Film Treasures
Directed by Yuen Bun
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FORBIDDEN CITY COP (Hong Kong, 1996)
Directed by Vincent Kok Tak-Chiu

When I saw that a Yen Biao film was playing with a Stephen Chow film, I figured this was my chance to check out this Stephen Chow guy that I've been reading about. I've been tempted by his films in video stores, but as we all know, the theater is by far easier to read subtitles and is a complete experience within itself. Chow has been called "the Jerry Lewis of Hong Kong," and this moniker is no exaggeration!

Forbidden City Cop started off with a hilarious encounter on the palace roof-top between some legendary swordsmen about to duel and the law enforcement of Stephen Chow. His utter disrespect for "the old ways" struck me and the audience as totally hysterical! Calling the criminals names and slapping members of their entourage around in such a funny way convinced me to stay and watch the rest of this film. Despite the hilarious opening, the film suffered from bad continuity, but part of that had to do with chunks of film from the last half of the film somehow being edited in towards the first half of the film. How that happened, I can only imagine. This misfortune did cause me to focus on his scene as a specific skit; which proved to be helpful in enjoying as much of the humor as possible.

Not much of a plot here: something about some bad guys trying to take over China by killing all of the medical practitioners of the land. Chow's character is a gynecologist by day and a member of the Emperor's Forbidden City Cops by night, thus his character becomes involved in a roundabout sort-of way that proves to be entertaining. Not to mention that Chow has enough charisma to hold his own up on the silver screen. For being reluctant in my viewing of this film, I came away wanting to see more!

The Yen Biao film, which I saw before the Stephen Chow film, was not by any means comparable to Forbidden City Cop. That does not mean I did not enjoy it. Tough Beauty, however, seemed to be very similar to Jackie Chan's Police Story 3!! It had Biao as a HK cop forced to go undercover with a mainland Chinese cop (Cynthia Khan) in the Philippines in order to bust up a drug/counterfeit money operation that is trafficking between China, HK, and the Philippines.

The two cops are supposed to be married and, of course, Cynthia Khan cannot stand Yen Biao. So there is a lot of comic relief when the two literally beat the shit out of each other throughout the film! One particularly funny scene, wherein they are fighting each other, has them being mistaken for having aggressive sex together! There is also plenty of "normal" fight scenes involving bad guys and Yen Biao, especially the climactic ending when Yen and Cynthia fight Waise Lee (who plays the villain). Despite the recycled plot, this film was enthusiastically made with great performances by its stars, thus an enjoyable way to spend my afternoon!

Directed by Shusuke Kaneko

This here is a very fun film, but there is not a whole lot going on here story-wise. A navy ship detects a floating island and a woman is attacked by a flying creature while walking her dog back in Japan. The attacker leaves a nice, giant pile of turds (hints of Jurassic Park?) for the young ornithologist, Asagi, to discover the remains of her mentor in. Soon, the floating island is exposed as Gamera, the giant flying turtle from the 1960s! He has a legend stuck on his back that tells the tale of an ancient civilization that genetically created Gyaos (big, flesh-eating flying dinosaurs) as weapons; however, they go berserk and start killing everyone. In a last-minute attempt to save themselves, the ancient race creates Gamera to destroy the Gyaos. (Albeit, much too late)

For some reason, the monsters have been dormant for thousands upon thousands of years, only to awaken now. The military sets up a trap for the Gyaos at the local domed baseball stadium; which also happens to attract Gamera, the Flying Turtle. For not much of a plot, this film really pays off with the effects. The miniatures all look great, as well as the rubber suits and flying puppets. There is an employment of real nice camera angles that lend themselves nicely to the appreciation of the said giant, Flying Turtle. The battle between the Gyaos and Gamera results in lots of dead flying dinosaurs; but the one that survives is somehow able to quadruple in size and fight the turtle with better odds.

The final battle in the city is definitely worth the price of admission (or purchase, here in the States). Again, the camera angles really impress the "realism" of the whole situation on the viewer. Large-scale giant monster destruction is at it's best here with this film. If you're at all interested in the newly revamped giant monster genre in Japan, then Gamera is required viewing.

THUNDERBOLT (Hong Kong, 1995)
Directed by Gordon Chan

This is Jackie Chan's latest film from this past fall. Now, this is rather different from the general lot of Chan''s films. Jackie plays the part of himself, working as a specialty auto mechanic living with his family. Some crazed European auto racer has been terrorizing local citizens by driving real fast through the city streets every night; Jackie helps the police set up ineffective road blocks. Accidentally, Chan happens upon the bad European one evening and proceeds to chase him all over town in a stolen car. He calls for police help, a roadblock is set up, and the criminal is caught. But he is released immediately because his passport says he's legitimate; even though the police know that he's a hardcore European criminal. The Bad Guy vows his vengeance upon Chan and states that he wants "to race against" Jackie in Tokyo (yes, a duel). And just so he doesn't refuse the offer, he kidnaps Jackie's sisters, kills his father, trashes their house (literally), and beats the shit out of Chan.

Jackie tries to figure out where his sisters might be, to avoid the race and save his family. He tracks down some Hong Kong hoods that work for the European at a casino. A fantastic, multi-tiered fight sequence ensues. True to Jackie's legend, it is apparent that several stunt people were injured during this scene! Fighting on ground level, up on top of the slot machines, and on a hanging trampoline near the ceiling; this fight scene is by far the best in the film. Having shown some force, the bad guys give Jackie some face by returning one of his sisters.

Now it's on to Tokyo for the Big Race! Even though cops are crawling all over the place, the European is there and ready to race. Lots of great car racing follows with the tense undercurrent of what is to come. After the "photo-finish" race, the police close in on our villain. Of course, he speeds away and Jackie chases after him (another great car chase) and he finally is caught.

This film's tone reminded me of Crime Story because of Jackie's seriousness throughout the film, hardly ever laughing or mugging for the camera. The violence was portrayed deadly serious (when the villains attacked Jackie's family). After I got over the initial "I want the old-style Jackie Chan," I loosened up and enjoyed the film. I haven't yet seen last year's Rumble in The Bronx, so I can't compare these two. But I don't think that Thunderbolt really compares to Drunken Master II from a few years ago. Nonetheless, it is a solid, well-paced film; just don't expect "the older, funnier" Jackie Chan film experience.

PASSION 1995 (Hong Kong, 1995)
Directed By Fok Yu-Leung

This film opens with an excessively stylized sequence involving two romantically involved criminals exchanging vows and then leaping off a building whilst attached to a bungee cord. This Natural Born Killers/True Romance-like scene gives the viewer the impression that this film will be a similar suspense-filled ride; the scenes following are not as exciting, although the film itself does deliver some moments akin to the opening. Additionally, we are also given several pop-culture references like comic books, music videos, wigs, and Ultraman toys. The story revolves around this couple (Dragon & Tina), a Chinese-American (Simon Yam) looking for his old girlfriend, and a homosexual gang leader who falls in love with Dragon(!).

Yam's character, Dick, moves in with Gucci (who currently resides in his girlfriend's old apartment), who is a loud-mouthed, aggressive, disillusioned Hong Kong youth who is constantly having to deal with her mother, Sasa, and her imaginary boyfriend, Johnny. Dick accidentally brings home a package that is really meant for Dragon and Tina: an Ultraman toy stuffed full of cocaine! Tina is told to retrieve the Ultraman doll and ends up helping Dick find his girlfriend. Some confusion here, resulting from a bad laser disc stop on the tape that I got in Chinatown, suddenly put Tina and Dick riding a motorcycle on their way to deliver the coke to Dragon and Brother Ba (the homosexual gang leader).

There is some more fighting and confusion concerning Gucci's real role in this film and Dick's sudden ability to embrace a life of violence. Ultimately, Dragon and Brother Ba trick Tina and almost kill her, but Dick saves her and kills Dragon in the process; a good chase scene with Ba follows. Still, confusion abounds; the MTV-style editing started to drive me up the wall, although there are some very nicely composed shots. The whole video thing does go too far during a flat-out dance number/music video inserted in the middle of the film with a reprise at the end of the film. Maybe if this film had come from India I might have been able to deal with that, but it didn't and I couldn't.

After the film, I couldn't figure out what I had just watched. It was entertaining, but in what way? Was this a "movie," a "multi-media experiment," or just a bad, crime-riddled version of Grandview USA? I still am not sure if I would recommend this to anybody; so, on that note, watch it at your own risk! This film may be a taste of things to come from the younger generation of filmmakers in Hong Kong…

ATRAGON (Japan, 1963)
Directed by Inoshiro Honda

The year they capped Kennedy's ass, the Japanese produced this wonderful little epic undersea adventure. It concerns itself with a crazed old Captain Nemo-type who never came down after WWII and has spent the last twenty years building a giant underwater battleship called "Atragon." Of course, the Lost Continent of Mu decides to regain some of its old power and enslave the human race. Some people are kidnapped by the undersea dwellers while the rest plot to stop them. The military discovers that the Cap'n Nemo-type is still alive and the stories are true; he is building a super-sub.

After a lot coercion, the Nemo-type finally gives in and allows the military to use his ship in order to save the world; originally, the captain would only stand up for Japan and not the rest of the world (it's that old-school WWII thinking!). We get to see a real cool sub fly above water as well as below while it literally kicks those silly Mu people's asses! But, only after they kick Manda's butt! Manda is a giant snake-thing that is controlled by the Mu people (It also appeared in Destroy All Monsters) in the same way the Kraken was controlled in Clash of the Titans.

This was a pretty fun film that is finally available on the street in a widescreen, subtitled version. I have never actually seen it until now; I guess that it's been out of print for years and years. As a pure fantasy film, I think it stand alone for several reasons; especially the well written story and solid acting (usually rare in these films). I obtained my copy via Video Daikaiju and it was taken from a laser disc source; however, their dang logo is constantly hovering in a very annoying sort-of way in the upper right-hand corner. If that's the price we have to pay in order to see these rare films, so be it, but I think these companies need to rethink their "anti-pirating" scheme.

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