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Enter the Fat Dragon & The Incredible Kung Fu Master (A Sammo Hung Double Bill)

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Enter the Fat Dragon & The Incredible Kung fu Master

Enter the Fat Dragon (1978): Directed by Sammo Hung
The Incredible Kung Fu Master (1979): Directed by Joe Cheung

An absolute icon of Hong Kong cinema, Sammo Hung has acted with Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and many other martial arts superstars as well as directing, producing and working as a fight choreographer.

Here he stars as Ah Lung, a young pig farmer who, on the order of his father, is told to move to Hong Kong to help his uncle run his food stall.

Lung is a Bruce Lee fanatic and strives to copy the great man in as many ways as possible. As you can imagine from the title, though, while Lee was a sinewy powerhouse of a man, Lung has the look of someone whose nearest encounter with sport is maybe chucking a few darts down his local. He gets called variations of Fatty by just about everyone he comes across.

He’s also clumsy, headstrong, naive and has a truly terrible bowl haircut but looks can be deceiving. Lung is surprisingly supple, he can kick beyond his height and he packs the kind of mightily hard punch that can send an opponent across a room.

He’ll need these skills as he’s about to come across two different sets of thugs, one lot who refuse to pay for their meals at the food stall; another with connections to a highly eccentric (and pervy) antique dealer Professor Pak, a man with a hairstyle that makes Lung’s look like a high fashion cut.

Enter the Fat Dragon

Although the title riffs on Lee’s biggest success – and Sammo was the first opponent of Bruce Leed in that film – the plot here is as close to Way of the Dragon and Game of Death as it is to Enter the Dragon. The climax, for instance, is surely a nod to Game of Death, with Sammo taking on three opponents possessing distinctive fight skills one after the other.

The film parodies Lee movies while also paying homage to him – and Hung was a friend of Lee. It also parodies the Brucesploitation trend that I mentioned in my previous post and, through a family friend, Lung is invited to take part as an extra in one of these movies which is called Death Appointment. Critical of the arrogant star and his lack of Lee-style skills, he ends up going head to head with him on the movie set and shows him how to should fight like the great man.

Lung is hugely likeable throughout and the fight sequences often dazzle. My personal highlight being Lung seeing off some troublemakers at a fancy do while blootered – a nod to Drunken Master I would guess.

The humour throughout does regularly veer towards the ‘so bad it’s good’ variety and there’s even a pratfall involving a banana skin. It’s also spectacularly un-PC. Pak has three personal bodyguards, each one as I pointed out earlier, having mastered a different fight style. There’s a local who specialises in kung fu, a Westerner who is expert at boxing and kickboxing, and then there’s an American who is a karate seventh dan, clearly based on Jim Kelly, the blaxploitation star who appeared in Enter the Dragon. He’s played by Lee Hoi Suk.

If this kind of thing offends you, go elsewhere. It’s not the only incident that would be unlikely to make its way into any modern-day movie.

At it’s best, though, Enter the Fat Dragon is highly amusing with some of the best fight choreography of any kung fu comedy. This is up there with Hung’s best work such as Winners & Sinners and My Lucky Stars.

The Incredible Kung Fu Master, which stars Stephen Tung Wei, Philip Ko and Hoi Sang Lee alongside Hung isn’t as good. The first half drags and the funniest thing about it is the comedy dubbing that accompanies it, most of the characters sounding like they were auditioning for some third rate English drawing room drama from the 1940s which they had no chance of ever securing a role in.

The pace does pick up when Sammo as Fei Chai, a martial arts master who also runs a little wine shop in the countryside, takes on Sei Leng Chai aka Kung Fu Ching as his pupil. Played by Stephen Tung Wei – who also appeared briefly in Enter the Dragon as Bruce Lee’s young student – he is put under enormous pressure by a hard taskmaster.

Watching the gruelling training scenes is great fun, especially if you’re relaxing with a coffee and slice of cake – I guess my calorie intake is much nearer Hung’s than the average martial arts maestro.

Incredible_Kung_Fu_Master

The climax features a battle between Ching and a troupe of acrobatic Manchurians while Fei Chai takes on former town bully Yeung Wai (Lee Hoi Sang) with Ching joining in halfway through the fight.

Fantastic stuff that just about makes up for the lacklustre first forty-five minutes or so.

* Another martial arts movie titled Enter the Fat Dragon will be released soon. I’ve read that it is remake of the 1978 film, although lead actor Donnie Yen has stated that it is not ‘necessarily’ a remake, while co-director and producer Wong Jing explained that ‘The title doesnt really matter. Many film titles could be recycled for new projects.’

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Drunken Master & Police Story (A Jackie Chan Double Bill)

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Drunken Master (1978): Directed by Yuen Woo-ping
Police Story (1985): Directed by Jackie Chan

People have asked me if I consider watching Jackie Chan movies as a guilty pleasure. Answer: Certainly not the Hong Kong made movies that he made his reputation with. And these are two of the very best films belonging in that category.

Drunken Master & Police Story

Like many films in a similar vein, Drunken Master focuses on the relationship between an apprentice and master albeit with a twist, the master here being a straw haired and red nosed senior citizen who is far too fond of Chinese wine.

The apprentice Wong Fei-hong, aka Naughty Panther, is played by Jackie Chan. He’s a talented fighter though one who requires far stricter self discipline if he is ever to achieve his potential. A prankster who drifts through life never far from mischief, Wong is highly likeable, and has a good heart. For example, when he discovers that a local man has been ripped off by an arrogant businessman, he promptly beats up the swindler, whose father then complains to Wong’s own father, Wong Kei-ying.

This influences Wong Senior’s decision to send his son off to study with Beggar So (Yuen Siu-tien) a man renowned equally for the extremity of his training techniques and his love of liquor.

Little old wine drinking So is a difficult taskmaster and several times a desperately unhappy Wong attempts to escape from his clutches. Eventually succeeding, the outside world unfortunately proves far crueller and the young man suffers humiliation when pitted in a fight against a killer for hire known as Thunderleg (Hwang Jang Lee).

‘You could study all your life and still never beat me,’ Thunderleg taunts him after displaying his superior skills, before making him crawl through his legs. ‘Killing a nobody like you would only sully my reputation.’

This acts as a catalyst for Wong to fully devote himself to perfecting his kung fu prowess with the help of Beggar So – which is fortunate as Thunderleg will soon be hired to kill Wong’s father.

Drunken Master still

Luckily it’s not long before Beggar So teaches the younger man the secrets of the Eight Drunken Gods, a martial arts technique that involves some degree of intoxication. To fight in this way requires equal parts boozed up stagger and martial arts swagger and makes it almost impossible for an opponent to anticipate what is coming next – and usually involves imbibing some bevvy during the course of the rumble.

Yes the plot is predictable and about as substantial as a prawn cracker and the humour is broad (trouser splitting and very bad comedy teeth for starters) but the choreography is spectacular and all achieved without the aid of wires or CGI.

While watching Chan, you might one minute think of Buster Keaton, the next of ballet or Golden Age of Hollywood musicals – only with kung fu clashes rather than elaborate song and dance routines.

It may not be the greatest martial arts film ever made but it is very possibly the most enjoyable.

In the wake of Bruce Lee’s early death in 1973, Hong Kong studios had tried their hardest to find a successor, or at least maybe con the public into thinking their movie had some connection to the dead star. A Bruce Le appeared and a Bruce Li, Bruce Lea and Bruce Lai, while film titles followed the cash-in trend. There was Enter Another Dragon, Enter Three Dragons and The New Game Of Death. And that’s just for starters.

Some producers attempted to push Jackie Chan as the man to take on Lee’s mantle but as Chan has explained, he never wanted to be the next Bruce Lee, only the first Jackie Chan.

Watching Police Story, you’ll see why I earlier mentioned him resembling Buster Keaton as much as Bruce Lee .

One of the most enjoyable 1980s action films from anywhere on the planet, the plot of Police Story, it would have to be admitted, is really just an excuse for breathtaking sequences with some of the best choreographed stunts you’re ever likely to see.

Chan Ka-Kui (Jackie Chan) is assigned to protect state’s witness Selina Fong (Bridgett Lin), who risks being murdered if she’s located before the trial begins of crime lord Chu Tao (Chor Yuen).

Police Story still

Chan kickstarts his film brilliantly with a shootout between cops and Chu’s gang that builds towards a car chase that obliterates a mountainside shanty town. This sensational sequence is directed with a high-octane pizzazz, and ends with Ka-Kui’s attempts to arrest Chu and his henchmen on a hijacked double-decker bus, an umbrella coming in very handy as he does so. But I should say no more.

Throughout the film, viewers may wonder how Chan could top the opening. He does during a climactic confrontation between Ka-Kui and the same men inside a shopping mall, that by the end of proceedings, is almost reduced to rubble. Amazing stuff and local glaziers must have been kept busy for weeks afterwards. Like Nick Lowe, Jackie Chan obviously loves the sound of breaking glass.

I won’t be the first reviewer to note that the middle of the film does sag at times. As in Drunken Master, the comedy elements are almost as childish as the set-piece stunts are ingenious. There are pies in the face, fart jokes and Jackie standing on dung and accidentally breaking into a little moonwalk while he attempts to wipe it from his shoes.

During the action, though, you have to be glad that Chan never went down the Bruce Lee clone road.

Police Story became a massive success, especially in East Asia and, according to Chan’s autobiography, it’s his favourite of the films he’s made although Drunken Master edges it for me.

Here’s the trailer for Police Story 1 & 2 from Eureka:

The above is a mash-up of a couple of reviews originally written for Louder Than War.

For more on Drunken Master click here, and here for more on Police Story.