Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Xiao xia long juan feng (1989)

... aka: Chess Boxing Matrix
... aka: Chivalric Tornado
... aka: Fo men xiao jiang shi
... aka: Jiang shi zhuo yao
... aka: Labyrinth of Death
... aka: Vampire Strikes Back

Directed by:
Chih-Cheng Wang

A chubby emperor and his army do battle with a bunch of hopping vampires until a magical swordswoman (Yu-Neung Ti) flies in and proposes a more humane approach. She recommends (per the subtitles) "they have a chance to meet buhdasm" before zapping them off to "another world." Meanwhile, the white-haired "King of Evil" aka possessor of very ill-fitting vampire dentures, and three of his henchmen chase off a caravan of people who run away and leave a young princess behind. The King pulls back the girl's veil and doesn't like what he sees ("What an ugly lady... better than nothing"), but before he can put the bite to her, the swordswoman appears yet again to do battle. She zaps him to a crypt and then uses a crossbow to shoot a "bloody sword" into his heart which will keep him out of commission for a thousand years so he has time to mull over his evil ways. He's then sealed in a tomb with a magic mirror, Sky Dragon sword and a ruby.

Seven hundred years later we meet a Taoist Grandpa (Jack Lung) and his granddaughter Phi Phi, who oversee a bunch of hopping vampires at a temple. Grandpa has a mahjong obsession and gambling problem while Phi Phi basically tries to keep him in check. One night as Grandpa's leading a group of vampires through the forest, it starts raining. They seek refuge in a cave that turns out to be the same tomb the swordswoman sealed vampires in centuries earlier. How it manages to be just a few hundred feet from the temple yet never discovered in that time is anyone's guess. Thinking he's found treasure, Grandpa removes the ruby safeguard and resurrects the Evil King, along with a (not evil) vampire family consisting of a dad, mom (played by a man) and their supposed-to-be-cute but annoyingly whiny little vampire son, Chian Chian. Grandpa promptly gets possessed by Evil King, while the vampire family venture outside and become friends with Phi Phi.

At a nearby school, another Taoist who's just referred to as Teacher (Mark Lung) and two of his bumbling students, Black Boy and White Boy, also have their own pack of hopping vampires they keep in check with spell paper. Phi Phi, a local boy called Dark Face Tsai (?!) and the vampire family stumble upon them and they all fight over a jewel called the Pearl of Sun that was stolen from the tomb, while the Evil King and his three minions (bat, fox and spider) fight everyone else. Eventually, an adult woman joins our heroes, as does a well-trained teenage girl named Lun Lun, who flies in from 700 years in the past to help out. Some of these people are not in the film one minute and then suddenly jumping into fights the next, without so much as an explanation as to who they are.

This is going to be too incoherent, chaotic and annoying for most adults to endure (I barely made it through!), but trying to view this through the eyes of myself as a young kid, would I have enjoyed it? Probably. There's almost no plot to worry about but the action never lets up for a minute. This is essentially just one extended fight scene stretched over an hour-and-a-half with lots of lasers, weapons, gadgets, cheap special effects and comically overused wire work. The costumes and makeup are absolutely terrible but I don't think very young viewers would really mind. Children are also about the only demographic who are going to find some of these gags funny.

While crude humor is pretty commonplace in Asian kid's movies, it's hilarious imagining American parents showing this thing to their little ones. Here we get 1. Someone shooting diarrhea out of their ass. 2. The vampire mother getting turned on whenever her tits and ass are grabbed. 3. An arrow going up a man's ass. 4. Two young boys smelling each other's crotches while in a standing 69 position. 5. The vampire boy pissing in another boy's mouth. And that's not even including some profanity and the nonstop violence, including parents and grandparents being killed right in front of their children and little kids being punched, kicked, thrown around and killed.

Also for your money you get multiple possessions, some kind of man-in-a-suit horned bull / tiger monster (it looks even sillier than it sounds), a plant monster, a winged snake, four of the fighters joining into one Transformers-like super fighter, a "three treasures become one" fighting technique that looks like a cheerleader pyramid and an excellently overacted campy performance from the guy playing the King of Evil (whoever this actor is I'd love to know). And, one has to at least admire how they managed to keep the momentum going for as long as they did here even though it grows tiresome very quickly.

The director was the assistant director for Hello Dracula (1985) and went on to make Hello Dracula 2 (1987) and Vampire Kid II (1988), so this is very familiar territory for him. There have been numerous releases with English subtitles. Tai Seng released this on VHS under the title Vampire Strikes Back as did Xenon as Chess Boxing Matrix. The Digital Remix also released it on DVD under their "Black Belt Theater" banner as Labyrinth of Death.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Official Exterminator: Kill for Love (1987)

... aka: Kill for Love
... aka: Ninja Brothers of Blood
... aka: Ninja Killer
... aka: Ninja Knight: Brothers of Blood
... aka: Ninja Knight 2: Blood Brothers

Directed by:
Richard Chen (uncredited)
"Raymond Woo" (possibly Godfrey Ho)

Here's another IFD Films & Arts Ltd. production following their usual pattern of taking an obscure Asian film, cutting it to ribbons, re-dubbing all the dialogue and then occasionally splicing in new scenes of whities and a few new action scenes and attempting to tie it all together. The victim of the pillaging this time out is a 1982 Taiwanese thriller called Chi qing qi nu zi, or Kill for Love, directed by Richard Chen. As was typically the case, that film was never released in its original form in English, so this is the best look many of us are ever going to get at it. This new IFD version become the first entry in a series of releases that also included Official Exterminator 2: Heaven's Hell, Official Exterminator 3: Joy for Living Dead, Official Exterminator 4: Goddess Mission and Official Exterminator 5: Enter the Victory. Most of these have "Official Exterminator" title screens and original posters bearing that name but were distributed under a host of other titles on home video. For instance, this first one was released on VHS as Kill for Love, Ninja Brothers of Blood, Ninja Killer, Ninja Knight - Brothers of Blood and possibly even more titles I'm unaware of.

I'd imagine this was a huge disappointment to basically anyone who saw it back in the day. I can see ninja-loving 80s kids eyeing the enticing video box above, slapping down a few dollars to rent it, excitedly rushing home, popping it in their VCR and then boring themselves silly slogging through a talky, poorly-dubbed, melodramatic love triangle patiently waiting for their beloved ninjas to finally make an appearance. The good news? A ninja does eventually show up. The bad news? There's only one, it doesn't appear until 70 minutes into this 85 minute movie and it's only featured in one scene that lasts about a minute total. Poor 80s kids.

Things begin with a hilariously awkward board meeting featuring amazingly stilted line-reading and deer-in-headlights "acting" from all involved. The members of an unnamed company are scrambling to stay afloat as they're being crushed by competitor The Pacific Corporation. In an effort to hobble the rival organization, one of the men suggests they have a lower-level employee get a job with Pacific Corp. plus get in the good graces of the president's daughter as a means to accomplish their task. They all decide on new guy Charlie Fong ("Sidney Chao" / Shu-Hoi Chiu) because he's good-looking, charming, intelligent and a hard worker. Company boss Blake (IFD regular Mike Abbott) nods, "If he can get into the family, I have it made!" It's just that easy, folks!

We're then introduced to a couple of small town girls; the meek and naive Fonda Chan ("Fonda Lynn" / Hsiao-Fen Lu) and her outgoing best friend Mary Wong (Viola Ku), who've been lured to the big city by an ad promising tour guide jobs. Instead, they've been tricked into working as strippers / prostitutes at a sleazy bar. While Mary complies for the easy money, Fonda fights off the guys with a broken bottle and then runs off and finds work in a factory. She then runs into poor college student Charlie, who rents her a spare bedroom in his tiny apartment. Fonda goes beyond the call of duty as a housemate; cleaning, doing his laundry and picking up the slack so Charlie has more time to concentrate on his studies and excel in school. The two soon get romantically involved and plan to marry as soon as he graduates. Things start looking even better for the couple when Charlie gets promoted to manager at work.

Little does Fonda realize, but the reason Charlie's climbing the corporate ladder so fast is because he's agreed to seduce artist Sophie Dao ("Lona Chang" / Fu-Mei Chang), daughter of the Pacific Corp. president, so he can get the goods on their company. But then Charlie finds himself falling in love with the sophisticated, educated, wealthy Sophie and wanting to pursue an actual relationship with her. Seeing how she's supported him all this time, even going so far as to have an abortion so it wouldn't ruin his reputation and thus threaten his job, Fonda's now (more than justifiably!) feeling the sting of being used and then discarded. When her desperate pleas fall on deaf ears ("You can tell me, even hit me, it's OK, just come back!") she ends up going the irate / unhinged stalker route. And yet this is somehow completely understandable considering what a self-serving asshole Charlie turns out to be. After all the crap he puts her through, you want nothing more than to see Fonda fuck his world up.

The original unaltered film is a companion piece to another film from the same year called Leng yan sha ji, or EXPOSED TO DANGER. It also features a love triangle plot with an obsessive, mentally-unstable woman and even stars the same two main actresses seen here, except they've swapped roles. Exposed was itself acquired, dubbed and distributed by IFD, though they didn't bother to add any new scenes or random ninjas to it. They also gave it the new title Breakout from Oppression, which caused a lot of confusion over the years as that title had already been used for an earlier martial arts film starring Gordon Liu. I also need to point out that Exposed is far more of a horror film than this one. Outside of three or four scenes (including the bloody, slow-motion wedding finale inspired by Ms. 45), Kill for Love is mostly a drama.

Cut between the main story line are IFD scenes featuring a cop named Greg (Mark Watson), who's investigating Blake's company. Greg barely manages to survive an assassination attempt by samurai swordsmen on bicycles (!) but his partner Tim (Pedro Ernyes) isn't so lucky. He then decides to quit the force and go rogue after discovering his superior has been paid off to close the investigation. Blake not only orders his men to try to kill Greg but he also sends them after Fonda so "that bitch gets taught a lesson" for causing Charlie problems. After his men fail, Blake then calls up Charlie and demands he murder her. And, surprise, surprise, Charlie actually goes through with it by taking her canoeing and attempting to drown her. Told you he was an asshole.

The one and only ninja scene here is when Blake sends his "best man" Dragon after Greg. Dragon is a ninja. We know this because he wears a headband that says "Ninja" on it lest we be confused. He and Greg get into a swordfight that lasts a whopping 30 seconds and ends with Dragon easily being defeated after getting knocked off a mound and crashing through some flimsy bamboo scaffolding.

By IFD standards, this is surprisingly coherent. The new scenes and the recycled footage never butt heads to the point where this stops making sense. That by itself is something of an accomplishment for them, I guess. As usual, Joseph Lai and his wife Betty Chan proudly claim producer credit, but the identity of director "Raymond Woo" is pretty much up for grabs. It's probably Godfrey Ho because he's credited here for the screenplay as "Benny Ho;" an acknowledged alias of his.

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