Good movie, from the shockingly great opening synth theme song on.
Works fine as a hangout film of Johnnie regulars, and there are plenty of shots like this:

Assassination attempts go badly, double-crosses and twists, but it never feels plotty. The guys I didn’t recognize were Francis Ng (Exiled) and Jackie Lui Chung-Yin (horrors Snake Charmer and Wife From Hell).

Celia’s beloved grandma just died, but she’s got the new neighbors next door to play with, and the eternal hope that she’ll get a pet rabbit. Unfortunately the neighbors are communists, and it’s Australia in the 1950’s during a myxomatosis outbreak (I’ve had the Radiohead song’s bassline in my head all week), so she’s constantly being warned against rabbits and commies.

Rabidly anti-commie dad (Nicholas Eadie of pre-fame Nicole Kidman miniseries Vietnam) chooses sides, and buys her a rabbit if she won’t play with the neighbors anymore, tells her they’re bad people. Cruelty abounds: the other kids hurt her rabbit, dad gets the neighbor fired. Her family’s cop friend John (Bill Zappa of The Road Warrior) straight-up kidnaps the rabbit, and after it dies in quarantine, Celia becomes the Joker. She shoots John to death while seeing visions of storybook monsters (major Heavenly Creatures parallels) and gets away with it, then fortunately doesn’t kill his daughter while staging mock gallows executions.

Harmless ritual:

Not so harmless:

Celia was Rebecca Smart, who debuted in Dusan Makavejev’s The Coca-Cola Kid. Turner later directed Sam Neill and pre-fame Russell Crowe, and remade Teorema starring Sandra Bernhard in the Stamp role(!!)

Game of Death (1978, Robert Clouse)

Time for the post-Bruce-Lee movies in the Bruce Lee box set. Bruce had filmed about ten minutes of fights for this one, then he inconveniently died. The American studio knew Bruce was profitable, and that’s all they knew, so they cobbled together a new movie, blatantly using stand-ins and cutting reaction shots from other movies. Once they simply pasted a still photo of Bruce’s face over another guy. It’s full of callbacks to the previous movies (thanks to a films-with-the-film subplot), but anyone who enjoyed those is gonna be sad about this one. Even doc footage from Bruce’s actual funeral is used, when lead character “Billy Lo” is supposed to be faking his own death. And this is all in service of a third-rate crime thriller. 1 star for the music, 1 for Sammo Hung, zero for the rest.

After filming a scene, Billy is calmly threatened by a white suited gangster who wants protection money. He works for an evil bald guy who’s somehow involved in both a record pressing plant (which threatens Billy’s girlfriend’s music career) and a championship fight in Macao (their star fighter is Carl: Robert Wall from Enter the Dragon, who died last week). The gangster protection money plot had already been used in Way of the Dragon (and the Chang Cheh movie I just watched), but so what, it’s a plot, and movies need those.

Billy’s in hiding, letting the gangsters think he’s dead, which gives all the non-Bruce actors an excuse to wear heavy disguises. Carl cheats and beats Sammo Hung in the ring, but Sammo puts on a good showcase, then Billy slaughters Carl in the lockers. The girlfriend (Colleen Camp) inevitably gets kidnapped, and a stuntman wearing Bruce’s yellow tracksuit and a dark helmet fights some motorcycle dudes in a warehouse. Finally, the one true Bruce fights some dudes (including the absurdly tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and it’s glorious for a few minutes. He never even touches the old bald gangster (Dean Jagger, the sheriff of Forty Guns), who falls off a roof while running away, the credits rolling before he even hit the ground.

Movie magic via still photo:


Game of Death II (1981, Ng See-yuen)

The only sense that this is a sequel is it’s playing the stand-in game with old Bruce footage (the film stock still doesn’t match). Bruce is hilariously dubbed by some cowboy-ass American. He chills with an ass-kicking abbot then gets an incriminating film from some girl. At a friend’s funeral, he’s shot and falls to his death while chasing a helicopter that was stealing his friend’s casket(!), and now Bruce’s sad brother Bobby takes over as the lead, like Bruce took over from James Tien in The Big Boss – but not exactly like that, since Tong Lung is playing both brothers here. Now with an hour to go, the movie doesn’t have to pretend to star Bruce Lee anymore, and can cut loose. The dubbing is atrocious, but the Chinese/Koreans in charge of this movie have got more respect for Bruce’s legacy and more filmmaking and fighting talent than the doofus Americans in part one.

Lewis trying to be intense despite the cute monkey:

Bobby gets intel from a white monk that the evil Lewis and his scarfaced brother, masters of the Palace of Death, are responsible, so he heads on down. Lewis can’t be that evil – he keeps pet peacocks and monkeys. The Whatever Brothers (I didn’t catch their names) challenge Bobby, and he proves his mettle, then a sudden blonde girl gets suddenly naked, tries to kill him, then a guy in a lion suit joins in! Movie is already kinda nutty, and that’s before Bobby descends to the subterranean MST3K sci-fi lair with spacesuited harpoon-armed flunkies and electrified floors. Lewis is found dead, the scarface guy is suspected so Bobby beats his ass, but Bruce’s “dead” friend, who was stealing his own coffin to avoid discovery, is behind the whole thing. Friend/enemy Chin Ku is Jeong-lee Hwang of Drunken Master, the abbot was in Temple of Doom and Sammo’s Enter the Fat Dragon.


Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend (1973, Shih Wu)

Polishing off the Criterion box set with a return to the shameless, shoddy quality of Game of Death 1, this time in documentary form. Opens with ten minutes of news film from Bruce’s funeral, which doesn’t sound like such a long time but really felt like it, making me realize I am not cut out to watch Loznitsa’s State Funeral. Then a chronological run through his life and career, with lots of slow zooms into photographs, and a narrator who sounds like he’s from some MST3K short, like How to Go on a Date. Why is the dialogue in the movie Bruce was in as a child covered up with horn music? Why does the English narrator sometimes talk over people speaking English, telling us the same story at a slightly different pace? When Bruce defeats Bob Baker in Fist of Fury, “Baker studied for seven years under Bruce, but he is still no match for his teacher,” the narrator confusing an actor’s skill with a scripted scenario. It closes with then-unreleased Game of Death footage – in fact, Enter The Dragon wasn’t even out yet – in Hong Kong, this quickie doc beat it into theaters by a week. Shih Wu was an assistant director on A Better Tomorrow III, which I’ll probably end up watching eventually.

Still stuck in 2021-catchup until we get to the next Chaplin. This was a mid-1980’s ensemble movie where every one of the 20 lead characters is “the crazy one.” It’s like Vampire’s Kiss if Nicolas Cage played all the parts. For a while I was over the moon, but an hour in I hit my fill of wackiness.

After a successful bank robbery, the four thieves led by TchĂ©ky Karo (Full Moon in Paris) meet a new friend on the train, latch onto Sophie Marceau (of a Pialat the same year), then declare war on the four Venin brothers who wronged her. Leon from the train (Francis Huster, star of Demy’s Parking the same year) takes over as the lead, falling for Karo’s girl Marceau, his eyes glowing yellow when he gets overeager. I lost track of everyone else, all of whom end up dead anyway, but a guy from Amer was in there, a guy from Malle’s The Lovers, a character named Andrzej Zulawski – and a flamethrower. Inspired by The Idiot, but certainly doesn’t follow that novel’s storyline… still, with the Bresson, I made an accidental Dostoevsky double-feature.

Thought I’d pair this with the Coen version, not realizing the latter wouldn’t come out till early next year. A terrific looking movie, reportedly in part due to newly-designed anamorphic lenses – almost technically impeccable, a few dubbing issues. I like the idea of turning parts of the monologues into voiceover, although it means the actors have to silently react to their overheard thoughts, which is harder to pull off than speaking the lines. It gets gruesome between Macduff’s slaughtered kids, the king’s guards being dismembered, and a man taking a crossbow bolt to the forehead – also some clumsy clanking armor battles (these are all compliments). The only time I felt the 1970’s was in the “dagger I see before me” scene.

Polanski’s first film after his wife was murdered – he’d been prepping What? but thought it’d appear crass(er), and Hugh Hefner(!) was looking to add respectability by getting into the Shakespeare business and losing a bunch of money. Opens with the witches on a beach… the second prophecy scene is zany, and culminates in a good mirror scene.

In the chronology of filmed Macbeths, Werner Schroeter’s obscure hourlong TV version came out the same year, a TV miniseries the year before, but there hadn’t been a major film since Throne of Blood. The next would probably be in ’79, the TV movie with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. Never heard of a single person in the cast, besides MacB (Frenzy star Jon Finch). Lady M Francesca Annis would star in back-to-back sci-fi epics Krull and Dune. Macduff would become a Gilliam regular, and Banquo was in Dennis Potter’s Cream in My Coffee.

Macduff would like some revenge please:

This was pretty good, and less than half the length of Woodlands Dark & Days Bewitched, which I watched as an extended intro. After his men and horses died with bright red paint for blood, romantic lead Ian Ogilvy (Puppet Master 5 and a Peter Cushing haunted junk shop movie called From Beyond the Grave) returns home to marry his beloved Sara (Hilary Dwyer, who’d return to Vincent Price and witches in Cry of the Banshee) with the blessing of her preacher dad. Meanwhile, Vincent Price is going from town to town with his brute beardo torturer sidekick Robert Russell (of the pre-Revenant Man in the Wilderness) getting paid for ferreting out witches, who are drowned using the Monty Python & The Holy Grail technique or burned or whatever’s convenient.

Villains:

Next time Ian is away, the witchfinders roll into town. Price’s game is to get cash and get hot women. Sara agrees to sleep with him for a time, but he drowns her dad and brands her a witch, and Ian forgives her (weird for a dude in a period film) then sets to hunting the hunters. Price is on the outs with Beardo and has to hire a substitute torturer in the next town, finally gets beaten to death when Ian catches up.

Appreciate that the townspeople left her alone except to enter her house with ladders and put up this witch sign like a happy birthday banner:

Reeves and DP John Coquillon (soon to join Peckinpah) acquit themselves nicely, with a lotta zooms, some nicely framed closeups, a real cool water-to-fire transition. The sound editor however had a minute of anguished cries and kept looping them.

No Sudden Move has lost its status as the year’s most grotesque use of a wide-angle lens, courtesy of some Abu Ghraib flashbacks that turn Oscar Isaac and Willem Dafoe into carnival-mirror dwarfs. Isaac served time for torturing the enemy while his superiors stayed free and rich, and a fellow torturer’s son Tye Sheridan tries to rope Isaac into a revenge plot, but Isaac wants to stay cool and quietly win card games using Tiffany Haddish’s money. Nice to see a movie where cooler heads prevail, the kid is set straight and Isaac gets the girl… oh no, that’s not what happens, two people die and Isaac goes back to jail. I can’t decide how I feel about it – the tone felt off, or maybe I just felt weird being at the Grand all by myself, anxiously trying not to expect First Reformed 2.

Irene barely survives a violent home invasion, her family killed, her dad Johnny Hallyday (Man on the Train) visits in a Macau hospital and swears revenge. But Johnny’s not an elite killer getting dragged back into the business, he’s just a French restauranteur with a fading memory. He runs across a team of hitmen played by the Johnnie To superstars Suet Lam, Anthony Wong and Lam “Bo in Sparrow” Ka-Tung and they can fit his revenge scheme into their schedule. Of course since their boss is Simon Yam and he barely appears in the first half of the movie, I guessed the (very satisfying) second half would pit our doomed men against their own organization. Since there’s a French lead actor, this was able to play in competition at Cannes, but got robbed by Haneke and Audiard.

I pulled out the earliest Johnnie To movie I could find, thinking “surely his visual and character quirks and his tendency to upend expected narrative weren’t fully developed yet,” but yup, they were. These movies are so stylish and unpredictable, and I could watch them forever.

Boss alliance:

Jack (Leon Lai of Fallen Angels) and cowboy Martin (Ching Wan Lau, the Mad Detective himself) are rival enforcers for crime lords, and when their bosses team up and go straight, their men are left crippled, unemployed and forgotten. After a wheelchair-improvement montage they take righteous revenge on their former organization(s).

Jack up high, Martin down low: