The audio and dialogue in this movie is so shitty, it should bring shame on the families of everyone involved. The zooms are cool. I looked up the director to make fun of him, but he was deaf, so I’m gonna credit Clouse with all the cool zooms and blame Warner Bros for the sound. Bruce is in this as much as The Big Boss, there’s much time wasted on the corny ensemble cast (I can’t help but compare this to the closest-to-1973 ensemble film I’ve seen lately, Cotton Comes to Harlem, which was 100x more convincing). Overall a sad Hollywood attempt at a Hong Kong movie. Bruce Lee innocent, and his delightfully unusual voice speaking English is a secondary highlight after the justly-acclaimed mirror/claw finale.

Han (Sek Kin, the Chinese Timothy Dalton but with iron fists) lures fighters to his island, including Lee, charismatic gambler John Saxon, and Jim Kelly (who would go on to star in/as Black Belt Jones and Black Samurai). Kelly is introduced beating up racist cops and stealing their car, so we know he’s a good guy – wonder if that was as clear in 1973. Muscley Bolo is Han’s protector, would go on to fight Jean-Claude Van Damme. There’s a female operative on the island, and Bruce’s secret mission is to avenge the death of his sister, but mainly it’s a man’s movie, baby.

Han shows Saxon his claw museum:

Bolo is unimpressed by Bruce until it’s too late:

Jim Kelly rockin’ out:

“Our tolerance was a mistake.” After the poisoning death of a martial arts master, a brown-suited dude is sent to insult and challenge his disciples during the memorial service, a crass move that earns the wrath of disciple Bruce Lee. This starts out way better than The Big Boss by pitting Bruce against forty guys early on instead of waiting for the second half – “Next time I’ll make you eat the glass.”

The titular fist:

Lee’s confuse-o-vision technique:

This is Shanghai, and all the villains are Japanese. Not a master of history, I’d forgotten that the Japanese colonized parts of China throughout the 1930’s and I was amazed at their nerve. Bruce goes on a righteous rampage through the city, smashing racist Japanese in their jerk faces, then in case we’re tempted to feel bad for them, the Japanese massacre all of Bruce’s friends (including poor James Tien again). There is a love interest, just barely, and a couple of fun disguises. The big boss sports an absurd long mustache and has hired an English-speaking Russian tough who fights in a bow-tie – Bruce punches a guy’s dick off before taking them on, the action in this movie always great. Same as The Big Boss, the army closes in on Bruce post-killing-spree. Must see Lo Wei’s New Fist of Fury, a sequel starring Jackie Chan in his first major role.

love interest Nora Miao:

the big boss Chikara Hashimoto:

This is the second movie I’ve watched this year after Cold Weather that partly takes place at an ice factory. In this one, incompetent drug dealers are hiding packets of heroin inside blocks of ice… which are transparent. When a couple of employees find the nondescript packets, the baddies tell them there’s heroin inside, then murder the entire workforce. Strange logic abounds, but this is also a movie that was partly written during filming – per Matthew Polly in the extras, the first half was Bruce Lee’s screen test, and it was decided during filming that James Tien would get killed off and Lee take over the movie.

James, far right, wondering if he’s doomed:

A good, violent movie, though it was touch-and-go during that first half. Mostly low-rent and effective, badly dubbed with a bit of style (aka whip-pans). Even in the modern Criterion HD remaster the music sounds like it’s being played on a faulty tape machine. All the movie’s precision comes in the form of Bruce. Said to have been a dancer who fights with a cha-cha tempo, his first action scene makes the flailing clumsiness of the movie’s first half disappear.

Bodies in the ice:

The drug dealers are led by Big Boss Ying-Chieh Han – before Bruce kicks his ass, he frees the Boss’s pet parakeet as a power move. To get to this confrontation, every single person Bruce knows has to be murdered, so the movie’s death toll is high. Some weird humor in here too – Bruce apparently doesn’t know how liquor works and downs a half-bottle of cognac while out with his boss. Later he’s making growling monkeywolf noises as he Wile-E-Coyotes a guy through a wooden wall.

Criterion had a bunch of these movies, and I needed something to watch in weekday installments during a horrid week.

Jackie is tired of training with his mocking grandpa.

So he joins a gang and dresses like an idiot servant and a pretty girl to hustle suckers into fighting him.

But eventually he’ll have to content with the evil wizard who killed his dad (and grandpa).

Is he up to the task? Totally, yes.

Grandpa was James Tien of the Bruce Lee movies. Baddie Yen Shi-Kwan was in the first two Once Upon a Time in China movies. The year after starring in Drunken Master, this was 25-year-old Jackie Chan’s directorial debut.

I haven’t seen this since it premiered. Teenaged Me was really into Tarantino, and also Counting Crows and Gin Blossoms and the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and Wayne’s World and Tim Burton and Mortal Kombat, and most of those things are no longer good, so sometimes I forget that Tarantino still is.

Anyway, here’s what happens in Kill Bill Volume 1:

Whole wedding party is wiped out, execution-style by the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.

The Bride shows up at Vernita’s house (Vivica A. Fox, lately of Empire). A quick knife fight, then relaxed conversation, then sudden death.

Flashback to the aftermath of the bloody wedding, investigated by the cop from Grindhouse, then Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) is sent to assassinate the Bride in her hospital bed but Bill calls her off at the last minute. We never find out what the Bride did, exactly, to deserve this treatment.

The Bride awakens, righteously murders the dudes who have been coma-raping her, and hits the road in a stolen Pussy Wagon.

O-Ren Ishii animated backstory, which is basically Lady Snowblood.

The Bride talks the retired swordsmith Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba of bunches of Kinji Fukasaku films) into making her a perfect sword.

The Big Finale of Part 1: The Bride shows up at the House of Blue Leaves, taking on crazed teen Gogo (Chiaki Kuriyama of Battle Royale, The Great Yokai War)…

and O-Ren herself (Lucy Liu)

“Is she aware her daughter is still alive?”


Volume 2:

Wedding reprise, she introduces Bill as her father to groom Tommy (oscar-winning makeup artist Chris Nelson)

Budd (Michael Madsen) has a horrible strip club bouncer job and a pointless life, but he has been warned that the Bride is coming, and he gets the drop on her then buries her alive.

In flashback, Bill sends the Bride to be tutored by Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, star of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin with comical white hair), who teaches her “it’s the wood that should fear your hand,” and she destroys the coffin and emerges from the ground living-dead-style. 95% of movies would open with the training scene, then when she’s in trouble an hour later have a voiceover reminder of the training scene, then victory… it seems more effective to structure it this way (hopeless situation / flashback to training scene / solution).

Elle kills Budd via snake, and a close-quarters swordfight with the risen Bride follows. Elle loses her other eye. Frequent sightings of the movie poster for Mr. Majestyk.

The Bride visits Bill and rescues her daughter via the five point palm exploding heart technique.

“The lioness has rejoined her cub and all is right in the jungle.”

The Cobbler (2014, Tom McCarthy)

Just morbidly curious about The Station Agent director’s latest. Did anyone realize while making this that shoe “soles” and human “souls” are homophones? Wonder if that might be useful. Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale Station) is asking Adam Sandler out, then hey it’s Steve Buscemi! “Pickles preserve you… they give you strength” – I’ve been saying this for years. Wait, Buscemi transformed into Dustin Hoffman, am I getting this right? Sandler is not a good dramatic actor, hasn’t anyone realized? Oh, “walk in another man’s shoes,” I get it now.

Saw IV (2007, Darren Lynn Bousman)

Checking my notes, I believe everyone except maybe Orson Macfadyen was dead at the end of part 3. And here’s Orson, one of many dudes running with guns down dark corridors, while some other dudes die in a trap room. I think Donnie Wahlberg and Orson just died, then a victim turns out to be the mastermind (a la the original Saw) and leaves some dying guys locked up in a factory, and Dead Jigsaw promises more sequels – but not by Bousman, who moved on to New Year’s Day and Repo! The Genetic Opera after this. From the writers of Feast, the Piranha remake-sequel, and possibly the next Halloween.

Saw V (2008, David Hackl)

How does Dead Jigsaw continue to star in these movies? Prequel? A couple’s hands are being sawed up while Scott Patterson (a Scott Bakula type from the last sequel) plays a tape and dudes with guns walk through dark corridors to the same copy-and-paste drumbeat music and metallic sound effects as the last movie’s last ten minutes. Bland-looking Costas Mandylor escapes a trap room while Bakula Type gets crushed inside and a Matt Walsh type triggers a full-movie flashback, lucky for me. Hackl worked on all of Bousman’s Saw sequels and did production design on Lexx.

You’re Next (2011, Adam Wingard)

I hated Wingard’s A Horrible Way to Die but heard last year’s The Guest was good, so catching up with the one that came in between. Soap star Sharni Vinson is looking all beat up, stumbling around till someone shoots her with a crossbow. Enter a couple of assailants, killed with knife and blender. Sharni’s boyfriend AJ Bowen was in on the home invasion plot, arranged to have his family killed so he’d inherit, but the girlfriend’s not buying his boring story, haha then she’s shot by the cops.

Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero (2014, Kaare Andrews)

Skinless girlfight, hurting each other in ways this underlit beach scene can’t quite afford to explain. Then one guy has a gun and it’s boring, and Dr. Sean Samwise Astin kills that guy just slowly enough to give him a dying monologue, and I think maybe Samwise escapes with the virus. Good work interweaving explanatory scenes through the closing credits to make viewers stay through ’em. The director made “V” in The ABCs of Death, which was also boring, and the writer did a Hitcher remake and a When a Stranger Calls remake.

Man With The Iron Fists 2 (2015, Roel Reine)

Came across this while searching for Iron Sky, had no idea there was a sequel to that middling action film. It sure enough stars RZA and his iron fists, but instead of Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, this one’s got a lotta Thai actors, poor CG effects, and more than one guy screaming “noooooooo!” Climactic fight has RZA fighting a bad guy with iron legs. The director made a couple Death Race sequels and a Scorpion King sequel.

Iron Sky (2012, Timo Vuorensola)

Blonde woman stops a nazi from blowing up the earth, electrocuting him in an absurd way then stabbing his head with a shoe. Meanwhile a buncha Star Wars stuff is happening outside, after which a woman in a feather suit accurately says “well that was disappointing” and the Star Spangled Banner plays ironically as world leaders tussle, then LOL nuclear war. Damn, missed Udo Kier. Glad to see there will be a sequel featuring him and Tom Green.

Renaissance (2006, Christian Volckman)

That Sin City cartoon with Daniel Craig. Wow, it’s a disaster – nice frames, but the motion and editing and acting (cheers, Romola Garai of Amazing Grace) are slow and weird. Very few shades of gray, mostly pure black and white. Trying to figure out what went wrong, so I forgot to pay attention to plot. Two of the writers did a Jean Reno thing called 22 Bullets. Volckman doesn’t have lots of credits, has forgotten to make any more movies since this one.

Been a long while since I watched a Tsui Hark movie. Pretty fun, with a cool title character played by the great Andy Lau, an enemy of the state given freedom by Empress Carina Lau (Mimi in 2046) to investigate why officials are spontaneously combusting into super fake-looking fire sfx. He teams up with court-appointed Jing’er (Bingbing Li of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a badass with her CGI whip) and albino Pei (Chao Deng) and the cave-dwelling, millipede-eating Donkey Wang to investigate, eventually discovers someone has a convoluted plan to crush the Empress during her coronation by toppling a massive statue. That someone is one-armed master builder Shatuo, an old ally of Dee who I would’ve known was the villain if I’d recognized him as Tony Leung Ka Fai (aka Tony 2 of Ashes of Time).

Politics: “A confession under torture is useless. Don’t you know that it’s torture which alienates people from the Empress and makes them turn against her?” I liked that Dee carried his pet birds with him on assignment, but it turns out that was only so the movie could have more things to set on fire. Speaking of the fake fire, there’s also an amazingly fake fight against CG deer.

Won a bunch of Hong Kong Film Awards but couldn’t beat Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere at the Venice Film Festival. IMDB’s summary calls it an “incredible true story,” haha.

A good rebellion story with some serious kung fu at the end, but most of the movie consists of training montages. Student Liu Yu-de escapes after his rebel-taught school is destroyed and family is killed by the occupying Tartars. None of the rebels were decent fighters, so wounded Yu-de flees to the Shaolin temple, rumored to have the best kung fu in town, gets sanctuary there, is renamed San Ta and starts training from the very bottom, working his way to total mastery in just a few years. The Shaolin monks’ official stance is that they ignore the politics of the outside world, but it’s San Ta’s drive to defeat the Tartars that fuels his rapid advancement. With no support or defined plan, he goes out and immediately challenges and slays the Tartar leadership, is then allowed to open his “36th chamber” to train civilians in martial arts.

Doomed Chia Yung Liu:

I find the kung fu sound effects to be distracting – a given weapon always uses the same effect at the same volume regardless of what it’s hitting. The audio in general was strangely echoey, as if a fake surround effect had been added to dialogue. And though this is supposed to be a mighty classic of the genre, I wasn’t too thrilled by the action either – maybe 1970’s kung fu films aren’t for me, because I prefer the floaty fantasy of House of Flying Daggers, the dreamy camera-play of Ashes of Time, and the inventive, flailing fights of Jackie Chan.

This movie was a huge influence on the Wu-Tang Clan, as seen below in a shot of San Ta’s head between two massive joints:

Chia-Liang Liu was a star director for Shaw Brothers studio, also made The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter and Drunken Master II, and worked on Tsui Hark’s Seven Swords. His brother Chia-Hui Liu stars as San Ta. Chia-Hui was later in Kill Bill and Man With The Iron Fists – of course, I’d be amazed if nobody from this film had been in Man With The Iron Fists. San Ta’s early inspiration, a rebel leader killed in a trap by the Tartars, is their other brother Chia Yung Liu (Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires). Lieh Lo, “the first kung fu superstar” played evil mustache general Tien Ta, defeated in the picturesque final fight by San Ta wielding the triple-staff he created. Before this, San Ta rounds up a few “hot-blooded youths” to help invade the Tartars: rebel leader Hung Hsi-kuan, suspicious and combative Lu Ah-cai (Norman Chu of Zu Warriors and We’re Going To Eat You), and social outcast Miller Six (Yue Wong, title star of Dirty Ho). One woman appears (Szu-Chia Chen of Rendezvous With Death and The Magic Blade) for about a minute. Two sequels would follow from the same director and star.

On one hand, I don’t think this is a perfect movie. Many of the scenes are beautiful by themselves, but I’m not sure that it comes together into a structure that makes sense. On the other hand, I’m fascinated with this movie, having watched the U.S. version twice in theaters then the original on blu-ray. The U.S. makes some major blunders, changes the order of events to the detriment of all emotional build-up and overuses title cards. But those title cards came in handy for me, and the original version made more sense for my having seen the other one first. Also, even though the U.S. is a half hour shorter, it somehow contains entire scenes that weren’t in the original.

My favorite edit:

Tony Leung has been in Red Cliff and Lust, Caution but I haven’t seen him since 2046. He plays Ip Man, a renowned martial artist and teacher, introduced fighting a hundred dudes including a final boss played by Cung Le (Bronze Lion) under the slow-motion rain. Action isn’t abstracted like in Ashes of Time – it’s actually more commercial-looking than usual for Wong, shot by new guy Philippe Le Sourd but edited by William Chang who worked on Ashes of Time and the others.

Ip moves away from his wife to Hong Kong then isn’t allowed to return. He and Zhang Ziyi have a mutual fascination, and the best part of the movie follows her story as she reclaims her father’s title from his traitorous former disciple Ma San. This sidetrack from the “Grandmaster” story plus the movie’s splintering into different versions make it seem more open-ended, like every character could unexpectedly lead his own movie. For instance, Chen Chang (male star of Three Times) has a minor scene in the U.S. cut, and two completely different scenes (including a major anti-government battle) in the original. Usually we hear rumors of trouble in the editing room then Wong delivers a final, completed film – this time he seems to have given in to artistic indecision. Or maybe it’s simply the Weinsteins’ fault – either way, I’ve enjoyed assembling the pieces in my mind, dreaming my own Grandmaster.

Jiang, for instance, deserves his own entire movie: