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The Destruction, or Escape, of Jared Syn?
15 July 2015
I've always remembered this as a cool 3D sci-fi adventure, just like other 3D movies of the 80's: Parasite, Comin' At Ya, Treasure of the Four Crowns, Jaws 3D, and Amityville 3D.

A roving lone ranger on a post-apocalyptic Earth named Dogen (Jeffrey Byron) finds a lovely young woman Dhyana (Kelly Preston) alone and terrified outside a mining cave. After knowing that her father, a scientist, was killed by a raving mutant named Baal, he vows to avenge her father's death. So, who is Jared Syn and why must he be destroyed?

It turns out that Syn (Mike Preston) is the father of Baal, and he is some sort of a messiah-like priest who is planning to control the surviving nomadic tribes that roam the barren wastelands and enslave them. Not being able to locate this mysterious messiah, Dogen seeks the help of a down-and-out alcoholic mercenary Rhodes (Tim Thomerson – TRANCERS, ZONE TROOPERS), who happens to know Syn's whereabouts. Together they seek for a mask that will help them find and destroy Jared Syn.

While watching this post-apocalyptic yarn, I can't help but think of STAR WARS and THE ROAD WARRIOR. The film has elements of those two films blended into one with some 3D effects thrown in, and the outcome is you get a fun low budget sci-fi adventure. Despite its low budget nature, the character make-up effects (like those of Baal's) are surprisingly cool, just like what you see in STAR WARS, and the 3D effects look neat too even though many shown are just characters or objects pointing at the screen. Then, there is also this rousing "super-hero-like" musical score that plays every time the action scenes start. However, the ending will leave you rather disappointed.

I've always admired the Band family (Albert, Richard, and Charles) for their creativity as a producer, composer or director, especially their short-lived Empire Pictures productions. There are always some things unique about their low budget films, and this is one of them.

For undemanding viewers looking for old school 3D flicks, especially those who love 80's B-movie sci-fi adventure, METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED SYN comes recommended.
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The Humanoid (1979)
Embarrassing Italian Star Wars Copycat
8 July 2015
THE HUMANOID tells the story of two brothers of noble titles, one good named the Great Brother; the other evil, who are fighting against each other to become the sole ruler of planet Metropolis. The evil brother Graal (Ivan Rassimov) gets the support of the insane Dr. Kraspin (Arthur Kennedy) to create a new army of invincible soldiers called humanoids. To prove that his chemical invention really works, the doctor tests it on the pilot Golob (Richard Kiel), an unsuspecting human from another planet whose plane happens to land on the deserts of Metropolis. Golob is turned – in a very ridiculous way – into an indestructible soldier that doesn't speak but possesses superhuman strength and lives under the doctor's control. Commanded by the evil Graal, Golob charges into the city where the Great Brother lives to kill him. When Golob's brain-washed mind is neutralized by a little oriental sage living in the city named Tom Tom, he turns side and befriends everyone, including the person he is assigned to kill. Heading back to Graal's headquarter to destroy him, Golob leads his band of new ally. Following a decisive battle that destroys Grall and the doctor, Golob regains his human side and reacquires his speech. With his newly-befriended comrades, he decides to live on the planet, which is then called Earth (no more Metropolis as that's what shown on screen!).

That is not the whole story, there are other characters and subplots that are not worth telling as they do not add anything to the main plot!

THE HUMANOID is a Star Wars copycat and a mega-waste of budget that doesn't have any of the elements that have made Star Wars a timeless classic. Here you see similarities that you see in Star Wars – from vehicles, places to characters: Star Destroyer (even following the exact sequence of how it is shown in Star Wars!), Land Speeder, laser guns that shoot red beams, lots of Darth Vader look-alike (since they are portrayed not only as the leader but also guards), Princess Leia wannabe (she's called Barbara and sexier), a kung fu fighting Luke Skywalker, a robot dog (a substitute for R2D2) and a little oriental Obi-Wan Kenobi! Even the opening sequences mimic those of Star Wars!

Richard Kiel's performance in "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker" must have immensely impressed the producers that he was given a similar role here – doesn't speak, just snarls and looks dumb.

This cheesy Italian sci-fi yarn could have been a lot better. Sadly, it lacks the creativity that would have made it into a fun B-movie. The STAR WARS-inspired characters, vehicles, and scenes show lazy film-making. Adding insult to the injury, the plot and directing are as uninspired.

All in all, THE HUMANOID comes mildly recommended and is strictly for lovers of B-movies.
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Rescue Team (1983)
The Viewers Need a Rescue Team!
18 June 2015
If you are familiar with Silver Star Films, an 80's Filipino production company that churned out Z-grade action and Vietnam war- themed films with familiar faces such as Richard Harrison, Romano Kristoff, Don Gordon Bell, Jim Gaines, Mike Cohen, and Mike Monty, you should know what quality to expect from them. As the title suggests, this is another men-on-a-mission kind of story but very badly written and poorly directed to the point that it becomes embarrassing to watch.

Richard Harrison plays Burton, an alcoholic CIA-agent-turned mercenary who is hired by the Agency (as they think he is still the best!) to lead a dumb squad of five mercenaries (though the on screen texts tell us that they are experts in various combat techniques) and rescue Coleman (Mike Monty) an American soldier held captive for 12 years in one of the P.O.W. camps deep in the Vietnamese jungles. What make the film unwatchable are the gratuitous scenes and dialogue. Some scenes are inserted just to pad out the run time, which is just shy of 82 minutes. Then there is the dialogue - utterly profane, for no reason, or downright dumb:

Burton: God I wish I had a drink. It's been a year since I've been gone without one. Woman: Why do you drink? Burton: You really wanna know? Well, you see sometimes I get very, very thirsty. Understand?

That should give you an idea of the inane dialogue you are forced to hear, among others that are even worse. Not to mention having to witness the ridiculous scenes themselves.

I don't mind watching a so-bad-it's-good kind of film, but this doesn't even belong there. If there is anyone who needs a rescue team, it's obviously not Coleman the P.O.W., it's the poor viewer like me who dared see it and has to experience the post-viewing syndrome of a bad movie.
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Take No Prisoners!
9 June 2015
The story tells about an undercover L.A.P.D. anti-crime squad Special Investigative Service (SIS) headed by Detective Vaughn (Scott Glenn) whose 'take-no-prisoner' technique in crime control is being investigated by a crime reporter. Enter Detective Powers (Lou Diamond Phillips) a 'loose cannon' into his death squad. Powers, an old friend of Vaughn's whom he recommended to join the squad, deals with criminals the same way Vaughn does, so Vaughn's violent approach to dealing with target criminals gets his full support. But when one of their men broke down during a bloody stakeout, Powers begins to question his own involvement in the clandestine squad and his teammates' trigger- happy ways in dealing with the lowlifes.

The name Mark L. Lester should be quite familiar to those who grew up watching action films in the 80's. His name stuck on my mind right after watching Commando (1985). Extreme Justice is another typical example of his 'brutal' approach to depicting hardcore action sequences onto the screen. That's his trademark. Just see Class of 1984, Showdown in Little Tokyo, Class of 1999, and Night of the Running Man. This is what makes action film aficionados like me excited when seeing his work.

Besides the above average story line, another thing that lifts this film a notch is the score by David Michael Frank, which creates a brooding atmosphere throughout the film. Frank's other commendable works include Code of Silence and Above the Law.

What gives this film a slight edge over other films in the genre is that the plot provides a food for thought – about how crime in big cities should actually be dealt with by the law: through violence or what other possible ways?, and what are our responsibilities as citizens to help alleviate this increasingly unsolvable social problem?

If you like thinking-man's police thriller, peppered with violent action scenes, this may satisfy you.
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Redemption in Bastard Town
6 June 2015
Robert Shaw, Martin Landau, Stella Stevens and Telly Savalas star in this spaghetti western mystery drama about a Mexican-revolutionary- turned priest (Shaw) who becomes haunted by his past when a mysterious vengeful white woman (Stevens) arrives in the isolated desert town he is residing in. The woman has returned to seek revenge against her husband's killer years ago, and for reasons unexplained, she knows that he must be in town. Savalas plays Don Carlos, a sadistic town bandit leader who gets in the widow's way as he tries to threaten her stay in the town. Matters become complicated when the Colonel (Landau), Shaw's revolutionary comrade now a military officer, and his men, returns to the town to search for a fugitive named Aguila – the same man wanted by the mysterious widow. Who is this mysterious Aguila? Will the widow get her revenge? What will happen to the townsfolk, who have been terrorized for years by Don Carlos and his henchmen? And what will happen to the Priest?

A Town Called Hell is a slow-paced but quite interesting spaghetti western. Some subplots are not resolved, which leave viewers scratching their heads, like what happened to Don Carlos? What made Shaw become a priest and live in the same town where he ruthlessly killed the town priest? Who is the real Aguila? Despite these unanswered questions, the film is still worth a look especially if you like Shaw, Landau, and Savalas.
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Bedlam in Belgrade
31 December 2014
The November Man tells about an ex-CIA operative Peter Deveraux (Pierce Brosnan) who is forced into action after his ex-wife is murdered. Director Roger Donaldson's effort in this espionage thriller is quite laudable even though the subplots could have been more intelligent.

The film has too many characters and subplots that are not given proper conclusions – the romance between Deveraux's protégé Mason (Luke Bracey) and his next-door girlfriend, and his professional relationship with his mentor in the end don't wrap up as they should have been. Then, there are scenes that do not really make sense: when Mira (Olga Kurylenko) threatens to kill Federov in his hotel room. The film could have ended there without Deveraux having to break into the hotel suite shooting left and right, which is just the scriptwriters' way to let audience see Deveraux in action. Another scene which is just hilariously over the top is during the fight between Deveraux and Mason inside the hotel boiler room where we see Mason getting hit on the face with some sort of a pipe and whatnot but he keeps fighting back without showing any pain. The trailer is misleading too. It makes audience think the movie is about a confrontation between an ex-CIA master spy and his protégé, which is actually only a subplot.

Overall, despite its shortcoming, the film comes recommended for those who love espionage thrillers. 7.5 out of 10.
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Hellfighters of the East
16 August 2014
A 1972 Shaw Brothers production by the studio's prolific director Chang Cheh. If you are familiar with Shaw Brothers films, the cast boast the superstars of the era: Ti Lung, David Chiang, Wang Chung and Chen Kuan-tai. To the uninitiated, you have to suspend your disbelief to enjoy a Shaw Brothers film, especially of this genre.

The story, which takes place after the end of the Korean War in 1953, tells about a wounded innocent bystander - a Chinese soldier, an expert in hand-to-hand combat (Ti Lung) who is framed for the brutal murder of an American G.I.. Not wanting to be falsely sentenced and possibly hanged, he escapes from the hospital with the help of his three friends who have just retired from the same war: a kungfu instructor (David Chiang) who is also a patron of a brothel run by an American gangster and his Japanese second-in-command Lei Tai (Yasuaki Kurata), an explosives expert (Wang Chung) and a weapon expert (Chen Kuan-tai).

Hiding out in a prostitute's house whose brothel the kungfu instructor often frequents, the four plan to find a way to help their accused friend. However, the matter becomes complicated as Lei Tai and his men of the brothel, who are the real murderers of the G.I., and the South Korean Military Police, assigned to arrest the four soldiers dead or alive, are hot on their trail. Knowing that the two opposite sides of the law are closing in, the four cornered fugitives are forced to settle their predicament in a ruthless final confrontation.

FOUR RIDERS is not in the same league as Chang Cheh's superb "Seven-Samurai-like" 1975 kungfu film THE SAVAGE FIVE which boasts the same four superstars. Firstly, this is largely due to the inaccuracy of the production design. The story that takes place in 1953 is not portrayed as is. Instead, audience see the South Korea of 1972 when the film was shot. Most probably, this happened due to cost constraint. Another reason is the unrealistic foley (sound effects) that is used during the fights: the often heard "yap" and "whack" sounds in badly dubbed kungfu movies of the 70's. Then there are the technical inaccuracies: the weapon used by one of the main characters, in this case a rifle that can shoot multiple times without reloading or the law-of-physics defying act of flailing a barbell as a killing weapon as though it was weightless!

Despite these inaccuracies, FOUR RIDERS manages to entertain and is worth watching for fans of the four actors, especially those who like to see desperate heroes fighting against all odds!
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Another Shaw Brothers Classic: Ming Rebels against Mongol Fighters
16 August 2014
During the Mongol reign of China in the 13th century, six sworn brothers of the oppressed Ming loyalists plan a rebellion against the tyranny. When two of them are brutally killed in their daring attempt to assassinate the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan, the remaining four fighters band together to take revenge. But they do not have the upper hand since the Emperor is surrounded by three of his best fighters: Daidalu (played by Liang Chia-jen or popularly known as "Beardy"), who possesses the Fiery Palm technique that instantly kills any opponent who sustains his swift blow, a double-sword wielding fighter who kills by dismembering his opponent's armpits named Abulabha (Gordon Liu) and the arm-locking and waist-breaking wrestler Duilitan (Johnny Wang Lung Wei).

Before the four rebels can execute their plan to defeat their much-skilled rivals, they decide to undergo arduous training in special kungfu techniques: Fu Sheng with the Iron Palm technique - which makes him able to release fatal blows through his inner strength, Kuo Chui with the Leaping Kick technique - which makes him able to somersault in the air and land mortal kicks, Yen-tsan Tang with the Super Strength technique - which makes him able to release extraordinary strength to defeat his opponents, and Chi Kuan-chin with the Bamboo Twisting technique - which makes him invulnerable to sword attacks and arrow shots but for one weak spot. Since the Mongols have banned all sorts of kungfu training throughout the country, the four rebels have no other option but to practice secretively under their teacher's guidance only in the small hours for months.

Marco Polo, who has been assigned as a viceroy by the Mongol emperor with a priority to thwart these Chinese rebels, eventually sides with the rebellion. When the three Mongol fighters and their troops, with Polo's lead, have located and surrounded the rebels' hideout, they realize that they are facing a fearful four-man army who is prepared for anything that comes their way. The inevitable one-on-one blood-for-blood duel ensues, culminating in a life-and-death showdown that would decide the fate of the four heroes and their force of rebellion.

This is not a biopic of the famous Italian explorer. This is a 1975 Shaw Brothers mega-production that incorporates few facts but a lot of fiction into an exciting kungfu extravaganza, which was meant to attract wider international audience by casting American actor Richard Harrison as the title character. Those expecting to see a film on Marco Polo that is historically accurate will be sorely disappointed.

The title itself, in my opinion, is rather misleading as the film does not portray the life of Marco Polo himself. A more appropriate title should be: THE FOUR ASSASSINS, which is actually the alternate title, MARCO POLO AND THE FOUR ASSASSINS, or MARCO POLO AND THE FOUR REBELS.

Despite that, if you are familiar with a Shaw Brothers film, you will see exciting kungfu training and fighting of the four characters. Unlike the weak fight sequences in HEROES TWO (1974), those seen here are surprisingly well-choreographed, which elevate the tension during the climactic fights.

All in all, THE FOUR ASSASSINS comes recommended for those who enjoy watching solid kungfu flicks of the 70's - Shaw Brothers style!
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Kill Squad (1982)
Assemble the 'Whack' and 'Yap' Squad!
2 August 2014
One of those 80's low budget B-movies I remember watching on VHS back in its glory days. All the cast are unknown except for Cameron Mitchell. A lot of the scenes in this hilariously bad American karate-fu flick make you howl, here are a few I have spotted:

1. Whenever the fighting kicks in, jazzy background music starts playing.

2. The blows and kicks all have "whack" and "yap" sounds like those heard in badly dubbed kung fu films.

3. There is one scene when one of the kill squad members is pushed by two goons from the roof of a four-storey building and falls dead on top of a parked car. When the goons reach said car to get rid of the body, it is missing. The man (who is supposed to be dead) suddenly appears unscathed and says "Looking for me?"

4. In every scene where one or more of the kill squad members get into trouble, the random people they meet seem to have an appetite for destruction, even the women. Everybody in this film is kung fu fighting!

5. The film climax has an utterly ridiculous twist!

6. During the final fight when the mysterious bad guy's face is revealed, his face is shown black and blue and three of his teeth are impressed on his lips without any rhyme or reason. The problem is that these are done by bad make-up!

7. The one-liners and dialogues are equally bad. In one scene:

Joseph: I realize the police are not going to help. We gonna have to take these matters into our own hands. Assemble the squad.

Larry (Joseph's Vietnam War buddy, chuckling): Alright, now you're talking Joe… They owe you, I owe you. Hell, we all owe you!

And in every scene when each of the kill squad members is being summoned, this line is repeated: "Joseph needs you!"

If you need a good laugh, KILL SQUAD comes recommended to relieve your stress!
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Barracuda (1978)
Watchable "Fishy" Conspiracy Thriller
30 July 2014
Barracuda: The Lucifer Project is a movie with a social message that has its potentials but fails to realize them due to its pedestrian acting and mediocre directing. The plot is similar to that of Piranha but the suspense is barely existent, not to mention the lame special effects created for the barracuda attacks. Another thing that may make viewers dislike the movie is its downbeat ending, which I personally do not mind. Despite all that, the forbidding music helps to elevate the occasional suspense.

The plot tells about mutant barracudas violently attacking swimmers and divers in the seas near the shores of a US coastal town. A young marine biologist and a local town sheriff try to uncover the mystery that involves shady medical experiments related to government projects.

Viewers expecting to find another Jaws-like excitement will be sorely disappointed. The second half of the film diverts its plot from the barracuda attacks to unraveling the mystery of the attacks. From that point till the end of the film the narrative takes a different route to deliver the "excitement" through lots of dialogues and very little action to the point of leaving the main conflicts in the story unresolved!

With the rather unsuitable title, it was obvious that the film-makers wanted to cash in on the success of Jaws. Who would have wanted to watch this had it been called "The Lucifer Project"? Anyways, the film went into obscurity.

Barracuda belongs to the B-movie category and is watchable enough for those who are into low budget nature-gone-wild flicks. Because of its loose ending, it should have been made into a sequel.
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The Challenge (1982)
Bloodshed over an Heirloom
4 June 2014
Rick Murphy, an amateur American boxer (Scott Glenn) becomes involved in a feud between two Japanese brothers, Yoshida (Toshiro Mifune) and his younger brother Hideo, which concerns the possession of a pair of swords known as The Equals passed down through their family generations. One sword is meant to be kept by each sibling. The feud starts after Yoshida's sword is stolen during World War II. Out of greed and obsession, Hideo claims to have the right to own both.

When the stolen sword is tracked down in present-day California, Murphy is contracted by Yoshida's children Toshio and Akiko, to smuggle it back to Japan. Upon arrival at the airport, Murphy and Toshio are kidnapped by Hideo's men to be taken to their boss. On their way, Toshio is brutally killed but Murphy later manages to escape with the help of Akiko. Murphy who is wounded is taken by Akiko to her father's sword-fighting school, where he eventually learns the truth about the feud.

After being trained the skills of sword-fighting by Yoshida, Murphy decides to join him in his venture to Hideo's industrial complex to rescue Akiko, who has been taken hostage in return for the sword, and settle the feud in a blood fight. These two brothers will stop at nothing to keep possession of the swords - one out of greed and the other for honor!

This is John Frankenheimer's lesser work. For viewers unfamiliar with Japanese culture, the plot may feel absurd: shedding blood for a family heirloom! However, if you like action films about East-meets-West sort of thing, this is worth a look.
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Unexciting Jungle Adventure
19 May 2014
Michael Dudikoff plays a freelance guide Hamilton, an expert in jungle expedition. While on his journey with a doctor and his daughter into the deep dangerous jungles of the Amazon, Hamilton, along with his clients, is attacked by indigenous primitive tribe of the mythical Lost City. The doctor is killed and the daughter captured.

Barely escaping death, Hamilton manages to return to the outpost of the Amazon basin and report the incident to the chief police. The chief police warns him not to return to the jungle but Hamilton adamantly tries to find other ways to return and rescue the kidnapped doctor's daughter.

As fate would have it, he looks for his associate, an ex-WW II pilot who then introduces him to a wealthy businessman and his friends who want Hamilton to lead their journey into the Lost City. Hamilton accepts their offer after striking a lucrative deal. With an addition of several vested interests tagging along, Hamilton heads back into the perilous Amazon jungles to search for the Lost City and rescue his dead client's daughter.

Based on Alistair MacLean's novel, this adventure film fails to keep audience interested much less thrilled. Regardless of the time you watch it, you will doze off halfway through the film or keep wanting to check the remaining run time on the screen. This is worth watching only for Dudikoff's die-hard fans.

Try watching River of Death in one sitting if you are experiencing sleepless nights. It may be an effective method of sleep therapy.
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Borderline (1980)
Murder on the Border
18 May 2014
Don't expect to see Chuck wipe out men by request, shoot punks or grow watermelons. This time Bronson is Jeb Maynard, a tough and experienced chief border patrol officer investigating the cold-blooded murder of one of his men who is just two weeks away from retirement. With the aid of a newly transferred young officer from New York, Maynard tracks down the ruthless killer who is seemingly as elusive as the masterminds behind the crime.

BORDERLINE, a lesser known and often forgotten Bronson's film (at least to me), plays like a pilot episode of a TV series. Not much tension is delivered and not much action either, but this crime drama keeps viewers, especially fans, interested. Unfortunately, the distinctively catchy music during the opening credits is underplayed, which renders some key scenes emotionally bland.

Compared with other Bronson's films - Cold Sweat, White Buffalo, Love and Bullets - which are rather disappointing, BORDERLINE quite delivers the goods. It's always a pleasure for Bronson's fans to see him take up a different role: here we see more of his acting and charisma while less of his machismo (Not saying that this side of Bronson's acting style is unwelcome). During his long acting career, Charles Bronson only had several memorable films which made him an iconic action star. BORDERLINE is certainly not one of them. For his fans, this minor entry is worth watching regardless.
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Contrived Political Drama with a Misleading Title
18 May 2014
Richard Gere plays Dr. Eduardo Plarr, an Anglo-Paraguayan doctor who unwittingly gets entangled in the kidnapping plot of an American consul by a novice group of Paraguayan rebels in exchange for ten of their imprisoned comrades. The plan goes awry as the rebels mistakenly kidnap his new friend instead - Charley Fortnum (Michael Caine), a British honorary consul who happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Complicating the matter, the doctor falls head over heels in love with Charley's young wife, Clara (Elpidia Carrillo) - an ex-prostitute who has the same feelings toward him. Meanwhile, the police have tracked down the rebels hide-out and are closing in. With his life at stake, Plarr is forced to decide between betraying his love or friendship.

Sounds interesting, right? Sadly, it is not. The main problem is that the characters are not likable. Gere's character is a doctor who lusts after his friend's wife. Caine's is a heavy drinker who often creates problems than solves them while Carrillo's is a fickle-minded woman who can't decide who is best for her life.

The title itself "The Honorary Consul" does not fit into the main plot, which is more about Gere's character than Caine's. Even less fitting is the alternate US title "Beyond the Limit".

This is one of three John Mackenzie's films that I have watched and also the most unconvincing because of its tepid performances, contrived plot and ending, and lackluster direction. Only for Gere's or Caine's die-hard fans.
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Revenge of the Fox
21 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Tian Gui Nong (Chiang Sen) is an ambitious swordsman who is aiming at being the most revered and feared fighter of his time. He tricks his rivals: Miao Ren Feng (Kwo Chui) and Hu Yi Dao (Lu Feng), two reputable swordsmen into fighting against each other. By Tian's treacherous plot, Hu is killed with Miao's sword and his wife committed suicide.

However to escape Tian's slaughtering Hu's family, a good Samaritan manages to take away Hu's baby son, Hu Fei (Chien Siao Hao), taking along his father's sword skill manual, and later raising him. Sworn to avenge his parents' death, Hu Fei returns to the town 18 years later to confront his father's enemy, Tian Gui Nong.

Based on a popular classical wuxia novel, LEGEND OF THE FOX is Chang Cheh's attempt to showcase swordplay with the Venoms and a newcomer, Chien Siao Hao, in the lead role.

The story is fairly engaging and the exposition is elaborate. In fact this is the only Venoms' film that runs for 120 minutes. Being a wuxia genre, the main attraction is exhilarating sword fights as well as a more complicated plot. Not many fight scenes to savor but Chang Cheh's trademark: bloody violence, gory deaths and attractive fights are still seen.

Unlike LIFE GAMBLE, CHINATOWN KID, TEN TIGERS FROM KWANG TUNG or THE BRAVE ARCHER quadrilogy, which cannot be considered as the Venoms' films because they play supporting casts for famous Shaw Brothers stars (Ti Lung or Fu Sheng), this is still considered a Venoms' film because there are three of the Venoms playing as supporting casts for a newcomer, not any popular star.

Recommended for the Venoms' fans only.
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Bloody Eagles!
21 September 2010
This is the one that boosted Sun Chung's directorial fame that was later followed by THE KUNG FU INSTRUCTOR, THE DEADLY BREAKING SWORD, and HUMAN LANTERNS, to name a few.

The plot tells the story of a mysterious wandering swordsman (Fu Sheng) on his way to accomplish a personal mission. On his journey, he meets a renegade assassin of the infamous Eagle Clan (Ti Lung) who is being hunted and marked for death by his clan brothers for insubordination. They befriend each other and eventually discover that they are heading for the same fate: to confront the leader of the Eagle Clan, King Eagle (Ku Feng). However, things do not come easy for them. Before they are able to reach him they have to fight their ways against 12 Eagle Clan assassins, each with their unique fighting weapons, who will stop at nothing to capture their fugitive.

It's always desirable to watch the charismatic Ti Lung in action and surprisingly also likable to watch the comical Fu Sheng act soberly in this particular entry. Watching them fight against the 12 assassins is the main attraction besides the incredible final fight with King Eagle, who seems invincible.

The other 12 eagles, unfortunately, are only given the usual bad-guy stereotypes which give very little to improve the plot.

Playing opposite the heroes are some "familiar faces" of the time: the ultimate Shaw Bros villain - Wang Lung Wei (as eagle no.1 the Vulture), Kao Siung (as eagle no.2 the Owl), Hui Thien Che (as eagle no.6 the Blue Eagle) and Ti Wei (as eagle no.7 the Red Eagle). The remaining eagles are Shaw Bros cameos.

One serious drawback in this film is Sun Chung's crude slow-motion technique he employed in a few fight scenes - jerky freeze frames - which reduces the intensity of the fights that would otherwise deliver more punch.

Despite the minor flaw, Tang Chia's fight choreography is tight, though not as intense as that of the Venoms', particularly in the final duel against the King Eagle, who uses iron claws.

The assassins' weapons of choice are also unique, ranging from something cool like double wrist blades and a chained dagger to something weird like a smoking pipe ! AVENGING EAGLE is one of those Shaw Brothers wuxia flicks that definitely warrants repeat viewings. Highly recommended for old school kungfu film lovers.
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Vengeance is The Golden Snake's
21 September 2010
During their heyday, the Venoms played in three wuxia films: LEGEND OF THE FOX, THE SWORD STAINED WITH ROYAL BLOOD and ODE TO GALLANTRY. I got the chance to see LEGEND OF THE FOX and this at the cinema and is my favorite of the three!

Kwo Chui plays an orphan raised on the mountains by a revered swordsman and his mute servant. Fate brings him to discover a hidden treasure chest of the Golden Snake swordsman (Lung Thien Siang), whose skeleton is also found inside the cave with the chest, containing a snake- shaped sword and its training book. Having trained himself to become a swordsman, he travels to a nearby town to solve the mystery of the Golden Snake's death. Upon reaching town, Kwo gradually gets entangled in the mystery and must confront the Golden Snake's archenemy (Wang Li) and his clan members.

The story has its twists common to a wuxia film, which add flavor to an otherwise clichéd plot. Women characters played by Wen Shue Erl as the daughter of the Golden Snake, and Ching Li as his wife are also introduced to complicate the plot.

The one against five weapon-fight is of high-octane Venoms' quality: fights that involve exciting swordplay and fight-in-the-air stunts. Watch how Kwo Chui takes on his five opponents - a band of deviously skilled swordsmen: Wang Li, Lu Feng, Chiang Sen, Yu Thai Phing, and Chu Ke!

Worth watching for Venoms fans who want to see the Venoms' strutting out their kungfu skills in a wuxia film.
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Eccentric Fighters Fighting Over Caskets of Gold
21 September 2010
What makes this Venoms' film unique? The storyline is downright simple, with a little twist at the end and the locations are uniformly dull, where all take place in the Shaw Brothers studios.

So, the best thing about THE KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM is the characters, the good and the bad, who have their own unique skills. Combined with Chang Cheh's deft direction and a talented group of kungfu actors, you get good entertainment, especially for the Venoms' fans.

The story involves a desperate delivery of caskets containing gold for the needy in famine-stricken villages through a place named the Death Valley. The place is so feared that the delivery, which has no other option but to pass it, has to be escorted by a group of skilled fighters.

The Deadly Valley, so it is named, is a no-man's land ruled by an infamous robber, highly skilled - the Golden Arm (Lo Meng) with his gang: the Silver Spear (Lu Feng), the Iron Robe (Wang Lung Wei), and the Brass Head (Yang Tsiung), who are all aiming at looting the gold delivery.

But, things do not come as easy as they think. The king's official has assigned Chief Security Yang (Sun Chien), together with a group of fighters, to prepare an unexpected welcome for the adversaries.

The fighters on Chief Yang's side are as unique as the baddies: Constable Hai To, the drunkard (Kwo Chui); Swordsman Li, the arrogant (Wei Pai); Heroine Leng (dunno her name); Long Axe (played by a cameo; should have been played by Wang Li, though), and Short Axe (Chiang Sen).

There are one-to-one mortal combats that are, as usual, exciting to watch - the one between Silver Spear and Short Axe, another with the Iron Robe and Constable Hai To, then the climax between the Golden Arm and Constable Hai To.

A little twist at the end is the appearance of a mysterious character the Iron Feet, known to have been one of the deadly duos of the Deadly Valley before the Golden Arm established his reign of terror. He, too, demands his share of the gold.

Who, then, will be the last man standing ?
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Crippled but Deadly
20 September 2010
What makes this one of the best Venoms movies is the characters of the accidental heroes, who all happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, swearing vengeance against a rich and infamous kungfu grandmaster (played sinisterly by Shaw Bros veteran actor Chen Kuan Tai) and his merciless son (Lu Feng).

Kungfu flicks of this era rarely portray handicapped as heroes. So the decision to make them heroes was a breakthrough for kungfu movie lovers.

Four laymen: Kwo Chue, a toy hawker, as the blind; Lo Meng, an iron smith, as the deaf and mute; Sun Chien, as the legless; and Chiang Sen, a swordsman, as the retarded become comrades by chance after being brutally maimed by the evil kungfu grandmaster and his son.

Seeking for revenge, the four go on some very arduous martial arts training specializing in unique kungfu skills with the help of Chiang Sen's kungfu master. The four then join forces to settle the score with the evil kungfu grandmaster and his son in a hand-to-hand mortal combat that only the undaunted, not the strongest, survive.

This particular Venoms' vehicle is one that helped maintain their fame in the early 80s following their groundbreaking box office hit "THE FIVE VENOMS" (1978). For lovers of old school kungfu flicks, this is one they must not miss !
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Sun Chung's Forerunner of his Shaw Bros Masterpieces
20 September 2010
JUDGEMENT OF AN ASSASSIN (1977) is a moderately intriguing wuxia entry that could be considered as a forerunner of the director's masterpieces.

An ambitious evil leader of the 100 Poison Clan has secretly planned to reign the martial arts world through a devious plot. Aided by his powermad uncle, an evil swordsman-turned-hermit called the Bloody Devil (Chen Hui Min), who is also planning for a vengeful return, he launches a campaign of treacherous terror to turn clan against clan, systematically eliminating the stronger cliques before controlling the weaker ones. However, two of the many clan leaders have sensed the plot and assigned their young, skilled and intelligent swordsman - the Swift Sword (David Chiang) and a swordswoman (Ching Li) to uncover the truth. Fearing his plot will fail, the 100 Poison Clan leader hires a deadly assassin Mai Ta Ying (Chung Hua) to protect his interests.

When the truth is revealed, all hell breaks loose at one of the clan leaders' headquarters, culminating in a duel-to-the-death showdown between the Swift Sword, his teacher, the swordswoman and the last evil mastermind standing- the fearsome Bloody Devil, who possesses a staggering level of invincible skills, making even our heroes fight blood and thunder to defeat him!

Sun Chung's directorial flair can be seen throughout this 91-minute wuxia extravaganza: sweeping long shots, innovative angles, appropriate outdoor locations, superimposed and fade-to-black scene changes, and even a bit of slow motion captures.

Most of the fight scenes, choreographed by Tang Chia, are fast, energetic and bloody; mostly involving weapons like David Chiang's unique baton, Chung Hua's spear-headed iron chain, and Chen Hui Min's iron bangles, among others. Sun Chung seems to be following Chang Cheh's style of depicting pain and violence in the way he employs blood during fights.

The visual characterization of the lead villain Chen Hui Min, with his bald skull cap bordered with long black and strands of white hair, his raised eyebrows and long falling mustaches, creates an extremely sinister-looking villain worth noting.

The low point, while not many, is the lack of plot twists (an absolute no-no for a wuxia film).What we get instead is a sort of straight forward plot.

Though not as exciting as HUMAN LANTERNS, or as interesting as RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH, or as dazzling as THE AVENGING EAGLE, this is still worth collecting for wuxia fans, especially those of the director's.
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One of Sun Chung's Shaw Brothers Masterpieces
20 September 2010
I saw this when it was playing at the cinema in 1980. More than 20 years later the IVL DVD is in my collection. One of Sun Chung's best works, on par with his other masterpieces like THE AVENGING EAGLE (1978) and HUMAN LANTERNS (1982). Other of his commendable works in the same genre are JUDGEMENT OF AN ASSASSIN (1977) and the cult classic, unavailable on any home entertainment format, TO KILL A MASTERMIND (1979).

The plot blends wuxia and martial arts with mystery about a mercenary swordsman (Wang Yu) on a secret mission to deliver a valuable box, of which contents are confidential, owned by a prince (Ku Feng) to Xi An.

Danger follows him throughout his 30-day journey as the news about the Prince's offering a handsome amount of reward for whoever can deliver the package safely has spread out among swordsmen of the martial arts world. Before finally arriving in the town to hand over the box to the Prince, the mercenary swordsman must face- off not only dozens of other swordsmen intending to sabotage the delivery and get the reward but also uncover a devious plan behind the mission. Thus, bloodshed ensues and victims fall as the tension mounts. Realizing that the mission is a decoy, he decides to put an end to it and confront the traitor even at the expense of his life.

Chen Kuan Tai plays a master swordsman on the same trail of the delivery as is Lo Lieh, playing as a master beggar and other Shaw Bros regulars - all with unique villainous characters. Even Wang Lung Wei and Venoms supporting cast Yang Siung (most memorable roles are as the Brass Head in THE KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, Iron Fist in THE REBEL INTRUDERS,and the giant club-wielding fighter in SHAOLIN RESCUERS) have a cameo appearance as the antagonists.

The production design is artistic - from an abandoned Buddhist temple in the opening scene to a run-down watermill in the climax.

The fight choreography is good, though not as impressive as that of the Venoms, and uses some slow motion shots at effective moments.

One thing worth mentioning is Wang Yu's weapon to fend off his assailants, an iron umbrella with razor-sharp spokes, which also holds a sword in its handle. Weird but cool.

For fans of Sun Chung's works for Shaw Brothers, RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH (1980) comes highly recommended.
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Norris Plays Drama
24 February 2010
This came out in the last years of the Cannon Group, which had produced numerous fun B-action flicks. I saw it at the cinema and liked it. Having watched it again, I couldn't help but associate it with another similar Norris's earlier vehicle SILENT RAGE.

Detective Danny O'Brien (Norris) is haunted by his past after single-handedly capturing a psychotic killer Simon Moon a.k.a. the Terror (Jack O' Halloran). Several years later, Moon escapes from a sanitarium and returns to the city he once stalked to unleash terror again. This time his 'turf' is a newly renovated theater in downtown Los Angeles that is about to be re-opened. As victims start to fall and the opening date of the theater is approaching, the Mayor calls for detective O'Brien to track him down and put an end to his terror.

This action thriller, at times, plays like a pilot episode of a TV series. One of the key scenes even borders on becoming nonsensical, like Simon Moon's escape.

Billy Drago is miscast as Moon's doctor. Drago plays well as an antagonist: a psycho (FREEWAY) or a henchman (THE UNTOUCHABLES) or any other typically eccentric bad guy, but not a good doctor!

On the other hand, Jack O'Halloran (Non in Superman 2) portrayal of the Terror is menacing - he doesn't speak, only growls, and looks creepy.

The music, especially when the Terror strikes, performed by the same musician who scores Norris's CODE OF SILENCE is effective to create tension.

What sets this film apart from other Norris's films is that we get to see him act a lot more than he usually does. Norris is not a one-man army like his role in the MISSING IN ACTION trilogy. Here he tries to act and play more drama: he is a cop but a father-to-be and a sensitive lover too, which is shown in a scene when he has a romantic birthday dinner with his girlfriend and in another scene when he faints upon arriving at the hospital after hearing that his pregnant girlfriend is about to deliver.

Overall, this cop thriller is one of Norris's better films where fans can see more of his acting than just his fighting skills.
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Wild Geese II (1985)
New Group, Different Mission, Same Hell
23 February 2010
An American TV network hires a group of mercenaries to spring the notorious high-rank Nazi officer and war criminal Rudolf Hess who is being held at Spandau Prison, East Berlin. The purpose is to elicit secrets about Hitler and his Nazi Party that have not been revealed to the world and, simultaneously, raise the popularity of the TV network itself. Haddad (Scott Glenn), an American mercenary heads the squad with another British mercenary Faulkner (Edward Fox).

The mission gets complicated as other parties like the KGB and another mercenary group try to sabotage the plan, eventually leading to the lost of lives of Haddad's men and endangering the life of the target man Hess.

This film was a bomb when it played at the cinemas because a lot of viewers had the misconception of what they would see and expected wall-to-wall, masculine battle scenes like those in THE WILD GEESE. The other reason was that the leading cast was not super stars: Scott Glenn was an up-and-coming star then and Edward Fox's career had dwindled. Barbara Carrera was only cast as an eye candy, though she is billed second in the opening sequence. And finally the plot itself that sounds ridiculous.

I watched it on video when I was 13 and didn't like it either. But having watched it again on DVD recently, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that it was not as bad as I thought it was.

The film has a slow, step-by-step build-up that follows the "planning-surveillance-organizing-executing" structure, something like a "Mission Impossible" episode that fits very well with the plot. Modern audiences may not like the lack of tension but viewers who are accustomed to espionage action thrillers of the 70's and 80's will not have much to complain about.

Despite some negligible flaws, Scott Glenn, Edward Fox, Laurence Olivier and the others all play their part well. There's also an Irish mercenary Hourigan played by Derek Thompson who chews one of the scenes with Paul Antrim, playing Murphy, a military trainer of the group.

The action sequences are sparse but tight inserted in the required scenes: the shootout in the alley, the night raid at the warehouse, and the kidnapping. There are also a few violent scenes involving torture by suffocation, knife cutting a face, two gunshots at the knee and backstabbing ,which are pretty tame by today's standards though.

The music by Roy Budd serves the scenes fittingly and even enhances them. Peter R. Hunt's direction moves in a rather slow pace but doesn't bore viewers (of course, you need concentration when watching this because there are some rather confusing sub-plots going on) and eventually takes speed during the last 35 minutes (of the 125 run time). Surprisingly, the locations in East Berlin chosen for this film depict the beauty of the era, not the negative views Westerners used to have in minds about the Eastern block countries at the time.

Despite the farcically contrived ending,WILD GEESE II is still an interesting, exciting, and well-executed espionage action thriller not to be watched as a sequel but a film in its own right.
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Blood Debts (1985)
A Vigilante Under the Gun
15 May 2008
This is one of those awful Filipino film company productions Silver Star that also released a number of other awful films played by their regular stars (Richard Harrison, Bruce Baron, Romano Kristoff) and their list of regular supporting casts (some familiar faces keep on showing up - Mike Monty, Jim Gaines, Don Gordon Bell). During the mid-eighties, Silver Star churned out quite a lot of low-budget low quality trashy action and war films: Fireback, Hunter's Crossing, Rescue Team, Mad Dog, Ninja's Force and Slash (a Rambo rip- off), to name a few. Watching these films, you may be entertained - for the wrong reasons!

Mark Collins (Richard Harrison), an ex-Vietnam veteran turns into a vigilante after witnessing some low-lives killed his daughter in cold blood. However, unknown to him, a ruthless businessman named Bill (Mike Monty) - who is planning to recruit him to do his dirty work - is having him under surveillance while he is going on his vengeance spree. Unable to force him to comply, Bill dispatches his goons to kidnap his beautiful wife. Realizing that his wife is under the mercy of a ruthless businessman, Collins has no other option but to carry out Bill's orders.

Working under cover with a hit woman, who is under the same predicament as he is, Collins begins wiping out everyone on Bill's hit list only to discover eventually that Bill has something up his sleeve for his hired killers.

There are lots of bad things to see: bad acting, bad script, bad directing, everything is just bad. It's plain to see that the writer or producer was inspired by Death Wish II. The first 30 minutes of the plot resembles that movie while the other half extends the plot about the vigilante being under the gun. This film, like all other Silver Star productions, tries very hard to westernize its production design despite the fact that it was made in the Philippines. Unfortunately, however hard they tried, this is still a clunker.

I was a teen when I saw this at the cinema and could even feel how bad it was. However that didn't stop me from watching more films of Silver Star productions because I was expecting to get a good laugh from seeing something so-bad-it's-good.

If this should make its way to DVD, only lovers of 'so-bad-it's- good' movies need watch it. Others stay away!
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