Sunday, April 13, 2014

"To Kill A Mastermind" (1979) d/ Sun Chung

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1979 was a productive year for Shaw Brothers director, Sun Chung, who'd planted his martial flag the previous year with the epic Avenging Eagle, starring Ti Lung, Fu Sheng, and Ku Feng. Tonight's review is the third of his efforts from the decade's end, with The Deadly Breaking Sword and The Kung Fu Instructor preceding. Mastermind has always been the most difficult of the three to score a decent print of, having been unavailable in anything clearer than a ghostly VHS print with cut-off subtitles and a bootlegged rip from Chinese YouTube for what seems like forever. Don't let the mostly unknown cast scare you off,  this one's got a little bit of everything, from one of Ku Feng's "Avenging Eagle" metal claw-gloves to dart-shooting backpacks to  modified Venom Mob masks. Besides, where else are you gonna catch Johnny Wang Lung Wei, strawberry variant?

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"Poison Clan? No, no, no, we're the Seven Evil Spirits Clan. This isn't the Snake, Number Two's mask, either."
Some eight years earlier, a failed attempt by the Imperial Court to bring down the murderous Qisha gang sent it's surviving chief into anonymous seclusion, where he plotted to raise his syndicate from the ashes back to criminal prominence. Now, with the Qisha receiving orders from their mastermind through an elaborate Electric Company-esque gold ball maze in their secret headquarters, they have again become the target of the court and Lord Yang, who has enlisted a spy among the ranks of their eight chiefs, setting up an ambush for their ranks after intercepting gang orders, raising the levels of mistrust and dissent among the bandits and to ultimately flush out the titular mastermind, whose identification is unknown even to his own chiefs.

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"Of course, I haven't the balls to call Wang Lung Wei 'Strawberry Shortcake', are you kidding?"
Despite their array of flashy, hidden weapons, the Qisha chieftains fall one by one to Yang's carefully concealed counterintelligence, and he fells a large stone effigy of each bandit with a rope noose with every successful mission. With trust disintegrating as rapidly as their numbers, it isn't long before the Clan Leader reveals himself to be...Wang Lung Wei! Big surprise there, right? He of the strawberry hair streaks in turn, reveals his insidious plot to flush out the spy, while blowing up Clan HQ with most of Yang's army inside, and when he flexes his shoulder muscle to send a sword blade flying out of his torso into a nearby clay pot, destroying it instantly, you just know this cat isn't effing around anymore. What follows is a wild wushu finale, that you're gonna have to see for yourselves.

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At that moment, Zan and Jayna both realized they'd left Gleek out in the hot car with all the windows up. 
 Though widely considered a box office flop, Mastermind is an excellent showcase of everything one could love about Sun Chung movies: excellent swordplay and fights (choreographed by Shaw reg Tang Chia), with his trademark picturesque wide shots and dramatic slo mo sequences at the height of the martial mayhem up on the screen. Perhaps competing with the genre hits of the day like Jackie Chan's Fearless Hyena, Samo Hung's Magnificent Butcher, and Fu Sheng's Proud Twins, combined with the audience's unfamiliarity with most of the cast proved too great a task, but to Chung's credit, he gets memorable performances from everyone involved. Interestingly, among those formidable Qisha chiefs are Lo Chun and Lo Sheng, brothers in real life of Venom Mob strongman, Lo (The Toad) Meng. Needless to say, this one should not be missed, at any cost. On the scale, Mastermind schemes and plots its way to three Wops, and comes highly recommended. Catch it!

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"I'll give you some strawberry shortcake, you bastard!"
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