Monday, December 14, 2015

"Dragon's Claws" (1979) d/ Joseph Kuo

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As Randy "Macho Man" Savage once said in a famous post-Wrestlemania III wrestling promo, the cream will rise to the top. Ooh yeah. In the world of vintage martial arts movies, you can argue whether Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest represents that cream at the genre top for days on end, during which time, Hong Hwa Studios would have churned out three mediocre, low budget movies that copycat the former two studios' box office successes. Take 1979's Dragon's Claws for example, which most resembles a Jacky Chan period kung fu comedy from his breakout era, i.e. Fearless Hyena (1979), Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978), or Drunk Monkey in a Tiger's Eye (1979), except there's no Jacky Chan, the kung fu isn't as good, and the comedy is mostly inappropriate stuff that'll leave you feeling itchy.

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"But who else...coooooooould be.",  ponders Ling Ko Fung (Wong Cheng Li).
We meet Ling Ko Fung (Wong Cheng Li), a master of the 'Dragon's Claws' technique, as he bullies his way back from a stint in Manchuria, challenging the sickly current master of the style, Lung Chen Tien (Lin Ho-Nien), for supremacy and a fancy gold tablet saying so, currently in Lung's possession. Lung's illness stems from that time he chloroform hankied Li Hua (Kan Chia-Fong), Cosby-style,  into marriage, forcing the kung fu queen to dragon claw the martial pervert in the chest, leaving him with the tell-tale five fingerprints of eventual death. Though Ling doesn't seem as evil and Lung not as righteous at the outset, the characters soon revert back to the typical straight forward, two dimensional type you'd expect in a movie like this. Ling defeats Lung, who dies, and snags himself the gold tablet, only it's a fake, causing him to send out his two buddies, Red Monster (Chu Tiet-Wo) and Green Monster (Chan Lau), to find Li Hua and her mostly useless son (she calls him a "dickhead" at one point), Lung Hsia (Jimmy Liu), and recover the real one.

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Focused chi power or massive fart rip? You decide.
Li's son vows revenge for the murder of his father, but his lack of martial skill earns him the aforementioned five fingerprints of gradual death at the hands of Ling. Luckily for him, the local dirty beggar (Wang Pao-Chien) who peels pears in mid-air just so happens to be his mother's uncle, and the true master of Dragon's Claws technique. After curing young Lung of the kung fu poisons in his system (by forcing him to drink a pot full of little boys' piss...yeah, just let me die in agony, thanks) he toughens him up with a mostly unimpressive, sloppy-looking training regimen, and none too soon, either, as Red and Green have sent his poor mother to meet Buddha. With Lung's training finally complete, the beggar blows the clambake, leaving the young man to discover his mother's lifeless body with Red and Green waiting in the wings. Then it's a Lung v Ling finale, as you might have expected, but less spectacularly so.

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Bruce Lee never collected little boys' urine in a pot. Just saying.
Korean leg fighter extraordinaire, Wong Cheng Li/ Hwang Jang Lee deserves much better than this movie, which falls well short of his pugilistic collaborations with Jacky Chan, and places slightly above his numerous big screen square offs against fellow Korean, Dragon Lee. Liu Chia-Liang's nephew, Jimmy, who stars here, is adequate at best,  but no Master Killer, by any stretch of the imagination. The prolific Kuo directed five other movies in 1979, including other cheap Chan rip-offs like Mystery of Chess Boxing and World of Drunken Master. Quantity over quality, I suppose. Tonight's entry is the kind of kung fu movie that people who'll watch anything, ignorant to the integral ingredients that comprise a high caliber example (acting,  fight choreography,  costumes,  sets, soundtrack, etc. ) of the genre, would suggest to you. Not me. One Wop. Hold out for a Shaw Brothers/ Golden Harvest production, instead.

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"You'll die!" "You're the one who'll die!" And the 1979 winner for Best Screenplay goes to...
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