring Samo Hung as “Tiger,” a fellow cop.

Bionic Boy (1977): You’re an 8-year-old karate champion from Singapore visiting the Philipines, when your mom and dad are killed by thugs and your arms and legs are crushed. What do you do? Why, you get bionic replacement limbs and swear vengeance. This Filipino flick stars 8 year-old Johnson Yap, a prepubescent karate champion from Singapore. Don’t be mislead by the child star into thinking this is a childish movie, as thankfully “Bionic Boy” plays it straight throughout. This is funky ‘70s bell bottom fury all the way through, with fuzz guitar jazz-funk playing throughout – even the theme is a subtle lift of Oliver Nelson’s “Six Dollar Man” theme.

The highlight is the English dubbing, with all of the voices familiar from various Shaw Brothers dubs; in particular the gang of crooks are hilariously dubbed, and their bickering throughout is very funny. They’re a gang of American ‘Nam vets – we’re told some of them massacred entire villages of women and children (the memory of which causes the bastards to chuckle happily!) – and now they’re trying to corner the crime market in Southeast Asia.

The movie doesn’t waste any time on maudlin sap; Johnson’s in the car with his folks when it’s crushed by the villains, and the producers spend about 5 minutes runtime on his bionic surgery. There are no bittersweet tears about dead mom and dad, about how he’s no longer a normal young boy, etc. It’s straight to the slow-motion “bionic” running and kung-fu fighting, with a goofy synthesizer providing the “bionic noise” as Johnson beats up the gang members. He kills too, most memorably when he hurls a coconut at some dude with all his bionic might. Surprisingly, his vengeance is unsated by film’s end, with the boss of the gang escaping – we’re given an unexpectedly poignant finale, with the Bionic Boy looking angrily into the distance. And sadly we never DO get to see if he wreaked his vengeance, as the boss isn’t even mentioned in the sequel!

Bruce, Kung Fu Girls (1977): This Taiwanese kung-fu movie features all you could want from a bell bottom fury flick of the ‘70s. And more! Clearly retitled to cater to the late ‘70s Bruceploitation craze, the movie has nothing whatsoever to do with Bruce Lee. It’s about five cute kung-fu vixens who band together against an invisible criminal. Plus along the way they even get to guard the moon rock! There are five of the gals but only the main one, Polly Kuan, really has any kung-fu skills. She plays the niece of a Taiwan police inspector or somesuch, and she and her four pals (apparently visiting from America, though this isn’t revealed until the last few minutes) help out the cops for whatever reason.

The movie fumbles between chop-sockey and romantic schmaltz; Polly saves a gangly dude from thugs early in the film, and both she and her four friends fall in love with him. Cue bizarre scenes of the girls staring off into the distance while treacly Chinese pop plays on the soundtrack. Speaking of which the soundtrack for the most part is awesome, pirated from various jazz-funk LPs of the day. Three tracks in particular I was able to spot were “Whole Lotta Love” by Dennis Coffey, “Living For the City” by Ramsey Lewis, and crazily enough even a snippet of “Calypso Frelimo” by Miles David (a 30+-minute psychedelic funk tune from his ’74 double LP “Get Up With It”), which plays every time we get to see the main villain’s headquarters. The flick also dawdles too long with goofy “comedy” moments as the gals bicker over the gangly guy, who turns out to be a scientist who invented like some Maguffin serum or somesuch.

Fights break out randomly and awkwardly, with the overall cheap appearance mandatory of these kind of films; most every fight takes place outdoors. The finale gives us all we could want as Polly and pals suit up in fetish-type kung-fu gear (leather hotpants, sleeveless tops, knee-high boots, and wrist cuffs) and take on the bad guys; Polly as usual is the only one who does any real fighting. There’s no gory violence or nudity as you’d see in a Japanese karate movie of the day; for the most part “Bruce, Kung Fu Girls” is a lot of fluff, but it’s still a lot of fun. And the English dubbing is great, featuring a host of voice actors familiar from various Shaw Brothers English dubs.

The Iron Man (1975): Jimmy Wang Yu stars in this average chop-sockey from Taiwan. Somewhere I’d read that Wang Yu had a bionic hand in this one, but that’s a crock – it’s a basic false hand which he covers with a leather glove. Anyway this is a basic revenge tale; it opens in a sepia-toned ‘40s, during the Japanese occupation of China, and young Jimmy watches as his dad is murdered by the Japanese and their Chinese compatriots; afterwards poor mom is raped by the Japanese commander while little Jimmy stands there! For his trouble the kid gets his left hand lopped off by the Japanese captain…and then when everyone leaves, Jimmy’s mom blows her head off! Boy, that’s a rough day. 

Flash-forward to the funky ‘70s and Jimmy, now all grown up, is a kung-fu expert given to wearing outfits with some severe collars. He’s working his way up the chain in vengeance, aiming for the captain. Eventually he makes his way to Japan, where he falls in with a local drunk, his blind sister, and another sister, this one a hotstuff who promptly falls in love with Jimmy. Yet the Japanese captain is here as well, pining for the same gal, and in amid the lovey-dovey stuff we have more kung-fu fights than the average Bruce Li movie. And Jimmy’s just as awkward in the fights. Music cues are stolen throughout, most laughably a bit from “The Godfather.” This one isn’t recommended, even for bell bottom fury freaks like myself. Also notable for a variety of familiar voices from various Shaw Brothers movies on the dubbed English soundtrack.

The Return of the Bionic Boy (1979): This movie’s basically two sequels for the price of one – a sequel to “Bionic Boy,” again starring Johnson Yap, but also a sequel to two other Filipino action movies: “They Call Her Cleopatra Wong” (1978) and “Mean Business” (1979), both of which starred pretty, 20-year-old Singaporean actress Marrie Lee as Cleopatra Wong, a tough female cop. The producers introduce the novel concept here that Cleo is actually Sonny the Bionic Boy’s aunt, and apparently he’s visiting her here in the Philipines. This is an odd relationship for sure, though, with Cleo apparently thinking it’s okay to hang around her apartment with her ten-year-old nephew wearing nothing but a teddy! (Not that I’m complaining.) Even stranger: late in the film a captured Cleo is handcuffed to a rotating, X-shaped cross. When Sonny saves her, he first spins the cross around while Cleo’s still handcuffed to it – and starts talking to her from between her spread legs(!?). 

Despite the more comic-booky tone, the presence of Nazi villains, and even a flame-throwing tank with a dragon head, I actually like this sequel less than “Bionic Boy,” mostly because this one makes the mistake of shoehorning a lot of unnecessary “comedy” into the proceedings. This is mostly carried out via “Benny Hill”-style cranked-up film speeds, or Johnson doing goofy stuff during kung-fu fights, or the bumbling antics of the villains, one of whom is a flaming gay Chinese dude who simpers and prances during the fights. But anyway this Nazi force is doing something, apparently forcing Filipino villagers into service or somesuch, and it’s up to Sonny and Cleo to save the day.

The action’s just as firefight-heavy as kung-fu; whereas the first movie starred Johnson Yap and thus focused on his martial skills, this one cuts over just as often to Cleopatra Wong’s storyline, and thus we see her gunning down various henchmen – at one point she even dons an Afro, like a regular Chinese Pam Grier. The soundtrack this time is wholly composed of library music, and again the movie doesn’t come off like a true sequel to “Bionic Boy,” as Johnson Yap will disappear for long portions of the film and is for the most part incidental to the plot. At any rate this was it for the Bionic Boy’s cinematic adventures – and also it was the last movie with Cleopatra Wong. And both Johnson Yap and Marrie Lee also retired from the acting biz after the flick – indeed, these were the only two movies Johnson Yap appeared in.

Stoner (1974): This sleazy Gold Harvest production supposedly started life as a project between Bruce Lee and George “I used to be James Bond” Lazenby; the two became friends shortly before Lee’s passing, and Lazenby signed a contract with Gold Harvest for 3 films. The first of these was to be a part as a “spiritual adviser” in Lee’s ill-fated “Game Of Death,” followed by a larger role in this project, which after Lee’s death was revised as “Stoner,” with Lazenby in the lead role and Angela Mao Ying brought in to play a cop from mainland China. It’s debatable whether the film would’ve been this sleazy had it actually featured Bruce Lee in it; at any rate there’s plentiful boobs and sex throughout, though be warned most of the flesh is provided by unattractive white ladies who don’t sport the loveliest of shapes.

Stoner is a tough Australian cop who conveniently studied Asian languages in college, thus he’s the perfect man to head over to Hong Kong to figure out where this potent and lethal new drug is coming from. Meanwhile Angela Mao is on the same case, but while Stoner just goes around Hong Kong busting heads (and screwing gangster moll Betty Ping Tei, most remembered today as Bruce Lee’s real-life mistress – whose bed Lee died in, by the way), Angela poses as a simple country girl who keeps running afoul of the villains. Action is sporadic throughout, and as displayed in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” Lazenby is very good with on-screen scuffles and throws real-looking punches.

The soundtrack is pretty great, the acid guitar-tinged jazz-funk I so love, and the movie features a memorable opening in which a cult, led by a black dude in a robe, engage in a group orgy – gross stuff here via an egregious shot of one of those unattractive babes deep-throating a popsicle. The Shout Factory DVD, released as part of the Angela Mao Ying Collection, is notable because it combines the Hong Kong version of the film (which features a lot more footage of Angela Mao) with the international cut. Thus when you watch the English dub (in which Lazenby dubs his own voice) there will be frequent parts in which people are suddenly speaking Mandarin, with the English provided via subtitles. Overall this one’s fun but a bit ponderous at times, and the sleaze is almost equal to that of another 1974 Gold Harvest production: “The Association.”

Grindhouse/Drive-in trash: 

The Doll Squad (1973): Low-budget “Charlie’s Angels” prototype about a squad of somewhat attractive, big-haired gals who work for the government. Michael “career on the skids” Ansarra plays the villain of the piece, a “criminal genius” who appears to be in a flop sweat the entire time the camera’s on him. From his South American lair he’s somehow sabotaging US space rocket launches. The CIA runs it through the computer to see who would be best qualified to handle this menace; the computer suggests “the Doll Squad.” If only real life was like this! Surprisingly there’s no nudity, not even any adult shenanigans, but there is a bit of grindhouse gore. In particular the opening half features a few doomed members of the Doll Squad being killed by Ansarra’s men; one of them is shot in the head and we see a gory exploding quib.

The movie is a bit sluggish and horribly acted; most humorous is when the various Squad members try to talk about past missions. Without a doubt every scene in the film was captured on the first take. The producers even rip off “Mission: Impossible” with “masks” that allow some of the gals to turn into other women (complete with different bodies, naturally), but things don’t pick up until the final half, when the Doll Squad launches an assault on Ansarra’s villa. This stuff is pretty good, with the various gals toting submachine guns and blowing away swarms of henchmen. Unfortunately a lot of the action is shot in the dark or awkwardly directed, but it’s better than nothing. The low-budget aesthetics extend to the explosions, with people and vehicles “blowing up” via badly superimposed flames. It’s a mystery why this one never made it to MST3K. The Squad is clearly ready for another mission by movie’s end, but apparently no more were ever filmed.

Policewomen (1974): Offering everything you could want in ‘70s grindhouse/drive-in trash, “Policewomen” is basically a more lurid version of Angie Dickinson’s TV series “Police Woman,” only with cursing, violence, and nudity. Our hero is a busty redhead policewoman who takes a special assignment to stop a female gang. First though she must deal with the usual harrassment a female cop must endure from her male colleagues, but mind you all this is done in a fun spirit and with none of the noxious “female empowerment” mandatory in today’s action crap. For our hero, Lacey Bond, has a sense of humor. The movie does, too, with most of it played with tongue in cheek; save for an egregious part where genre stalwart William Smith shows up as a gym trainer who gets his ass kicked by Lacey, the film never becomes a comedy.

The producers stick with the right vibe throughout, and while the violence is never too bloody they are sure to give us several glimpses of naked ‘70s boobs and butt. Also it must be mentioned that there are some super-foxy ‘70s gals in the female gang, which is run by a decrepit old lady and her young bodybuilder boyfriend. The stuff with the gang is the best, particularly its intro, in which a black member tries to join, much to the dismay of an Asian gal. The racial slurs fly fast and furious, and then so do the feet, fists, and claws in an awkwardly-staged brawl. Sondra Currie, as Lacey Bond, also shows off her very nice bod as she hops in bed with the craggy-faced cop she gradually falls for; the movie ends with these two being set up as permanent partners, but unfortunately there was no sequel.

There are no violent shootouts and for the most part the action is relegated to clumsy “karate” fights, but it must be stated that Lacey sure has an enjoyably ferocious smile on her face when she beats people up! She takes her own beatings too, in particular a somewhat-unsettling bit where the bodybuilder beats the shit out of her for a few minutes of screentime; humorously, all Lacey has afterwards is a small trickle of blood coming from her mouth. Overall this is really fun grindhouse flick, filled with that early ‘70s look and feel I love so much, and I really enjoyed it.

4 comments:

Marty McKee said...

The BIONIC BOY movies are awesome. Gotta love a little boy who isn't shy about killing bad guys. However, I like the sequel better. No origin story to get in the way, and it has Merrie Lee. DOLL SQUAD, I'm not a fan of. I agree POLICEWOMEN is fun. STONER too, but Lazenby's non-007 masterpiece is THE MAN FROM HONG KONG. I love Angela Mao, so THE ASSOCIATION I must seek out!

FreeLiveFree said...

Just for your information, Jimmy Wang Yu never actually trained in the martial arts so that's why he looks clumsy at times.

I enjoyed Yu's Master of the Flying Guillotine. No one would every call it the height of cinema, but as a corn '70s kung fu movie it's one of the best. One of the characters even inspired a character in the Street Fighter arcade games. (No the Sonny Chiba movie.)

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. Marty, you'll love The Association.

FreeLiveFree, back in 2000-2004 I reviewed movies as "Joe909" on the awesome Asian Cinema site, cityonfire.com. Is Master of the Flying Guillotine also known as One-Armed Boxer 2? If so I have that one, and here's my review of it from back then, if you're interested: The One-Armed Boxer 2. But yeah, I'm familiar with Wang-Yu's non-kung fu skills, and he's probably the guy Bruce Lee was specifically making fun of when Lee said most of the "kung-fu" actors in Hong Kong didn't even know martial arts. I was always more into the movies with the Venoms...for the fun of it, here's a Venoms write up I did back then, too: The Venoms.

FreeLiveFree said...

Yeah, it's the same film. I think they re-titled it for marketing reasons. The Flying Guillotine appears in a few unrelated kung fu/wuxia movies. It's kinda of a real weapon. At least, there's something like an ancient scroll showing it's design. I saw this on one of those shows on the history about ancient weapons. The experts in the show built one, but it did not work real well so it was probably something that was not really used. As if a thousand years from now they made movies about the Star Wars nuclear defense program.

I've seen the Five Deadly Venoms and at least one other Venom film whose title I can't require. They fall under the category "stupid fun." In that I enjoyed them, but my IQ was probably lower after watching it.