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October 2, 2011

This is My Fist to Your Face Style: The Best of Kung Fu Movies, Volume One (2011)

There are few things in this life that bring me happiness like a good trailer compilation. It's like a Valentine's box of candy, except in lieu of chocolate truffles and sugary goo, you get bite sized samples of cinema! Now, like any box of sweets worth its salt, there has to be some sort of loose, unified thread of commonality. Most do not want peanut brittle mixed with that filled chocolate with the mystery pink center. In the small but growing categories of trailer compilations, Southern DVD, a small company out of South Africa, has released BEST OF KUNG FU MOVIES VOLUME 1. While the kung fu sub genre has been somewhat represented on a number of fine compilations, it has rarely if ever gotten its very own disc. That is, until now. So what's being served on the cinematic buffet tonight?

First up is 18 FATAL STRIKES, a 1978 film that has more sound effects in its trailer alone than nine Spike Jones albums combined and a pace faster than a coked out hooker chasing a dodgy trick! If a kung fu trailer drank a case of Jolt and ate a handful of chocolate covered espresso beans, it would like a LOT like the trailer for 18 FATAL STRIKES. What I'm trying to say is that there a lot of fast action here, to the extent that the title should have been 99 ½ FATAL STRIKES. If ever a film looked like it was close to fulfilling the statement, “Chop Sockey Looney Tunes,” it is this one.

Stepping in the big, exploding shoes that is the previous trailer, we have THOU SHALL NOT KILL BUT ONCE, also released as SHAOLIN WARRIOR in the United States. In this 1977 release, there is sweeping music and the feeling of attempts at an epic martial arts drama on a budget. Even better is that it opens listing and showing the different types of shaolin kung fu, including ape, lion and crane. Oh and my personal favorite, the kicking a dude in the face style!

After that, we get POINT THE FINGER OF DEATH aka ONE ARMED CHIVALRY. (How incredible are these titles?) There's some nice albeit brief pop art style art featured and some classic gravity defiance martial arts. As you may have surmised from the alternate title, the proceedings center around two one armed men with “vengeance on their mind!” This actually looks like a pretty good film and showcases a wee bit of plot with the violence.

Arguably the best known title on this whole disc follows with 1979's THE CRIPPLED MASTERS. Chances are if you are a cult film lover, you have already heard of this surreal, exploitative and possibly even empowering (?) entry into the kung fu genre. Something that is neat is that this is actually a different trailer than the one featured in the grand-daddy of trailer comps, 42ND ST. FOREVER. 

 This is not what you think. Woman as a weapon in NINJA STRIKE.

From the popular to the super obscure, we have the early 80's and very obscure Taiwanese film, NINJA STRIKE. Going by what is witnessed here, it shouldn't be obscure since it is chock full of awesome. We're talking boxing matches, gunfire, women used as weapons, cars careening off of cliffs and even a sex scene in the ring, complete with tattoos. All that is missing is the perfect heavy metal theme song. 

 Newsies? No! The heroine from SUPERGIRL OF KUNG FU

Continuing on the rare train, up next we get THE SUPERGIRL OF KUNG FU. Note that singular status of that title, so alas, there is not a horde of asskicking ladies on the kung fu prowl. (That comes later!) This is the first trailer to feature some exceptionally bad dubbing, along with being the most underwhelming, despite the fab title. 


Now, as if to make up for the lackluster of the last trailer, they follow it up with the amazing looking ANGEL FORCE. One of the handful of films on this disc set in modern times, this well made, high octane 1991 effort features a ton of women kicking ass and riding motorcycles. What more could you want? Break dancing werewolves? Well you can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes, you get what you need and what you need is ANGEL FORCE.

After that wee bit of badassery, there is the oddly titled 7 INDIGNANT aka THE SEVEN INDIGNANTS. Despite the healthy use of the zoom feature and a pretty incredible looking attempted double arm breaking scene, this is another martial arts film that attempted to blend drama and action. Which is admirable, since it is always easier to sell tickets if the film looks like it is a non stop bone crunching, blood spitting, karate chopping free for all. 

Up next is VIP, a film featuring death defying stunts (including a pretty risky looking bridge jump) and some swanky music to boot. It also promises to give us “A new style of kung fu that startle everybody.” I don't know about you, but I love being startled by a film. The last time that happened, I had to clutch my daddy's pearls before getting the vapors.

Speaking of the vapors....or not, there is the generically titled SPIRIT OF THE DRAGON. There's not a lot that stands out except there is some nice gravity defiance a go-go and most of the cast appear to be a mix of Asian and Latino, which is a bit of a rarity. 

Next up, in the spirit of unique English language usage, is STORY IN TEMPLE & LILY. The actual title, STORY IN THE TEMPLE RED LILY makes a little more sense. Sort of. Visually, this is a dynamic looking movie complete with enough flying and wall crawling to make your inner kung fu fan very happy. 

The lavish looking TAI CHI aka TAI CHI MASTER is up next. This is from the famed Golden Harvest and was produced by none other than Jet Li! This has to be one of the biggest budgeted film on this disc. It looks better than any Hollywood attempts at martial arts and boasts some stellar choreography to boot. This is definitely one of the gems here.

Proteus fists????

After that, is THE RIVAL aka DEADLY KICK, a 1976 martial arts smorgasbord that features something for everyone. Helicopter/car chase? Check. Mariachi style music? Check. Boxing announcer style narration? Double check! Great camerawork merged with some hideous old age make-up? Super duper check! Whippings? Oh hell yes! 

From the over-the-top and awesome to the are-you-joking and uber-awesome, we have SHANGHAI MASSACRE. The title is already screaming its spectacularness in your bleeding eardrums. This 1981 effort includes exploding cars, gunfights, stripping, premature ejaculation (!) and atrocious dubbing from a crumpet eater. (As an anglophile, I type that term with love.) 

The next trailer, for another halfway obscure title called LAY OUT, has some mighty big britches to fill out after the exploding hostess cake that was SHANGHAI MASSACRE. Sadly, despite the promise of “a new dimension of kung fu films,” the trailer itself is only so/so. 

After that is the exoticly titled, THE SHAOLIN DEVIL & ANGEL, which stands out mainly for its odd editing and some lovely use of color. 

The stylish use of colors comes to full bloom in the subsequent trailer, THE JADE FOX. Despite the lack of a hard boiled detective named Johnny Wadd, this is one good looking film, complete with a borderline stunning sequence involving colored flags. It even features little kids performing kung fu against evil adults. (Surely, this was long before there were any proper child labor laws in cinema.) 

Now let me interrupt this article for a moment to share with you an observation that I have made doing some minor research for this piece. For all of you hardcore archivists of martial arts film, I admire the living hell out of you. Between the fact that most if not all of the movies on this disc went through numerous name changes and then on top of said name changes, had titles often employing nouns like dragon, fist, shaolin and ninja, hence amping up the confusion factor. If you know someone who is an archivist of this great and often, critically unappreciated sub genre, do me a favor and buy them a drink of their choice. You'll feel better if you do.


Anyways, up next we get FIST OF DRAGON (see???). Despite the very generic name, this features a surrealistic intro and a breakneck pace. Not bad! Even better, there's even a scene involving red lights and monster masks! Add a badass female character and you have the recipe for something I must see. You had me at dragon and monster masks, FIST OF DRAGON.

In a bit of title weirdness, we have after that, ENTER THE BLACK DRAGON. The imagery you may get with such a phrase is some badass, schlocky as Hell blaxploitation from the East, right? Unfortunately, there is zero of that here, with one of the hints towards that being the narrator constantly referring to it as ENTER THE RED DRAGON. That is not really fair. The plot seems to involve two young lovers in a Wu Tang land.

Next up is LIFE OF A NINJA. Despite some of the rough editing cuts throughout, this trailer is pretty amazing, with the highlights being some lush plumes of technicolor smoke, mud wrestling and some gorgeous, almost Giallo style lighting. Works for me, babies!

Now, one film that defies the standard Western naming conventions for 70's & 80's martial arts films is the next trailer, THE EUNUCH OF WESTERN PALACE. Yes, you read that correctly and yes, this film centers around an evil eunuch. (If you were missing your manhood, wouldn't you be evil too?) There's also some cheesy dubbing and nice fighting, including violence against a kid??? Jeepers. 

After that is the wondrously misleading title of BRUCE'S FLYING KICKS aka BRUCE LEE'S DUEL FLYING KICKS. Ironically, there appears to be zero actual Bruce Lee but there are 800 other guys, flying and even kicking. This silly ass trailer promises that this is a “really good film,” almost apologetically. What would make this better? Bruce Dern. 

Sadly, the Bruce Dern-less continues with THE KILLING MACHINE, however it more than makes up for it with the great Sonny Chiba and a man spitting blood. What more do you want? 

Maybe, the LUCKY SEVEN, complete with its spiffy editing, kid-fu and “The Electric Company” meets martial arts approach? You could certainly do worse.

In the kung fu numbers game, we then get THE DYNAMIC TRIO. Judging by appearances, this looks like another standard, but moderately well made film kicking with action. 

Ending this disc is one of the most obscure and also one of the best edited trailers, all in the form of THE LATINO ENCOUNTER. There's some great camera work but not a lot of Latinos. There's a lot of things that I cannot explain in this life.

In the history of trailer compilation discs, it is a rare treat to see a DVD like this feature so many lesser known and out and out obscure films. That aspect by far is one of the biggest highlights here and certainly a strong selling point. The only real gripe is that the menu is beyond basic and lacks an option to play the trailers all together. A feature like that should be a necessity for any trailer compilation.

As a whole, if you love cult film trailers, martial arts and movies with words like “dragon” and “fist” in the title, then you will be happier than a willing fist meeting a most unwilling face. Bonzai!

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