Hong Kong Action Cinema: O-Z

By David Eber

Once a Thief

Director John Woo
Cast Chow Yun Fat, Cherie Chung, Leslie Cheung, Kenneth Tsang, Declan Michael Wong
Year 1991

Fans of John Woo's melodramatic bullet-fests may find themselves surprised by Once a Thief, a light-hearted action caper that follows the exploits of three art thieves, Joe (Chow Yun Fat), Cherie (Cherie Chung) and Jim (Leslie Chung) operating in Paris. After the trio stage a daring heist from a moving truck, Cheries wants them all to settle down, but Joe and Jim go in for one last big score. The pair outfox electrified floors and laser beams to liberate a fabulously expensive painting from a chateau, only to end up fleeing from uzi-toting security guards. A wildly destructive car chase and running gun battle ensues, which ends up with Joe crashing his car into a speedboat. Two years pass before the trio meet again, but things have changed: Joe is confined to a wheelchair, while Jim and Cherie, believing Joe to have died, have become a couple. Nonetheless, he and Jim get together again to steal the same painting and sell it to their adoptive father (Kenneth Tsang), a cold-hearted criminal, whom both the characters and the audience know is going to double-cross them. What follows is a high-tech heist, ballroom dancing, and classic John Woo shootout that is equal parts panache and parody.

Once a Thief may come as a surprise to viewers who are expecting a film on the order of The Killer or Hard Boiled. While Once a Theif has it's share of hyperstylish gunplay, it's a lot less prominent than in Woo's other films. That doesn't mean that it isn't fun. On the contrary, this film mixes action with cool scenes of professional larceny and light-hearted humor, and leaves out the angst typical of Woo's other film. What is present is the theme of intense male friendship, though at least this in this movie Cherie Chung actually gets to do a few things. The love triangle between the three never really takes off though, because there's no tension; as usual, the relationship between the two male leads is more important than any romantic entanglements. While this film lacks the sheer drama, gunplay, and chutzpah of Woo's other films, it's still worth a look.

Feng Shui notes

The title alone should tip you off that this film is to the theif archetype what God of Gamblers is to the gambler. Aside from that, this film has it's share of cool gunplay, and even a little martial arts action. Especially noteworthy is a magician-like killer who uses decks of cards and flash powder as weapons, adding just the kind of quirky flair that'll add a spark to any game of Feng Shui.

Once Upon A Time In China

Director Tsui Hark
Cast Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, Yuen Biao, Jacky Cheung, Kent Cheng, Yang Yee Kwan, Jimmy Wang Yu, Wu Ma
Year 1990

Jet Li stars in Once Upon A Time In China (OUATIC) as Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hong in a modern, politically-oriented retelling of the legend. Set in the 19th century, China is in the process of being overrun and divided up by foreign colonial powers. Western ideas and influences are slowly infiltrating the East, while many of the Chinese flock to the west in pursuit of gold. Wong Fei Hong, a doctor, herbalist, and kung-fu master tries to mediate between the various factions. This earns him the emnity of various forces, including foreign imperialists, collaborating Chinese authorities, extortionist thugs, and a rival martial arts master. This eventually leads to a gravity-defying showdown in a ladder factory that has gone down as one of Jet Li's greatest fights ever.

Most HK fans agree that OUATIC is a classic. This is partly due to the team-up between director Tsui Hark and leading man Jet Li in what seems to be a ideal combination, and Li is still best remebered for his role in this film (and two sequels afterwards). This aside, OUATIC also stands out for the way in which it handles the nature of Chinese identity and nationalism, and the relation between the East and West in the context of the film. It makes for a much more in-depth film than most. To be honest, I found it to be a bit too long and a bit too slow; the first action scene doesn't occur until about half an hour into the film. The film then goes a bit overboard trying to make up for this by laying it on thick towards the end, but instead of awestruck I was instead a bit wearied by the whole thing. However, OUATIC is still indeed a classic, and while it wasn't quite up to my expectations, I recommend it nonetheless.

Feng Shui notes

Pretty much any Jet Li film is going to serve as a good source for Feng Shui style martial arts, though you should note that almost everyone will have the schticks Prodigious Leap and/or Abundant Leap as a matter of course. Of note is a scene mid-way through the film in which Fei Hong uses an umbrella as a weapon in about every possible manner. The climactic battle in the ladder factory is a perfect example of staging a fight in an enviornment that will allow for creative and dramatic stunts. Master Yim, Fei Hong's opponent in that fight, seems to use the Armored in Life schtick. This film is also useful for the picture it paints of 19th century China, and for the insights it provides into the mentality of the Guiding Hand. Remember, according to Feng Shui, Wong Fei Hong is one of its members.

Once Upon a Time in China II

Director Tsui Hark
Cast Jet Li, Benny (Max) Mok, Rosamund Kwan, Donnie Yen, David Chiang
Year 1991

This first sequel to the acclaimed Once Upon a Time in China continues the adventures of Legendary Martial Artist Wong Fei Hong, played once again by Jet Li. In Canton for an east-west medical conference, Fei Hung befriends Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, who is secretly leading a movement to overthrow the emperor and create a Chinese republic. Unfortunately, Fei Hung also runs afoul of the White Lotus sect, a fanatic cult bent on purging all things foreign from China. When the White Lotus burn down the foreign language school, Fei Hong takes its displaced students to the British consulate after being rebuffed by commander Lan (Donnie Yen) at city hall. Lan wants Sun Yat-Sen, and so he stands by while the White Lotus attack the consulate where Dr. Sun is hiding, so that he can seize him and his list of followers. Needless to say, this eventually forces a confrontation with Wong Fei Hong, who must also deal with the White Lotus and their leader, the seemingly invincible Priest Kung.

OUATIC II combines martial arts action with a serious subject and a good story, but this time the pace is less tedious and the visuals more striking than in its predecessor. This film shows us the other side of the coin by raising issue with rabid anti-western bigotry instead of foreign imperialism and greed. The nazi-like White Lotus sect are genuinely frightening in their mindless hatred; the signifigance of the scene in which they burn a cross in front of the British consulate can hardly be accidental. In fact, the scenes involving the sect are some of the most chillingly effective in the film. Of course, the action scenes are equally noteworthy, including a battle on top of a shaky pile of furniture that would later be expanded upon in Fong Sai Yuk II. Of the three OUATIC films starring Jet Li, this one is my personal favorite.

Feng Shui notes

The White Lotus sect serve as an extreme mirror to the Guiding Hand taken to the extreme. Although Quan Lo and his inner circle appear to be of a more contemplative, philosophical nature, their goals are really not that much different from those of the White Lotus, other than that they are broader in scope. It should be easy to imagine their followers being as intolerant and rigid as those in the film. It's also a good way to approach the Hand as antagonists. Compared to the Architects or the Eaters of the Lotus, the Hand don't seem all that bad. However, this film shows how they can actually be worse. The Architects and the Lotus are archetypical villains, but the Hand can be much more real.

On another note, you can also check out this film for a good example of the Clothed in Life and Armored in life Fu schticks, as well as the classic “No-Shadow Kick,” which can be found in the Guiding Hand sourcebook.

Once Upon a Time in China III

Director Tsui Hark
Cast Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, Max Mok, Hung Yan Yan (Xiong Xin Xin), Lao Shun
Year 1992

Jet Li returns as Wong Fei Hong for the third installment in the OUATIC series. The Dowager Empress of China has decided to hold a lion-dance contest to stir things up between the various western powers. However, it stirs things up among the various indigenous martial arts schools even more. Wong Fei Hong comes to Beijing to visit his dad, only to find he has been assaulted by the villanous Chiu, the head of a rival school, who is determined to win the contest through intimidation and thuggery. Wong also meets up with his fiancee Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan), who has in turn met up with Tomansky, a Russian friend from her school days who is now part of the envoy to China. Tomansky gives her a movie camera, which sends Wong into fits of jealousy. However, the camera later accidentally captures footage showing evidence of the Russain as part of a plot to assassinate President Li, the empresses' right-hand man. It's up to Wong to enter the lion-dance competition, defeat Chiu and his gang, and prevent the assassination.

OUATIC III features a lot of lion-dancing, culminating in a scene that contains literally hundreds of men with dozens of lion costumes. Naturally, the prize is located on top of a wooden tower, leading to the inevitable scenes of Li jumping around on the scaffolding dispatching his opponents while mainting his balance. It's good stuff, and the lion-dance aspect is an interesting addition, but its nothing particularly new. In fact, the novelty of the lions is somewhat undercut by the fact that they occasionally make it difficult to follow the action. Hung Yan Yan stands out as the villain clubfoot, both for his physical presence and his psychotic performance, but otherwise there is little else of note in this film. It's an ok movie, but not particularly outstanding.

Feng Shui notes

For a different kind of fight, try getting your group into a lion-dancing battle. This involves your players trying to fight while all under a Chinese lion costume, all while maintaining the dance. Their opponents, presumably, will be doing the same. This starts out as a simple stunt with only a −2 penalty. However, what makes it tricky is that all the PCs are part of the costume, and thus are somewhat limited in their movements. The player in the head is in the lead, and the other PCs must follow his moves or risk screwing everyone up. If the head leaps, the rest of the body will have to follow. This requires some careful coordination between the players, who will prabably be used to doing their own thing. Of course, if they're doing this then they probably don't want to screw this up, since maintaining the dance correctly is the part of the rules. It gets even more interesting when you start equipping their enemies' costumes with dirty tricks like flame jets, shooting javellins, and scything blades.

Once Upon a Time in China and America

Director Tsui Hark
Cast Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, Hung Yan Yan (Xiong Xin Xin)
Year 1997
A.K.A. Once Upon a Time in China Part 6

Jet Li returns to his most famous role — and reunites with director Tsui Hark — as the legendary Wong Fei Hong in Once Upon a Time in China and America, the sixth installment in the OUATIC series. This adventure begins in the old west, with Fei Hong, along with his fiancee Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) and his student Seven (Hung Yan Yan) travelling by stagecoach to visit his former disciples Po Chi Lam and Bucktooth Sol, who have set up a medical practice in America. They are attacked by Indians, and in the ensuing melee Fei Hong falls into a river. He loses his memory, and is adopted by the Indian tribe, who give him the name “Yellow.” Meanwhile, the racist mayor of the local town hires a gang of vicious bandits to rob the town's bank so that he can pay off his loans. When Yee finally finds Fei Hong, it's up to Seven to restore his memory, which he does by re-staging Wong's greatest battles from the previous OUATIC films. Even then, their troubles are not over, for Fei Hong is framed by the mayor for the bank robbery, forcing him to bring the real villains to justice.

Once Upon a Time in China and America sees the long-awaited return of superstar Jet Li to the role that put him on the map. Some of Li's more recent efforts have been somewhat lacking, but in this film he does not disappoint. This film doesn't quite have the power of its predecessors, however, and Wong Fei Hong is not as strong of a focal point in this film as he has been in the past. Further, although all the elements are there, the socio-political issues raised in the film don't really have much weight, mainly because both the villains and the Indians are so obviously cartoony. Still, the film does offer some excellent fight scenes, proving once again that Li and Hark mesh together well. It's a fun film, and one worth watching.

Feng Shui notes

One of the cool things about the Feng Shui setting is that it allows you to incorporate virtually any genre into your game. This movie provides a good example of how to make that work. In this case, the setting is the American old west. You can get your players there by opening up a new juncture, or bending history a little and using the 1850's juncture for your setting, but in America instead of China. Chinese railroad workers and immigrants provide a link for the eastern elements in the game. The gun schticks all work the same, only with revolvers instead of automatics. Further, as the movie demonstrates, there's no reason that all your bad guys can't know kung fu, no matter what their origin. Desperado martial artists? Sure, why not?

Peacock King

Director Nam Nai Choi
Cast Yuen Biao, Hiroshi Makami, Pauline Wong, Gloria Yip, Narumi Yasuda, Eddie Ko, Gordon Liu
Year 1988
A.K.A. Peacock Prince

Mankind's depravity has weakened the forces of good, allowing the four holes to hell to reopen. Natural disasters and ghostly manifestations fortell the return of the Hell King, who, as part of the “unholy trinity” of Witch Raga, Hell's Agent (Pauline Wong) and Ashura, Hell Virgin (Gloria Yip), plans to conquer the Earth after centuries of imprisonment. In a Tibetan monastery the young monk Peacock (Yuen Biao) is sent to counter this threat. At the same time Lucky Fruit (Hiroshi Makami) is dispatched by his sifu in Japan for the same purpose. At first the irreverent monk has an ego clash with the straight-laced Lucky Fruit, but in the tradition of all buddy movies they eventually come to respect each other as they battle animated dinosaurs, Giger-esque demons, and other servants of darkness around the globe. This eventually culminates back in Tibet, where the two join an assortment of characters for the final confrontation with the monstrous Hell King.

Peacock King is a sort of fantasy-horror HK version of Ghostbusters with a dash of Alien. The special effects aren't exactly up to Jurassic Park standards but for an HK flick they're quite good, especially considering that this film is almost ten years old. The claymation creepies and Giger-esque monsters visually sets this film apart from others in the genre. However, the rest of the film doesn't quite match up. The premise is interesting but the action is uneven and the film tends to feel sluggish at different points. The final battle with the Hell King is reminiscent of the climax of A Chinese Ghost Story II. However, where that film finishes up with flashy action this movie culminates in a sort of dark and confusing morass of special effects that lack sizzle, ending things with more of a whimper than a bang despite all the explosions and such. Peacock King isn't a bad film overall, but it just doesn't quite live up to its full potential.

Feng Shui notes

As a premise for a Feng Shui campaign this film rocks. Imagine that the Lotus have found a way to open a series of portals in the modern juncture that, when completed, would allow the demons of the Underworld to swarm out over the Earth. The Ascended don't know about it, but the Guiding Hand, who are in tune with these sort of things, realize what's going on. Knowing that they're at a disadvantage in the the modern world, they reluctantly swallow their pride and team up with the Dragons (i.e., your players) to stop them. Sure, it's simplistic, but it also makes for an easy-to-run adventure that keeps your players on track, provides plenty of action, and allows you to set the adventure at whatever length you like.

Pedicab Driver

Director Sammo Hung
Cast Sammo Hung, Nina Li Chi, Sun Yueh, Benny Mok, Fennie Yuen, John Sham, Meng Hoi, Lowell Lo, Lau Kar-leung
Year 1988

Sammo Hung plays Lo Tung, an average working Joe in postwar Macau who, along with his sugary-named buddies Malted Candy (Benny Mok), Rice Pudding (Meng Hoi), and Shan Cha Cake (Lowell Lo), all drive bicycle-rickshaw combinations known as pedicabs. Lo Tung has his eye on a local lass named Ping (Nina Li), who is also sought after by an older baker named Fang (Sun Yueh). Fang takes Ping out to buy her a braclet, where she's unwelcomely accosted by the scuzzball pimp Yu (John Sham), who also goes by the moniker “Master 5.” Lo Tung intervenes, and the result is a wild pedicab chase through the streets. Meanwhile, Malted Candy has set his sights on a girl of his own, Hsiao Tsui (Fennie Yuen). Things start well, but secrets about her life and the evil of Master 5 bring events to a conclusion that is tragic, brutal, and spectacularly violent. To say more would ruin the film.

Despite it's somewhat obscure status, Pedicab Driver stands out as one Sammo Hung's finest works, combining drama, humor, tragedy, and straight-out spectacular martial arts. Hung, long popular in Hong Kong and now know in the U.S. for his series Martial Law, gets to show off his skills to the fullest in a series of scenes that will leave your jaw hanging open. Granted, hard-core action-philes may find the romantic scenes a tedious distraction, but Pedicab driver is a film with real heart, not to mention fine acting and a story that is more than a thiny strung together collection of fights. If you can find this film, I highly recommend giving it a look.

Feng Shui notes

Although not a Feng Shui film per se, this film has plenty of fights and stunts to inspire players and GMs alike. Plus, Sammo and his pals make a fine quartet of everyday heroes.

Project A

Director Jackie Chan
Cast Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Dick Wei, Bill Tung
Year 1983

It's the turn of the century, and the Hong Kong Coast Guard can't seem to get rid of a band of pirates plaguing the area. After a bar brawl with the police, the sailors are disbanded and placed under the command of martinet police inspector Tzu (Yuen Biao). In their first assignment, former guard leader Dragon Ma (Jackie Chan) is sent to nab some unscrupulous businessmen trying to sell military issue rifles to the pirates. Dragon Ma teams up with the theif Fei (Sammo Hung) to grab the rifles before the pirates can get them. This gets him in trouble with both the police, who arrest him for theft, and the pirates, who want the weapons for themselves. In a now famous scene, Chan leads the bad guys on a bicycle chase through the back alleys of Hong Kong before dropping several stories from a clock tower. If this weren't enough, the movie continues when the pirate chief San Lo (Dick Wei) hijacks a British ship and ransoms the captives for the guns, leading Dragon Ma to infiltrate the island of the bad guys and, with Tzu and Fei at his side, take on the pirates in a final, explosive battle.

Project A stands as a milestone in the career of Jackie Chan and in the history of Hong Kong cinema in general. Not only was it the first of Chan's highly successful team-ups with Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung, but it also firmly established his style of blending comedy with incredible fight-scenes and heart-stopping stunts in one film. What's more, it also broke away from the typical martial arts period-pieces with it's setting, and it did so successfuly. It starts a bit slowly, but once it gets going you'll be treated a bewildering array of kung-fu fights and stuntwork that will leave you dazed and satiated — for the time being.

Feng Shui notes

What's true for almost every Jackie Chan is true for this one as well: The fight scenes are some of the best around and are ideal for demonstrating to GMs and players alike how to conduct fight scences in Feng Shui. This film is notable because it has so many good scenes, the best among them being the barroom brawl and the bicycle chase. In particular, the bar brawl stands out as being one of the best ever done in any movie. Since taverns and bars are a staple of all RPG's, this film is worth watching for this scene alone.

Project A II

Director Jackie Chan
Cast Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, David Lam, Rosamund Kwan, Carina Lau, Elvis Tsui, Ray Lui, Bill Tung
Year 1987

This sequel to Project A returns Jackie Chan to the role of Hong Kong coast guard officer Dragon Ma. After his success in the escapades of the last film, he's been put in charge of the San Wai district, domain of the corrupt police superintendent Chun (David Lam). After a foolhardy attempt to arrest a local crime boss goes awry, Ma and his men are put in charge of security for a party being held for Miss Pai (Rosamund Kwan), the govenors daughter. A band of revolutionaries, including Maggie (Maggie Cheung) and Carina (Carina Lau), have infiltrated the party, intending to steal a diamond necklace to finance their operation. When Ma catches one of them in the act, they plant the necklace on him, and just like in the first film he's placed under arrest. The plot begins to thicken when spies of the empress, in leauge with the corrupt Chun, get into the mix. On top of it all, the remaining pirates from the first film show up, intent on revenge. The finale features a now famous homage to Buster Keaton in which a wall collapses around Chan, who survives by passing through a window.

Project A II picks up where Project A left off, but without the additional talents of Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao this time around. It's too bad, because the film just isn't quite as good without them. Not to say that this is a bad film, mind you. It's got plenty of action and comedy, including a wonderful scene in which several groups of characters maneuver around Maggie's tiny house, each trying to hide from each other. However, Jackie tends to get beat up a lot in this film, which is somewhat less satisfying than seeing him hand out the beatings. Still, the stuntwork and action scenes are up to par, if not quite as inspired as those in the first film. Nonetheless, this film is still one of Chan's better films, and it should prove satsifying to newcomers and old fans alike.

Feng Shui notes

Like most of Chan's films, you'll find plenty of inventive stuntwork and energetic fight scenes to keep you inspired. In this case, you get a long-running showdown in what looks like an old-fashioned agricutural plant, featuring a huge mortar and pestle, a rotating birdcage, ladders, awnings, slides, a water-wheel, carts, barrels, poles, crates, miles of scaffolding, and the aforementioned collapsing wall. Also cool are the red-hot chilli peppers which Chan uses as a weapon. As the credit-outtakes reveal, they were the real thing.

Rumble in the Bronx

Director Stanley Tong
Cast Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Francoise Yip
Year 1995

Rumble in the Bronx marks the debut of Jackie Chan as the star of a major motion picture in the U.S. Jackie plays Keung, a visitor from Hong Kong who has arrived in America to help his uncle, who is about to be married, sell his grocery store in the Bronx (the film itself was actually shot in Vancouver). Keung thrashes a few punks who are harrasing the new owner, Elaine (Anita Mui), an act which later leads him into several violent confrontations with the rest of the gang. Meanwhile, he also makes friends with his neighbor, Billy, a wheelchair-bound boy whose sister, Nancy (Francoise Yip), also happens to be the gang leader's girlfriend. All these elements collide when one of the gang members snags a bag of diamonds from a group of smugglers during a deal gone bad and hides it in Billy's wheelchair cushion. This silliness eventually comes to a wildly destrucive conclusion involving a runaway hovercraft and a lot of property damage.

Most of you probably already know that Rumble in the Bronx was picked up by New Line Cinema and was dubbed and re-edited for American audiences. This means that, happily, the film is widely available in the video stores. This film was a wise choice to introduce Chan to U.S. audiences. With it's western setting, wonderfully chaotic action scenes, goofy comedy, and simple plot, it's an easy introduction for mass audiences to his work. A number of hardcore Chan fans have panned this film for its lack of story, and it is admittedly ridiculous and thin on believablity. However, I found it to be a lot of fun to watch, and while it may not be Chan's best movie, it is a good way to introduce the uninitiated to his work.

Feng Shui notes

In the original HK version Keung is an ex-cop. In the American release this fact is omitted, and what we get instead is the best Everyman Hero since Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China. Remember the schtick from Back for Seconds that gives a bonus to the Everyman Hero when he uses improvised weapons? Well, this movie has Jackie using that schtick to its fullest in a fight in the gangs hangout in which he integrates an astounding variety of props and scenery into the action. That scene in particular is ideal for introducing players to the idea of using stunts in Feng Shui combat.

Saviour of the Soul

Director Corey Yuen Kwai, David Lai Dai-Wai
Cast Anita Mui, Andy Lau, Gloria Yip, Aaron Kwok, Kenny Bee (Chung Chun-To), Carina Lau, Corey Yuen Kwai, Josephine Siao
Year 1991

Andy Lau and Anita Mui play Chin and May Chun, a pair of assassins working for the government. Their lives are shattered by the Silver Fox (Aaron Kwok), a dangerous criminal who bears a grudge against May. When Koo, the third member of their team (and love triangle) is killed by Fox, May tearfully casts Chin aside to keep him from harm's way. However, both he and Fox are drawn back to her. In the battle that follows, May is infected by Foxes' “Terrible Angel” power. Only the sorceress Pet Lady (Carina Lau) can save her, but she holds a grudge against Chin, and in a harrowing scene she makes him crawl on his knees across broken glass to beg for her help. The climax of the film brings all the main characters together for a final, firey confrontation.

Saviour of the Soul has a distinct visual style which seperates it from most other Hong Kong Films of the same genre. Set somewhere in the future, this movie eschews the dark and gritty look, opting instead for diffused, neon lighting. This, along with the sets, costumes, and cinematography all combine together to give this film a subtle, otherworldly feel which is complemented by the musical score. Also noteworthy is the seriousness with which it treats its subject matter. This movie deliberately takes time to tell its story. While this does slow the pace down in spots, it allows the actors enough time to put some real emotional depth into their roles. Unfortunately, most of the comedic elements seem jarringly misplaced (particularly Anita Mui in a dual role as her sister). However, this does not apply to the fight scenes, which break up the story at various intervals with incredible swordfighting scenes that are based loosely on the anime style. Overall, one of my favorite HK films.

Feng Shui notes

Robin D. Laws notes in the Feng Shui rules that this film provided much of the inspiration for the look of the Netherworld. The court of the Pet Lady certainly brought the Queen of the Ice Pagoda to mind. The major characters don't seem to fit specifically into any one archetype; they all seem to be killers with Fu schticks and then some. For instance, Chin has obvious proficiency with guns, while May Chun seems to favor a variety of hi-tech knives (all of which would make great Feng Shui weapons). Fox, with his Terrible Angel, is even more exotic. It works this way: Fox breaks a vial he keeps strapped to his waist and inhales the smoke that come out of it. It then makes him temporarily invincible, and gives him the ability to “pass” through a victim. This infects the victim with the Terrible Angel, a short time later (24 hours?) they become his slaves. It's actually a bit more complicated than that, but it would make an interesting arcanowave device.

Slave of the Sword

Director Chu Yin Ping
Cast Pauline Chan, Benny (Max) Mok, Rene Murikami, Joyce Ngai
Year 1993

Set at the end of Ming Dynasty, Slave of the Sword tells the story of dancer Mou-Lin (Pauline Chan). About to be married, her father, master Chung, is mysteriously murdered, and Mou-Lin is captured and taken to the White Villa, a notorious brothel. She is taken in by Hung-Yin, the mistress of the house, who teaches her the arts of seduction. Hung-Yin also contracts out assassinations from the Eunuch Jung, which are carried out by her lover, Ken, a swordsman of few words and much animal passion. As the story unfolds, so does the nature of the relationships between the four characters, relationships that involve deception, treachery, manipulation, and, quite frankly, a lot of steamy sex.

Slave of the Sword is a Category III, adults-only film. That means you get numerous scenes of sexual coupling, both between men and women and women and women, as well as scenes of rape and torture, all of it set against a blood soaked background. Unfortunately, what you do not get is a movie that is either original or enjoyable. The film sort of meanders around from sex scene to sex scene, with occasional interludes of frenetic violence, and it never gets particularly interesting. What's more, there are two melodramatic love scenes that just drag on endlessly which are used to recap all the previous scenes in the movie. On top of all of that, the opening of the film so closely mimics that of Comet, Butterfly, & Sword that I wasn't sure if the two movies had accidentally been switched (incidentally, I rented both at Blockbuster Video, a place which promotes itself as a family video store). All-in-all: not recommended.

The Stormriders

Director Andrew Lau
Cast Sonny Chiba, Aaron Kwok, Ekin Cheng, Kristy Yang, Michael Tse, Shu Qi, Roy Cheung, Anthony Wong
Year 1998

Magic, swordplay, and computer-generated special effects stand out in The Stormriders, a fantasy film which represents the cutting edge of Hong Kong moviemaking. Japanese actor Sonny Chiba, best known for the Streetfighter movies, plays the aptly named Lord Conquer, a powerful warlord who has only to defeat “Sword Saint” to be the undisputed ruler of the martial arts world. However, the enigmatic seer Mud Buddha informs him that he will have to wait 10 years for his final showdown, and that he must find two children named Wind and Cloud with whom his destiny is inextricably linked. Conquer finds the children and makes them his disciples after dispatching their parents. Wind (Ekin Cheng) grows into an affable and good-hearted warrior, while Cloud (Aaron Kwok) becomes moody loner, but a powerful martial artist as well. Complicating matters is the fact that both men are in love with Conquer's daughter Chastity (Kristy Yang). Meanwhile, Conquer learns from Mud Buddha, absent over the last decade, that Wind and Cloud will prove his undoing. His attempt to defy this fate eventually leads to tragedy, and sets the stage for the final conflict between the Lord and his disciples.

Based on a popular comic book series, The Stormriders is a lavish, big-budget, sword-and-sorcery epic that combines Mortal Kombat-style special effects with the look of Tsui Hark and the feel of Japanese anime. The film represents a technical breakthrough for Hong Kong filmmaking, utilizing cgi, computer animation, and a variety of other special effects that give this film a Hollywood look, and which place it head and shoulders above its predecessors. Visually, the film is a treat, with director Lau combining stunning sets and cinematography with unusual camera effects that give the film an artistic feel without turning it into an artsy film. Viewers familiar with HK cinema will be blown away when they see this film

However, while this film is a step forward technically, the rest of it is hardly in the same league. At over 2 hours in length, this film meanders through the story, often unfocused in direction, with too much tacked on to the main thread of the plot. The acting, too, is hardly noteworthy. Ekin Cheng does a decent job as Wind, but his character is never fully developed. Sonny Chiba chews the scenery, while Aaron Kwok's performance is mostly limited to staring intensely into the camera. It's hard too involved with the characters, because none of them have real personalities. For the most part, you'll be too busy oohing and aahing at the screen to care, but it won't keep you from noticing. Despite this, The Stormriders is a visually stunning and action-packed film that stands out from the crowd. If you get a chance, go see this movie. Let yourself get caught up in the spectacle, and you won't be disappointed.

Feng Shui notes

This film is an absolute must-see for Feng Shui enthusiasts, as flashy magic and fu powers abound. Fire, wind, and energy blast schticks are used in abundance, and you get to see what active parrying with sorcery looks like. Even more exciting are the various exotic fu schticks used throughout the film, all of which are fantastically rendered with computer effects. There's even a dragon made of animate fire. Wind and Cloud would both make excellent characters; warriors who combine sorcery and swordplay equally. Once again, this film is a must-see.

Tai Chi II

Director Yuen Woo-Ping
Cast Jacky Wu, Christy Chung, Mark Cheng, Sibelle Hu
Year 1996
A.K.A. The Tai Chi Master II

Tai Chi II (there appears to be no Tai Chi I) follows the adventures of Hawk Man (Jacky Cheung) who, having lived a life of seclusion and study dictated by his stern father, longs to experience the outside world. With the help of his doting mother (Sibelle Hu), he manages to sneak away, whereupon he promptly falls in love with a young activist (Christy Chung) and manages to fall afoul of British opium smugglers. If doesn't sound familiar, it's because you haven't seen enough HK films yet. Tai Chi II is a strictly by-the-numbers period martial arts piece. Everything in this film can be found somewhere else, and it is especially reminiscent of Fong Sai Yuk. However, Jacky Wu is not Jet Li, and despite the directorial presence of Yuen Woo-Ping, this film is not The Tai Chi Master (In fact, it has nothing at all to do with it). Sure, there are some decent fight scenes and a few funny moments, and you'll probably have fun picking out the minor actors that have appeared in other films. However, when it comes right down to it this film is sorely lacking in inspiration. The hulking gwailo villains in this film are particularly laughable. It's a mildly entertaining film, but there are a lot of better choices out there.

Treasure Hunt

Director Jeff Lau
Cast Chow Yun-Fat, Wu Chien-Lien, Gordon Liu, Phillip Kwok, Chin Han, Choi Yu, Roy Chiao, Michael Wong
Year 1994

Treasure Hunt stars Chow Yun-Fat as Chang Ching, an American CIA agent sent to a Buddhist temple in mainland China to steal a national treasure. The treasure turns out to be Wu Chien-Lien, a young girl with developing supernatural powers. Most of the film deals with the blossoming romance between Chow and Wu, as well as Chow's humorous attempts to introduce the cloistered monks to western culture. Just to keep things interesting, a sub-plot involving Chinese gangsters is thrown in, which leads to the requisite scenes of heroic bloodshed.

Treasure Hunt is a film which suffers from trying to be too many things at once: modern gunplay actioneer, shaolin kung-fu flick, romance, comedy, and a supernatural fantasy film. None of these elements really work well, and the film comes off mishmashed even by Hong Kong standards. Viewers expecting action scenes that Chow Yun-Fat has come to be known for will be bored sitting through the rest of the movie, which feels interminably long at times, while the action itself is a weak shadow of John Woo's signature style. On top of all of this, the movie tries to have three different endings at once: heroic, tragic, and happy. There are a few good jokes here, and a decent scene or two, but overall this is a relatively mediocre film.

The Tai Chi Master

Director Yuen Woo-Ping
Cast Jet Li, Michelle Khan/Yeoh, Chin Siu-Ho, Fennie Yuen, Yuen Cheung-Yan
Year 1993

Jet Li stars in this tale of two best friends, Junbao (Li) and Tienbao (Chin Siu-Ho), who grow up together in a Shaolin monastery. During a competition Tienbao comes into conflict with one of the masters, and the two are expelled from the school. Out in the world for the first time, the two stumble upon a group of revolutionaries led by Michelle Yeoh who oppose cruel ruler eunuch Jin. Junbao joins the rebels but Tienbao, greedy for wealth and power, signs up in the eunuch's army. He quickly rises in the ranks by betraying Junbao and the revolutionaries. This is too much for Junbao to bear, who loses his mind. Only through the powers of tai chi is he both able to regain his sanity and defeat his former companion gone bad.

If you love wire-fu action, then this is the film to watch. This film is packed with gravity-defying fight scene after fight scene that will leave your head spinning. This film does not have the subtle complexities or serious exploration of socio-political issues found in the OUATIC series. What it does have is the highest ratio of asses whupped per minute. Watch as Jet Li takes on eunuch Jin's entire army… and wins. See people being thrown about as human weapons. See the classic Shaolin pole formation. See the incredible team-up of Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. See this film! Alright, I'll calm down. After about the first ten minutes the action kicks in and doesn't let up much thereafter. There isn't much of a story, but you won't mind. This film moves briskly from action scene to action scene with a good measure of humor in between, and it never gets tedious or repetitive. This film is just plain fun, and one of my top 5 favorites.

Feng Shui notes

Curiously enough, it's a bit difficult to place the period of this film. Most straight out kung-fu flicks seem to be based in the 19th century, and there are no supernatural elements in this film. However, the main villain is a eunuch, and the technology level and the costumes suggest an earlier period. At any rate, this film is packed with enough exciting and inventive fight scenes to keep your martial artist players happy. This film is idea for those of you who don't want your battles to be hindered by gravity. Incidentally, judging by the number of mooks Junbao takes out in one shot, he must have a Martial Arts Action Value of 20+! Either that, or he's using the Rain of Fury schtick and getting a lot of successful results in a row.

Twin Dragons

Director Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark
Cast Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Nina Li Chi, Teddy Robin Kwan, David Chiang
Year 1992

It's the Comedy of Errors Hong Kong style as Jackie Chan does his take on Van Damme's Double Impact. Chan plays both Boomer and John Ma, twins seprarated at birth. The former is a streetwise HK race car driver, the latter a classical pianist and conductor. Boomer is in trouble with Boss Wing's triad. If he doesn't do them a favor they'll off his diminuitive friend Tyson. John has returned to Hong Kong for the first time to conduct a symphony. Can you see where this one is going? At first they aren't aware each other even exist, which causes no end of confusion, especially amongst prospective girlfriends Barbara (Maggie Cheung) and Tammy (Nina Li Chi). Even after they find out the truth things don't get any better. In a hilarious scene Boomer ends up having to conduct the symphony while John gets stuck driving in a plan to spring Boss Wing's boss from police custody. The two finally manage to get it together and go to deal with the bad guys in typical Chan-esque fashion, this time in a spectacular battle in a car testing plant.

As you might expect, Twin Dragons is full of mistaken identity gags of every stripe. What's more, this film also drags out the “Corsican Brothers” cliche, where John feels what Boomer experiences and vice versa. What might surprise you is that it's actually funny. Sure, it's Jackie Chan, but we've seen this a hundred times before. Nevertheless Chan pulls it off with the humor and style we've come to expect, not to mention the super-charged fight scenes and incredible stunts. Even the split screen is pulled off well enough that you forget (almost) that it's only one man playing two parts. You can probably find this one at your local Blockbuster or Suncoast. It's well worth it, and a whole lot of fun.

Feng Shui notes

This is a Jackie Chan film, which means that if your players can't find inspiration here for stunt-fighting, then it's time to get a new group. The fight in the car plant alone is more than enough. Plus, the “twins-separated-at-birth” hook is a classic, even if it is completely silly.

The Wicked City

Director Mak Kit-tai
Cast Leon Lai, Jacky Cheung, Michelle Reis, Tatsuya Nakadai, Roy Cheung, Yuen Woo-Ping, Carman Lee
Year 1992

Leon Lai plays Taki, an officer of the highly secrect Anti-Reptoid Bureau whose job is to hunt down and kill reptoids (a.k.a. raptors), shapeshifting aliens who have infiltrated human society. Despite his occupational requirements, he's actually a pretty open-minded guy, as evidenced by his past relationship with reptoid Gengyi May (Michelle Reis) and his partnership with half-reptoid officer Ken Kai (Jacky Cheung). Taki is sent to investigate billionaire Gendai Saw (Tatsuya Nakadai), whom the bureau has pegged as a reptoid. During the investigation, Taki runs into Gengyi May, whom he abandoned years ago and who is now Gendai Saw's lover. Needless to say, the scene is set for some classic HK melodrama borne of impossible love. Gendai Saw himself appears to be responsible for distributing the deadly reptoid drug “happiness” to humanity, but the true culprit is his son Shudo (Roy Cheung), who's planning to take over his father's empire. This all leads to a complex series of betrayals, percieved-betrayals, questions of loyalty, instances of self-sacrifice, moments of crisis, and cool special effects culminating in mass destruction.

Blade Runner, Aliens, Alien Nation, and Men In Black all merge in The Wicked City. This film was produced by Tsui Hark, and thus has his distinctive visual style stamped all over it. The characters roam around in a murky, neon-blue Hong Kong landscape populated by aliens who take on some inventive shapes, including a clock, a chandelier, and a motorcycle. All this eye candy is equally matched by the ridiculously excessive melodrama, done in the classic HK style, with some tremendously overwrought and silly dialogue. With all this going on, it's no wonder that the finer points of plotting are somewhat neglected. It's more silliness than sensibility, which is pretty much ok, all things considered. It's also fairly easy to find, so go give it a look, and have some fun.

Feng Shui notes

Wing Chun

Director Yuen Woo Ping
Cast Michelle Yeoh/Khan, Donnie Yen, Waise Lee, Norman Chu, Catherine Hung
Year 1993

Michelle Yeoh stars as the titular character, Yim Wing Chun, in this tale about the inventor of the Wing Chun martial art style. She sells soya bean curd with her shrewish aunt, “Abacus” Fong, and scandalizes the local townfolk and her father by dressing like a man and beating up on local bandits with her superior kung fu skills. When the beautiful Charmy comes to town in dire straits, Wing Chun takes her in and gives her a job selling bean curd. This dramaticaly improves the business as the men flock like slavering dogs to ogle the beautiful newcomer. Silly hijinks ensue as a lecherous scholar, Wong Hok Chow, alternately tries to woo both Wing Chun and Charmy while being pursued by Auntie Fong. Also in town is Leung Pak To (Donnie Yen), a childhood friend of Wing Chun's. He's come for her, but hurts her feelings when he mistakes Charmy for her, and her for a man! Lest you think this movie is nothing but romantic sappiness, Wing Chun also has to deal with the bandit lord, who is impressed with her prowess and thus kidnaps Charmy in order to force her to be his wife. Ah, l'amour.

Wing Chun is a mildly entertaining but not spectacular martial arts period film. The comedy is occasionaly funny but not hilarious, the action scenes good but not exceptional. Michelle Yeoh is generally the best thing in this film as she shows off her expert martial arts abilities. It's cool to see a woman as a kick-butt heroine in a town where the men are all chauvinistic wusses. However, her screen presence is less here on her own than when she's paired up with Jet Li in The Tai Chi Master or Jackie Chan in Supercop. Overall, you'll probably enjoy it, but you also probably won't be wowed.

Feng Shui notes

The bandit leader in this film is named “Flying Chimpanzee,” and his number one henchman is named “Flying Monkey.” What's a secret cell of Jammer subversives doing hanging out in the 1850's juncture?

Zu: Warriors From the Magic Mountain

Director Tsui Hark
Cast Adam Cheng, Brigitte Lin, Yuean Biao, Sammo Hung, Moon Lee, Meng Hoi, Corey Yuen Kwai, Dick Wei
Year 1983

Fifth century China is in chaos, as warring factions fight endlessly for control. Through a series of mishaps, Ti Ming-Chi (Yeun Biao), a scout for one of the armies, ends up in a mysterious mountainside cavern. He's attacked by wraith-like figures with glowing eyes, but is saved by a spell-chucking swordsman named Ting-Yin (Adam Chen). Ti and Ting then team up with monk Hsiao-Yu and his student Ying Chin to face off against the Evil Disciples, a sect of flamboyantly gothic evil sorcerers. These guys are just the opening act for the real villain — a being of evil known as the blood demon. The blood demon poisons Hsiao, and only the timely intervention of the sorcerer Long Brows keeps the monstrosity in check. However, Long Brows can only hold it off for 49 days. He instructs Ti to travel to Heaven's Peak, home of Li I-Chi, who possesses the Twin Swords, the only weapons which can defeat the Blood Demon. First, however, our heroes have to locate the Countess (Brigitte Lin), a powerful sorceress who alone can heal Hsiao. From there on out, it just gets weirder.

Zu is the kind of film for which the phrase “dizzying ride” was coined, although “crack-headed” might be more apt. Zu is an endless panoply of special effects, broken only by moments of wacky humor. The story becomes hopelessly lost in a tangle of sorcerers, swordsmen, monsters, and mysterious locales, until by the end it's almost a blur of light and color. True, the special effects are dated by todays standards, but that only makes it more fun — it's kind of like the Army of Darkness of HK films. Experienced viewers will see the seeds being sown that would later bear fruit in films like A Chinese Ghost Story. Newbies may very well be washed away by the relentless tide of action, special effects, and sheer lunacy.

Feng Shui notes

Zu is Feng Shui at it's most unrestrained. Wizards, swordsmen, monks and figures of myth and legend abound, and spells fly fast and free throughout the story. There are more than enough monsters and magic items to go around, and each locale is more mysterious and exotic than the last. Despite the clutter, each of these elements really stand out, letting you know that this is how fantasy should be done. Check out the creative uses of the blast schtick, particularly the conjured weapons effects. Note the guardian of the border between good and evil, who flys through the air chained to a boulder. Marvel at the Wizard Long Brows, who channels his power through his prehensile facial hair. There's enough material in the movie for six Feng Shui adventures alone.