New York City residents lucky enough to have three full days off this week can now share in the joy and wonderment to be experienced at this month’s Old School Kung Fu Fest to be held at the Anthology Film Archive. Now in its second year, the events will be hosted by Subway Cinema and The New York Asian Film Festival in conjunction with the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office and The Korea Society, with a total of nine films, guest speakers and an artists’ poster exhibit paying tribute to legendary late great kung fu cinema auteur Lau Kar-Leung.
THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (aka MASTER KILLER) 少林卅六房
The movie that cracked the genre in half, 36th Chamber is king of the kung fu films — everyone references it, everyone steals from it, but it still holds up today. LKL’s god-brother, Gordon Liu, plays a kid in Manchu-occupied China who gets his entire family killed by the Manchus because he is an idiot. With nowhere else to go, he flees to the Shaolin Temple, and begs them to train him for revenge. Training involves mastering 35 chambers, each teaching a different discipline, and as he conquers them one-by-one the Buddhist philosophy behind Shaolin kung fu opens his third eye to enlightenment. The training sequence is a stock martial arts movie setpiece, but in the hands of LKL it expands into an hour-long, genius-level, cinematic tone poem on how discipline, focus, commitment, and willpower can save you from yourself.
CANTON VIPER 毒蛇 / 광동살무사
A Korean martial arts movie as raw as steak tartare, CANTON VIPER features “king of kicks” and taekwondo Grandmaster Hwang Jang-lee in the role of a formidable anti-hero struggling with revenge and redemption. In pure Korean tradition, the film wastes no time and throws us right in the midst of an epic showdown between Hwang, the villain of the tale, and 100 swordsmen, whose bodies he proceeds to fling around the Chinese landscape and straight into hell. Exhausted and injured after the carnage, Hwang unknowingly take refuge with the wife and son of a dead foe. Soon, their affections tempt him into changing his bad guy ways. Sadly, a league of kung fu masters is determined to punish him for his sins. Perfectly poised between drama and deadly action, CANTON VIPER is truly one-of-a-kind. Presented and unleashed for the first time in the unsuspecting West!
CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS 陸阿采與黃飛鴻
Appearing in over 100 films before 1976, Wong Fei-hung, the real-life martial arts master and avatar of Confucian virtue, was always depicted onscreen as a pompous stiff. But in Lau Kar-leung’s second film, he was recast as a bratty street punk whose dad won’t let him learn kung fu because then he’ll be an even bigger pain in the ass. An injection of youthful energy, this flick comes straight from the heart. LKL’s dad was a student of Wong Fei-hung’s student, so this family affair pays tribute to Wong’s real-life legacy. Lau himself plays a criminal on the run, his brother, Lau Kar-wing, plays a cop who’s after him, and his god-brother, Gordon Liu, plays the brash Wong Fei-hung. Full of high energy mayhem, it’s the first martial arts movie to focus on respecting your enemy, not just kicking his ass.
DIRTY HO 爛頭何
One of the best titles ever to grace a movie poster comes attached to one of the most sophisticated kung fu movies ever made. The Qing Prince (Gordon Liu) is traveling the country incognito, tasting wine, fondling antiques, and relaxing in brothels. While brothel-relaxing he gets in a scrap with a loud-mouthed conman, Ho (Wong Yue), and forces the punk to become his reluctant servant. This comes in handy when a series of assassins are dispatched to ensure the Prince never returns to the imperial palace. Shakespearean in scope, this flick is a series of secret duels between the Prince and the killers, all taking place in public but disguised as wine tastings and genteel social encounters. LKL reaches dizzying heights of physical invention, and the movie becomes an ever-expanding series of jaw-dropping duels leading to an arrow studded showdown in a sound stage wasteland.
A classic screwball comedy, only with Mantis Fists and Skirt Kicks replacing quips and wisecracks, this is the kung fu comedy elevated to high art. Ah To (Gordon Liu) is strong-armed into an arranged marriage with the daughter of his dad’s Japanese business partner. The blushing bride, Kuda, and the grim groom soon discover that they’re both martial arts mavens, but they can’t agree on whether Japanese or Chinese skills are superior. So they decide to settle their differences with sword, spear, and throwing stars, gleefully laying waste to their posh new home in the process. Finally, Kuda goes full ninja, and Ah To declares her “sneaky.” Kuda takes it personally and her entire family decides to head to Hong Kong to teach their Chinese in-law a lesson. Combat is couples counseling, and lethal strikes are love bites in LKL’s ode to the sweet, sweet mayhem of marriage.
LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA 十八般武藝
Lau Kar-leung is known for his realistic martial arts, but things get gothic when he delves into the supernatural in this steeped-in-dread classic. It’s 1899 and the Westerners are bringing China to its knees with their guns. The Empress Dowager commissions kung fu cults for a solution, and they turn to maoshan magic to become bulletproof, resulting in lots of dead test subjects. One of the masters (Lau Kar-leung), refuses to let his students become bullet-fodder and goes into hiding, so the Empress Dowager orders three of the cults to find him and rip off his face. Ending in an explosive two-part fight scene that sees all 18 legendary weapons unleashed, LKL stages combat in rafters, narrow alleys, and on rooftops in the pouring rain, as he works every nook and cranny of the Shawscope screen in his most visually arresting and grimmest movie.
Jimmy Wang Yu writes, directs, and stars in this massively entertaining grindhouse masterpiece. A blind lama assassin employed by the Qing Emperor goes after the righteous “One-Armed Boxer” (Wang Yu). Intent on avenging his two disciples, whom Wang Yu killed, the imperial assassin packs his monk robes, his unbeatable flying guillotine, and soon he’s keeping the clashes coming, the blood flowing, and the heads rolling. His killer quest ends at a kung fu tournament full of freaky martial artists who employ ponytail-strangling, yoga-magic-stretching, and kickboxing, but they’re no match for the killer lama and his one-armed foe! Featuring extravagant choreography by brothers Lau Kar-leung and Lau Kar-wing, MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE set the ultimate template for martial arts video games, and the fireworks of its final showdown (set in a booby-trapped coffin shop) have yet to be equalled.
PEDICAB DRIVER 群龍戲鳳
Long unseen, and unavailable on home video, Sammo Hung’s action masterpiece is here and it wants to kick you through a wall. Set in 1950′s Macau, this action-comedy-drama-romance burns up the screen with old school intensity, and is sprinkled with appearances by many big-name Hong Kong stunt actors and filmmakers. Yuen Biao and Corey Yuen get into a “light saber” duel with fluorescent light tubes! Eric Tsang hides! SQ mnnkkmammo takes on Lau Kar-leung, and you won’t want to miss two of the world’s greatest action directors duking it out. See for yourself what makes LKL tell Sammo: “Fatty, you’re crafty!” Then watch Sammo unleashing infinite pain on superkicker, Billy Chow (Japanese baddie in FIST OF LEGEND). Audience-pleasing, heart-pumping, nitro-burning moviemaking in what is arguably one of the best martial arts movies of the 1980s.
We can’t tell you the title of this Hong Kong action movie from the 1970s, but trust us: you want to see it on the big screen with an audience! Before the show, we’re going to give away prizes, and make a couple of announcements regarding the lineup and guests for this year’s New York Asian Film Festival, so what more could you possible ask for!?