The Swords of Tien Shan (Review)

The Swords of Tien Shan

aka 天山龍鳳劍 aka Tian shan long feng jian aka 神劍女瘋俠 aka The Magic Sword and the Eccentric Lady Knight aka Shen Jian Nu Feng Xia

Written and directed by Wong Fung

Mysterious super swords cause a whole heap of problems in The Swords of Tien Shan. This Cantonese wuxia flick is believed to be a coproduction of two different companies, each producing one part of the two-part feature film. According to reports, part 1 was produced by Hoo King Motion Picture Co., while part 2 is credited to Lap Tat Film Co. Wong Fung (How The Ape Girl Stole The Lotus Lamp, The Blonde Hair Monster, and Golden Skeleton) wrote and directed both parts, so this looks like just a unique way of crediting a coproduction. The two films were later edited down into a single film and retitled The Magic Sword and the Eccentric Lady Knight (神劍女瘋俠), which is the version I am reviewing as the original two films are unavailable (and might be lost?)

The editing of two films into one does cause a bit of a problem, because the flow of the film is now even more disjointed, and at times characters wander off for reasons not explained, or are introduced as already established people. This is complicated because there are already so many characters, and because this is an older Cantonese wuxia flick, the pacing is already a lot more casual than a modern film. The disjointedness hurts the film, but it doesn’t mean it’s awful, it just becomes a weirder wuxia epic. It also focuses on different actors than the story of the original films, downplaying and almost eliminating several major characters. Instead, the film focuses mainly on Josephine and Sek Kin, with a lot of Connie thrown in (though at least one major Connie Chan scene is MIA)

The important thing to remember is there is a guy in a gorilla costume! This is important, because that makes The Swrods of Tian Shan TarsTarkas.NET’s entry into the new MOSS conspiracy, Hairy Beasts! MOSS is the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit, and is a collection of all the cool cats with cool websites/podcasts/shows who review and watch and read all sorts of crazy stuff. Check out other Hairy Beasts entries at the above link, including houseinrlyeh taking on Bigfoot, TeleportCity vs Red Riding Hood, and Monster Island Report and TheCulturalGutter discussing hairy beasts!

The gorilla costume looks like it is the same one used in How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp, though this film was made first and the gorilla Yin-yin is a semi-major character here. I would theorize that the gorilla costume was made for this film, but I would not be surprised at all to see it show up in other earlier films, either.

Being a Cantonese wuxia flick from the 1960s, some of the familiar stars are here. Young Josephine Siao and Connie Chan are running around (Connie playing a boy once again!) Sek Kin is a former villain, Lau Hark-suen is a weirdo, Sai Gwa-Pau and Mui Yan are “comic relief”, and Simon Yuen Siu-Tin is an eccentric kung fu master and teacher. Because of how things were carved up as the two films were merged, I’ll add in some missing portions quoted directly from the HKFA synopsis. But there will be some gaps where things make little sense. And since this film is pretty darn rare, the film synopsis will be detailed detailed detailed.

Kam Ming-chu (Josephine Siao Fong-Fong) – Female Kam sibling who is a student of Kei Sun-kung, before her brother is killed and she is driven crazy by Snake Fruit thanks to getting involved in the Swords of Tien Shan mess.
Kam Siu-long (Connie Chan Po-Chu) – Male Kam sibling (yep, Connie Chan is playing a boy again!) who is killed when the Swords of Tien Shan mess is dropped on his rooftop. Eventually risen from the dead in a non-zombie form. Oddly enough, the Kam parents disappear from the film after his funeral and neither sibling bother to look them up later or even let them know Kam Siu-long is alive again.
Kei Sun-kung (Sek Kin) – Sifu of the Kam siblings who is a former bandit, and might not be as former as you think. He has one weakness: being behind him!
To Sam-tin (Lau Hak-Suen) – An eccentric witchdoctor who has been driven insane via ingesting Snake Fruit. He’s sane enough to try to steal the Swords of Tien Shan when they surface. Lau Hak-Suen was an actor who appeared in 488 films from 1934 until 1983 (his death). Towards the end of his career his output slowed down and he tried his hand at directing a few times. His quote “Ladies, please drink up for it’s only sugar water” lives on in the internet today.
Fatty Disciple (Mui Yan) – To Sam-tin’s larger bumbling assistant who spends most of the film doing goofy things.
Scrawny Disciple (Sai Gwa-Pau) – To Sam-tin’s scrawny bumbling assistant who also spends most of the film doing goofy things. Can act like a cat.
Iron Arhat (Simon Yuen Siu-Tin) – Monk who lives in a cave meditating all day, when he isn’t wandering around in graveyards reviving dead children. Is the most powerful person in the film, thus he doesn’t do much of anything.
Yin-yin (???) – Awesome gorilla who lives with Iron Arhat and screams an all too human scream. Likes to do good deeds.

Continue reading

The Blonde Hair Monster (Review)

The Blonde Hair Monster

aka 黃毛怪人 aka Yellow Giant

Written and Directed by Wong Fung

The Blonde Hair Monster is a story from the pulp series Wong Ang the Flying Heroine Bandit. These tales originated in 1940’s Shanghai from intelligence worker Siu Ping (aka Xiao Ping), who used his stories to speak out against the social and economic injustices of the time, creating a hero to fight for the people. Siu Ping fled to Hong Kong as the Chinese Civil War intensified and the Communists declared victory. The Wong Ang character spoke to the citizens of Hong Kong just as she had to the citizens of Shanghai, and became big sellers in the 1950s. Wong Ang is a play on the word for Oriole, and thus is known as Oriole in several title translations.

Wong Ang fits the profile of the virtuous female fighter character. While not being a nuxia (swordswoman), she is set in modern day and works with modern tools to take on modern problems. The rich and the powerful who think they can get away with crimes meet their matches, and the innocent and forgotten find the justice they need in their lives.

Wong Ang’s popularity made it a natural that she would appear on the screen, with the first entries appearing in 1957 or 1958. The first known film was Shaw’s Oriole, the Heroine (also known as Miss Nightingale, the Flying Fencer), which starred Pearl Au Kar-wai as Wong Ang and Fanny Fan and Chiang Feng as her sidekicks. There is some uncertainty to the exact release date. Beginning in 1959, Yu So-Chow played her in a series of films, four featuring veteran female action star Wu Lizhu and Yam Yin as her two sidekicks. 1959 gave us How Oriole the Heroine Solved the Case of the Three Dead Bodies and How Oriole the Heroine Caught the Murderer. 1960 was the Year of the Oriole with four films: House No. 13, Apartment Murder, Miss Cranery Vs. the Flying Tigers, and The Story of Wong-Un the Heroine. The Breakthrough was released in 1961. The Blonde Hair Monster is the last of the Yu So-Chow Wong Ang films (and the last Wong Ang film period, unless you count Michele Yeoh’s Silverhawk!), though by now the focus had begun to shift to Connie Chan, who plays one of her sidekicks. Thanks to DurianDave from SoftFilm for his work compiling the list of films above.

My favorite part of Blonde Hair Monster is how the vcd is missing an entire reel of the film! Luckily for me, I tracked down a guy on YouTube who uploaded the middle chunk of a TVB broadcast of the film for some reason, and that middle chunk has the missing reel! That’s also why some of the screencaps look different. TarsTarkas.NET goes the extra mile to give you the review you deserve, because we care, when we’re not being lazy! What is even more weird is the TVB broadcast is also missing pieces that the vcd had. So I’ve put together an extended edition of The Blonde Hair Monster that just might be the most complete copy of the film in the world. And yet there still is no title card…

Because this film is obscure as frak and I had to composite it together, this review will be detailed and long. So, sorry if you aren’t into that sort of thing, but bully if you are! And for more, much more on the Jane Bond films that this is a prototype of, listen to the Jane Bond Infernal Brains Podcast!

Wong Ngan (Yu So-Chau) – The champion of the people and solver of mysteries. Wong Ngan the Oriole fights for justice, and for just being there when stuff goes down. She and her girls will solve any mystery that comes along and won’t take any crap while doing so, though Wong Ngan is more likely to dispense with the villains with a polite smile than her sidekicks.
Heung Ngan (Connie Chan Po-Chu) – Wong Ngan’s younger sidekick, who is sassy and tough, and not afraid to fight a gigantic yellow-haired monster on occasion. Or a lady in a skeleton costume. Or a jerk homeowner keeping her from having a banana. The film is well aware Connie Chan will be the cat’s meow in another year or two, and makes sure to keep her on screen.
Wu Nga (Chan Hiu-Kau) – Wong Ngan’s other sidekick, who wears a K on her jacket (for Krazy!) She’s more reserved than Heung Ngan, but isn’t afraid to kick some butt if need be.
Inspector To (Walter Tso Tat-Wah) – Walter Tso shows up as his Inspector character that he played from time to time when not starring in a period piece. It’s a good thing Inspector To let these women wander around and solve his case for him, because he’s wrong on just about everything until Wong Nang politely explains what happened.
Cheung Yan-Lei (Sek Kin) – The framed younger brother of Cheung Yan-Chuen who spent years in jail and recently escaped. He’s plotting revenge, but a jerk like Cheung Yan-Chuen has so many enemies Yan-Lei is going to have to get in line.
Cheung Yan-Chuen (Ling Mung) – The evil brother who framed his brother for murder and screwed over a lot of people in his life. A list of his enemies would just be a copy of the phone book (Cheung Yan-Chuen wouldn’t be there, as he’d have an unlisted telephone number just to be away from everyone else!) Learns why you should never turn your back on your enemies, especially the ones with knives.
Cheung Kai-Ting (Cheung Ying-Tsoi) – Son of Cheung Yan-Chuen who now has to deal with his idiot father’s enemies coming to cause problems. You think you have dad problems.
Yau Tin Lung (Lam Liu-Ngok) – The servent to Cheung Yan-Chuen who is listed here because she’s a major character with a secret. And just ignore the fact there is a mystery character who is obviously female…
Sifu (Lok Gung) – A one-eyed sorcerer who helps Cheung Yan-Lei after his escape from jail and just happens to have a giant manservant and an orangutan on hand in his lab. So did Cheung Yan-Lei escape from jail into a pulp novel? You’d be surprised, because this film is based on a pulp novel!
Blonde Hair Monster (Siu Gam) – Was originally Sifu’s servant Mo Mo before a horrible accident and the addition of orangutan blood turned him into the fearful Blonde Hair Monster! Is that blonde hair real? Only his hairdresser knows for sure!
Ghost Lady (It is a mystery!) – Who could this mysterious ghost lady be? And why is she wearing a skeleton head when she is a ghost?

Continue reading

How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp (Review)

How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp

aka 白猿女三盜寶蓮燈

1962HKMDB Link DianYing Link
Directed and written by Wong Fung

There is a lot of old Chinese cinema. Many films were made in the post-war period based on plays, operas, folk tales, and old novels. There was also a bunch of original content created. These old films have handpainted backgrounds, origins in operas and classical tales, and were produced quickly and cheaply. That doesn’t stop many of them from being interesting. I am fond of old-style effects, goofy plots, and stylized action as long as the film remains interesting. And in between all the older love/opera/drama type stories, there is a large pocket of wuxia/swordplay movies just waiting to be discovered. Although the audience for these films was large long ago, nowadays few people are even aware of them. Older Chinese people know of the films, but most of them don’t watch them regularly anymore, and even fewer have websites on the internet. So any specific film backgrounds I can find is few and far between (or in the case of this film, almost non-existent!) Heck, there is no IMDB entry for this film (no surprise there), and even the often reliable Hong Kong Movie Database has the wrong English name for the film.

Tribute is paid to these classic movies in the film Kung Fu vs. Acrobatic, which even co-stars Walter Tso Tat-Wah, one of the stars here and dozens of other classic films. How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp is a lucky pick grabbed from a Chinatown movie store based solely on the pictures on the back of the VCD, which included some kids dressed up like monkeys. I am happy to report there are crazy monkey children in the film, but there are also lots of other cool retro effects. Even if I didn’t have my wife there to translate the film for me I would have been entertained (although slightly more confused.) The VCDs for these old films have no subtitles (why would they? I am one of the few non-native Cantonese speakers who would watch these) so the best to hope for is lots of fun stuff happening on the screen.

The VCD case makes the presence of Josephine Siao Fong-Fong well known, though at the time this movie was released (1962) she hadn’t taken off into super-stardom (where her major competitor would be the other, bigger 1960’s Cantonese sweetheart Connie Chan – seen here in Lady Black Cat) so Josephine has a supporting role in this film. Josephine Siao would later become a major leading lady, and participate in many of the Jane Bond films of the late 1960s and even do many films with her “rival” Connie Chan. She first appeared in 1954 and two years later won the Best Child Actor award for Orphan Girl. Like Connie Chan, she also had an impressive output in the 1960s, but in 1969 she slowed down her acting to focus on education and marriage (to actor Charlie Chin, which lasted three months – she later remarried and had children) She later appeared on TV as the bumbling plain Jane character Lam Ah Shun in 1977, followed by three films (one of them was Plain Jane to the Rescue, directed by a young John Woo). She is probably best known to fans from the 1990s for her parts as Fong Sai Yuk’s mother in the Fong Sai Yuk films. See the Jane Bond article for more of her films.

Sek Kin is another major Hong Kong actor making a supporting role here. Usually Sek Kin played villains and evil men in his movie roles. He was the ultimate Hong Kong villain character actor for decades. Oddly enough, although his character is a jerk in several scenes in How the Ape Girl Stole the Lotus Lamp, he isn’t the villain, and ends up doing some pretty noble things near the end. It was sort of weird seeing Sek Kin as a non-bad guy, I have only seen him in a few films but he was always over the top evil. Bruce Lee chose him as the villain in Enter the Dragon. At the time of this writing Sek Kin was still alive and kicking at age 95! He is also in Lady Black Cat where he plays a more common evil villain role.

Fitting with Chinese films, the cast is enormous, so here are the major players listed out (that way we can get shoutouts to all the more obscure Chinese actors and actresses that probably have next to nothing written about them in English.)

Mo Kwun-tin (Walter Tso Tat-wah) – Strong fighter and student of the White-haired Nun, Mo Kwun-tin defends people being harassed and wants to marry Wong Kam-fung. His heroic nature gets him into trouble. Walter Tso Tat-wah began as extra and then a director in the beginnings of the Hong Kong film industry. He soon starred in front of the camera, and by 1941 he had appeared in over 80 films, but then Japan invaded and the industry ground to a halt. After making a fortune on the black market, he returned to films in 1946 and was part of the Wong Fei Hong series of films. He had his own production company, but he was also a heavy gambler and lost a lot. He starred in wuxia ad detective films in the 1960s and eventually wound up on television after returning from retirement.
Wong Kam-fung (Yu So-chau) – Daughter of Wong Yut-pao and training with the White-haired Nun. Wants to marry Mo Kwun-tin, though her cousin Lam Kim-sing is conspiring to marry her instead. Is a knife expert. Yu So-chau (or Yu So-chow) is the daughter of Master Yu Jim Yuen who ran the China Drama Academy. She started her stage career at age 8 in 1938 and began her film career in 1948, eventually making over 240 films. She was the Queen of the wuxia films and no actress has come close to appearing in as many as her (over 170). After her marriage in 1966 she retired a few years later, her last appearance was a cameo in 1970. Since she supposedly lives in San Francisco now I may have run into her on the street without having any idea who she was! I’ll just pretend I did because it sounds more impressive. More information on some of Yu So-chau’s films can be found at our blog entry and this SoftFilm blog tag, and don’t forget this Electric Shadows piece.
Leung Yin-yuk (Chan Wai-yu) – Sister who is training away, saves her brother who runs the restaurant. Is attracted to Mo Kwun-tin, but he doesn’t share her affection. Teams with Lam Kim-sing to steal the Lotus Lamp, but is betrayed.
Leung Yin Bing (Josephine Siao Fong-Fong) – The second Leung sister, instead of training under the White-haired Nun she guards the magic plant for Taoist Priest White Ape. Is called White Ape Girl, but is primarily called Yin Bing by her family. Steals the Lotus Lamp after overhearing her sister’s plans, disobeys her sifu, and generally causes a lot of trouble while not being evil or anything. I gave Josephine Siao a biography earlier, you better have read it!
Cousin Lam Kim-sing (Lam Kau Hei-ho) –He is trying to marry Wong Kam-fung, so he is against Mo Kwun-tin. Steals the Lotus Lamp, a lamp so lotus-y all other lamps are jealous. Eventually dies and is White skull driven reincarnated. You read that right! Lam Kau has acted for 50 years, from 1950 until his last film appearance in 2000. He was in many of the Wong Fei-Hung films. Lam Kau started his own drama school in the 1960’s and later became Sir Lam Kau Hei-ho.
Wong Yut-pao (Sek Kin) – Protector of the lantern and a jerk, but turns into less of a jerk after the lamp is stolen and when his future son-in-law Mo Kwun-tin is sick. Sek Kin got a mini-biography up top so I ain’t repeating it here. Yes, laziness. Deal with it!
Leung brother (Sai Gwa-Pau) – He runs the hundreds of restaurants the Leung family is supposed to own, has buck teeth and a stutter. He is called Ah Goh because that means brother. Sai Gwa-Pau (Sai Kwa-Pau) made films from 1947 until 1995! Sai Gwa Pau was famous for the role of Ah So in the Wong Fei Hung films. Sai was born on October 7, 1918 in Guangdong, China, and died in Hong Kong on March 21, 2001. His nickname was “watermelon scoop!”
Mo Kwun-tin’s father (Cheung Sing-fei) – Father of Mo Kwun-tin, hence his name! I don’t know his character’s name, they didn’t bother to mention it in the film. One of the two guardians of the Lotus Lamp along with Wong Yut-pao.
Beast King (???) – A great ape. Actually, a captive of White-haired Nun and pitted in gladiatorial combat against her students! Where is the ASPCA? This poor gorilla. I don’t know who is in the suit. Maybe it was a real gorilla in the gorilla suit. Because that would be cool.
White-haired Nun (???) – The female sifu! She trains the original four in the ways of swordfighting, knife-throwing, and gorilla destroying. Because they will run into plenty of gorillas in ancient China. I am not sure who played her.
Taoist Priest White Ape (Cheung Sing-Fei ?) – Trains Leung Yin Bing, master of the ape kids, and collector of cool artifacts. He can fly, teleport, hire apes, command apes, command ninjas, and make invading parties go through a bunch of challenges. Being a sifu must be boring if he has to mess with so many people like that. I think he was played by Cheung Sing-Fei (Cheung Seng-Fei) but I am not certain.

Continue reading