Joseph Kuo Capsule Reviews
Shaolin Kung Fu (1974) — January 12, 2022
Has almost nothing to do with Shaolin and really not much kung fu either, at least of the philosophical variety you’d find in more reputable films. Instead it has a whole lot of fighting: quick and brutal, if not especially gory. The initial setting, sporadic fisticuffs breaking out between rival rickshaw companies, recalls Sammo Hung’s Pedicab Driver, as does its milieu of the working poor (in both films the drivers are equated with bar girl/prostitute counterparts). But there’s none of the nuanced world Sammo builds in his film, with its self-contradictory codes of brotherhood and patriarchy. Instead, building out of bits and pieces of Bruce Lee movies, Joseph Kuo sticks doggedly to one idea: a hero who has sworn off fighting gets dragged into the conflict out of a sense of righteous duty, only to escalate the violence to the point that essentially everyone he knows (but for the very old and the very young) ends up dead. It’s an impossible quandary for the hero played with a grim ferocity by Wen Chiang-lung, and he doesn’t so much solve it as beat it into submission. Or rather, he pokes it in the heart to death. According to his imdb bio, Wen retired from acting in 1981 and opened a Chinese restaurant in Tempe, Arizona.
The Mystery of Chessboxing (1979) — September 2, 2021
Apparently only available in a crummy dubbed rip. Formula film with a lot of rhythmic late 70s fighting (punch-kick-pause, punch-flip-pause, kick-jump-punch-pause, etc) that looks cool but can lull you to sleep if you’re not careful.
Curious that it can be true that dubbing Hong Kong films is a crime against cinema, but that the love for dubbed Hong Kong films by grindhouse-era fans (Wu-Tang Clan, eg) is an admirably sincere and pure cinephilia.
The Old Master (1979) — January 12, 2022
Honestly pretty terrible vehicle for Seven Little Fortunes impresario Yu Jim-yuen. He plays a kung fu master who comes to Hong Kong to beat up some guys on behalf of his former student, but he quits midway through the film when he finally figures out the guy is just using him to settle his gambling debts. So Yu takes up with a prospective student, played by Bill Louie with a dashing mustache and a full head of late 70s hair. These scenes provide the most goofy fun in the movie, with the slightest nod towards kung fu training but really more interested in seeing Yu hang out in a disco. That sequence provides his best on camera moves, as almost all of his fight scenes are doubled. Very obviously so, as the old master always fights either with his back to the camera or his head down so all we can see of his face is his hat. His dancing though, is quite good. Besides the lame doubling, the fights really aren’t that bad, especially the many times when Louie gets to beat up a bunch of beefy white guys while doing the Robot. Also valuable as a travelogue of late 70s Los Angeles: this is the only time anyone will ever get to see the guy who taught Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung kung fu hanging out at Knott’s Berry Farm.