Martial Arts Collection
– Wave Four (20th
Sound: B- Extras: D Films: C+ (C for Mr. Vampire)
Battle Creek Brawl (1980)
The Iron-Fisted Monk (1977)
Mr. Vampire (1985)
The Postman Fights Back (1982)
Though the Karate/Kung-Fu cycle of the 1970s ended for the
most part, the Asian film producers that thrived on them kept them going from
the late 1970s until Hong Kong became the new center of the world for a new
breed of such action filmmaking. 20th
Century Fox, a company that has done well since back in the day on such films,
has been licensing and issuing many of the films from the in-between era in Martial
Arts waves that include anamorphic video transfers and DTS sound remixes.
The five films here feature future stars Chow Yung Fat and
Jackie Chan, plus genre favorites Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung. In this period, the films survived by being
spoofs of them, mocking the past cycle before the John Woo’s of the world
brought on a new era of them. They are too
silly to be for real, and they made more humor out of the action than Bruce Lee
could have ever imagined. Of course,
you have to be steeped in the previous attributes of the genre to appreciate
them, or you will find them bizarre.
Battle Creek Brawl places Jackie Chan, the most
comic (and thus obnoxious) of all the stars in 1930s Chicago battling cartoon
gangsters and all of it becomes thin very quickly. At least Chan is somewhat likable in this case and this was
before he really wore out his welcome.
Being a post-Godfather film, this is being played for some humor,
erroneously using the 1930s as a safer, easier time to deal with. The only plus is that a minority character
is given lead status considering the genre.
The Iron-Fisted Monk happens to be Sammo
Hung’s directorial debut, with another monk that kicks butt when pushed too
far. Many such films later, it is not
as tired and has some interesting fighting, but it ultimately wears thin as it
is still not as serious as it needs to be.
It fares a bit better than the Chan film, though.
Knockabout pairs Hung (also directing
again) with Yuen Biao as one of two thieves, who have things going smoothly
until they cross a kingpin thief (Hung).
This fares better than the previous two films, but does not go as far in
the grittier world of underworld crime that it does in hand to hand combat and
has way too much humor injected into its fighting sequences.
Mr. Vampire is beyond silly and never works
as a Horror work, though it was hardly intended as such. The action here is ruined by the slapstick
and I doubt it is a cult item, but a curio for those who will just have to see
it to believe it. This mix did not work
in a more serious way before, so this was the weakest film of the bunch.
The Postman Fights Back has a funny title, but
this early Chow Yung Fat entry is not bad for its time, as early China is about
to undergo changes that will make him “go postal” to survive the
transition. Though far from being as
substantial as something like The Last Samurai (2003), it shows why Fat
became a star. It is also the best film
of the set, mostly by default.
In these cases, the R-rated films (Brawl, Monk,
Postman) are more watchable than the other two films. Two of the three R-rated films are shot in
2.35 x 1 scope formats, with PG-13 rated Knockabout joining them, and Brawl
and Vampire cut to fit the 1.78 X 1/16 X 9 HDTV ratio. They all show their age and are about even
in their fidelity, including color consistency and clarity, while older
installments have more grain. The sound
mixes are similar to the last batches, in that obviously new sound effects have
been added to make the 5.1 mixes possible, all of which are in both Chinese
(Mandarin) and English Dolby Digital 5.1 except the original English of Brawl. All DTS tracks are in English. These mixes can be awkward and even
unintentionally funny, but only purists should be disappointed otherwise. The only extras are for all five films in
the series on each DVD, but these are updated and not original theatrical. Those can be found on the film DVD of
origin, listed as the only special feature on each. This at least does right by fans and in the better moments, you
can see where Quentin Tarantino is coming from.
- Nicholas Sheffo