Hong Kong Action Cinema: A-C

By David Eber

Armour of God

Director Jackie Chan
Cast Jackie Chan, Rosamund Kwan, Alan Tam, Lola Forna, Maria Delores
Year 1987

Armor of God stars Jackie Chan as Asian Hawk, a sort of Indiana-Jones type adventurer who's contacted by his old friend Alan (Alan Tam) to resuce his girlfriend Laura (Rosamund Kwan) from a cult of weird monks. Laura used to be Hawk's girlfriend, and the monks have taken her in order to force him to bring them the remaining parts of a mystical relic known as “God's Armour”, which Hawk had once retrieved in the past. The collector who owns the remaining three pieces agrees to loan them to Hawk if he returns with the whole set. The catch is that he has to take his daughter May (Lola Forna) along with him. The trio set off after Laura and manage to rescue her from the monks. However, she's been drugged, and so she returns to the monk's mountain hideout with the armour and Alan, forcing Hawk into a showdown with the cult's sinister leader and his minions.

A take on Raiders of the Lost Ark given a Hong Kong spin, Armour of God is one of Jackie's more famous and inventive films. This is, however, as much due to the now infamous botched stunt which occured during the shooting of this film that nearly cost Jackie his life as it is to the film itself. A simple leap into a tree went horribly wrong, and during the credit reels you get to see Jackie rushed off for brain surgery. Despite this, the film itself is a bit sluggish. It doesn't really kick in until the end of the movie, when Jackie finally takes on the bad guys. Fortunately, the last part of this film is classic Chan. It's not a non-stop thrill ride, but it is an ok film nonetheless.

Feng Shui notes

This film has its share of the thrills, stunts, and over-the-top action that characterizes the Feng Shui RPG. Curiously enough, Feng Shui does not currently have what this film does — an adventurer archetype. Asian Hawk doesn't fit any of the current character types, a fact which sorely needs to be remedied. Fortunately, there is a fan-created solution: Check out Colin Chapman's Treasure Hunter archetype.

Armor of God II: Operation Condor

Director Jackie Chan
Cast Jackie Chan, Carol “Do Do” Cheng, Eva Cobo Garcia, Shoko Ikeda, Aldo Sanchez, Ken Lo
Year 1991
A.K.A. Operation Condor

Operation Condor stars Jackie Chan in this sequel to Armor of God, though in truth the only thing they have in common is the Indiana Jones/James Bond character in the lead. This time Jackie plays Condor, who's sent by the United Nations to recover a hidden cache of gold stolen by the Nazi's and hidden in a secret desert base during World War II. Along for the ride is Ada (Carol “Do Do” Cheng), an expert in desert survival, Elsa (Eva Cobo Garcia), the granddaughter of the bases' orignal commander, and Momoko (Shoko Ikeda), a new-ageish Japanese drifter who just sort of falls in with the group. Of course, Condor's not the only one after the gold; his advesaries include a pair of bumbling Arab zealots and a gang of mercenaries lead by Adolf, the wheelchair-bound last surviving member of the Nazi base. After run-in's with desert tribesmen and bandits in the Sahara, Condor and his companions arrive at the hidden base with the mercenaries hot on their heels. The abandoned complex serves as the perfect locale for Chan-style martial arts combat and stuntwork, with the final battle taking place in an active wind tunnel, a scene which took four months to film.

Unless you've been living in an abandoned military base in the desert, you know that Operation Condor is the fourth Jackie Chan film to be released by New Line in the U.S. Operation Condor is nearly 2 hours of kung-fu action, goofy comedy, and insanely dangerous stunts, and it's got a plot a six-year old could follow. Set in Spain and Morocco, it has a western feel to it that should sit well with American audiences, but not so much so that it feels diluted, as was the case with First Strike. Sure, the story is largely unburdened by realism or believablity, and ok, the plot mainly serves as an excuse to get from one ridiculous action scene to the next. But so what? This movie is pure fun, and that's all you need for a Jackie Chan film.

Feng Shui notes

Although the story behind Operation Condor doesn't strictly fit into the secret war, it can easily be made to. Here's the deal: Back in the 1850's juncture the Architects tried to set up a beachhead, but before they could the Ascended, tipped off by the Jammers, seized the portal they were using and took out the small Architect force before they could get fully established. However, they left behind a sealed, secret hi-tech military base. Word of what happened gets through to the modern-day Asceneded, who immediately dispatch a team to secure the base. Of course, the Architects also send out their own forces to try and reclaim it as well. The Jammers, too, want to get at it so that they can destroy it. They form an alliance with the Dragons, who naturally call upon the PCs to find and take out the base before anyone else gets their hands on it. The question is, what's inside the base, and what will happen if the PCs fail?

The Assassin

Director Billy Chung
Cast Zhang Fengyi, Benny (Max) Mok, Rosamund Kwan
Year 1993

The Assassin begins with the doomed flight of Tong Po Ka (Zhang Fengyi) and his lover Yiu (Rosamund Kwan) from the forces of the Eunuch Mi. Po Ka is captured and thrown into a dungeon, where he undergoes the gruesome “eye-closing penalty”, a scene best avoided by the squeamish. He and seven other prisoners are later taken to an arena where their eyes are re-opened and they are made to fight each other to the last man. Po Ka wins the battle using both his brains and his might, and so he is taken to learn the ways of the killer under the tutleage of the master assassin Sung Chung. He is then turned over to the creepy eunuch Ngai, who renames him “Tong Chop” and sends him out to dispatch his enemies. He takes the enthusiastic but inexperienced young killer Wong Kau (Benny Mok) under his wing, and all seems well until he stumbles across Yiu during a mission. Po Ka is forced to confront the horror of what he's become, and this internal strife inevitably leads him to violent confrontations with both his student and his masters.

The Assassin is film filled with scenes of extreme violence, gore, and graphic brutality. This movie could have easily turned out to be nothing more that a splatter-filled spectacle. Instead, we get a dark, disturbing, and well crafted story about one man's descent into hell and his eventual redemption. The atmosphere of hopelessness is similar to that of Burning Paradise, but the conflicts are much more complex. Po Ka must do more than defeat the villains in this story. He must also come to terms with his shattered life. Gloomy, blue-lit visuals and whirlwind swordplay combine with all of this to produce a very good film, but it's also one that won't be for everybody.

Feng Shui notes

If you like your Lotus villains to be as dark, nasty, and evil as possible then this film is a good place to start. With his pasty skin, white pompadour hairdo, and talon-like fingernails Eunuch Ngai stands out as a excessively evil villain. There's nothing to like about this sadistic deviant. This film is also full of A.D. 69 style killers who dispatch their victims with swords instead of guns. Check it out if you want to play a killer from this juncture but aren't sure how. Bear in mind, however, that your GM's campaign may not be quite as bloody as this movie.

A Better Tommorow

Director John Woo
Cast Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, Waise Lee, Emily Chu, Shing Fui-On, Kenneth Tsang
Year 1986

A Better Tomorrow stars Ti Lung and Chow Yun Fat as Ho and Mark, close friends who have risen through the ranks of the triads to become successful counterfeiters. Leslie Cheung plays Ho's younger brother Kit, a cadet at the police academy who is unaware of his brother's true line of work. Ho sets off on one last mission to Taiwan with novice Shing (Waise Lee) for one last score. Things go wrong, and Ho is forced to give himself up to the cops so that Shing can escape. Mark then sets out for revenge, and in a now famous scene he wipes out a restaurant full of goons with guns stashed in potted plants, but is himself crippled in the process. Flash forward three years: Ho is released from prison, only to find that his brother hates him, both because he can't advance through the ranks, and because their father was murdered as a result of Ho's criminal lifestyle. What's more, Shing is now a criminal bigwig, while Mark has been reduced to his flunky. Ho attempts to go straight, but Shing wants to draw him back into his old life again. Unable to escape his past, Ho must reconcile with his brother, return his old friend to his former self, and settle things with the villanous Shing once and for all.

A Better Tomorrow has been enshrined as a bona fide classic of the Hong Kong cinema, and with good reason: it virtually created the “heroic bloodshed” genre, which took Hong Kong and American audiences by storm. The kung-fu warriors of the past were replaced by gun-toting gangster-knights without losing any of the breathtaking excitement. On the contrary, this film first showcases Woo's surreally hyper-stylized gunplay that would become his trademark. In fact, this film launched Woo's career as an action director, and it put Chow Yun-Fat on the map as his leading man. Both have gone on to achieve tremendous success, and have become synonymous with the “new wave” of Hong Kong film making. Nonetheless, I'm going to verge on heresy here by saying that I'm not that fond of this film. Taken in context, the film is very impressive, but compared to his later works, the film is much less exciting. The truth is, I've been spoiled by The Killer and Hard Boiled. Woo was just getting started with this movie and, as good as it is, I wanted more action. I still recommend this film, just don't expect to be blown away by the action.

A Better Tomorrow 2

Director John Woo
Cast Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, Dean Shek, Emily Chu, Shing Fui-On, Kenneth Tsang, Regina Kent (Kan Wai-Ling), Ng Man Tat
Year 1987

A Better tomorrow 2 starts off shortly after where its precdecessor leaves off. Ho (Ti Lung), the now imprisoned hero of the first film, is offered a chance at early release if he agrees to help the cops investigate his former mentor, Lung (Dean Shek), a former Triad now turned legitimate shipping tycoon. At first Ho refuses, until he learns that his younger brother Kit (Leslie Cheung) is on the case undercover. Ho agrees and tries to warn his brother off, but then Lung is framed for murder by counterfeiters who want control of his shipyards. Lung is forced to flee to America, leaving his daughter in the care of Kit. Nonetheless, she's murdered, and Lung begins to mentally deteriorate, eventually ending up in an asylum. He's discovered by Ken, a Chinatown restaurant owner who also happens to be the twin brother of Mark — Chow Yun-Fat's character from the first film. Meanwhile, Ho has been infiltrating the bad guy's organization. As a test of loyalty, he's forced to shoot his own brother, who's been fingered as a cop. Eventually, the survivors of this film team up and go after the bad guys in a final showdown that has gone down in HK cinema history for it's sheer length and single-minded destructiveness.

John Woo followed up on the success of A Better Tomorrow with this sequel, which takes everything that made the original noteworthy and cranks it up a notch. The result is something that is both more and less that what it follows. The themes of loyalty, honor, and friendship are all here, but they're laid on so strong the film almost becomes ludicrous. Certainly, the scenes in which Ken tries to nurse Lung back to help are bizzare, to say the least. Of course, the conceit which brings Chow Yun-Fat back into this film is utterly ridiculous, but it's also good, cheesy fun. This film lacks the cohesion, restraint, and elegance of the first film, and it tries to make up for it with intensity and gusto. For the most part, it still lacks the action found in Woo's later films, but the end of the film almost makes up for it, as bullets, bodies, and blood fall like a rainstorm. The scene where Chow Yun-Fat and his opponent trade guns in the middle of combat stands out as a defining moment in the heroic bloodshed genre. This film doesn't quite equal Woo's later works, but the ending alone makes it all worthwhile.

Feng Shui notes

There's Carnival of Carnage and Both Guns Blazing in spades in this film. To you game masters who fret about mooks not being tough enough, go see this movie and stop worrying about it. The scenes of them getting mowed down by the dozens is how it's supposed to be.

Black Cat

Director Stephen Shin
Cast Jade Leung, Simon Yam, Thomas Lam
Year 1991

This HK version of La Femme Nikita stars Jade Leung as Catherine, a vicious misfit who murders a trucker in a brutal fight after he tries to put the moves on her, and then a cop who shows up on the scene. Captured by the law, she dispatches a mysterious gunman who comes after her in the bathroom and goes on the run, only to be shot. When she awakens, she finds she's been recruited by a super-secret government agency to be a super-secret assassin. Under the tutelage of Brian (Simon Yam) she's transformed into a high-tech killer and unleashed on the world. During the course of one of her missions she's photographed by nature-lover Allen (Thomas Lam). She goes to house to off him, only to fall in love instead. Cahterine struggles to keep her identity a secret, but needless to say this is a doomed relationship. Things come to a head when the two go to Japan together and, well, a lot of people end up dead by the time it's all over. Black Cat captures a lot of the style of the French-made film on which it was based, but its a lot more raw and nasty. At the very least, it's a much better remake than the American version (Jade Leung looks like she could take on a dozen Briget Fondas without breaking a sweat). Although there's a fair deal of action, it isn't done in the loopy HK style (although why the first mission is to whack the bride at a Jewish wedding I don't know). Everything here is edgy and visceral, and Jade Leung simmers with psychotic intensity. Not a film for an evening of light entertainment, but a film well worth checking out.

Feng Shui notes

If you haven't guessed by now, Black Cat provides yet another model for a modern day Killer. If you like your games gritty and moody, this is a good film to watch.

Black Mask

Director Lee Yan-Kong
Cast Jet Li, Lau Ching-Wan, Karen Joy Morris (Mok Man-Wai), Francoise Yip, Moses Chan Ho, Xiong Xin-Xin (Hung Yan-Yan), Chung King-Fai, Lawrence Ah Mon (Lau Kwok-Cheung)
Year 1996

Jet Li takes a break from his usual period pieces to star in Black Mask, a dark, vaguely futuristic tale of a masked crimefighter. Li plays Tsui Chik — at least that's the name he goes by — who was once part of a secret government project called Squad 701. The squad members all had their brains severed their nervous systems, making them unable to feel pain (don't question it too deeply). However, when the government decided they could no longer control their experiments they decided to eliminate them. The movie then picks up some years later, with Chik, who escaped the government, now posing as a mild-mannered, pacifistic librarian. He's the exact opposite of his best friend, tough-guy police inspector Shek (Lau Ching Wan) who's known on the force as “The Rock”. Shek has been assigned to investigate the recent massacre of most of Hong Kong's major drug dealers. It turns out that the remainder of Squad 701 has resurfaced. Led by a creepy cult-type/mad scientist figure they're busy paving the way for foreign criminals to take over the HK market. This forces Chik to don the guise of the Black Mask, a crimefighting vigilante, and bring his old comrades to justice. However, in doing so he comes up against the lethal assassin Yeuk Lan (Francoise Yip), a former member of the squad and the woman he once loved.

Produced by Tsui Hark, Black Mask combines elements of 40's pulp adventure, 60's style secret agent flicks, and cyberpunk urban flash and squalor into a movie that resembles Blade Runner, the Green Hornet, and James Bond. With its nefarious plots, secret hideouts, and evil masterminds, the film really does have a kind of kitschy superhero/superspy feel to it, right down to the excellent twangy guitar score. However, the goofiness of this film clashes somewhat uncomfortably with the dark and gritty setting and the graphic violence. This film has some cool fight scenes and some good performances, including Francoise Yip in a feral Emma Peel role. Having had some time to think about this film since writing this review, I'd have to say that my fondness for this film has grown. It's not an exceptional film, and Karen Mok is still as grating as before, but the film is a hell of a lot of fun. What's more, it's being released in theaters in the U.S., so you have no excuse to miss it. Go see it — you won't be disappointed.

Feng Shui notes

Black Mask is full of cool Feng Shui ideas, most notably the main character itself. Li comes off as a cross between 007, Kato, and Batman, using his brains, skills, and fantastic gadgetry to foil the bad guys. However, the Black Mask is far more lethal, as he dispatches his enemies with what looks like razor-edged CD's. His origin is reminscent of the Architects of the Flesh, and it makes a great hook for a Feng Shui game. Imagine that a secret squad of Buro operatives have set themselves up in Hong Kong and have begun taking out the Ascended controlled triads. With them out of the way, they then open the door to foreign drug lords to move in, and in doing so take control of them away from the Ascended and bring them under the influence of the Architects. However, one thing stands in the way: a former member of the squad now turned masked avenger who, along with his companions from the Dragons, is determined to prevent the Architects from carrying out their plans. By the way, Francoise Yip in this film would make an ideal Adrienne Hart.

The Blade

Director Tsui Hark
Cast Zhao Wen-Zhao, Xiong Xin-Xin (Hung Yan-Yan), Moses Chan, Austin Wai, Valerie Chow
Year 1995

The Blade opens with a scene of a dog being lured into a bear trap for the amusement of a gang of bandits. This sets the tone for the rest of this unrelentingly dark and brutal film. Narrated by Ling, the daughter of a master swordsmith, it tells the story of On (Zhao Wen-Zhao), a junior swordsmith who sets out to seek his vengeance on the murderer of his father, a tattooed killer named Lung (Xiong Xin-Xin) who reputedly has the power to fly. However, when he tries to save Ling from a bandit gang, his arm is hacked off and believed dead by all except Ling and his friend, Iron Head, who set out in search of him. On is taken in by hermit girl, until the brigands arrive, torch the house, and brutally torture On. In the wreckage of the home, he finds half of a kung-fu manual, and uses it to teach himself one-armed swordfighting. Thus armed (pardon the pun), he sets off once again to find Lung, a quest that leads to an explosive and riveting showdown.

A remake of the One-Armed Swordsman, Tsui Hark blends art-house sensibilities with violent action into a film that is brilliantly crafted but singularly disturbing. With detailed sets, moody lighting, wind-blown vistas, and carefully chosen shots which bring out the intensity of the story, this is arguably some of Hark's best work to date. However, this is also an incredibly violent and unflinching work which offers no humor or relief to omnipresent air of tension and suffering throughout the film. The main characters are portrayed as subject to violent passions and emotions, barely able to keep themselves in check, while the rest of humanity is depicted as little better than animals, ruled by base appetites and prone to unthinking brutality. After watching this movie, I felt the urge to pop in a Jackie Chan film just to lighten up. Also, the art-house stylings detract from the film as much as they add to it, with meandering scenes and an occasional loss of focus. Similarly, while the final battle is absolutely breathtaking, earlier fight scenes seem somewhat lacking for a martial arts movie. If you want to see a very well made film, then you should check this out, but if you're looking for an evening of light entertainment, then you'll want to try something else.

Feng Shui notes

Though lacking in humor, this is definitely a Feng Shui movie, featuring plenty of acrobatic fight scenes. The villain, Lung, with his tattooed body, his leaping style of fighting, and his fantastic swords fits easily into the game, and is somewhat reminiscent of the Blade Freaks (Xiong Xin-Xin gives an excellent performance in this role). Of note in particular are his weapons: a pair of scimitars which he uses in a rapid, whirling fashion. In game terms they would be signature weapons, plus five schticks in Both Blades Flashing and probably Prodigous Leap (that's STR +7 damage). What's more, the swords have hidden blades in their pommels, can be whirled around by attached wires, and their blades can divide into thirds. To use the blade in the pommel trick, I suggest having the defender make a MA role with the attacker's MA score as the difficulty (possibly basing the skill on PER instead of AGL). If he fails, he's taken by suprise when the blades pop out, and suffers a penalty to his dodge value for the next attack equal to the outcome.

Bodyguard from Beijing

Director Corey Yuen Kwai
Cast Jet Li, Christy Chung, Kent Cheng, Ngai Sing
Year 1994

Bodyguard from Beijing stars Jet Li as Alan Hoi, an elite bodyguard from mainland China who's assigned to protect Michelle Yeung (Christy Cheung), after she witnesses a murder. Michelle is the spoiled girlfriend of a Hong Kong businessman, and at first she resents the imposition Hoi makes in her lifestyle, and the fumbling, bumbling HK cops are no help either. However, after Hoi saves her from a hit in a shopping mall — moving down a dozen or so mooks in the process — she begins to warm up to him, and mutual attraction naturally follows. However, during the mall battle Hoi kills an assassin who's best friend (Ngai Sing) is also a (much more competent) killer, and this sets the stage for a guns-blazing, kung-fu fighting showdown between the two.

Li takes a break in this film from his usual kung-fu period films, and the result is only partially successful. You get to see the novelty of Li mixing John-Woo style gunplay with his usual pulse-pounding martial arts action, but the rest of the movie is not particularly outstanding. The performances are tolerable enough, but the story tends to drag and the action comes in big bursts instead of even spaces. What's more, it's hard to feel much sympathy for Michelle or her annoying little brother, and the budding romance between her and Alan is predictable, strained, and lacking in chemistry. Overall a fair film for Jet Li action, but one that ultimately lacks oomph,

Feng Shui notes

There are a couple neat stunts in the final battle of this film that are worth noting. Trapped in a house full of killers, Hoi first kills the lights, making everyone invisible. He then grabs a flashlight and throws it across the room. The spinning beam illuminates the mooks, thus turning them into targets. He then follows by clicking on the TV with a remote, revealing a few more bad guys. However, this strategy backfires when the lead killer gets a hold of a homing remote switch and uses it to activate Hoi's pager, the blinking light on which makes him a target. In the end Hoi releases gas into the room, negating the use of firearms and forcing both he and his opponent to fight between breaths. All-in-all it's a good example of how to turn an ordinary gunfight into something memorable.

The Bride With White Hair

Director Ronnie Yu
Cast Brigitte Lin, Leslie Cheung, Elaine Lu, Francis Ng, Nam Kit Ying, Eddie Ko
Year 1993

The Bride With White Hair tells the story, in flashback, of swordsmaster Yi-hang (Leslie Cheung). Raised from an early age to assume leadership of the Chung Yuan, a coalition of eight martial arts clans, Yi-hang displays little interest in fufilling this role. Despite this, he is called upon to lead the forces of the eight clans against the depredations of a murderous death cult. In doing so, he crosses paths with a beautiful, nameless assassin swathed in white (Brigitte Lin) who weilds a deadly whip in the service of the cult. Despite their opposing backgrounds, the two fall in love, and Yi-hang gives her the name of Lien Ni-chang. Sadly, this happiness cannot last, for the monsterous Chi Wu-shuang, leader of the death cult, also lusts after Ni-Chang. Her attempt to leave the cult sets a series of events in motion that climaxes in tragedy, bloodshed, and madness.

The Bride With White Hair is a dark fantasy is filled with lush, often erotically charged visuals, giving the whole film a lyrical dreamlike, quality. While other fantasy films come off as silly or childish or grotesque, TBWWH does not condescend to its subject matter or its audience. The bizzare elements of this film, while not subdued, are also never allowed to substitute for a real story or characters. Instead, you are presented with a tale of ill-fated romace that has a Shakespearean quality about it. This is all brought to life by the excellent performances in this film, with Brigitte Lin particularly shining in her role. Some fans may find the pace and some of the fight scenes to be slow, and the wacky, oddball humor common to HK films is mostly absent. Nonetheless, TBWWH transcends the boundaries of its genre to stand out as one of the finest offerings of the Hong Kong cinema.

Feng Shui notes

This film is full of inspiration for those wishing to play in the A.D. 69 juncture, the best of all being the villain Chi Wu-shuang, a truly creepy villain with a surprise twist. In fact, the whole death cult makes for an interesting alternative to eunuchs-and-demons as villains while still maintaining a Lotus-like flavor. Ni-chang is the ultimate killer, A.D. 69 style. Her use of the whip shows how you can adapt gun schticks to non-gun ranged attack weapons. Of course, it's her hair that's super-cool, and it can be easily duplicated with the Tentacles creature power.

The Bride With White Hair II

Director Ronnie Yu
Cast Brigitte Lin, Leslie Cheung, Christy Chung, Chan Kam Hung
Year 1993

The Bride With White Hair II picks up where the first one began, with the solitary hero ChoYi-hang (Leslie Cheung) atop a snow-covered mountain. He's been waiting ten years for a magic flower to bloom that will restore his true love Lien Ni-chang (Brigitte Lin) to sanity. Meanwhile, Ni-Chang has assembled an army of psychotic, man-hating women, and with them and her lethal white hair she's been cutting a swathe through the 8 clans (and if you're already confused, go check out The Bride With White Hair first). Yi-Hang's nephew Kit is set to marry his sweetheart Lyre, but on their wedding night they are attacked by Li-chang, who takes Lyre back to her mountain hideout. Kit gathers the youngest heroes of the 8 clans to resuce Lyre, who is being indoctrinated with rituals, drugs, and radical feminist theory. Despite a heroic effort it all proves to be for naught, forcing Kit to seek out his uncle for help. When this too fails, Kit falls back on the old adage that “there are very few personal problems which can't be solved with a suitable application of high explosives”.

The Bride With White Hair II is a high quality film, filled with dark, lush visuals, artisitic cinematography, and a haunting musical score. Straight action fans may be a bit put off by the stylized violence in this film, but the scene in which the heroes assault Ni-chang's fortress is genuinely suspensful and gripping. Unfortunately, this sequel doesn't quite measure up to the original, partially because the story isn't quite as good, and partially because the tragic elements are laid on so thickly they become tedious. Mainly though, it's because much of the complexity of the first film simply isn't there anymore. Li-chang is simply too evil in this film to elicit sympathy. Despite these shortcomings, this is still a good follow-up to the first film and well worth seeing.

Feng Shui notes

Everything I mentioned in the notes to the first film goes double for this sequel. Not only does Ni-chang have her deadly hair, which can both strangle and impale opponents, she also seems to have developed telekenetic powers in that time, and her hair can poison people as well. Of course, in Feng Shui not only should powerful villains keep coming back to haunt the PCs, but they should get stronger each time as well. On another note, the band of heroes which unite to oppose Ni-chang each have their own fighting styles, personalities, and prefered weapons. They serve as a good model for PCs groups in the A.D. 69 juncture.

Burning Paradise

Director Ringo Lam
Cast Willie Chi, Carman Lee, K.K. Wong (Wong Kam-Kong), John Ching
Year 1994

Ringo Lam departs from his usual gangster-melodramas in Burning Paradise, a bizarre and bloody period piece set during the destruction of the Shaolin Temple. Legendary hero Fong Sai Yuk is captured and taken to the Red Lotus temple, a building which masks a subterranean chamber of horrors filled with grisly deathtraps and rotting corpses. Presiding over this nightmarish realm is the eunuch Kung (K.K. Wong), a sadistic megalomaniac who is as much a prisoner in the temple as the Shaolin students he has enslaved. Sai Yuk is thrust into this hellish dungeon where he meets Hung Hey-Kwan, another hero who appears to have turned traitor. Eventually, after a number of brutal fights and near-escapes, the pair confront Kung for a final showdown, in which the the eunuch uses a brush to hurl paint droplets like bullets.

Burning Paradise was produced by Tsui Hark, the man responsible for A Chinese Ghost Story. Ringo Lam has taken Hark's vision of the dark and the macabre and put it through his own blood-tinted prism for this film. The result is a movie that is ominous, gloomy, grotesque, and disturbing. This is not to say that it's bad, it's just not what you would call “fun”. Unfortunately the lead actors do little to improve the movie. While K.K. Wong makes for an excellent villain, Willie Chi lacks in both screen presence and charisma. As a result, the focus of the film becomes the blood and the gore and not the characters. Be warned: this is not a movie for children, the squeamish, or the easily offended. This is not a “feel-good” film, but it is a good film nonetheless.

Feng Shui notes

If you want your Lotus villains to be cruel, sadistic, and utterly evil then this film, along with The Assassin is best place to begin. This film captures the look and the feel of the Eaters of the Lotus at their darkest. In fact, if you like your Feng Shui games to be light and fun then you may want to go play Kult instead after watching this movie. On another note, this film makes a good case for the Lotus being behind the destruction of the Shaolin Temple. The Hand tend to single out the Ascended as their most immediate enemy, but films like this suggest that the Lotus are a far worse threat.

A Chinese Ghost Story

Director Ching Siu-tung
Cast Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong,Wu Ma, Lau Siu-Ming, Wong Jing
Year 1987

A Chinese Ghost Story follows the strange adventures of travelling scholar and tax collector Ning (Leslie Cheung). Forced to spend the night in a deserted temple, he encounters the hermit Swordsman Yen (Wu Ma), who warns him off. The area is haunted by the seductive ghost Nieh Hsiao-Ting (Joey Wong). The alluring spirit is forced to lure men to their death by her captor, a drag queen tree demon who sucks the life out of its victims with a 50-foot tongue. She goes after Ning, but, surprised by his polite and chivalrous behavior, she falls in love with him instead. Naturally, he returns the sentiment, and we learn that the demon has posession of Nieh's earthly remains, preventing her from being reincarnated. What's worse, Nieh has been betrothed to Lord Black, one of the rulers of the underworld. Ning convinces Yen to help him out, and together the two descend into hell to save her.

Produced by Tsui Hark, A Chinese Ghost Story transporsts the viewer back to a China that is half fairy tale and half nightmare, where beautiful ghosts fly through haunted forests and demons lurk just below the surface of our world. Visually, the film succeeds in presnting this to us with style and imagination, and you can see the influence it had on the films that came after it. This film combines horror with action, romance, fantasy, tragedy, and even a few musical numbers and still manages to pull it all off. Not only does the film look good, but the actors make their characters come to life while the plot keeps the story moving along at the right pace. There's a little less action here than in other films of the genre, but the special-effects laden climax in the underworld is superb. This film is a classic in HK cinema, and should not be missed.

Feng Shui notes

If you're planning to run or participate in a game in the A.D. 69 juncture this is the film to watch. This film defines the look and feel of the supernatural in Feng Shui, with Joey Wong as the archetypical Ghost PC. Her ability to cast out long strands of silk is an interesting variant on the Tentacles creature power. Swordsman Yen matches the Taoist archetype found in the Thorns of the Lotus sourcebook. One scene of note has him using the Blast schtick at close range to take down hordes of supernatural mooks. With its flying ghosts, creaking corpses, and malevolent demons, this film should provide GMs with plenty of great ideas for non-human villains to throw against their PCs.

A Chinese Ghost Story, Part II

Director Ching Siu-tung
Cast Leslie Cheung, Joey Wong, Jacky Cheung, Michelle Reis, Waise Lee, Wu Ma, Lau Siu-Ming
Year 1990

This sequel to A Chinese Ghost Story picks up where the last one left off. Ning (Leslie Cheung), the hero of the first film, is thrown in jail in a case of mistaken identity. He is befriended by wise scholar and fellow prisoner Elder Chu, who helps him escape. Once free, he runs into a ghostbusting Taoist Monk named Autumn (Jacky Cheung), and a band of revolutionaries led by sisters Windy (Joey Wong) and Moon (Michelle Reis). Windy is the spitting image of Ning's ghostly love from the last film. What's more, the revolutionaries mistake Ning for Elder Chu. The group is planning to rescue the sisters' father, Lord Fu, who is being unjustly held captive by imperial forces. Following a humorous scene involving a ten foot walking corpse and a miscast freeze spell, the band runs into Lord Hu (Waise Lee), the imperial officer who is holding Lord Fu prisoner. After much sound and fury, the imperial high priest arrives to settle things down. However, that high-pitched voice means he's up to no good, and it turns out that he and his demonic lackeys are the true source of all the trouble in the empire. Ning and Windy manage to find Swordsman Yen (Wu Ma), the irascible monk from the first film, and together they join the rest of the heroes in a final, spectacular confrontation with the sinister high priest.

Tsui Hark is once again the producer for this second installment in the Chinese Ghost Story series, and once again his flair for fantastic adventure shines through. This film has less depth than its predecessor, but it moves faster, has more action, wilder special effects, and is in general more over the top. This film abandons subtlety for broad humor, flashy visuals, and lots of swords-n'-sorcery. Sure, it's somewhat cartoony in its excess, but it's also a lot of fun.

Feng Shui notes

Even more so than its predecessor, A Chinese Ghost Story, Part II is the film to watch for inspiration on the A.D. 69 juncture. The villains in this film could be straight out of the Eaters of the Lotus. The heroes are just as interesting. Autumn, like Swordsman Wen, is similar to the Taoist archetype, though his schticks are a bit different (he uses Blast, Banishment, and several creative uses of the Movement schtick throughout the film). Speaking of which, this film is loaded with flashy sorcery, and gamers used to the subtlety in magic that is now in vogue may be shocked by the sight of sorcerors flying about chucking energy bolts like it was a Star Wars film. One interesting bit has Swordsman Yen creating a wheel of swords in the air which he uses to deflect a magical blast. This is a great visual example of how you can use the Blast schtick to parry magical attacks. This movie, with its large cast of varied characters easily translates into a group of PCs, making it an excellent source for an RPG adventure.

A Chinese Ghost Story III

Director Ching Siu-tung
Cast Tony Leung (Chiu-wai), Joey Wong, Jacky Cheung, Nina Li Chi
Year 1991

A Chinese Ghost Story III opens with a brief sequence from the first Chinese Ghost Story, in which Swordsmaster Yen imprisons the genderbending tree demon villan for 100 years. The story then jumps ahead a century to a young monk named Fong (Tony Leung) and his sifu, who are carrying a golden Buddha statue to the Imperial temple. Pursued by theives, the two seek sanctuary in the derelict Orchid temple. Of course, it's in the terrirtory of the tree demon, which is up to its usual shenanigans. While Fong's sifu is out ghostbusting, Lotus shows up at the temple to tempt the wavering monk. She fails, but in the process Fong loses the Buddha. Lotus returns the next night to help him search, only to break the statue, and then find herself trapped in the temple as the sifu begins an exorcism. The less-than-steadfast Fong helps her escape by disrupting the ritual, but in doing so he lets all hell break loose. It's Taoist Monks against slavering demons in the end, with the soul of Lotus hanging in the balance.

A Chinese Ghost Story III takes all the elements that made it's two predecessors popular — ghostly romance, demons, sorcery, swordplay, and the supernatural — and brings it all out again for another round. Unfortunately, it doesn't equal the sum of it's parts. This film borrows so much from the first two that it leaves no room for originality, and what you're left with is a re-hash of the originals. What's more, since you've seen it all before, it just isn't quite as good the second time around. A Chinese Ghost Story III doesn't have the depth of characterization or superb storytelling of Part I, nor the energy and excitement of Part II. It's not bad, and it is kind of fun in it's own way. However, it may have all the ingredients of the first two films, but the end result just tastes like leftovers.

Feng Shui notes

As you might have guessed, this film has all the trappings (except eunuchs) for an A.D. 69 game: ghosts, demons, sorcerers, monks, swordsmen, flashy magic, haunted forests, ruined temples, and all that other good stuff. The plot also translately simply and easily into a Feng Shui scenario. If you can't find the first two (and maybe even if you can), it's worth a look.

City Hunter

Director Wong Jing
Cast Jackie Chan, Joey Wong, Leon Lai, Chingmy Yau, Richard Norton, Kumiko Goto, Gary Daniels, Ken Lo
Year 1992

Jackie Chan stars as private eye Ryu Saeba. Far from hard-boiled, Ryu is lecherous, vain, lazy and always on the lookout for a beautiful woman or a tasty meal. His womanizing infuriates his ward and protege Kaori (Joey Wong), who abandons him and takes off on an ocean cruise. As it so happens, also on the cruise is Kiyoko Inamura (Kumiko Goto), the runaway daughter of a newspaper tycoon who's hired Ryu to bring her home. Ryu sneaks onto the ship, only to find that it's passengers also include a world-class gambler (Leon Lai), an undercover cop named Saeko (Chingmy Yau), and a band of terrorists led by Mr. “Big Mac” MacDonald (Richard Norton). Once the terrorists seize the ship the movie becomes a kind of wacky version of Die Hard, with Ryu, Saeko, Kaori and the rest battling the villains throughout the ship.

City Hunter is a particularly goofy Jackie Chan film, with lots of broad gags and cartoony effects. There's nothing grim or gritty here, just Jackie playing it up in a series of sophomoric jokes which, frankly, get tiresome after a while. Fortunately the largely airy plot is also full of loopy energy and some inventive action scenes. At one point in a video arcade Jackie and others turn into characters from the Street Fighter video game and engage in a battle complete with arcade-style sound effects and special moves. However, the best fight takes place between Chan and Norton in the showdown in an amazing display of stuntwork and martial prowess that uses the scenery to its fullest and which is the high point of the film. Watching City Hunter is like eating caramel-popcorn: it's light and doesn't have much substance and it's a bit too sweet, but it's also plenty tasty and a whole lot of fun.

Feng Shui notes

Cool stunts and neat tricks and just plain wacky stuff abound in this movie, and the plot itself would make a good framework for a night's adventure. Jackie proves that not every P.I. character has to be about trenchcoats and back alleys. There's a particularly neat scene where Ryu catches Saeko in his arms just as some mooks burst in. She doesn't have time to unholster her pistols, so he gymnasticaly spins her around his body while she fires off shots from her legs. The gambler in this movie also gets in some good shots as he takes out mooks with thrown playing cards. For an idea on how to use this in your game, check out Masen Ma's and Dave Weinstein's alternate gambler's schticks.

Comet, Butterfly, & Sword

Director Michael Mak
Cast Tony Leung (Chiu-Wai), Michelle Khan/Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Joey Wong, Jimmy Lin (Lam Chi-Wing), Tou Chung-Wah, Tsui Kam-Kong, Yip Chuen-Chun, Cheung Kwok-Chu
Year 1993
A.K.A. Butterfly & Sword, Butterfly Sword

A remake of “Killer Clan”, an early 80's Shaw Bros. flick, Comet, Butterfly, & sword stars Michelle Yeoh as Sister Ko, the leader of the Happy Forest Martial Arts School. Ko, along with Brother Sing (Tony Leung) and Brother Yip (Donnie Yen) is an assassin in the service of Eunuch Cho. Cho wants her to retrieve a letter sent to the evil Martial Artist Sun (Sum? Sung?) from the equally evil assassin Li, exposing their treacherous attempt to take control of the “martial world”. Sun heads up the Sol Heights Martial Arts school, the long time enemies of the Happy Forest school, so Ko is happy to oblige. She gets Brother Sing to fake his death, then take on a new identity and infiltrate Sun's inner circle. From there on the already confusing plot becomes largely unintelligible. There's also the requisite love entanglements: Yip pines for Ko who longs for Sing who's in love with Butterfly (Joey Wong), who is blissfuly unaware that her “family” is actually a bunch of ruthless killers. Fortunately, this state of affairs is punctuated by a series of highly satisfying episodes of bloody violence.

Comet, Butterfly, & Sword is a mostly incomprehensible and highly uneven film that veers wildly between hyperviolent action and a tedious romantic subplot. For once, Joey Wong is the least interesting thing in this movie, and with no chemistry between her and Tony Leung you'll probably find yourself reaching for the remote so you can hit the fast-forward button. This is contrasted by particularly fast, violent, and inventive action scenes which seem to pop up sporadically and often without warning throughout this film. This movie has all the elements typical to a wuxia film, but the emphasis here is on typical. The action scenes bring it up a notch, but the romantic aspects drag it down, and what you're left with is a somewhat mediocre film. Still, you can probably rent it at Blockbuster, and if you fast-forward through the slow parts you'll probably be mildly entertained.

Feng Shui notes

Although not a great film, Comet, Butterfly & Sword does have some great Feng Shui material. Sister Ko and company are all Killers A.D. 69 style, and the movie is full of exotic weapons. The evil claw and the wonder ball are pretty cool, but the best is Sister Ko's scarf, which she uses like a bow to fire Brother Sing through their opponents. To pull this off in Feng Shui I'd say that both the shooter and the “arrow” would both have to make checks against their opponents DV, the former on guns and the latter on martial arts, both with −2 penalty, and if either fails then it's no good. I'm not going to even try and guess what the damage from this would be. It does work quite nicely on mooks though.