Famous for specializing in one-armed characters (The One Armed Swordsman and The One Armed Boxer are both classics in their own right), Jimmy Wang Yu was a huge star in his native Hong Kong in the late 60s before a certain Bruce Lee fella came along and changed Hong Kong cinema forever. Tonight we’ve got two films released in 1975 that catch Jimmy at his absolute peak. Master of the Flying Guillotine is a renowned chop-socky classic, starring Jimmy in full-on one armed mode (the flick was originally released over here as One Armed Boxer II), whereas The Man From Hong Kong is a little known gem that also stars George Lazenby. Yeah, George Lazenby.
George Lazenby’s appearance in tonight’s first feature only has the great nunchuka’d one to blame. Fresh out of the Bond contract, Lazenby got a call from Bruce inviting him over to Hong Kong where he quickly signed a three picture deal to star opposite Bruce in three Golden Harvest spectaculars, all of which were to be international collaborations in the style that had made Enter The Dragon such a big hit. Only thing is, Bruce went and died soon after Lazenby had signed on the dotted line, which left him tied in this three picture deal on a fraction of the money he’d got as Bond.
And who better to step up and take the lead role than the man who Lee usurped as top dog in Hong Kong cinema. I guess in more ways than one Jimmy Wang Yu really is The Man From Hong Kong.
Tonight's Zombie Club is bought to you by Jim in association with the best 70s Kung-Fu movie that you've never seen.
The Man From Hong Kong (1975)
Plot Wang Yu and Lazenby go for it in a big way down under.
Jim Right from the word go, The Man From Hong Kong is completely mesmerizing. It opens on Ayers Rock with a botched drug deal involving Sammo Hung, some Ozzie coppers, a bit of fisticuffs on the rock itself, a car chase involving a helicopter, an explosion, and Sammo getting arrested. Then it’s straight over to Hong Kong, where we meet Police Lieutenant Fing Sing Lee (Wang Yu) who has just had his 70s funk-pop kung-fu practice interrupted by a hang-glider landing in the middle of the police training centre, who turns out to be a hot Ozzie chick.
One Bond-style nod and a wink later and the two are curling toes in a hotel room ("get them out, it's Zombie Club!" - Zomblee), where Wang Yu explains that he only makes it with Caucasian chicks on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and that it's interesting that she's from Australia as that's where his next assignment is.
And before you know it, Jimmy's sat having tea with those coppers from the intro, right outside Sydney Opera house. They want him to take Sammo Hung back to Hong Kong and that's that, but he has other ideas. A brief 'Chinese style' interrogation comes up with one name - Wilton - and that's where the fun really begins.
"Oh is he the baddie, George Lazenby?" asked Rawshark, before laughing uncontrollably as the movie then switches to Wilton's dojo, where it's now Lazenby's turn to show off his karate skills by dispatching umpteen eager henchman in quick succession. "Great slow-mo, flying through the air stuff going on here," said Zomblee, obviously impressed so far. And here's the thing; at this stage we weren't 20 minutes in and this epic is nearly 2 hours long.
And that's the problem. The Man From Hong Kong is kung-fu fight, kung-fu fight, car chase, love interest interlude, kung-fu fight and repeat, right up until the end. It's so good that I could write a whole book on it no problem. Suffice to say we were all stunned, the banter flowed freely – like the wine – and our pens constantly scribbled down what was happening, just about managing to keep up. It's all brilliant, right up until the crazy ending with “George Lazenby on fire in a slow mo kung-fu scene!” - Rawshark. Zomblee also summed it up pretty well, “This is about as good as Zombie Club gets man, I’m really blown away!”
Yeah, I think we all were.
“I’ve never met a Chinese man yet who doesn’t have a yellow streak.”
Zomblee I still am blown away. So was Jim after 10 minutes: “Look at the hairs on my arm!” Yes, it’s goosebump time here at Zombie Club, because this is as good as it gets. Rawshark was, to be fair, a little impatient though, asking where the hell George Lazenby was after a mere 15 minutes. Question is, is this incarnation of the Marlboro Man worth waiting for? Just a little, especially when his character – Wilton - is introduced in the context of a martial arts demonstration – just a cheap excuse to beat crap out of some guys who can’t kick as good as him. Cashback. Where can I buy this again, Jim?
So, is Jimmy Wang Yu some kind of Bruce Lee? Well, not really, no. Displaying what Jim likes to label “James Bond-style kung-fu”, he doesn't have much on the great man, but he sure displays more enthusiasm when it comes to bedding white women with minimal fuss (Hot chick: "What's so special about Special Branch?" Jimmy: "Let me show you...", and yes, the next cut displays the tonal variety of Caucasian female and Chinese male flesh on nice silky bed sheets. This guy is good. I like his style. And when he's not engaging in sensual inter-racial lovemaking he jumps from scene to scene kicking the bejesus out of a great many unworthy opponents, as my written notes from the night testify: "He is beating so many people up. This is brilliant."
This movie has the lot. Hot, hot, hot chicks (one of whom really is something to behold, and yes, Jimmy beds her), fight after fight after fight, George Lazenby as a high-kicking, cravat-wearing baddie who shows off to party guests by playing William Tell with a crossbow (though I'm sure they're already impressed by his AMAZING sunken orange lounge area). However, the icing on this deliciously 70's kung-fu cake is the soundtrack, courtesy of Noel Quinlan, which holds everything together in the funkiest way imaginable by way of a Fender Rhodes / wah guitar / Schifrin-style rimshot fusion, prompting you to tap your foot, nod your head - nay - get up and dance, because that's what this film should make you do. "This is a five star already isn't it?" Sure is, Rawshark. And if I could give a 6th star, I would.
"Do you think you've recovered enough to make love to me?"
Rawshark Yep, if I could give this film six stars, then I would too. Every once in a while at Zombie Club, a true forgotten Classic pops up (see Star Crash or Danger: Diabolik for previous examples) that seems to be literally made for film viewing evenings like these. And now we have a new contender to the ZC Hall of Fame, as The Man From Hong Kong really is something rather special indeed. A film that comes out of the corner of the ring fists blazing from the opening seconds of Round One and doesn’t let up for one moment all the way through to the final bell at the end of Round Twelve.
Not only do you get the flavour of The Man From Hong Kong being ”probably the best possible chop-socky HK action movie ever made!” (Jim), but you also get one-time Bond George Lazenby as a baddie (hey, guys, I didn’t know he was going to be the baddie – that was so cool!) and a terrific Australian film feel added to the mix with the gorgeous Oz locations, laid-back accents from the cops who play pool in bars and amazing stunt drivers a la Mad Max.
As for the fights, well, there are hundreds of them, and they’re all good. Well, maybe not hundreds, more like 14 (yes, we did end up counting them), but I think you’ll agree 14 solid fight scenes in a movie 111 minutes long is pretty good going. From the opening Ayers Rock tussle, through to the obligatory chase through the kitchen into the restaurant fight, to the mass dojo confrontation (”Very Fists of Fury” - Zomblee), all the way to the previously mentioned George Lazenby-on-fire Kung Fu battle at the film’s finale, the fight scenes are brilliantly brutal and rock as hard as any of the moments from recent Thai jaw-droppers such as Ong-Bak and Born To Fight.
This film really does have everything from cool kung fu to assassins on rooftops, from bikini hand-gliding to hand-brake car sliding, and it’s so good you can even overlook the slightly drippy love / healing montage two-thirds of the way through the film.
”We’re going to need a thesaurus to describe how brilliant this film is” said Zomblee towards the end of the film, but seeing as some of the words uttered during the course of this film including ”Gold!”, “Gem!”, “Amazing!”, “Great!”, “Brilliant!”, “Fucking Ace!” and “Tremendous” I think we have enough already. Incredible.
”You’re a hard act to follow. What do you do for an encore?”
Director Brian Trenchard-Smith
Cast Jimmy Wang Yu
Did I mention George Lazenby?
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Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975)
Plot Blind dude, one arm, long arms, Indian guy, you name it...
Rawshark So, how do you follow The Man From Hong Kong? It was difficult to see how Master of the Flying Guillotine was going to scale quite the same heights, but when Zomblee and I starting making jokes minutes into the 1700s-set opening, Jim was quick to silence us with a ”C’mon guys, I don’t want you to poo-poo on MOTFG”. And he was right, as MOTFG (also written and directed by Jimmy Wang) is a fun adventure featuring Wang’s much-loved character the One-armed boxer and lots more HK wackiness and excellent fight scenes.
Plot-wise it’s pretty simple as the Master of the Flying Guillotine swears to kill the one-armed boxer (can’t quite remember why) and thus sets up a fighting tournament in the hope of luring Jimmy Wang to his doom. The thin plot also allows for a large number of fight scenes with the tournament itself offering up no less then nine combat sequences shown one after another, including fighters with names such as ‘Fighting Stick Hopaway’, ‘Fight Without A Knife’ (he wins with a knife) and ‘Eagle Claw’. The fight on the poles with whips was cool, as was the Mexican wrestler chap in the third bout who prompted Zomblee to utter the words ”Oh my God, he’s whipping him with his ponytail!” He won by a hair.
Unfortunately the pace does drop off somewhat after the initial tournament as the characters stumble about with not much to do until the final confrontation, but the guy with the retractable arms (yes, really!) provides some great moments and there’s a nice sequence which feels like a low-budget A-Team tool-up. Thankfully our one-armed hero stumbles upon a solution to the ‘invincible’ Flying Guillotine (clue – it has something to do with bamboo, and that doesn’t mean bamboo collars) and we’re led up to the final, albeit abrupt, face-off between the man with one arm, and the blind flying guillotine master with far too much eyebrow hair on his forehead. Good, clean fun.
”Today I’m going to teach you something new – the technique of jumping”
Zomblee Flying gullotines that decapitate? An Indian martial arts expert with special extending arms? A wizened old man with enormous eyebrows hell bent on avenging his nephews' deaths? A martial arts tournament? Jimmy one-arm Wang Yu? Characters with amazing names I didn't remember? Even though Master of the Flying Guillotine may not be quite up there with tonight's first movie, it still kicks some serious ass. And removes some serious heads.
The first 40 minutes or so is fight after fight and the remainder of the film pretty much follows the same pattern, eschewing the tournament-of-fighters-with-amazing-names context. Wang Yu gets to really show his one-armed speciality stuff here, even though, as Jim put it, "He's obviously got his arm tucked in under his jacket." it must be pretty tempting to call on that under-used hidden arm during those fight scenes but instead all he has is a useless flapping sleeve. But the other arm works like two, even when up against a plethora of very bizarre martial arts experts in this really rather wonderful independent offering.
The Indian fighter with the extending arms - can't remember his name - is, as Jim puts it, worth the price of admission alone. We've all seen this type of affair crop up in more contemporary comedy shows but this is obviously where it all started. He's fucking awesome and is characteristic of just how far this magic little movie pushes the boundaries with what you can achieve with a lot of kung-fu men and, just as importantly, some imagination.
And the old blind man with the eyebrows? Well, as ever here at Zombie Club, we got kind of side tracked and went off on one about the whole massive eyebrow thing. I thought that maybe that's why the old guy couldn't see, what with all that massive brow-age growing down over his eyes, but it was Rawshark who came up with the best possible reason why he had let his upper-eye-hair run amok so outrageously: "Maybe that's what happens when you go blind...you just say Fuck it."
"He wasn't the one-armed boxer! He was just a bum!"
Jim You know what, I knew that following The Man From Hong Kong was going to be a tall order, but I've loved this crazy little flick since I discovered an ex-rental copy in the cheap bin nearly two decades ago now. I felt it was worth defending, at least until the end of the multi-coloured kung-fu montage with wacky music credits sequence, by which time I was sure a purple glimpse of Jimmy with his arm tucked in his shirt, and perhaps a pink clip of long armed Indian guy in full flow, would have them both converted.
And I was right. Jimmy teaching the flying technique at his dojo to his mostly two-armed students was a real rib-tickler, as was the shields and club demo, but the arrival of the bare-footed Thai guy who had to kick concrete bricks out of the air to prove he was worthy of entering the tournament (“That’s good enough for me!” – Zomblee) really got the ball rolling. Then it was time for the Eagle Claw School Tournament of martial arts.
Every good kung-fu movie should have a tournament of martial arts and, with the exception of the previous film tonight (we’ll let that one off this time) a lot of them have. Enter the Dragon, Karate Kid, Blood Sport, Masters of the Flying Guillotine – you know it makes sense. But rarely do they come at you as relentlessly as this one. “And on my right, Win-Without-A-Knife! And on my right, some crazy monkey boxing guy!” shouted the announcer (sort of), and then they fight. As Rawshark said, this happened nine times and included the Thai guy and long armed dude, but also showed us various fighters of other disciplines with crazy weapons; some traditional, some not so, some a bit cheating actually with blades that pop out at opportune moments. And let’s not forget the guy who looks like “a girl with a fake moustache!” (Zomblee) Sheesh, there’s always one.
Anyway, the action is pretty hectic (“they’re active these cameras; always moving, zooming, brilliant!” - Rawshark), taking your eyes off the screen is tough (“I missed that and I was watching it all the time!” - Zomblee) and the transfer is pretty crap for a so-called Ultimate Edition (“And on my left, dodgy transfer!” - Zomblee), but apart from that, there ain’t much to fault here. Oh, and yes, Rawshark did think that Jimmy’s anti-guillotine plan involved making a bamboo collar, but that’s fair enough since we’d all drank even more than usual tonight in all the Wang Yu influenced excitement.
"That's good jumping."
Director Jimmy Wang Yu
Cast Yu Wang
Chia Yung Liu
Lung Wei Wang
Tsim Po Sham
Runtime 93 mins
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This guy saved Jackie Chan from the Triads in the late 70s, you know. No shit.
The story goes something like this. After Bruce Lee's untimely death, martial arts director Lo Wei thought the formula that had worked so well for him and Lee in Fist of Fury would work well with Jackie also. But Jackie hated the idea of retreading the path of another star, instead wanting to develop more of a comedy kung-fu style as he'd tried in the smash hit Drunken Master, so walked out halfway through, traveling instead to the States to star in Robert Clouse’s The Big Brawl, and make a sneaky appearance The Cannonball Run. The former of those two was a complete mess of a film and pretty much relegated Clouse to making B-grade schlock (like The Rats, for example).
But that’s another story, this story’s about what happened to Jackie when he returned to Hong Kong. Wei had pulled in his triad connections who had threatened Jackie’s life, so he turned to Jimmy Wang Yu who gallantly stepped in and calmed things down. If you check out the films at the tail end of Wang Yu’s career you’ll see fleeting guest appearances by Chan for which he is often top billed, and now you know why.
Anyway, things get vague when you try to establish just exactly what Wang Yu did to put the triads off. Speculation is rife and people often believe what they like, but I know what really happened and I’m sure you do too. Yeah, The Man From Hong Kong kicked all their asses.
And if you can't find The Man From Hong Kong anywhere, we got our DVDR copy from www.superstrangevideo.com and it's a very good quality widescreen edition. If you do order from them, tell them who sent you.
Next time, Rambo Rip-Off Night, starring two Italian made semi-classics, one of which has got Michael Sopkiw in. And I thought tonight was a good as Zombie Club gets…
4th Oct 04 With its fine blend of dark humour and shock horror, you will barely be able to avert your gaze from the screen; from the opening sequence on the desolate moors, to the thrilling finale in Piccadilly Circus.