Hong Kong Action Cinema: H-N

By David Eber

Hard Boiled

Director John Woo
Cast Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung (Chiu-Wai), Teresa Mo, Phillip Chan, Anthony Wong, Bowie Lam, Philip Kwok, Chun-Fung (Kuo Chui)
Year 1992

Hard Boiled is perhaps John Woo's best known and most popular film to date. It stars favorite leading man Chow Yun-Fat as Tequila, a cop out to bust a gang of gunrunners. This time, he plays opposite Tony Leung who plays Tony, an undercover cop who's in so deep that he's in danger of losing his identity. Tony is forced to off grandfatherly triad boss Mr. Hoi so that he can get in good with up-and-coming slimeball Johnny (Anthony Wong). All hell breaks loose as Tequila goes maverick in a hyper-violent attempt to take down the bad guy, and he and Tony meet face to face. Eventually these things get sorted out, and the two team up to take down Johnny in a hospital that hides his secret arsenal.

HK fans endlessly debate whether this or The Killer, Woo's equally famous film, is the better of the two. I personally give the nod to the latter for a stronger story and deeper characterization. However, Hard Boiled wins hands down when it comes to excessive, high-octane violence. The opening cops-vs-gangsters battle in a birdcage filled teahouse starts the movie off, and features the classic shot of Chow Yun-Fat sliding down a bannister blasting goons with a pistol in each hand and a toothpick in his mouth. However, it is the final battle in the hospital that has made this film famous; 20 minutes of non-stop carnage that left me drained, including one continuous take in a sequence that lasts nearly three minutes. The whole thing is reminiscent of a live-action game of Doom played on speed as Chow and Leung systematically wipe out floor after floor of mooks in a running gun battle that makes the situation in Bosnia look like a minor spat. It's readily available in the U.S., and between the hyper-kinetic direction of John Woo and the ultra-cool performance of Chow Yun-Fat, you can't really go too wrong.

Feng Shui notes

Chow Yun Fat pulls off a number of cool stunts that can be easily duplicated by the PCs. The scene where he slides down the bannister is a straight use of Carnival of Carnage with a −2 penalty for performing a simple stunt. There's a scene where he dives on to a table as he's being shot at and slides across it to land virtually on top of the gunman, his gun right to his head. This is probably an active dodge with a −2 penalty (equalling out to a +1 dodge bonus) for performing a simple stunt. The scene where he rappels into the warehouse is a bit more complex. Since he's both sliding and shooting, I'd call it a continuous action with a one shot penalty. He probably has an initial bonus to hit because he has the element of surprise, but this might be cancelled out because he's moving and because of the distance from himself to his targets. Since he's taking out several targets quickly, I'd say he's got at least one schtick in Carnival of Carnage (the autofire rules in the game don't really apply here).

The Heroic Trio

Director Johnny Ko Tei-Fung
Cast Anita Mui, Maggie Cheung, Michelle Khan/Yeoh, Anthony Wong, Damian Lau, James Pax, Paul Chun Pui
Year 1992

18 male babies have disappeared, and the police are stymied. Even blade-throwing masked avenger Wonder Woman (Anita Mui) can't crack the case. Chat (Maggie Cheung), a.k.a Theif Catcher, a leather-clad, motorcyle-riding bounty hunter takes on the job and learns that the culprit is her childhood companion San, (Michelle Khan/Yeoh). San is using a cloak of invisibility to snatch the children (hence her nickname, Invisible Girl) and deliver them up to her master, an ancient eunuch who is searching for a successor to install as the ruler of China. The three clash with each other, but eventually unite to take on the eunuch and his minions in his creepy, suberterranean lair in a firey, spectacular climax reminiscent of the Terminator.

I had high expectations for this film which, unfortunately, were not realized. I found it to be slow and overly melodramatic in some spots, and dark and depressing overall. This isn't to say it's a bad film, it just isn't as much fun as I would have liked. It does, however, have all the classic ingredients of a Hong Kong action flick: an outrageous storyline, complex interrelations between the characters, a fiendish, evil plot, a fiendish, evil eunuch villain, some incredible action scenes, and a number of gratuitous decapitations. The look of the film is consistent and atmospheric (too bad the musical score isn't) for this film, which combines supernatural horror with a Blade Runner-esque urban setting into a dark, violent fantasy. This creative and well-realized combination, along with the performances of the three lead actresses (all big stars in Hong Kong) is what makes the film stand out. The action sequences aren't bad either (the best being a scene where Mui and Cheung spin horizontally on a motorcycle). With scenes of cannibalism and infanticide, this film isn't for everyone, but it is worth a look. This film recently appeared on cable TV, and is now available in the U.S. Check your local video store.

Feng Shui notes

Players and GMs alike will find this film an invaluable resource for Feng Shui. Wonder Woman is, of course, a classic Masked Avenger, and her use of throwing blades is a perfectly legitimate use of the archetype's gun schticks. There isn't an archetype that fits Chat perfectly, but Colin Chapman's bounty hunter archetype comes pretty close. The villain provides an excellent example of how to transplant the Eaters of the Lotus to a modern setting. Also, this film shows how you can use melodramatic hooks to bring a group of PCs together.

High Risk

Director Wong Jing
Cast Jet Li, Jacky Cheung, Chingmy Yau, Valerie Chow, Wu Ma, Charlie Yeung, Billy Chow
Year 1995

High Risk stars Jet Li as Kit (a.k.a. “Bold”), an army officer who fails to save his wife and child from being blown up by the criminal blackmailer “Doctor.” He now works as the bodyguard and secret stunt double for Frankie (Jacky Cheung), a Hong Kong superstar known for his martial arts and daring stuntwork. In truth, he's a lecher and a drunk with deteriorating kung fu skills. An investigative reporter (Chingmy Yau) is onto him, so she finagles some tickets to a gala showing of the Russian Tsar's crown jewels at a luxury high-rise in order to get the scoop on Frankie, who has also been invited. Also attending are a gang of proffesional bad guys, led by the nefarious Doctor, who are out to steal the jewels for themselves. As it happens, one of the villains, a long-haired killer named Bond, is obsessed with killing Frankie in combat. It's up to Kit to beat the bad guys and rescue the hostages, and Frankie to live up to his image.

High Risk is a wicked send up of Jackie Chan (with a touch of Bruce Lee) rolled into a Hong Kong version of Die Hard. It's a Wong Jing film, so expect lots of sophmoric body-parts and bathroom humor, campiness, and general excess. Fortunately, it's also got a moderately interesting story, some decent fight scenes, and even a few decent laughs. There's a fair deal of wild action, including both a car and a helicopter crashing through a high rise building, but oddly enough Jet Li doesn't get the climactic martial arts battle. In short, if you hate Wong Jing you'll hate this film, but otherwise you should find this to be an enjoyable, if not exceptional, diversion.

Feng Shui notes

High Risk has all the elements that work in a Feng Shui game: gun fights, martial arts, a great setting, explosions, colorful villains, car crashes, helicopters, mooks, an ex-special forces character and a martial artist in the lead roles, and an easy-to-follow plot that moves quickly from action scene to action scene. In fact, you could very easily adapt this movie to the game, since the villains, their motive, and virtually everything else, can be changed around to fit your needs.

The Hitman

Director Tung Wai
Cast Jet Li, Simon Yam, Eric Tsang, Gigi Leung, Wing Kei
Year 1998

Jet Li stars in this send-up of the “hitman” genre as an aspiring assassin with one flaw: he's too soft-hearted to kill anyone. He's a far cry from the mysterious “King of Killers,” a nameless hitman who works for free and only goes after villains. When he whacks a powerful Japanese mobster, it sets off a hunt for both the assassin and the man who hired him, with 100 million dollars as the prize. Li gets picked up by a fast-talking agent who gets him in on the deal. Through a complex twist of events, the agent becomes mistaken for the King of Killers, and Li is forced to turn up with the real hitman to do battle with the gangsters greedy and vicious grandson.

Jet Li delivers once again in this action-comedy, though the film is somewhat uneven. The first half of the film features too few fight scenes and too little humor for my taste. However, once it revs into gear things start popping. There are a few really funny scenes, including one in which the agent decides Li needs to dress the part, leading to a brief but funny parody of other famous hitman films. Jet Li turns in a fine performance as the soft-hearted would-be killer, but it's the action that we've really come to see. Fortunately, the film does not disappoint with a final action scene which once again demonstrates why Li is at the top of his field.

Feng Shui notes

This film offers yet another take on the killer character, and one that's quite different from the usual trenchcoat and shades variety. The final fight scene is an excellent example of what a Feng Shui fight should look like. Also, check out the thug with the flashing light rings for an unusal trick you can work into your own games.

In the Line of Duty IV

Director Yuen Woo Ping
Cast Cynthia Khan, Donnie Yen, Yuen Yat Chor, Michael Wong, Michael Woods
Year 1989

In the Line of Duty IV stars Cynthia Khan as a Hong Kong cop on the trail of international drug smugglers in Seattle. Hapless immigrant Luk Wan Ting (Yuen Yat Chor) unwittingly stumbles into her case when he witnesses a cop gunned down by the bad guys. Just before the officer expires he passes a roll of film with the dirt on the smugglers to Luk, who promptly ditches it. No matter though, as the crooks think he still has the roll, and the cops think he's the murderer. The police haul him in for questioning, only to have one of the villains in disguise try to bump him off. Luk manages to escape, though his best buddy is killed, and he trades his green card for passage back to HK. Cynthia, along with American cops Donnie Yen and Michael Wong manage to catch up with him, and the poor schlub is beaten, battered, and shot as they try to protect him from the drug smugglers. As the plot progresses, it turns out that there's a traitor among the police, and the drug dealers are somehow tied into the CIA. More importantly, a lot of people get beat up in truly spectacular ways in the process. The final battle between the heroes and the villains features several minutes of hard-htting, bone-smashing kung fu fighting that will leave you exhausted but happy.

Once again, Yuen Woo Ping delivers the goods, and the audience is treated to a nearly non-stop stream of action sequences that just get wilder and wilder. The film moves at a breakneck pace, giving viewers only a few minutes to catch their breath before the next outbreak of violence. Forget about plotting, character development, or comprehensible subtitles. What you have here is Cynthia Khan duking it out on top of a speeding ambulance and Donnie Yen jousting with sledgehammers and motorcycles. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. It's worth noting that Ms. Khan takes beatings that will make you wince, but she dishes out as good as she gets (all while wearing classic 80's acid-washed jeans too). She doesn't need a hero to rescue her — she is the hero! If ITLOD4 is your first HK film, then you're in for a wild ride that will leave you blown away. If you're a veteran viewer, then this movie will remind you why you got into it to begin with.

Feng Shui notes

Although there's nothing specific to the Feng Shui background in this film, every fight scene in the movie is pure gold. Watch them, study them, and use them as the basis for your own games.

Iron Monkey

Director Yuen Woo-Ping
Cast Yu Rong-Guang, Donnie Yen, Jean Wong, Yang Yee-Kwan, Yuen Sun-Yi, Leung Ka-Yan
Year 1993

This remake of the 1970's film of the same name stars Yu Rong-Guang as Dr. Wang, a physician who maintains a secret identity as the Iron Monkey, a kung-fu version of Robin Hood and Batman rolled into one. During the day he and his assistant, Nurse Orchid, tend to the sick and the poor. At night he dons a black mask and punishes evil-doers, steals from the corrupt governor, and redistributes his wealth to the poor. In response, the governor commands his bumbling guard captain Fox to arrest everyone suspicious in town. This includes a man who resembles a monkey and an organ grinder among others. He also nets travelling physician Wong Kei-Ying (DonnieYen) and his son, a very young Wong Fei-Hong (Jean Wong). When Kei-Ying demonstrates his martial prowess, the governor forces him to aprehend the Iron Monkey, refusing to release his son if he fails. However, the real threat arises when the Imperial Legate officer, Hin-Hung, arrives. Too tough to be handled solo, Kei-Ying and the Iron Monkey must team up to take down the traitorous Shaolin monk together.

Iron Monkey combines a simple but effective story with comedy and awesome action scenes to make a great movie all around. It also proves that you don't need Jet Li to make a great period kung-fu flick. Both Yu Rong-Guang and Donnie Yen turn in impressive performances, both as actors and martial artists. Wong Fei Hong afficionados will get a kick out of the fight scenes featuring the young actress Jean Wong in that role, including one in which Fei-Hong weilds the trademark umbrella as a weapon, as does his father in an earlier scene. You even get the famous theme music popularized in Once upon a Time in China. Produced by Tsui Hark, Iron Monkey is a superb example of what makes HK cinema so much fun. One of my top five favorites.

Feng Shui notes

Hin-Hung, Imperial Legate Officer, renegade monk, and general scumbag, makes a menacing (if somewhat two-dimensional) villain for any Feng Shui group. He weilds the “King Kong Palm” which allows him to deliver “The Buddha's Hit,” a devastating attack that leaves a handprint embedded in its vicitm and which poisons the blood. There's no direct correlation in Feng Shui terms, though the Path of the Hands of Light, the Path of the Sharpened Scales, or Storm of the Tiger come fairly close. Of course, the Iron Monkey is a perfect example of how to transfer an idea from one setting to another. In this case, its putting the Masked Avenger into the 1850's juncture, though the Gun schticks would be dropped in favor of Martial Arts. It's also cool to see Wong Fei Hong portrayed as a scrappy kid. The final confrontation atop wooden posts above a raging fire would work great in Feng Shui. All actions would immediately incur a −2 penalty as the characters struggled to keep their balance, with a way awful failure meaning a plunge into the flames. Every successful attack would require the victim to make a martial arts task check with the same results for failure. Of course, the posts themselves won't stay upright forever, and just like in the movie you can have your villains get clever and attack the posts the players are standing on.

One final note: early in the film Fox remarks to Dr. Yang that his prosperous clinic must have good feng shui. You can't beat that.

The Killer

Director John Woo
Cast Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee, Paul Chu, Kenneth Tsang, Sally Yeh, Shing Fui-On, Tommy Wong, Parkman Wong
Year 1989

There's a good chance that this is the movie that introduced you to the genre. It virtually goes without saying that anyone who watches HK movies has seen this film. The Killer stars the-coolest-of-them-all, Chow Yun-Fat, as Jeff, a hitman who accidentally blinds a nightclub singer (Sally Yeh) during a job. He decides to do one last hit to pay for an operation for her. However, things go wrong, and the gangster who hired him tries to have him eliminated. Jeff is also hunted by Inspector Li (Danny Lee), a maverick cop determined to bring him to justice. Though on opposite sides of the law, the two develop a mutual bond of trust and respect based on their similarity to each other. In the end, they fight back to back in a gothic church against the armed hordes of Jeff's double-crossing boss in an apocalyptic final battle.

The Killer is John Woo's definitive film. All the elements and themes explored throughout his other movies are perhaps most fully realized here. The central issues in his stories are the virtures of honor, trust, and loyalty in a world that treats them as liabilities. Jeff and Li are two sides of the same coin, drawn together because they share a code of honor that supersedes their roles in society. What stands out, however, is Woo's directorial style in his action scenes. The violence in this film is at once fluid and graceful, stylized and super-charged. He uses the camera to create meticulously choreographed gun battles that sweep the viewer into an onscreen tempest. Combined with a strong story, riveting plot, and excellent performances, this film is not only a classic of HK cinema, but the crown jewel of Woo's work and of the “heroic bloodshed” genre. Widely available in the U.S., this film is an absolute must-see.

Feng Shui notes

The Killer, and all of John Woo's work, is largely responsible for the way gun battles are handled in Feng Shui. The Killer archetype is based on Chow Yun-Fat's character, and according to Jose Garcia a starting Killer archetype has an equivalent level of skill and ability. I would guess he has two schticks each in Carnival of Carnage and Both Guns Blazing and one in Hair-Trigger Neck Hairs. Danny Lee plays an archetypical Maverick Cop as well (as does Chow in Hard Boiled, another John Woo film). The final battle in thechurch is a virtual how-to' guide for running gunfights in Feng Shui.

The Kung Fu Cult Master

Director Wong Jing
Cast Jet Li, Chingmy Yau, Cheung Man, Samo Hung, Tsui Kam-Kong, Francis Ng, Ngai Sing, Richard Ng, Leung Ka-Yan, Gigi Lai Chi
Year 1993
A.K.A. Kung Fu Cult Hero, Cult Master, Shaolin Cult Master

Jet Li stars in The Kung Fu Cult Master, a sword clashing, people flying, kung fu fighting, grandiose epic that will leave you in a bewildered daze. You won't be able to figure out all the characters, much less follow the plot of this truly over-the-top film. Roughly speaking, the movie centers around the conflict for posession of two magical swords which will give their controller supreme power — or at least that's how it begins. A young Chang Mo-Kei (Jet Li) sees his parents forced to commit suicide by the various warring factions, and is himself infected with the “Jinx's Palm” which makes him sickly and weak. This all changes when Mo-Kei learns the invincible solar stance, which gives him invincible martial arts powers. Accompanied by his companion Siu Chiu (Chingmy Yau) he sets off to stop the fighting among the very clans upon whom he's sworn vengeance. However, he can only halt the fighting temporarily, and then a new round of treachery, double-crossing, and deception begins as the various factions seem to turn on each other. This leads Mo-Kei to cross paths with the princess Chao-Min (Cheung Man, who also plays Mo-Kei's mother), who seems to be at the center of it all. Confused yet? Mind you, this is only the barest bones of the story, and it doesn't even begin to describe what this film is really all about.

Opinion on The Kung Fu Cult Master varies widely, with some calling it the greatest film ever made and others calling it junk. I'd put it at somewhere between those two extremes, though the film is an exercise in extremes itself. If you were to take all the stock elements of wuxia films and of HK action films in general, crank them up full throttle, and throw them into one film you would probably end up with something very much like this movie. Vast armies clash over desert plains and sensitive music plays as warriors are decapitated by flying blades and horses are impaled by sharpened stakes which shoot out of the ground. There are more factions, sects, clans, and personalities then you keep track of. Allegiances change and deceptions occur at the drop of a hat, and the film never lets up from the breakneck pace. Eventually, wonderment turns to stupor as you lose track of the plot and the action itself is so relentless that it leaves you numb instead of exhilirated. Still, this movie is a thrill ride that has to be experienced, just don't make it your first HK film. The abrupt ending of this film calls for a sequel which, unfortunately, was never made.

Want to know more? Check out the Kung Fu Cult Master Homepage.

Feng Shui notes

The Kung Fu Cult Master has enough good stuff in it for about ten Feng Shui adventures. You've got old masters in this film by the truckload, each with their own exotic powers and personalities, like the Green Bat Master who flies and sucks blood, or the cooking monk who rolls around on a border and uses living vines as weapons. You've got ultra-powerful fu paths, magic swords, exotic weapons, and a huge host of colorful personalities. There's the princess Chao-Min who uses lyre strings like a weapon, the Deer and Crane masters, who shoot jets of frost out of their sleeves, and there's Mo-Kei himself, who can shoot fireballs from his hands and focus his chi to destroy buildings. Translating this film into Feng Shui terms could be a sourcebook in and of itself.

The Last Hero In China

Director Wong Jing
Cast Jet Li, Cheung Man, Dicky Cheung, Natalis Chan, Leung Ka-Yan, Gordon Liu, Anita Yuen, Yuen King-Tan
Year 1993
A.K.A. Deadly China Hero

Jet Li reprises his role as Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hong in this unofficial sequel (and parody) to the Once Upon A Time In China series. In this film, Wong needs a bigger school for his students. At first, good fortune seems to come his way when he finds a larger building for a lower price. However, this rapidly changes when he finds out that his next door neighbor is actually a brothel. Besides this, Wong has to deal with a group of perverted monks who are kidnapping girls to sell into slavery. They're in cahoots with the new chief of police (so to speak), a maniacal loon who is really fronting for the boxer rebellion. On top of all of that, foreigners are selling bogus medicine that causes hearing loss to Chinese children, and a father and daughter kung fu team are searching for their lost daughter/sister.

This was a fun movie to watch, though not extraordinary. Li plays it straight, but the movie itself has a more satirical bent, with a lot of the humor coming from Wong's bumbling assistants. The classic scene, however, features Li dressed up like a chicken in order to defeat the boxers, who are dressed in an armored centipede costume, complete with razored legs and a flamethrower! You get all of the classic elements: the no-shadow kick, fighting in the scaffolding, and so on. You also get to see Li doing drunken kung fu (and there's even a Jackie-style bloopers reel at the end). What you don't get is the serious socio-political approach to the subject found in the OUATIC series. This is not Li's most outstanding or memorable work, nor is it his most humorous or exciting. Simply put, Last Hero In China is a fun, lightweight film. You may be able to find it in widescreen format at Suncoast Video under the title Deadly China Hero.

Feng Shui notes

This film demonstrates yet another neat way to integrate junctures smoothly. In this case, it's introducing the Lotus as villains in A.D. 69. The idea of the Lotus kidnapping young women from the 1850's juncture is an easy one with a lot of possibilities. It could simply be that they are selling them into slavery to finance their operations in that juncture. Or it could be for a more sinister purpose. A very simple game could involve the PCs searching for one of the kidnapped girls. She could be a girlfriend or wife or daughter of one of the PC's, or of a friend or relative of the PC's, or of someone who one or more of the PCs owe a debt to, or someone who simply hires them to do the job in return for information or favors or even the opportunity to attune to a Feng Shui site. As you can imagine, this is an easy one to work a melodramatic hook around.

The Legend of Wisely

Director Teddy Robin Kwan
Cast Sam Hui, Gordon Liu, Joey Wong, Blacky Ko, Teddy Robin Kwan, Eva Cobo deGarcia
Year 1987
A.K.A. The Legend of Wu

Based on the character of Wisely from a series of pulp novels, The Legend of Wisely brings the adventures of the science-fiction author and adventurer to the movie screen. Sam Hui plays Wisely, who is contacted by reclusive billionaire Howard Hope to locate David Ko, Wisely's old friend whom he hasn't seen in years. Coincidentally, Wisely recieves a postcard from Ko, asking him to come to Kathmandu. Ko has been on the trail of a fabled artifact known as the Dragon pearl, which is in the posession of a remote sect of Nepalese monks. Ko tricks Wisely into helping him steal it, then delivers it to crime boss Pak Kei-Wei (Gordon Liu). Meanwhile, Wisely learns of the deception and promises the monks he'll return the pearl. Wisely catches up with Ko and, along with Pak's sister Sue (Joey Wong), steals the pearl again. However, Howard Hope's men also show up, and what follows are a series of chases and kung fu battles that eventually lead back to the monastery in Nepal, where the true nature of the Pearl is revealed.

The Legend of Wisely does a good job of capturing the pulpy spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark and translating it into HK terms. This movie takes it's hero from Egypt to Hong Kong to Nepal to Japan in a series of highly entertaining fight scenes and chases involving cars, motorcycles, horses, and airplanes. The plot moves along briskly from scene to scene, giving you just enough time to relax before the action flares up again. The film has something of a western feel to it that makes it an easy way to introduce the reluctant viewer who thinks that Hong Kong cinema is only about cheesy martial arts and bad dubbing. It's a bit more obscure than some of the films listed here, but well worth it if you can find it.

Feng Shui notes

The Legend of Wisely is a real gem when it comes to source material for a Feng Shui game. With it's various factions, worldwide locales, and entertaining action scenes, it translates easily into game terms. The premise it uses is time-honored in RPGs: the main characters (i.e. players) are hired by a secretive and powerful agency/individual to retrieve a mythical object of power. The quest for the object takes the players to distant and exotic places, and is fraught with hardship and danger. What's more, not only are the players opposed by other groups/persons who want the item for themselves, but their employer may also not be what they seem. In this case, the Nepalese monks become the Guiding Hand, Pak Kei-Wei represents the Ascended, the different locations become different junctures, and Howard Hope… Well, if I told you who he represents, it would ruin the movie.

The Legend of the Wolf

Director Donnie Yen
Cast Donnie Yen, Carman Lee, Dayo Wong, Lam Kwok, Edmond Leong
Year 1997

The Legend of the Wolf begins in the dark streets of modern day Hong Kong, where a young man named Ben is searching for a legendary figure known as the Wolf. He meets up with the Wolf's companion, and through him the legend begins to unfold. Donnie Yen plays the titular character, an ex-soldier without a name or a past who is searching for a girl from out of his nightmares who he hopes will restore his memory. As Wai, and then the Wolf himself, now an old man, tell the story, we see how he meets Wai, finds the girl in his dreams, confronts his past, and learns the truth about himself.

The greatest fault with The Legend of the Wolf is that it takes itself so seriously, which is a shame because this film could have been really good. There are some moments of quiet intensity which hint at what could have been, but the problem is that this film tries to be an epic instead of a microcosm. As a result, there are simply too many scenes of characters spouting off zen-like philosophy in their most serious expressions, and the scenes that could have been truly dramatic instead degenerate into lugubrious melodrama, complete with a swelling background score. Likewise, the direction shows hints of excellence, but the choppy way in which the action scenes are edited makes it hard to tell what is going on at times. And finally, although Donnie Yen is a fine actor, he just doesn't have the screen presence to pull off a leading role. This film starts slowly and ponderously, and then seems to try and make up for it by ending with a huge action scene. By that time, however, it's already too late. This film would have been a lot better if it just wasn't trying so hard to be serious.

Feng Shui notes

The big fight scene in the end is a perfect example of mooks vs. named characters. Even though the bad guys aren't explicitly named, you can very easily tell which ones are named characters and which aren't once the fighting begins. Indicentally, watch for the character who's maxed out on Lightning reload; he fires about a dozen or so times with a six-shot revolver and only reloads once. Also, the revelations at the end of the film are the kind of ridiculous melodramatic hooks that are the bread and butter of Feng Shui.

Magnificent Warriors

Director David Chung
Cast Michell Yeoh (Khan), Richard Ng, Derek Yee, Lowell Lo, Chindy Lau
Year 1986

Set in the 1930's, Magnificent Warriors stars Michelle Yeoh as Ming Ming, a whip-weilding biplane pilot in the Indiana Jones mold. She's called upon by the resistance to fly to the remote mountain city of Kaal, to pick up a spy named “Sky No. 1” (Derek Yee). He's got information, provided by the city's ruler, Youda, (Lowell Lo) on a Japanese poison gas plant in the works. However, things do not go smoothly: Ming Ming's plane is damaged in a dogfight with the Japanese, and then she mistakes a transient con-artist (Richard Ng) for her contact. Eventually, all the major characters come together to defend the city against the Japanese, who show up with tanks and mortars for a wildly destructive final battle.

Magnificent Warriors borrows heavily from the Raiders of the Lost Ark genre and gives it the Hong Kong treatment. The result is a film which, although not quite as inspired as it's source, is still good for an evening's entertainment. The plot, what little of it there is, serves mainly to move the characters from action scene to action scene with only a few minor bits of humor sprinkled in-between. The villains are all one-dimensional, the heroes only a little more defined. It's the action that is the attraction here, and in this aspect the movie comes through. You'll see jeeps, planes, whips, machineguns, mortars, martial arts, and all manner of chaos and destruction, and while it's not the best ever filmed, it should prove satisfying. What's more, the film looks authentic for the period, and it makes a nice departure from the usual settings. There isn't any great moviemaking going on here, but it's fun nonetheless.

Feng Shui notes

Mahjong Dragon

Director Corey Yuen Kwai, David Lai, Jeff Lau
Cast Josephine Siao, Zhao Wen Zhao (Chiu Man-Cheuk), Ken Lo, Desiree Lam, Blacky Ko
Year 1997

Mahjong Dragon follows the story of two characters: Fan Sau-Tin (Josephine Siao), a Hong Kong cop with a gambling problem, and Quick Hands (Zhao Wen Zhao), a gambler and ex-convict who's on the run from his former buddy Tin Lone (Ken Lo), a gangster and former gambler who wants to make use of Quick Hands skills, since his own finger was cut off three years ago when he was caught cheating. Sau-Tin goes to mainland China to find a husband, and she hooks up with Quick Hands, who needs to get away from Tin Lone. She agrees to marry him and get him a passport, and in return he promises to win her enough money to set her up for life. From there the plot spins off into a number of different threads, including the obligatory love triange, er, quadrangle, until Tin Lone and his band show up for bloody showdown with Quick Hands.

Mahjong Dragon is a mildly entertaining film, but it suffers from too many plot threads in one film. It's got gambling, kung-fu, a comedy of errors, unrequited love, sappy tragedy, and a bunch of other stuff. The film tends to drag in places as it jumps from one thread to the other instead of focusing on the main plot, and the comedy wavers between genuine humor and dumb silliness. Fortunately, there are a few good fight scenes which keep the movie interesting, and the final battle in the fruit market is not to be missed.

Feng Shui notes

For a take on the gambler character that's different from Chow Yun Fat in God of Gamblers, check this film out.

A Man Called Hero

Director Andrew Lau
Cast Ekin Chang, Hsu Chi, Kristy Yeung, Yuen Biao, Dion Lam, Nicholas Tse, Francis Ng, Anthony Wong, Ken Lo, Mark Cheng, Sam Lee, Elvis Tsui, Jerry Lamb, Grace Yip
Year 1999

Made by the same people who made The Stormriders, A Man Called Hero is a lavish, big-budget epic (by HK standards) with an emphasis on eye-popping computer generated effects. Set in the early part of this century, the movie follows the story of Hero Hua (Ekin chang), a gifted young martial artist. At the start of the film, Hero's parents are murdered after they publicly criticize Western opium smugglers. Hero takes revenge on the killers, and then spends one last night with his girlfriend Jade before fleeing to America. The movie then jumps forward sixteen years. Hero's teenage son, Sword, arrives in America to look for his father along with his fateher's old friend, Sheng. Sheng relates how he and Jade came to Chinatown 16 years ago to find Hero shortly after he fled China. They soon meet up with an old monk who knew Hero from when he first came to America, and Shadow, the mysterious masked disciple of Hero's master. As Sheng, the monk, and Shadow tell their stories of Hero to Sword, the movie takes an interesting parallel track, as we see the quest for Hero unfold both in the past and the present. What unfolds is a complex tale of romance, treachery, friendship, and tragedy, the center of which is a conflict between Hero's master, pride, and the Japanese master Invincible over posession of the “China Secret,” an arcane martial arts technique of incredible power (the likes of which is the cause of conflicts in about 90% of all the HK martial arts flicks ever made). Naturally, the events of the past spill into the present day, and the film climaxes with an apocalyptic battle on top of the Statue of Liberty.

Fans of The Stormriders will immediately recognize the same visual stylings and emphasis on flashy special effects. However, A Man Called Hero also succeeds in that it manages to tell a complex story in a complex fashion without ever becoming incomprehensible, something which eluded it's predecessor. The performances are better as well, with characters who actually seem human, as opposed to cartoon characters. Like The Stormriders, it does contain long stretches of inaction, and the pace could have been picked up a bit. There are one or two hokey moments, with one particularly egregious one at the end, but overall it's a very enjoyable film. It's also very obviously set up for a sequel, so hopeully we'll see this story continue.

Feng Shui notes

Ironically, I wouldn't recommend this film as a source for a Feng Shui game. Admittedly, it's got a lot of the classic HK themes, but the combat in this film is far more akin to an anime than the Feng Shui style. The kung fu powers are more like sorcery, and the powers they employ are far above anything available in Feng Shui. If you've seen The Stormriders, you'll know what to expect, and unless you're comfortable playing with very high-powered characters, and creating a lot of new powers and the like, you probably shouldn't try basing your games off of this film. You should, however, go see it if you get the opportunity.

Mr. Nice Guy

Director Samo Hung
Cast Jackie Chan, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Karen McLymont, Miki Lee, Richard Norton, Vince Poletto
Year 1997

Mr. Nice Guy marks Jackie Chan's 5th big screen release in the U.S. through New Line Cinema. In this one, Jackie plays a TV chef (named, appropriately enough, Jackie), who accidentally gets entangled with a reporter (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick) on the run from a gang of mobsters led by the smarmy Giancarlo (Richard Norton). The thugs are after her because she's got a tape of a meeting between them and a rival gang known as the Demons gone sour. Naturally, the tape gets switched with one of Jackie's cooking tapes, and soon he's on the run from both the mobsters and the gangsters. The movie soon becomes a comedy of errors, as the tape, a suitcase full of drugs, and Jackie's Girlfriend Miki (Miki Lee) end up changing hands between Jackie and the bad guys, which eventually leads up to an excessively destructive conclusion involving a large house and a very large truck.

Let's get one thing right off the bat here: this movie is bad. As much as I enjoy Jackie Chan's films, I can't gloss over this one. This movie has all of the elements of Rumble in the Bronx but only half the intelligence — and that is saying quite a bit. The acting in this film is so atrocious that watching the actors speak their lines elicits more groaning and cringing from the audience than the stunt blooper reel at the end of the film. Speaking of lines, the dialouge in this film would make a superhero comic book writer blush, and the plot is mainly an excuse to get from one fight scene to the next (even more so, that is, than most of Jackie's films). Now, despite all I've said here, that doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy the film. On the contrary, it's good mindless fun, and the stunts and fights are as thrilling as ever. However, without a solid story and decent acting, it's hard to really care much about this film, and the fact remains that Jackie has done much better work than this.

Feng Shui notes

There's no one fight in this movie that stands out from the fights in any of Chan's other films. What this means is that, as usual, this film is a how-to guide for both players and GMs on how to run fight scenes. Actually, the carriage scene is particularly good, because it shows how to squeeze the absolute most out of your enviornment.

Naked Killer

Director Clarence Ford (Fok Yiu-leung)
Cast Chingmy Yau, Carri Ng, Simon Yam, Sven Wara Madoka, Kelly
Year 1992

Chingmy Yau plays Kitty, a woman with a serious grudge against abusive men. She's taken under the tutelage of Sister Cindy (Sven Wara Makoda), an accomplished assassin who keeps slobbering rapists chained in her basement for training purposes. Unfortunately, Kitty falls with Tinam (Simon Yam), a cop so traumatized by his brother's death that he becomes sick whenever he tries to draw his gun. Kitty's involvement with him is taking off her killer's edge, which is bad news when Sister Cindy's former student Princess (Carrie Ng) comes to town. A lesbian hitwoman, Princess eliminates her male targets by shooting them in the genitals. She and her own student, Baby (Kelly), have been contracted to take out Sister Cindy, but that doesn't stop Princess from getting all worked up over Kitty. Naturally, the fur flies when these two killers finally clash.

Naked Killer is Basic Instinct meets Hong Kong cinema by way of a Shannon Tweed flick and La Femme Nikita. This movie has been widely hailed, but I wasn't particularly wowed. Maybe all the hype had me expecting more, and the pics of a largely-naked, gun-toting Chingmy Yau didn't hurt either. The acting was good and the story interesting, but the fights were too few and far-between, and this film managed to be both too slow yet feel too short at the same time. A lot of juicy plot elements are thrown into the mix but none of them seem to get developed to their fullest, and we don't see enough of the development of Kitty into a trained assassin. Carrie Ng also definitely should have been used more. Meanwhile, the scenes between Chingmy Yau and Simon Yam are mainly dull and tedious.

By the way, this film is not for the politically correct or the easily offended (of which, fortunately, I am neither). Guys, when you watch this film, wear a cup.

Feng Shui notes

Well, this film should certainly give players some novel ideas on how to run their killers, considering how many of there are in this film. This wouldn't be my first recommendation for a Feng Shui film, but there is a fight scene in a car garage in this film that is one of the best I've ever scene, and is definitely worth looking at.

The New Legend Of Shaolin

Director Wong Jing
Cast Jet Li, Chingmy Yau, Deannie Yip, Tze Miu, Wang Lung Wei, Chan Chung Yung, Damian Lau, Adam Cheng.
Year 1994
A.K.A. Hung Hey Kwon

Jet Li plays yet another Chinese hero, Hung Hey Kwon, on the run from the government. With him is his son, Man Ting (Tze Miu), an 8 year old martial arts prodigy. Hung takes work as a bodyguard for a local man of wealth (Chan Chung Yung), but ends up spending most of his time guarding him from his new bride-to-be, Red Bean (Chimgmy Yau), who is actually part of a pair of infamous theives known as the notorious mother and daughter. The plot thickens when Kwon has to escort a group of five young Shaolin students to the headquarters of the Society of Heaven and Earth. Each child has part of a map tatooed on his back that, when pieced together, will show the way to the hidden Shaolin treasure. However, Hung is opposed by the Poisonous Monk, a horribly scarred villan who drives around in a deadly, blade-shooting mini-tank and who himself is nearly invincible.

While this is certainly not the best HK film ever made, I have to admit that it is my all-time favorite. It's also the first wire-fu film I ever watched. Naturally, the film has some excellent fight scenes and a good dose of humor. However, this film goes over the top without going over the edge, and in doing so satirizes the other films in the genre. Li plays the ultimate straight man, but unlike Li's character in Once Upon A Time In China, Hung Hey Kwon seems to attract chaos instead of promoting stability and order. However, it is Tze Miu who really steals the show as the junior Kung-Fu expert Man Ting. His super-straight performance is hilarious, and the scene where he and Li fight side by side is one of the best I've seen.

Feng Shui notes

This film is chock-full of ideas and inspiration for Feng Shui. Man Ting is the quintessential scrappy kid. There's a scene where he plunges a blade into the foot of an opponent that serves as a perfect example of the distraction schtick. Hung's “wonder” spear is an extremely versatile signiature weapon. The Poisonous Monk is an excellent villain, albeit a curious one. His powers are never clearly defined, other than that he claims to be “invincible,” but he does seem to be extremely resistant to damage. At one point Hung notes that his face seems to be his vulnerable spot, so it may be that he is just well armored. His car is pure Feng Shui as well; It seems to have no means of independent motion, yet it is able to ride up walls. It also shoots out spikes and saw blades. The story itself, with its large and varied group of protagonists, makes an easy crossover to a roleplaying setting.