Kung Fu

Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan

Set in a brothel and centring on one of the establishments inmates, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan is a film unafraid to keep its exploitation elements at the forefront of the plot. But with its lavish sets and sumptuous cinematography, director Yuen Chor manages to make the film much more than a simple sleaze-fest and deliver a rather good revenge flick packed with overt, and very effective, eroticism.

The film starts with Ainu (Lily Ho), one of many teenagers kidnapped and sold to the brothel in question. Because of her stunning looks and feisty personality, she is an immediate draw for the brothel’s very wealthy – and very well connected – clients. She also attracts the lustful attention of the brothel’s owner, Madam Chun (Betty Pei Ti).

Initially Ainu resists but, following a failed escape attempt, her spirit finally appears to be broken and she begins to settle in to the life of the brothel. In doing so, she starts to take advantage of Madam Chun’s patronage which includes learning her martial arts skills.

The relationship between Ainu and Madam Chun is the core of this film and it is very well handled. Both Lily Ho and Betty Pei Ti put in sterling performances and really do bring their characters to life as the plot begins to twist.

Unfortunately, the strength of the two leads’ performances also highlights one of the weaknesses of the film, which is that the rest of the cast are a little one-dimensional. The script focuses so heavily on the central relationship that, although the supporting actors do put in perfectly competent performances, they aren’t given a great deal to work with. The result is that these characters often feel motivated by no more than a need to progress the plot.

This is a Shaw Brothers film and, even though the action sequences are not the main focus of the film, they are central and consistently spectacular. As with the rest of the film, the focus is very much on the two women and the way in which their fighting style reflects their relationship. And given that neither of the women is a martial artist, they both put in very creditable performances here indeed.

There is much to like about this film and it does work on many levels – as a martial arts action film, as an exploitation film with something to say about exploitation and as tragedy about love and vengeance. Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan also has a depth that is often missing from films of this genre, but it really could have done with an extra half hour to more fully develop both the plot and some of the supporting characters.

Fighting Fish

Fighting FishSet in Rotterdam, Fighting Fish is the first Dutch martial arts film. And, as kung-fu movies go, it’s pretty good.

The Plot Centres on A-Ken (Kim Ho Kim) who travels to Rotterdam to find the killers of his brother, Chau and to take revenge.

Initially, everything looks straightforward enough – A-Ken was a member of an a gang and fellow gang member, Koh (Chung-Huen Lam) points A-Ken in the direction of a rival gang that he blames for Chau’s death and A-Ken’s fists and feet start to fly.

I was going to wait until I’d got to the end of the synopsis before talking about the martial arts in the film, but here seems to be a better point to start digressing. This is a martial arts film, after all.

First up, the fight scenes are impressive. Many of the cast members are professional martial artists and it shows – there is a level of realism that you simply don’t achieve if you have to switch between actors and stuntmen. The action flows well and you get the feeling that what you’re seeing on the screen is what was happening on the set – no dependence on camera trickery, wire-work or other special effects here.

On the other hand, I did get a strong sense that I was watching sportsmen as opposed to gangsters and this did tend to pull me out of the film occasionally.

And, dammit, I like wire-work. People flying improbably through the air may be unrealistic, but it’s certainly spectacular.

So, back to the plot where it becomes apparent that things are not quite as clear-cut as they first appeared and A-Ken finds himself of a journey through the Chinese gangland of Rotterdam as he seeks the truth about his brother’s death.

And to complicate matters further, A-Ken meets Jennifer (Chantal Janzen) with whom he quickly becomes romantically involved. Of course, not everyone is happy about this relationship – in fact no-one is happy about this relationship.

Jennifer’s older brother, Marc (Ron Smoorenburg) doesn’t think that A-Ken is good enough for his little sister, while the Chinese community objects to the fact that A-Ken is seeing a gweilo girl.

This is probably the strongest aspect of the film, dealing not only with the difficulties faced by an immigrant community, but also the self-inflicted nature of some, if not many, of these problems. The feeling expressed in the film is that western people see the Chinese community as Fighting Fish; strange and exotic, but without understanding the true nature of the fish. In the same way that fighting fish cannot be together without fighting to the death, the two cultures in the film will also destroy each other if forced to live together.

It’s a telling observation – especially given the current Dutch concern with integration – that Marc eventually accepts that A-Ken whereas neither Jennifer’s Chinese friends, nor the Chinese gang with which A-Ken has become involved are willing to accept that Jennifer may not conform to their prejudices.

Overall, Fighting Fish is a competent, if less than perfect, martial arts film that makes a pretty good attempt at investigating issues of immigration, integration and cultural differences.

Shaolin Soccer

Shaolin SoccerIn a major tournament long ago, Goldenboot Fung (Man Tat Ng) steps forward to take a penalty. Although he beats the goalkeeper, the ball goes over the bar and the game is lost. Fungs leg is (deliberately) broken in the ensuing riot, ending his career.

We jump forward twenty years and Fung is reduced to working as an equipment manager for Hung (Yin Tse), the villainous coach of Team Evil - yes, the villain of this film really does manage a team called “Team Evil” - but not for much longer

Freshly sacked and with no future, Fung meets the penniless Sing (Stephen Chow) who divides his time between collecting cans for scrap, freelance cleaning and the search for a way to bring kung fu to the masses. Sing is convinced not only that Shaolin kung fu is the best, but that it can be applied to every aspect of life.

I have to admit that if I could park a car in the way Sing suggests, Id be a very happy man.

Around this time Sing also meets Mui (Vicky Zhao) who works in a nearby bakery. Despite her severe skin complaints, Sing recognises her inner grace and her mastery of kung fu and the two of them start to establish a friendship.

Fung initially dismisses Sings ideas as being those of a hopeless loser but as he starts to see evidence of Sings raw power - this is a man who can send footballs into orbit and bring down walls with a single kick of a tin can - he quickly re-evaluates his opinion and convinces Sing to form a football team. The national tournament is coming up soon and the first prize is $1 million.

Fung and Sing set about bringing together Sings former kung fu brothers…

This is no small task. Not only are Sing’s brothers are all in less than perfect shape but they are also very unwilling to get involved in yet another of Sing’s mad schemes.

But if money talks a million dollar prize shouts and, just as it starts to looks like no-one is interested, Sing’s brothers turn up for the first practice session.

Once the six brothers’ football skills have progressed from those of a bunch of six year olds to those of a bunch of eight year olds, Fung arranges a game against a local gang that clearly thinks fair play is something that happens to other people.

It is in this sequence that the comedic possibilities of combining slapstick comedy, kung fu and football start to be explored generating some great laugh out loud moments as the football pitch degenerates into a battlefield and the kung fu team are taken apart… literally.

But, after a moment of stillness (ball time!), the tables are rapidly turned and the Shaolin approach to football is proven successful. So much so that the local gang joins the kung fu team making up their numbers to a full squad.

And then the Kung Fu Football team enters the tournament and the film really takes off

With its combination of impossible martial arts action and crisp CGI effects, its probably inevitable that Shaolin Soccer will be compared to The Matrix.

I have to admit that I preferred Shaolin Soccer, its funnier, faster and isnt bogged down by spurious pseudo-philosophy.

This is football as played by superheroes - an explosive and spectacular game in which the ball can tear holes in the pitch, ignite the air and burn clothes from the body of anyone unlucky enough to get in its way.

Although spectacular, the effects dont overwhelm the film and visual humour is allowed to dominate as the Kung Fu Football team progresses through the rounds – their victories gaining them popularity, audiences and sponsorship.

The football scenes are packed with laugh out loud moments, absurd moves and kung fu in jokes, on the subject of which, if youd ever wondered how Bruce Lee would fare as a goalkeeper, this is the film for you.

Stephen Chow is currently the biggest draw in the Chinese box office and Shaolin Soccer is his attempt to find a worldwide audience. On the basis of this film, he deserves every success.

Five Superfighters

Following their humiliation and that of their master at the hands of a newly arrived martial artist calling himself the corrector of bad kung-fu, the three students of the - very small - school agree to abandon their injured master and seek training elsewhere in order to return and avenge themselves and their master. Agreeing to return in six months, they leave, quietly and in the middle of the (really quite sunny) night.

On awakening to find himself abandoned, the master becomes despondent and, following yet another humiliation at the hands of the same character, quickly slides into a permanent state of drunkenness.

Meanwhile, the three students meet an unlikely assortment of kung-fu masters and proceed to badger and plead their way into becoming students. The comic possibilities of having the students trained by non-traditional (to say the least) teachers is explored to the full extent of the scriptwriters clearly limited talent - assuming, of course, that a scriptwriter was involved.

The first student comes across a widowed bean-curd seller being harassed by the local rich and unsavoury character and a couple of his thugs. Of course, he rushes in to help and succeeds only in getting in the way as the woman proceeds to beat and humiliate her aggressors. Recognising talent when he sees it, the student follows her home and manages to talk her into not only feeding him, but also giving him a bed for the night and taking him on as a labourer. We then get to watch him trying to learn from her without actually asking to be taken on as a student.

The second of the three finds himself having to flee from a town after some appallingly ill-advised gambling. Being one of the good guys, he decides to take out his frustrations on a drunken cripple… and is promptly humiliated. So hes found his teacher.

The third student witnesses a fishermans workout and, after deciding to lie his way out of a moral dilemma, transitions from fish thief to fisherman and student. Of the three masters, the fisherman has the least comic value (specifically, none) so we dont see much of this student for a while.

Suddenly - very suddenly - six months have passed and its time for the three students to head for home. On arrival, they find their master alone and pretty much drunk out of his skull… but its his birthday. Promising a present that their master will really like, the three students take him out for some a few drinks and a spot of food.

Once everyone is suitably sozzled, the corrector of bad kung-fu turns up and all is ready for the climactic battle…

Five Superfighters is the sort of exploitation kung-fu movie that was churned out by Hong Kong based Shaw Brothers studios throughout the 70s. Its cheap, badly choreographed, badly dubbed and lumbered with a plot that is little more than a vehicle for getting from one fight to the next.

Earlier on in this review, I questioned the assumption that a scriptwriter was involved in the making of the film. And its not an entirely flippant remark. The storylines for many of the films made by the Shaw Brothers at this time were made up as filming progressed giving rise to uneven plots full of holes so wide that metaphors fail me. Storyline, characterisation, even suspense, all fall far behind the primary aim of the film which is to achieve as much action and/or comedy (and I am using comedy in the most generous sense here) for as little budget as possible.

Kung-Fu movies have a lot in common with westerns in that they tend to be centred on themes of honour and revenge. In this case, the teacher is humiliated and his students seek to take revenge and to restore their master’s honour. Unfortunately, in this case, what little characterisation there is manages to completely undermine the storyline.

That said, the action sequences are plentiful and impressive and the comedy – both intentional and unintentional – kept me laughing throughout. And th

A Chinese Ghost Story III

A Chinese Ghost Story III With A Chinese Ghost Story, director Ching Siu-Tung both popularised and gave a name to the genre of frenetic, chop socky laden romantic ghost stories which were coming out of Hong Kong in the 1980s. In this third outing, however, its all starting to look a bit repetitive.

The film opens with a quick pre-credits recap of what happened in A Chinese Ghost Story and then jumps forward 100 years to find another Buddhist monk travelling through the area with his inept student, Fong (Tony Leung). They come to an unnamed town in which a Ghost Festival is being celebrated and find the place full of shifty, dishonest and downright dangerous characters all there for a weapons market.

After a couple of scrapes, the pair decide to spend the night in a haunted temple on the basis that, as Buddhists theyll be safe from the ghosts and no-one else will dare enter.

The story then follows a very familliar course of monk meets ghost, monk and ghost fall in love, etc., etc. And more than anything else, this is what lets the film down There really arent any surprises and, watching it, you can easily see what is going to happen next In short, its all a bit too formulaic.

That said, its not a bad film. Some of the jokes work pretty well, especially the ones involving the money obsessed warrior Yin (Jacky Cheung). Also, the relationship between Fong and Lotus (Joey Wang) is both highly charged and effective. The supernatural effects are pretty good in places, but again, theres nothing here that I havent seen in other Chinese Ghost Stories.

In short, if youve never seen a film of this type before, you could do a lot worse than renting A Chinese Ghost Story III. But there are a lot of much beter films that this genre has to offer.