Well, despite the last gasp of Kung Fu Fridays on June 23rd, there is a reason for fu fans in Toronto to celebrate. Starting June 1st at the Cinematheque Ontario is a series of 10 classic fu flick that I helped select. These are very rare screenings and is a must for Shaw fans. They will be screening the film the most requested by Kung Fu Fridays disciples, THE FIVE VENOMS as well as many other classics... Read on grasshopper...
Three years after the original Heroic Grace series electrified Toronto audiences, the thrilling and frenzied Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film, Part II takes over Cinematheque Ontario's screen from June 1 until June 13. Featuring many titles by legendary Hong Kong producers the Shaw Brothers, some even including the off-screen talent of current Asian cinema icons Sammo Hung and John Woo, this collection of fast-paced cinema includes Zhang Che's THE NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1971), a restored print of THE FIVE VENOMS (1978), THE JADE TIGER (1979) by Chu Yuan, and Lau Kar-leung's ingenious DIRTY HO (1979).
Thursday, June 1 - 8:45
THE NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN
(1971, Hong Kong) Directed by Zhang Che
Shaw Brothers. Producer: Runme Shaw. Screenplay: Ni Kuang. Cinematographer: Gong Muduo. Editor: Guo Tinghong. Martial Arts Director: Tong Kai, Lau Kar-leung. Cast: David Jiang, Di Long, Li Jing, Gu Feng. Presented in Mandarin dialogue with Chinese and English subtitles. 35mm, 94 min.
Zhang Che revisits the premise of his epochal ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967) but with a gruesome difference. David Jiang portrays an arrogant warrior humbled by a nefarious opponent and forced to hack off his own arm. Years of waiting tables fortify his single-handed dexterity, but what finally launches him back on the path of bloody retribution is the untimely death of his comrade Di Long. The actors were Zhang's preferred pairing of heroes in his '70s films, and like other of the director's films about male bonding, THE NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN is charged through with latent homoeroticism. Fuelled by the estimable action choreography of longtime collaborators Tong Kai and Lau Kar-leung, the film builds to an astonishing finale traversing the entire span of a bridge and then some.
Friday, June 2 - 8:45
(1972, Hong Kong) Directed by Chung Chang-wha
Shaw Brothers. Producer: Run Run Shaw. Screenwriter: Jiang Yang. Cinematographer: Wang Yonglong. Editor: Jiang Xinglong, Fan Gongrong. Martial Arts Director: Lau Kar-wing, Chen Quan. Cast: Luo Lie, Wang Ping, Wang Jinfeng. Presented in Mandarin dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 97 min.
Korean director Chung Chang-wha was among the foreign talent hired by studio mogul Run Run Shaw in the late '60s to help meet Asian audiences' growing taste for tough action films. KING BOXER's gritty revenge tale met that challenge and more; it became the first kung fu film to be a hit in the West and paved the way for the Bruce Lee phenomenon to come. Actor Luo Lie brings characteristic intensity to his role as an "Iron Fist" adept whose fingers are viciously shattered by a rival gang. (The film was released internationally under the title FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH). In paradigmatic fashion, he then trains his way back to peak form and wreaks vengeance on his adversaries. Joining ferocious hand-to-hand combat with a nationalistic subtext (as did the contemporaneous Bruce Lee titles), the film unabashedly ascribes villainy (and inferior fighting methods) to the Japanese.
Saturday, June 3 - 8:45
THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG
(1972, Hong Kong) Directed by Zhang Che and Bao Xueli
Shaw Brothers. Producer: Runme Shaw. Screenwriter: Ni Kuang, Zhang Che. Cinematographer: Gong Muduo, Ruan Dingbang. Editor: Guo Tinghong. Martial Arts Director: Tong Kai, Lau Kar-leung, Lau Kar-wing, Chen Quan. Cast: Chen Guantai, Jing Li, David Jiang, Ma Lannu. Presented in Mandarin dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 126 min.
This brutal fight film adapts the proverbial rise-and-fall gangster formula to the mean streets of '30s Shanghai. Chen Guantai is a poor hick from Shandong ("Shantung" according to the old Wade-Giles romanization) whose fearsome boxing ability allows him to muscle his way to the top of the Shanghai underworld. Bursting with typically Zhangian bloodshed and distinguished by Chen's authentic kung fu technique (the film proved to be the actor's breakout vehicle), BOXER also features Shaw luminaries David Jiang as a charismatic gangland don and Jing Li as a principled songstress. Among its highlights that have inspired a host of imitators: an iconic match between Chen and a Russian wrestler, and ruthless hatchet-wielding thugs, most recently revived as the "axe gang" in Stephen Chow's comic tribute to the martial arts cinema, KUNG FU HUSTLE.
Monday, June 5 - 8:45
THE VALIANT ONES - Restored by the Hong Kong Film Archive
(1975, Hong Kong) Directed by King Hu
Producer: King Hu. Screenwriter: King Hu. Cinematographer: Chen Qingqu. Editor: Xiao Nan. Martial Arts Director: Sammo Hung. Cast: Roy Chiao, Xu Feng, Bai Ying, Sammo Hung. Presented in Mandarin dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 107 min.
King Hu's kinesthetic poetry gets distilled to its essence in a late masterpiece suffused with a deep sense of melancholy. Set characteristically for Hu in the Ming Dynasty (14th-17th centuries), THE VALIANT ONES refers to the crack team—including a coolly enigmatic swordsman (Bai Ying) and his taciturn wife (Xu Feng)—assembled by military strategist Roy Chiao to defend the Chinese coast against Japanese pirates. Tantalizingly abstract in its fight choreography—action is expressed in calligraphic strokes such as the brief clanging of blades, the whizzing-by of arrows and the rhythmic flight of bodies—the film is nevertheless majestic in its evocation of landscape. But unlike the preternaturally gifted heroes of most swordplay films, Hu's valiant ones are mortal. His "Picture of Valor" (the film's Chinese title) is ultimately ironic; its somber resolution undercuts any triumph in victory.
Thursday, June 8 - 8:45
CLANS OF INTRIGUE
(1977, Hong Kong) Directed by Chu Yuan
Shaw Brothers. Based on a novel by Gu Long. Producer: Runme Shaw. Screenwriter: Ni Kuang. Cinematographer: Huang Jie. Editor: Jiang Xinglong. Martial Arts Director: Tong Kai, Huang Peiji. Cast: Di Long, Betty Bei Di, Nora Miao, Yue Hua. Presented in Mandarin dialogue with Chinese and English subtitles. 35mm, 99 min.
Chu Yuan continued his cinematic transmutation of the Gu Long literary oeuvre with this gripping wuxia "whodunnit" set in the timeless realm of martial chivalry. Famed swordsman Chu Liuxiang (Di Long) is framed for the murder of three clan chiefs. Leaving behind leisure and connoisseurship—a resplendent houseboat and poetry-spouting friends—Chu embarks on an investigation that leads him from a mystery woman to Buddhist monks and a grotto-dwelling clan of female fighters led by a lesbian (Betty Bei Di). Gradually he uncovers a convoluted conspiracy that culminates in an unforgettable gender-bending twist. Fantastical and fringed with risqué sexual flourishes, CLANS OF INTRIGUE is echt Chu, a baroque martial arts saga replete with artifice and larger-than-life archetypes engaged in elegantly choreographed mortal combat.
Friday, June 9 - 8:45
THE JADE TIGER
(1977, Hong Kong) Directed by Chu Yuan
Shaw Brothers. Producer: Mona Fong. Screenwriter: Gu Long, Chu Yuan. Cinematographer: Huang Jie. Editor: Jiang Xinglong. Martial Arts Director: Tong Kai, Huang Peiji. Cast: Di Long, Gu Feng, Li Lili, Luo Lie. Presented in Mandarin dialogue with Chinese and English subtitles. 35mm, 101 min.
Chu Yuan's penchant for labyrinthine plotting reaches its zenith in this dizzying adaptation of the Gu Long source novel. Di Long heads an all-star cast as a Zhou warrior catapulted by the threat of his father's decapitation, delivered on his wedding day, into the middle of a no-holds-barred war between his clan and the Tangs. The outrageous characters, exotic weapons and proliferating layers of subterfuge are hyperbolic even by the standards of an already excess-saturated subgenre. Chu's characteristic visual splendor contributes to the air of delirium, but a self-conscious pathos about the futility of martial rivalry lends the film thematic ballast and anticipates the reflexive tone adopted in the melancholy wuxia by the Hong Kong New Wave of the '80s.
Saturday, June 10 - 6:30
THE FIVE VENOMS
(1978, Hong Kong) Directed by Zhang Che
Shaw Brothers. Producer: Runme Shaw. Screenwriter: Ni Kuang, Zhang Che. Cinematographer: Gong Muduo, Cao Huiqi. Editor: Jiang Xinglong. Martial Arts Director: Liang Ting, Lu Feng, Dai Qixian. Cast: Jiang Sheng, Sun Jian, Guo Zhui, Lu Feng, Wei Bai, Luo Mang. Presented in Mandarin dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 97 min.
Long a favorite of martial arts movie fans, THE FIVE VENOMS was the defining showcase for late-career, all-male-ensemble Zhang Che. The dying master of the Venoms House tasks his one remaining disciple to bring to justice the young man's five predecessors, now dispersed and fallen into ignominious criminality. The elder Venoms quintet, however, possesses formidable skills, each in a distinctive fighting style: scorpion, snake, centipede, gecko and toad. The youngest Venom locates them in a small town, and in this nexus of gold loot, shady cops and corrupt judges, a suspenseful mystery plot unfolds, punctuated by some of the most lucidly articulated and imaginative fight sequences of the martial arts cinema. Uncharacteristically—and unlike even the previous Heroic Grace selection, BLOOD BROTHERS—Zhangian brotherhood is rent asunder by greed and betrayal among men.
Monday, June 12 - 6:30
(1979, Hong Kong) Directed by Lau Kar-leung
Shaw Brothers. Producer: Run Run Shaw. Screenwriter: Ni Kuang. Cinematographer: Huang Yuetai, Ao Zhijun. Editor: Jiang Xinglong, Li Yanhai. Martial Arts Director: Lau Kar-leung. Cast: Wang Yu, Gordon Liu Jiahui, Kara Hui, Xiao Hou. Presented in Cantonese dialogue with Chinese and English subtitles. 35mm, 100 min.
Fighting without seeming to fight—that's the ingenious premise at the heart of this dazzler by martial arts grandmaster Lau Kar-leung. The director's mainstay Gordon Liu plays a prodigal prince (and hyper-cultivated epicurean) targeted for assassination by his elder brother. Enter Wang Yu (not to be mistaken for the star of ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN) as the eponymous Ho, a boisterous ruffian who reluctantly apprentices himself to the expert Liu. With the killers disguised as a wine merchant and an antiques dealer, the prince finds himself parrying dangerous kicks and blows while in art appreciation mode. The climactic fight-back-to-the-palace pitting prince and apprentice against a battery of swords and arrows is a set piece for the ages. Like the title it belies, this movie about the art of the martial arts brilliantly distills its director's penchant for discoursing on the beauty and rigor of a genre that's clearly more than chopsocky.
Tuesday, June 13- 6:30
MY YOUNG AUNTIE
(1980, Hong Kong) Directed by Lau Kar-leung
Shaw Brothers. Producer: Run Run Shaw. Screenwriter: Lau Kar-leung, Li Taiheng. Cinematographer: Ao Zhijun. Editor: Jiang Xinglong, Li Yanhai. Martial Arts Director: Lau Kar-leung, Jing Zhu, Xiao Hou. Cast: Lau Kar-leung, Kara Hui, Xiao Hou, Wang Longwei. Presented in Mandarin dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 114 min.
A young widow (Kara Hui) arrives in Guangdong to deliver a fought-over deed of inheritance to the rightful heirs, her crotchety nephew-by-marriage (Lau Kar-leung) and his westernized son (Xiao Hou). Age and gender role reversals allow for a wealth of kung fu funny business: the nephew is easily twice as old as the aunt but still bound to respect family hierarchies; the fetching aunt has serious warrior chops despite her traditionally feminine appearance. Freely mixing martial arts moves with allusions to popular Hollywood genres (musicals, swashbucklers and even war movies), MY YOUNG AUNTIE is an unalloyed triumph of kung fu comedy. Hui delivers a winning performance as the woman who unsettles the standard teacher-student paradigm of Lau's oeuvre.
Tuesday, June 13 - 8:45
ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA - New 35mm print from Columbia Repertory
(1991, Hong Kong) Directed by Tsui Hark
Golden Harvest. Producer: Tsui Hark. Screenwriter: Leung Yiu-ming, Elsa Tang Bik-yin, Tsui Hark, Yuen Gai-chi. Cinematographer: Arthur Wong Ngok-tai, Bill Wong Chung-bo, David Chung Chi-man. Martial Arts Director: Lau Kar-wing, Yuen Shun-yi, Yuen Cheung-yan. Cast: Jet Li, Yuen Biao, Rosamund Kwan Chi-lam, Jackie Cheung Hok-yau. Presented in Cantonese dialogue with English subtitles. 35mm, 134 min.
Tsui Hark takes on the popular Wong Fei-Hung (Huang Feihong) legend in this rousingly revisionist film, the first in a six-part series that re-imagines the martial arts paragon for the wuxia-meets-kung fu "wire-fu" action of the '90s. A Jet Li in peak form summons a whirling arsenal of "shadowless kicks," somersaults and leaps to repel the incursion of opium and slave trading by corrupt Westerners into China in the 19th century. The film makes room for grand historical drama and slapstick comedy, sumptuous period décor and whimsical romance, but is best remembered for its virtuosic choreography of combat, most famously the breathtaking fight to the death atop bamboo ladders.
All Cinematheque Ontario screenings are held at the Art Gallery of Ontario's Jackman Hall, 317 Dundas St. West (McCaul Street entrance), Toronto. Regular tickets are $6 for Members; $5.50 for Student Members and Seniors; and $10.10 for Non-Members. Limited Runs and Special Presentations are $7.25 for Members and $11.50 for Non-Members. Cinematheque Ontario Lecture Series tickets are $10.25 for Members and $15.50 for Non-Members. All screenings are restricted to individuals 18 years of age or older, unless noted otherwise. The Toronto International Film Festival Group Box Office is located at Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor Street West (Monday to Saturday, 10am - 6pm).
Cinematheque Ontario thanks its supporters Bell, Ontario Media Development Corporation, Canada Council for the Arts, the City of Toronto, Economic Development Office, Toronto Film School and The Toronto Arts Council.
For more information call 416-968-FILM or click, bell.ca/cinematheque.