Sunday, December 23, 2007

2nd February 2007: Shaw Brothers vs Whore Brothers kung fu double!

Duel Of The Iron Fist

Hong Kong 1971 colour

aka Da Jue Dou, The Duel, Revenge Of The Dragons

Director Chang Cheh Writer Kang Chien Chiu

Cast Ti Lung (Jen Chieh), David Chiang (Ti Wang), Chuen Yuan (Kang), Wang Ping (Butterfly)

Welcome tonight to Schlock Treatment’s special “Shaw Brothers meet Whore Brothers” kung fu double. The Whore Brothers bit will be more apparent during our second film, but first to Duel Of The Iron Fist, from the insanely prolific Hong Kong studios of the Shaw Brothers, who did everything from musicals to comedies to horror films, but are renowned for pioneering the kung fu film, or as we like to call it the “chop-sockey flick”.

We have a philosophy at both Schlock Treatment and Trash Video - you can probably find the next Picasso on the walls of an asylum. Meaning there’s great art even in what most people consider “trash”. Genre or pulp cinema can actually be considered great cinema, such as the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, the samurai sword operas of Akira Kurosawa, and their Hong Kong equivalent, the man who defined the style and substance of the Shaw Brothers’ ballets of blood, Chang Cheh.

The Duel, as it is sometimes called, was made in 1971, around the time Bruce Lee was making his first film for Shaw’s main rival studio Golden Harvest. It wasn’t until Bruce Lee’s death and the release of his final film, Enter The Dragon in 1973, that the kung fu craze exploded all over the world. So Duel Of The Iron Fist is an early classic, picked up by exploitation masters American International Pictures and dubbed into English by a crew that can only be described as Australians pretending to be Texas oil barons. One keen-eared viewer noticed the main character’s accent change three times - in the one sentence.

Set in 1920s Hong Kong, Duel Of The Iron Fist opens with our flawed anti-hero Jen Chieh (played by one of Chang Cheh’s favourite leading men Ti Lung) watching his gangster father assassinated by rival triads. Jen takes the fall and lays low for a while; when he returns he finds his family has been taken over by their accountant, and as for his true love Butterfly - and let’s face it, nothing says “I love you” more than getting a butterfly tattoo to remind you of your sweetheart - his girl has been forced into prostitution. This forces him into an uneasy alliance with The Rover, played by David Chiang (another Chang Cheh regular), a mysterious assassin dressed in black who smokes cigarettes constantly, and who just happens to be the man who killed Jen’s father.

This alliance naturally erupts into the expected savagery. And what savagery - knife fights (hence the titular “Iron Fist”), gun battles, torture by blowtorch, and the ever-present slap-slap-slap. If this tale of loyalty and betrayal among Chinese criminals seems familiar to fans of John Woo, it’s no coincidence - the future director of The Killer and Hardboiled was actually a production assistant on Duel..., which naturally led him to cast Ti Lung in his classic breakthrough film A Better Tomorrow in 1986.

Now, you can either sit back, stroke your beard and ponder over the film’s moral relativism, or slip the brain into neutral and enjoy some good old-fashioned chop-sockey cinema. Either way, we think you’re going to be slap-happy over Duel Of The Iron Fist.

Ninja The Protector

Hong Kong 1986 colour

Director/Writer Godfrey Ho Producer Joseph Lai

Cast Richard Harrison (Gordon Anderson), David Bowles (Bruce), “Jackie Chan”, Phillip Ko

Welcome back to tonight’s second kung film, and what can be considered one of the great film crimes of the Twentieth Century and award winner for the shoddiest kung fu film of all time, Ninja The Protector.

It stars Richard Harrison, an American muscleman who went to Europe in the early Sixties to star in a series of sword and sandal films known as the “peplum” genre. Starting with The Invincible Gladiator in 1962 he became a star of these spaghetti meathead films, along with fellow Americans Steve Reeves (better known as Hercules) and Brad Harris (also Hercules). The peplum film was replaced by the spaghetti western and Harrison too was a star, although he is best remembered as the guy who turned down the lead in A Fistful Of Dollars, recommending the role to a struggling young American actor called Clint Eastwood.

Harrison meanwhile continued to work in spy movies, mafia actioners, and as the B-film died off in Europe, he went wherever the work would take him, and in 1975 he was in Hong Kong making Marco Polo for the Shaw Brothers. There he met a young assistant called Godfrey Ho who desperately wanted to be a player, and ten years later he was, contracting Harrison to play the lead in a kung fu film which amazingly was still a popular genre, so long as there was the word “ninja” in the title.

Harrison turned up to the Filmark/IFD production’s set with a sense of trepidation. Not only was most of the crew, quote “low level triad thugs”, but director Ho had a trick of shooting a fight scene in set of costumes, panning the camera 45 degrees to change the background scenery, change costumes again and reshoot the fight scene. This happened four times during the one scene. Harrison later discovered his one movie for Godfrey Ho and producer Joseph Lai (known affectionately by all concerned as “Whore and Lie”) had been spliced into more than a dozen Filmark/IFD features: Cobra vs Ninja, Golden Ninja Warrior, Diamond Nínja Force, the list is seemingly endless. To rub salt into the wound, Harrison wasn’t even paid the full amount owed for his one movie. Despondent, he returned to States and virtually ended his thirty year career there and then.

As if the affair couldn’t get any sleazier: the Filmark/IFD operations were based in a rathole in Kowloon, where most of Ninja The Protector’s interiors were shot. A fire broke out in the late 80s, and several people died - one name listed among the deceased was a pseudonym used by Ho and Lai for tax purposes.

Deliberate insurance job or accidental towering inferno? We’ll never know for sure. All that remains is a catalogue of titles remembered by bad movie fans as the most wretched kung fu movies of all time. Bad dubbing, bad acting, bad camerawork, and I feel so sleazy for even programming this, but what the hell, this one is for all you bad kung fu fans out there - the 1986 Ninja The Protector.

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