Ninja in the Dragon’s Den (1982) — December 30, 2013
Conan Lee fights a guy on stilts. Conan publicly humiliates a Taoist magician. Then a ninja shows up, trying to kill Conan’s old friend. Conan fights the ninja (Sanada Hiroyuki, the Japanese guy from Royal Warriors) in a room elaborately constructed to trap ninjas. The ninja fights other ninjas. Then Conan fights the ninja. Then they become friends. Then they join forces to fight the master Taoist magician.
The ninja vs. ninja stuff is built on a comical series of misunderstandings, the kind of plot that would be resolved in about five minutes if everyone would stop fighting and chat. The magic stuff has potential, as Conan goes all Christopher Hitchens on the mystical mumbo-jumbo, but then the master magician (Hwang Jang-lee) actually has some magical powers so it turns out Conan’s just kind of a dick.
But this is Corey Yuen’s directorial debut, and Corey Yuen doesn’t give a fuck about plot coherence or thematic consistency. Corey Yuen cares about creating badass action scenes and that’s what we get, one after another after another. And then there’s a beautifully constructed punchline about boobs.
No Retreat, No Surrender (1986) — January 3, 2014
I feel like Corey Yuen and writer-producer Ng See-yuen are dumbing down their material for an American audience. It’s a cheapo variation on The Karate Kid with long boring sequences of bullying followed by a big training montage. But at least the Miyagi figure is the ghost of Bruce Lee, hallucinated by the young man after his various teen traumas. Also there is breakdancing.
The best part is Jean-Claude Van Damme, in an early villain performance explicitly aping Lundgren’s Rocky IV Ivan Drago. He’s a blankly stone-faced menace throughout the movie, until the final fight, where he suddenly turns it up to 11, contorting his face like an anguished cartoon. He’s magnetic.
Righting Wrongs (1986) — July 5, 2013
“So we had this theme, but there was too much dialogue. So I said ‘why not add some action, some fighting?’” — Yuen Biao
Stuntmen make the craziest movies.
Added March 4, 2018:
It’s like Corey Yuen and Yuen Biao watched the last 15 minutes of Police Story and said, “Anything Jackie can do, we can do better, crazier, and more destructively.”
All for the Winner (1990) — December 25, 2013
The thing about these Hong Kong gambling movies is that they’re sports movies, but they’re not about making yourself a better person or coming to terms with your past or personal redemption or any of those things American sports movies are about. They’re about perfecting your skill such that you can get away with cheating. They’re the manifestation of free-wheeling Hong Kong capitalism in the last days before the Handover to China. A last gasp of anarchy before the fall. It’s a world where everyone is cheating, everything is a hustle, and the naive hero (a bumpkin from the mainland city of Guangzhou (population 6.3 million in 1990, more than twice that today) must learn how to cheat consistently and effectively to get ahead.
He’s also lectured near the end by co-director Corey Yuen that he should use his superpowers to help the poor. And maybe he will. But even then it’ll be the philanthropic largesse of the robber barons, the laissez-faire capitalists that cheated their way to the top then built libraries and universities and museums with their spare change. Social goods all, does it really matter where they came from?
Also, Ng Man-tat begins convulsing and starts humping everything in sight whenever Stephen Chow says his name.
The Transporter (2002) — August 31, 2015
There’s a lot of Corey Yuen in this, but not as much as there should have been.
The Transporter 2 (2005) — September 1, 2015
A significantly dumbed-down sequel to an already-ridiculous film, it’s mostly cartoonish and stupid and there are only a couple of signature Corey Yuen action sequences, and what there is is there all-too-briefly (including an homage to a much better handcuff routine that he did with Cynthia Rothrock in Righting Wrongs). But still, Jason Statham orders a pizza with no mozzarella and extra anchovies and there’s a dissolve from a car on a freeway to Kate Nauta’s leg, so it isn’t entirely worthless.