Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tarantino's March Madness Pt.10

Over the course of March the New Beverly Cinema is housing Quentin Tarantino's March Madness. The whole month is in celebration of Quentin Tarantino's birthday and will feature 37 movies selected by the master himself. Most of the films that are playing come from Tarantino's personal collection and a number of them are not available on DVD. The month long programming will feature plenty of grindhouse movies that have been influential to Tarantino and plenty of others as well. Tarantino's March Madness will be capped off with a seven day run (a second week was added) of the uncut version to "Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair." I will be attending thirteen nights of programming at the New Beverly Cinema and in an effort to give my readers the most in-depth experience I can I've planned to breakdown each of the events. Hope you enjoy and here's Part Ten...

Note: Technically this is the 15th event of Tarantino's March Madness however it is only the 10th event I've attended. I missed the "Crack House" and "Redneck Miller" double bill to kick off the month, the night of Ralph Bakshi animation with "Coonskin" and "Hey Good Lookin'," as well as the first midnight feature of March Madness, "Shame of the Jungle." Sadly I missed Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's extravaganza "Grindhouse" and "Machete" double (triple) bill as well as "Man Friday" and "Cooley High" double on March 16th and 17th.
Considering the entire month of March Madness was leading up to "Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair" you would assume Tarantino would program some kung-fu to coincide and this particular evening was our first double bill of ass-kickery including "The Hot, The Cool and the Vicious" and "Fearless Fighters." The two films programmed would only run once, March 22nd but before I get into the films themselves let me briefly cover the trailers that ran ahead of the two features.

Ahead of the first film was "Chinese Hercules," "Lightning Swords of Death," "Shogun Assassin" and "The One Armed Boxer vs. the Flying Guillotine." All four of the trailers shown before The Hot, The Cool and the Vicious were a lot of fun and all films I'd seen previously. Chinese Hercules features the muscle bound Bolo Yeung. Most of you would probably remember him from the iconic Jean-Claude Van Damme tournament film "Bloodsport." Bolo is always a sight to see on screen and 'Chinese Hercules' is a must if you've never witnessed its glory before. The next pair of trailers were from the awesome Japanese saga "Lone Wolf and Cub." What I found odd was they played Lightning Swords of Death then Shogun Assassin which is the reverse order they should actually be watched. These two films are the English language dubbed versions of 'Lone Wolf and Cub.' Personally I prefer the original films for a number of reasons over the English language dubs. First 'Assassin' and 'Lightning' are pieced together from the number of Lone Wolf films. 'Assassin' is the first two films in one and 'Lightning' is pieced together from the 4th and 5th 'Lone Wolf and Cub' movies. Essentially the English dubbed versions have cut out most of the dialogue and character development leaving only the fighting on screen. For someone who just wants an easy going slice 'em up action 'Assassin' and 'Lightning' are probably your best bet, but for real film connoisseurs the only way to watch these movies is in their uncut format spread across six glorious movies. Seriously, I love Lone Wolf and Cub it is a fantastic series. Do some reading and watch the originals versus the hacked and dubbed versions. The last trailer that played ahead of 'Vicious' is my favorite kung-fu film to date, The Master of the Flying Guillotine. The trailer we saw used the film's Hong Kong title The One Armed Boxer vs. the Flying Guillotine. One of the main reasons I love this kung-fu spectacular is the tournament it features. A simple plot device that allows the film to feature multiple fighting styles all designed to tantalize and tickle our senses. We have crane, monkey style, tiger claw just to wet your appetite but then comes the real fun with the one-armed boxer (Yu Wan) and the master of the flying guillotine. Yu Wan not only stars in this hair raising display of martial arts but he wrote and directed the classic action flick. I've seen 'Guillotine' more times than I can count and it never gets old. Just pure unadulterated enjoyment. Ahead of the second feature was "Deep Thrust," "Hammer of God" and "Kill Bill." Now I've never seen 'Thrust' but I must see this movie! It follows a female kung-fu artist whose punch is the 'Deep Thrust.' The trailer really up-selled the film. I'm sure it is all kinds of cheese, but it looks like the kind of cheese I want to devour. Hammer of God is another Yu Wan film also titled "The One-Armed Boxer" and yes it follows the same character featured in the previously covered 'Flying Guillotine.' Jimmy Yu Wan isn't the most liked kung-fu star because of his off screen persona but his work on screen is undeniably stunning and 'Hammer' is another rising example. The final trailer was "Kill Bill" which considering what we are leading up to cap off the month, it was a great tease. I will save further thought on Kill Bill till my full write-up on the event itself.

"The Hot, the Cool and the Vicious" is mountains of fun wrapped up in a short 90 minute action. The film follows Captain Lu Tung-cheung (played by Tao-liang Tan) whose soon to be mother-in-law has been murdered. Captain Lu sets out to arrest the people involved but soon finds out they are under protection by Mr. Yuen, the mayor of the local Chinese town. Also under the command of Mr. Yuen are Pai Yu-ching (Don Wong) and Mr. Lung (Ming Chin aka Tommy Lee). While the film never really stipulates which character is the hot, the cool or the vicious (some may argue that the poster stipulates which is which, however if you look at a number of various posters for the film, the characters are switched from being under that various labels poster to poster) although there is an amazing introduction that gives the viewer a visual display of the three fighters distinct fighting styles. We see Tao-liang Tan show off his incredible leg strength, Don Wong put his dynamic punching on display and last but not least the great Tommy Lee and his unique fighting style. For what its worth, the story is really irrelevant. What is important is the three fighters and their display of good old fashion kung-fu.

As far as the fighting, I enjoyed every battle on display. While we don't see anything particularly mind blowing, but all of the kicks and punches are full of thrills that tickle the senses. Credit to Tommy Lee for all of the choreography but credit must also be given to the talent putting their skills on display. Tao-liang Tan particularly with his commanding control of his legs. There is one particular sequence where he holds his leg up in the air warning the foes he is about to face for close to forty seconds without waiver. By the end of this sequence we see Tan pulling off a head lock with his leg. Just an all around awesome display of power and control. The fighting is nothing new although, I will give a ton of positive praise to the badass climax where Captain Lu and Pai Yu team up to take down the sinister hunchback Mr. Lung. We see the duo combine to really put an ass whooping on Mr. Lung and his crafty fighting style. I loved the use of slow-motion to deliver further impact of the team's power and strength. The downside side is we do not get enough of Tommy Lee. Lee is only in the 3rd act of the film when I really wish he was featured throughout. While Don Wong and Tao-liang Tan are imposing and do a fine job of carrying the movie, Tommy Lee trumps them in every way. Lee is pure badass and the only one in my book that could be defined as the vicious. The moment he steps on screen he elevates the film. Everything from his demeanor to his voice are just what the audience needed.

I should for a moment talk about the dub, sound effects and script. Part of the fun in watching old imported kung-fu films is the dubbing and sound effects. The best is when we get goofy voices and Mr. Lung is a perfect example of this. I'm not sure how Tommy Lee sounded in the original release of the film but in the English language dub he has an omniscient over-bearing voice that echos. It is both funny and devilish. The sound effects throughout are awesome and completely overboard. High marks should go to whoever did them because they did a fabulous job of isolating the various kicks or punches and giving them specific sound that persists all the way through. Another thing to note in the dub is the cadence the actors use. Every sentence is very staggered. It is. As if. They are. Talking. Like. This. With very short pauses in between every second or third word. I had a blast listening to the beat and cadence of the dialogue, it kept a smile on my face the entire time. One other thing I found myself giggling about was the use of names. Everyone addresses the other with their name every time before they speak. Even when the names have been established, the script still chooses for the actors to state the name over and over again. It is the furthest thing from natural. In normal conversation, we might say someone's name to get there attention or to start the conversation but we don't continue to use it again at the start of every new thought stream or sentence, here they do and they do it often. One last thing the script does that continued to provide laughs is the film's ability to state the obvious. A number of times the film begins to explain itself in detail when the explanation was already established in another way. Tedious yet hilarious.

The 35mm print screened was old and had a substantial amount of deterioration but nothing too bad that it made the viewing not enjoyable. There was one moment that seemed like a scene of the film was missing making for a very rough cut to the next scene, but when watching an old kung-fu movie imperfections like that seem to only enhance the mood instead of deter it. The ending was also very abrupt. An ending that could remind Tarantino fans of the finale in "Death Proof." The final battle is vicious and brutal with copious amounts of violence then all at once, poof, its over. Roll credits. Its a ending that will leave you applauding and scratching your head at the same time. You will be cheering from the onslaught of kung-fu but quietly hissing inside because it finished so jarringly. The last thing that must be mentioned is a toture sequence. Normally torture is not something we cheer but I dare anyone to see this movie and not laugh your ass off during the torture scene. You should be asking yourself at this point, "why would I laugh at torture?" The answer is, tickle torture. That's right, tickle torture. Never before have I seen a technique such as tickling to force someone to talk. Now I have and I'm thankful to Mr. Tarantino for programming such hilarity.

"Fearless Fighters" was a bit of a depature from the first film programmed however it made perfect sense with how Tarantino's March Madness is set to conclude with "Kill Bill." 'Fighters' is more of a sword swinging action or chanbara than a straight up kung-fu film. We do see a fair share of punching and kicking but overall this film is about showcasing the blade versus the fist. That is not entirely true either, because the film features a number of weapons including swords and whips plus a variety of other weaponry or as the posters says, "10 incredible devil weapons' used by kung-fu masters." Calling the weaponry used "devil weapons" is a pretty big stretch because most of the weapons utilized outside of the sword are merely something to laugh at. For instance, one kung-fu master wields a Triton. A Triton? Isn't that what the Greek God Poseidon uses? Granted the three prong blade may resemble the devil's pitchfork but I'd hardly consider it a "devil weapon." We also see the Soul Picker! Sweet name right? Too bad we were already familiar with this weapon when the Klingons used it as their primary blade of choice. I will give the film bonus points due to the fact that Soul Picker's master actually carries two of them. He gets his ass handed to him once he starts fighting, but he gets points for effort. We also see weapons with names like Devil Ripper and Dragon Razor. They sure sound menacing but unfortunately those are just fancy names for goofy looking gloves with blades attached. All of these weapons provide plenty of laughs as well as a few thrills but mainly laughs. My personal favorite had to be the Solar Ray of Death. Basically this kung-fu master carried two gold circles that could blast fire from them. Before each time he fired the weapon he would let out a huge grunt. A grunt reminiscent to the call used for the Weirding Modules in David Lynch's "Dune." The film never explained how he shot fire from the golden discs (not that we really need an explanation) but one can only assume with the use of the word "solar," the sun generated the fury of this devil weapon.

The weaponry throughout "Fearless Fighters" is not the only thing that is ridiculous, quite honestly it is just the tip of the iceberg. The film is filled with all kinds of lunacy. Flying swordsmen, super jumpers, witless armed guards made up some of the better oddball character aspects. The flying swordsman for example would break into Superman pose and fly horizontally to the next location. Every time this happened it seemed awkward not to mention random. The flying was awkward to the point where I would lose concentration with the film and think to myself, "did that just happen?" The super jumpers on the other hand were miraculous. We've all seen plenty of jump tricks in kung-fu movies, but here we have characters that jump from one setting to the next! Imagine just jumping out of bed and landing at work. Better yet, jumping from your front porch and landing at the New Beverly! That would be awesome. Perhaps this is just a hybrid of the flying swordsman's move, but either way I was infatuated with the tremendous leaps these masters were making. Next to the Solar Ray of Death, the witless armed guards were the pinnacle of Fearless Fighters in hilarity. A group of 15 to 20 armed guards that are bumbling bunch of idiots. Best displayed in the movie as they blindly chase after the team of Fearless Fighters. These scenes took me back to Laurel and Hardy versus movies or the Benny Hill joke with people being chased. The only thing these scenes were missing were that unforgettable Benny Hill theme.  The audience is also treated to ridiculous tricks used for all the special effects. For instance, the use of a leap from a high vantage point. After being filmed and then played in reverse we see a swordsman make a jump from the ground up to the roof of a building or the top of a tree. This technique is used a lot in martial arts movies and is pretty hysterical by today's standards, but you have to give these guys credit for ingenuity. Just remember I'm laughing my ass off while admiring their creativity. Another aspect that is undeniably chuckle worthy is the dub. A ton of voice over that does not match the person on screen at all. Voices that are hard not to laugh at every time you hear them speak.

The film follows a group who have joined together to take down a common foe. This adds a nice team dynamic to the story. I always enjoy watching a group working together. Plus it gives you a bunch more fighting to witness. There are advantages in numbers as well as the pitfalls they always stumble into. The strengths and the weaknesses of a team can provide plenty to chew on and plenty of resources for the screenwriters to utilize in any script.  Don't mistake me, 'Fighters' doesn't posses a elaborate script full of prose I was just elaborating on the positives and negatives of a team in a movie. The plot is straight forward, predictable and only there to bridge the fight sequences together. There are some loose themes of honor, comradery and justice but let's not fool ourselves, "Fearless Fighters" is not too concerned with anything other than weaponry and that is just fine.

Overall this double feature was one of the most energizing experiences of Tarantino's March Madness. My mouth hurt afterwards from all the smiling and laughing. I walked away with fully belly from all the karate chops, kung-fu kicks, loudly screamed "hi-yah's" and sword fights not to mention a head full of sound effects. One great thing about these kind of movies (much like Chinese food) you may feel full after watching 4 hours of it but soon enough you will want more. Luckily for me that more would be my next trip to the New Beverly with a double feature of the Shaw brothers productions on Saturday March 26th for the final night of programming before a two week run of "Kill Bill" presented how it was screened out of competition at Cannes in 2004.

The exclusive two week run is the first time public audiences in the United States are able to see Tarantino's fourth film the way he intended for the film to be seen. The Cannes cut of the "Kill Bill" was originally only set to run one week at the Bev but due to high demand a second week was added. All of the dates are now sold out except for the final two nights on April 6th and 7th. Those two nights the New Beverly has decided to only sell tickets at the box office. Tickets will be sold on a first come first served basis on the night of the event. So if you'd like a chance to see "Kill Bill" theatrically the way Quentin Tarantino intended get yourself to the New Beverly Cinema on April 6th or 7th.

Stay tuned for my final 3 posts on Tarantino's March Madness and checkout my previous posts on the amazing month of programming with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8 and Part 9.