Hopefully some of you who were in or live in New York City got a chance to attend some of the films being screened for the 6th Annual Old School Kung Fu Fest at the Metrograph where they showed classics like Enter the Dragon and Rumble in the Bronx alongside some lesser known gems that were all released by distributor Golden Harvest. We unfortunately were not able to attend in person but luckily, we got sent some of the films being screened on DVD from Warner Archive, which is now your go to source for any of the martial arts/kung fu classics released by Golden Harvest. I’ve got my thoughts on two of the movies screened at this year’s festival and one from last year’s ninja oriented fest that I checked out as well.
Big Bullet (1996): Big Bullet is an absolute gem in the world of Hong Kong action and it’s an absolute must watch if you are a fan of John Woo, as it’s one of the best films picking up where he left off back home when he came to Hollywood. The movie follows Detective Bill Chu, who is demoted to the Emergency Unit (Hong Kong’s equivalent of beat cops) and is put in charge of a ragtag team of cops. Chu’s squad gets caught up in trying to catch a group of international criminals and massive shootouts erupt across Hong Kong as they try to catch them before they can escape. When things pop off in Big Bullet, they truly pop off, the first major shootout is glorious chaos that is half the shootout from Heat and half the foot chase from Point Break, as Chu and his friend Yang, still a detective, chase down the main villain through a shopping center while the rest of the squad is pinned down by the rest of the criminal gang. It was apparently trying to blend the 80’s Hollywood action of something like Lethal Weapon with the style of action Woo setup and it succeeds.
The Blade (1995): The Blade is a critically acclaimed martial arts film directed by Tsui Hark, which is a reinvention of the classic One Armed Swordsman films by the Shaw Brothers. The use of colors and the way it’s shot makes it feel somewhat like what would happen if Nicolas Winding Refn made a martial arts movie and it’s definitely different from a lot of other marital arts movies I’ve seen. The movie follows a sword maker named Ding-On, who was orphaned when he was young and taken into a foundry to learn the way to not only make but fight with swords. He learns that his father was killed by a mercenary named Falcon, but his master hid the truth from him so he wouldn’t seek vengeance but Ding-On does and loses an arm after battling a group of thugs who kidnap his master’s daughter, Ling. He recovers with help from a peasant woman and develops a new fighting style that accommodates his missing arm and the broken sword he know wields. It’s much more dramatic and esoteric than say, the Drunken Master movies from Jackie Chan, and it didn’t really fully click with me. The action is incredible, especially the final battles, but there’s a device where the story is narrated from Ling’s perspective and her motivations are bizarre and she’s kind of psychotic at times.
Ninja III: The Domination: Last year for the 5th annual Old School Kung Fu, the focus was on ninja movies and one of them was the third and final movie in Cannon Film’s, in no way related, Ninja Trilogy, where a telephone line repairwoman/aerobics instructor is possessed by the demonic spirit of an evil ninja. 80’s ninja master Sho Kosugi plays basically a ninja exorcist, James Hong shows up and Breakin’s Lucinda Dickey plays the main character, who is forced by the evil ninja spirit to kill the cops who finally brought him down after he goes on a golf course massacre in the beginning of the film. It’s completely ridiculous in the best way, much like the other two Cannon ninja classics, and it tries to blend exorcism movies, ninja movies and a dash of the weird spa/gym genre that started springing up in the 80’s. The whole movie is actually up 100% free and legal on youtube on the Paramount Vault’s channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fj32XwCh-Uc
I also received a copy of “A Terra Cotta Warrior” but have not had a chance to check it out yet. Hopefully one day we’ll actually get to attend in person to the Old School Kung Fest but these three movies are great place to start to try and replicate the experience at home.