Friday, March 9, 2012

The Chinese Connection - Jing Wu Men

The Chinese Connection

Alias "Jing Wu Men...

Alias "Fist of Fury"...

Alias "Episode Two of Three"...

Yes Ladies and Gentlemen, this week we are covering another Bruce Lee film, "The Chinese Connection". Our reason for doing this is that this film picks up where Jet Li's portrayal of Master Yuanjia left off in "Fearless".

"The Chinese Connection" is a 1972 Kung Fu classic starring none other than our own Bruce Lee. The film was written and directed by Wei Lo (The Shadow Whip, Commissioner Wu, Xin Jing Wu Men, etc.) Lee plays the role of the young Chen Zhen who has returned to Shanghai upon hearing of his Master's death, only to find the Japanese at the heart of the problem.


Before we begin really talking about this movie, what happens, and any associated silliness that may unfold, we find it very important to note that this is an amazingly quirky, and often times downright bizarre movie... especially if you have a bad english translation. 

So, anyway... pick up where we left off last week, Master Huo Yuanjia has died a horrible, unexpected death and has left behind his devoted students and his Jing Wu school that he dreamed about. Our movie opens to Chen Zhen arriving via rickshaw to the front gates of the Jing Wu school just moments after Yuanjia's death. He walks through the front door, sporting that classic 1970's white suit with matching suitcase, just as the students and Sifu are burying Master Hou Yuanjia.  In an epic display of mourning, Zhen flings himself into the grave, clawing, wailing and being an all-around lunatic, unearthing the freshly buried casket of his master.  Unable to otherwise contain him, Sifu clubs him over the head, knocking him unconscious with a shovel and thus saving the white suit from any further destruction. (MAN I hope he's got a tide pen in that matching white suitcase.)

(Insert incredibly awesome Bruce Lee touting credits with excellent choral accompaniment)

NOTE: I couldn't find the actual opening credits, replete with awesome Bruce Lee collage bits against brightly colored background... but this theme song will get you in the right mood for the rest of this blog. ENJOY!

Once he comes to after being beaten in the noggin with a shovel, Zhen beings to inquire as to Yuanjia's cause of death. His fellow students say that it was pneumonia. Zhen freaks out and makes it clear that he firmly believes that his master was murdered, having had a history of good health and strength, and that he, Chen Zhen, is pretty gung-ho about finding the culprits. GAME ON!

The next day, Yuanjia's friend Nong Jinsun (whom we met in Fearless) is delivering a stirring eulogy when students of the Japanese Bushido school decide it is appropriate to crash a funeral. They deliver a gift, a sign reading "Sick Men of Asia", pointing out that the Chinese are "No match for the Japanese". They arrogantly taunt the Jing Wu school, saying they will 'eat their words' and close the school if they are defeated.

Chen Zhen (complete in white suit which seems to have miraculously recovered from the previous day's fit in the dirt) furrows his brow and cracks his knuckles, only barely holding back from devastating someone's face. However, before the beat-down unfolds, Sifu makes a point here that we should not forget... that while all of them want to fight the Japanese for their unkind words, Yuanjia would not have condoned it.  AKA...
"Let it go dudes. Let it go."

Without the knowledge of the rest of his school, Chen Zhen goes to the Japanese school the following day to return the sign, offering to take any one of the Japanese students on. Now, a smart fella would say "Gee, that's Bruce Lee. Maybe I'd better stay away." But that wouldn't make for a very good film, would it now?

OK. So, the first Japanese student, and one of the primary offenders from the funeral, approaches Chen Zhen, pointing his finger in his face stating :

"You must be tired of living!"

Dude. Seriously? Is that your best insult??? That's all you've got? Pffftt...

Needless to say, that guy takes a beating that lasts all of 4 seconds, finished off by a very embarrassing facepalm from Chen Zhen. Then, the Planet of the Apes wig guy steps up to the plate to face the same fate, and the first guy gets kicked in the face AGAIN!!! (1:18 in the video clip shown below)

The entire school then jumps to their feet and surrounds Zhen, circling him in some seriously beautiful choreography before Chen Zhen lets out that famous wail (HUwwwwaaaaaaaaaaarrr...), slowly unbuttons his shirt (international sign for "You're about to get the beatdown of your life), and then proceeds to kick in 8 faces in the first 5 seconds without stopping.

Now, if you've read our previous blogs, or if you're a Bruce Lee fan yourself (SHAME on you if you're not) then you know he will undoubtedly get mystery nunchaku at some point. We say this because we're never entirely sure where they come from.  They just kind of... appear when he needs them. It is now that he summons the magical nunchaku, whacks a couple heads, then targets the feet of every attacker. Also, it is here that you are officially introduced to the "Lee Cam". Let us send up a rousing HA! Zhen then quite literally kicks the butt of their Sensei.

BOOOYAH Bushido school!!! IN YOUR FACE!!!

On his way back to the Jing Wu school, Zhen attempts to enter a park, at the entrance to which a sign reads 'No Dogs and Chinese Allowed'.  When a pet dog is allowed to enter and Zhen is not, a Japanese man offers to allow Zhen to pretend to be his pet dog to gain access to the park. Furious, Zhen beats the living daylights out of the guy, having had it up to here with the Japanese' BS. As the police are called, Zhen is ushered away by a group of Chinese onlookers who had seen the whole thing.

Meanwhile, back at the Jing Wu school, the Bushido school shows up seeking revenge. They demand that the Jing Wu hand over Zhen within 3 days or the school would be closed. Facing the death of their friend or the closing of their school, the Jing Wu urge Zhen to leave Shanghai, including his power barrette and polyester sporting girlfriend with Australian accent (in our version anyway). It is at this point that we begin to wonder in what alternate dimension polyester and big hair were all the rage in 1911 China.

Now here there's this really excellent piano bar love scene between Zhen and the seemingly Australian Yuan. Please feel free to laugh hysterically. Seriously. But recover quickly, because then things get serious.
I've placed that scene here for those who MAY be curious enough to watch it. 

Left alone, Zhen overhears a conversation between two house employees who confess to working for the Japanese and poisoning his master, aaaaaand he completely loses it. In the heat of the moment, he kills both men (one in slow motion!) and hangs them from a lamppost out in public as an example. He leaves a note for a Sifu along with the jar of poisoned biscuits (apparently hoping that he sees the note before eating the biscuits...) and flees into the night.

While the Jing Wu school searches for him, his 12 hours on the lam appear to have caught up with him, as we next see him roasting a delicious rat over the most ridiculous White Mans Fire you've ever seen. The Australian girlfriend is somehow the first to find him, and another awkward love scene commences. This being THE love scene that ends Bruce Lee's participation in love scenes for the rest of his career. Laying the tasty looking rat aside, Zhen professes his undying love for Yuan in the corniest fashion, and they discuss their mundane and generic dreams for the future. Zhen decides his only course of action is to take revenge on the Japanese.

Let us just take a moment to get over our remarkably girly and petty jealousy at not being the girl smooching Bruce Lee. (Insert deep, disappointed sigh....)

The Jing Wu school protects Zhen from the police, telling them they have "no idear" who killed the two Japanese men or where Zhen is. Meanwhile the Japanese leader Hiroshi Suzuki plans another raid on the Jing Wu school, hoping to flush Zhen out. But first, they have to recharge with an incredibly bizarre and culturally inaccurate scene with a stripping, belly dancing... well, Geisha, I guess. It is here that we meet Petrov, a burly man from 'Russier' (where did they FIND these voice over folks??) who has come to join the Bushido school.

After the party, Suzuki's translator lackey rides away in a Rickshaw driven by Zhen... in a totally awesome thimble hat. In an attempt to get some information about Suzuki, Zhen picks up the entire rickshaw the THROWS IT across the alley. Having learned that Suzuki ordered the death of his master, Zhen kills the translator and hangs him from a lamppost too. We're not entirely sure of the lamppost reference.... but I guess it's effective.

Suzuki, the Japanese Bushido leader (voiced by someone who sounds remarkably like William Shatner) orders the police to arrest Zhen or face the closing of the Jing Wu school. Zhen, dressed as an adorable old newspaper guy, spies to figure out the plan.

 MJ had a blonde moment here and didn't realize the old guy was Bruce Lee with grey hair. Oh that tricky 70's costuming!!

There are some more made up words, script errors and "naive" used as a noun as the Jing Wu school is informed of its impending closure. Yuan breaks under the pressure, telling Sifu where Zhen has been hiding at night.

And now for the funnies. The real funnies. Zhen shows up at the Bushido school dressed as a telephone repair man to scope things out (MJ was prepared and not to be fooled this time!). As he pokes and prods and pretends to work his magic on the various phones which are strategically placed in the most ridiculous and espionage-convenient locations in the Dojo, Zhen sees exactly what he will be up against.

A few from the Jing Wu school, including Sifu and Yuan, go looking for Zhen in his rat-roasting hideout, but are unable to find him as he has already taken off to single-handedly raid the Bushido school once again. There is crunching of skulls, flying, punching, kicking madness, and some excellent moves borrowed from the Three Stooges, before Zhen defeats the Sensei in slow motion with his own sword and the almighty punch of death.

In the immaculately groomed courtyard with the lovely fresh astroturf strips, Zhen runs into Gene Wilder... err, Petrov... dressed so appropriately for a death match in his suspenders and bow-tie. Actually, it's as if he were the only cast member that got the memo that this is a period movie set in 1911. Now, just before they begin to fight, Zhen takes his shirt off... and you ALL know what that means! IT... IS... ON!!!! Ok, as you watch this battle please notice the unsurpassed gloriousness and incredibly sexy forearms of DEATH sported by Lee. They are arguably why the pause button was invented.

 About halfway through their match, Petrov has either had his mind blown by the serious beating he's taken, or the futuristic 1970's LSD has kicked in, as Zhen appears to have grown about 6 extra arms as he quite literally pounces for the final attack, which just happens to be a crushing chop to the neck... because he didn't need that jugular anyway.

You often hear that you shouldn't throw rocks at glass houses.
You ALSO shouldn't kick guys through your paper walls, unless they really have it coming.

Having witnessed the death of his friend from Russier, Suzuki the big, tough, bicycle mustached Bushido master retreats into his office, hoping that his presence will not be detected behind the paper walls. After a katana/nunchaku face-off, the wild and possessed Zhen puts Suzuki through a paper wall and halfway into the courtyard with a mighty flying kick, thus avenging his beloved master Huo Yuanjia.

Meanwhile, the search party has returned to the Jing Wu school to find their comrades have been murdered in a Japanese raid on the school, and when the police show up with soldiers to arrest Zhen, they are enraged. Zhen sneaks in through an upstairs window of the school and overhears the exchange between the Jing Wu and the police. To stop the police from arresting all of his friends, Zhen rushes in and hands himself over to the police, with a sad farewell to Yuan and a firm 'you better not mess with my friends' to the inspector.

Zhen is led out the front door of the school only to face a line of armed soldiers at the gate.  He shrieks, he runs... he leaps.... and the image of a flying Zhen freezes to the sound of gunfire and an eerie choral outro.

So did he die??? Fly over their heads in a incredible feat of impressiveness?? Get picked up by a helicopter with a rope ladder at the last moment like in all 70's films because they seem to have forgotten that this is taking place in 1911???? The world will never know. But I'm sure we can bring you up to speed in next week's installment featuring one of our modern favorites portraying the saga of Chen Zhen...

Forgiving though the puzzling selection in voice-talent and the incredible amount of white polyester and big hair so uncharacteristic of the early 20th century, this film provides us with a plausible, if not sometimes laughable depiction of the most popular theory behind the death of Hou Yuanjin and the student who sought to avenge him. It's classic Bruce Lee in his element, with tons of added 'waaaaaaaAAAAAAAAA' for effect, and lots of shirtlessness, which can never hurt.

This gem is available for online viewing via Netflix, so you with the smartphones can even watch the brutality on the go. Excellent. It can also be rented from your local brick and mortar shop for a few bucks, in case you don't have Netflix.

 'Til then, may the images of those impressive forearms be with your in your dreams.

- MJ and Kelly

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