Friday, June 15, 2012

Shaolin Traitorous - Say What Now?

You know that movie that is so terribly ridiculous that the moment you finish watching it you phone a friend to tell them about the spectacularly silly movie you just watched and insist that they watch it too so they can confirm how hilariously preposterous the whole thing was? And they say yeah, yeah, whatever, I'll watch it someday... but you know they won't, so the next time they're over you slap it in the DVD player before they can say anything, and before you know it you're both rolling on the floor unable to speak with crazy hyena laughter?

YEAH... That's Shaolin Traitorous

Yes folks. This past week we watched this 1976 Kung Fu classic starring the likes of Carter Wong, Sammo Hung, and a woman that Kelly thought looked like Linda Rondstat, and MJ thought looked like Delta Burke. Either way... it was a hoot, and we will now share a nugget of the experience with you.

So, getting down to business. We start with goats. Lots of black, bleating, annoying goats being herded by a small boy. A young couple and an old man, presumably the boy's family, are doing chores around the outside of their humble home in a quiet and entirely benign manner, when suddenly we are assaulted by a title screen and are forced to turn the volume down about 10 clicks, as we may have just been deafened by crazy intro music. A whole army of sound effects folk bang together empty halves of coconuts as a band of ridiculously clad men ride for a good three minutes of film through the Chinese countryside up to the family's house, because apparently there was no other way to have enough time for the credits. Upon arriving at the family's home, these men feel a need to tear down their fence, despite the fact that it is made of sticks and could have been blown over by a light breeze. And has an entry arch in the middle of it. Anyway, come to find out that this now fenceless family, the Yangs, is under arrest for... umm... err... shhhrrrrrnaberbenflaven.... and this bad guy, Tien Erh Keng and his buddies (Sammo Hung and Some Other Dude) have come to haul them off, but the Yangs refuse to go. Some words are exchanged, the grandfather laughs like a maniac, a battles ensues, there is much punchy punchy stabby stabby eye gouging, along with a really fantastic display of eyebrows, some epic slow falling, and the entire family is killed, but for the boy who hid in the woods and saw his family murdered.

So here's where we have to make a confession.
We are still impossibly unclear as to what these people did that was so terrible, resulting in these horrific deaths overly saturated with sound-effects. Why, you ask? Why, when we are such connoisseurs of kung fu cinema, are we unable to follow a simple storyline? I'll tell you why.

These subtitles were unquestionably written by a drunken monkey relying solely on Google translate and a sack of Scrabble letters. The way I figure it, he had to have plugged the characters from the script into Google, then tossed the sack of letters in the air and whichever tiles fell out, he added those letters into the fractured sentence somewhere. We'll highlight some of our favorite examples as we go, such as 'all're', a horrific contraction used repeatedly and without shame.

But at least, despite the preposterous dialogue, we can determine that bad people killed good people and good people must be avenged, right? Right. So then we're thrown headlong into a scene of much pomp and circumstance with a voice-over, no subtitles, and a screen full of characters that we can only assume are intended for us to absorb by pressing our foreheads to the screen. But we can devise from the back of the DVD case that this Tien Erh Keng is some sort of very powerful fella.
Did we mention the DVD case also says something about all these bad guys being eunuchs? 
Yeah. We don't understand either.

In the meantime the little boy, Yung (Yung Yang! So cute!), grabs his dead mother's bangle with bells all over it with the specific intention of annoying you for the remainder of the film and runs off to kneel in the hot hot sun outside the Shaolin temple until someone agrees to train him.

'He's very hard, how wonderful.' says the old monk fellow. 
We're sure this has something to do with the boy's character, given who it's coming from, but.... really?

The monks take pity on the boy after three days of kneeling and sweating and allow him to come work in the kitchens with a cantankerous cook. Yung asks the cook to teach him Kung Fu, and when asked why he communicates his desire for retribution... via flashback, which is telepathically absorbed by the cook's 6-inch eyebrow antennae. It's a theme. The cook agrees, and immediately sets the boy to fetching buckets of water bigger than himself up enough stairs to kill a... well... me. Then the cook takes Yung to a room in the temple where 18 statues (that breathe, and wobble occasionally) are standing around in various acrobatic positions looking entirely uncomfortable in a film of gold spray paint, saying...

'These 18 bronze-men're Shao Lin's highes know ledge!'

Say what now?

Eventually we figure out that the kid has to learn all 18 of these different forms in order to master the art of Kung Fu. Why he couldn't just say that, we're not sure. But again we reference the drunken, scrabble toting monkey.

QUE MONTAGE! Suddenly Yung goes from small child who is training hard, to adult with not very impressive eyebrows, but mad kung fu skills, the ability to jump out of a muddy hole in the ground and run up those aforementioned steps without spilling any water, and an inexplicable obsession with ripping bags of rice open with crazy hand-stabby moves. To this, the cook tells him he's ready to go out and seek his vengeance. And then the cook retires, and Yung dons a lovely hat and takes his mother's irritating bangle out into the world to seek out the mean dudes who killed his family.

Over on the other side of town, Tien Erh Keng has started up this strange tower of Kung Fu acrobats called the Tien Lo Net Set. Here's how it works: His ruffians stand on each other's shoulders three men high to make some kind of impenetrable wall, or cheerleading pyramid formation. We're not entirely sure why he did this, other than that he's evil, he's got wicked eyebrows, and scheming is required, to some degree.

So the way this man-wall works.... The White Haired Mantis (Sammo Hung) bangs on a drum in a particular manner for either attack or defence. The defence, Tien Lo Set, is the ginormous wall formation. The attack is Tien Lo Net, in which the top row of the man-wall jumps down, dropping an actual net over their enemy, and spins in a circle until the enemy is tangled. Complicated stuff. In evil-genius style, Tien tests the unit on his adopted daughter, Yuan, as she is well-versed in the ways of Kung Fu, but despite her obvious abilities she is captured in the treacherous net (pffffffffft).

Delta Burke                       Yuan                            Linda Rondstadt

Then we find ourselves at a restaurant, where using words like 'aatually' and 'fveryone' are super hip. We witness the owner and his family being attacked by the royal guard for another entirely unexplained offense. Yuan shows up in hero style, chucks his hat at the main guard, wedging it into a post, and begins showing off his crazy skills. He beats everybody down and says, and we quote:

Go back and tell your head, it's the time for you to repay new. 

Ok, so we kind of get what that means. It means "watch yo back". The guard runs off, and the restaurant manager is impressed and thankful, so Yung decides to stay and protect him further.

Tien is obviously ticked that his royal guard was beaten by some young hoodlum, so he kills the main guard and sends his daughter and his officer (one of the family-killers) to go track down the trouble-maker. When she arrives at the restaurant, Yuan is mistaken for a man, seated at a table, and brought food and booze. Then an incredibly strange exchange ensues where plates and bottles are tossed back and forth between her table and Yung's, resulting in a fight that corners Yung and has him jumping through a screen onto a horse and riding away through the city. Eventually he comes back to face the officer who killed his father, reminding him of his crime, complete with the flashback eyebrow antennae. The officer tells Yung he is the descendant of a traitor (aaahhhh, it's all starting to make sense!) and attacks him. He makes a mistake though when he pulls out the crazy hook-sword things he used to kills Yung's dad, because Yung goes all super-ultra revengey, dodges the crazy flying chains and knives, and stabs the officer in the gut.

Yung: 1
Bad Guys: 0

So then Tien sends the "first head", the "eye-gouger", the "StayPuft Marshmallow Man" himself, Sammo Hung, aka White Haired Mantis (along with his daughter, again...) to finish the job. While Mantis is busy being all important, Yuan and Yung meet in an alley, where she finds out what his plans are for the bad guys, and he finds out she's a girl. She runs back to tell daddy, but he's not there, so Mantis takes action instead, thinking Tien will be all kinds of pleased with him when he arrives home. So Mantis rides out into the desert on the shoulders of his royal guard to find Yung. When he sees the bangle and realizes that he killed Yung's mother, he starts banging on his drum and Yung is forced to fight the Tien Lo Set, which had us rolling about and cracking jokes regarding their resemblance to Monty Python's Knights of the Round Table. Of course, there was a minimal amount of rum, coffee and sugar involved. Or a whole lot. You had to be there.

Yuan, for reasons unbeknownst to us, hides in a bush and beats on a different, tiny drum that somehow manages to entirely confuse the Tien Lo Set... even though it sounds nothing like the Mantis' drum. There is much running about, more Monty Python jokes, and Yung takes the opportunity to quite literally hop away like a bunny. The guard reports back to Tien that his adopted daughter was the one who beat the other drum, and she runs off to find Yung, where she reveals via flashback that Tien destroyed her family, and her uncle sent her to live with Tien to bide her time and get her revenge. So she wants to kill Tien Erh Keng herself, and doesn't plan to let Yung get in the way, but she WILL let him kill the first head. Because she's just so generous like that.

Now that Yung knows where the StayPuft man is hiding, he runs off to go confront the man who killed his mama. What we love about Sammo Hung is that though this character really looks nothing at all like Sammo Hung as we know him, you can totally tell it's him by his stance and movements. But anyway, though the battle is fabulous, he's no match for Yung, who gouges out his eyes and calmly walks away.

Now Tien is absolutely livid. He imposes a curfew and sends his whole guard out to look for Yung.

"There're reward for him too." He says. 

MMm... Good to know. 

Yuan shows up and Tien accuses her of being a spy, at which she goes totally crazy on his ass, but she doesn't succeed in killing him before she has to run away. She runs back to Yung, who helps her with a plan to break through the Tien Lo Set next time Tien leaves the palace. When they find the Tien Lo Set, who have obviously found a new drummer, they find that together they are stronger than the crazy man-wall, and when they try to Tien Lo Net, Yung and Yuan somehow manage to pull this impossible move where they flip the net over and trap everyone under the net and then kill the drummer.

SHEESH...The mortality rate for those drummers is brutal.

The pair of vengeful young'uns find Tien, kill the remainder of his royal guard by reducing their internal organs to a pulp with their fingertips, and proceed to get their butts whooped by Tien. This goes on for a long, long time, with capes and hats and flying about and a little bit of blood spooting before Yuan is finally able to slice off Tien's arm and stab him in the gut, which is pretty much the end of his horrible self. He collapses on the ground, and the movie is literally and abruptly over.

So the storyline is... generic. The film quality is not the best. But the movie does have some good things going for it, namely Sammo Hung, Carter Wong, a girl who can kick some serious butt, absurd subtitling that keeps you on your toes, and eyebrows that just don't quit. Please see it at least once, preferrably with someone who has an MST3K style sense of humor. We're not sure how widely available it is, and it isn't on Netflix currently, but given that it's got some big names it shouldn't be too difficult to track down.

'Til next time, "all're" told watch this good film!

~The Mavens

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame...

As many of you are aware, last week we held Lau La-Palooza, which we hyped all week and likely drove you all crazy. HOWEVER... it was a great time, thoroughly enjoyed by eating some SWEET eggrolls, listening to a newly imported Andy Lau CD, and then slapping in a little Detective Dee for the win. An all around successful "-Palooza" if you ask us.

But enough about what WE did. 

Let's talk about this movie!

Detective Dee, or Die Renjie, is a 2010 release directed by Hark Tsui (Once Upon a Time in China, Zu Warriors, Seven Swords, etc. ), and written by Kou-fu Chen and Lin Qianyu (original story), and Jialu Zhang (screenplay).

And this my friends is where our story begins.

The year is 689 A.D. and Emperor Tang Gaozhong has died. Now, though  Wu Zetian has been a Regent for 7 years, there apparently hasn't been an emperor in charge. Now Wu Zetian (the lady with the creatively big hair) feels as though she should rise to the occasion and fill the position of Empress. Now, this is 689 A.D., so naturally there are some pretty pissed off dudes who feel their masculinity in a pinch, if you know what I mean. With this in mind, there are all sorts of conspiracies and death threats taking place.

Our film opens onto a construction site where there are hundreds of Chinese workers constructing the biggest Buddha known to man... or woman for that matter. The purpose of such an enormity? It is being built outside the coronation "theatre", so that Buddha may smile on and bless the coronation of the Empress, and revere her divine glory... and hair.

 Essentially, it's a gift. A really... really... big gift that they have to finish in time for the impending coronation. Complete it or die, which I guess no longer makes it a "gift" but rather a matter of life and death.

Now, several important men within the Chinese counsel arrive on the construction site with what appears/sounds to be a Roman soldier, which was a little vague and confusing...

Guys are about to punched and that's all that matters, right?

The big important guys all chat about the structural qualities of the Buddha, how it's central post is 82 yards in length, has super amazing structural integrity, and then they all have a drink of water to try and stave off the sweltering heat of the smelting pot inside the Buddha. All is right on the western front up to this point.

Now, there is a bit of a hullabaloo amongst the workers regarding the careless moving of some protective amulets and they press Shatuo Zhong, the foreman, to speak with Master Jai about his reckless actions and how they are sure to bring death and burning, or at least some bad luck upon them all if not put back properly. Not wanting to look like a careless oaf in front of his guests, Master Jai instructs Zhong to put the amulets back in place, and then he heads out onto the veranda where...


People are whiggin' out, an investigation ensues, and it is here that we are introduced to the extremely hostile albino Pei Donglai. Now, though extremely adept, observant, and always one step ahead of everyone else, he's a little too quick to start with the slicing and dicing. Very much a "shoot first and ask questions later" kind of guy. 

Now, during the finger pointing session as to who the murder is, Pei notices that Zhong is hiding his hand. Oh CRAAAP... what's he hiding? A bottle of poison? A self made pipe bomb? It's... it's...

(duh, duh, duh)

Pei Donglai tenderizes him right good, trying to beat the truth out, and then sort of passively chastises him for having lost his hand due to his allegiance to Detective Dee, calling him a dork and laughing at Zhong's misfortune like a "Grade A" asshat. Like he should laugh... (phsssst)... Albino Boy.

The general inspector then gets in on the action and tries to beat the details out of Zhong. It is here that Zhong states the Master Jia was struck dead by divine intervention for having disrespectfully messed with the amulets. This naturally goes over like a fart in church. However, realizing that he is late for an appointment with Wu Zetian, the inspector places his guards in charge and rides off  with Donglai to the palace where he meets Wu Zetian and her gold clad entourage, and ...

(are you seeing a trend form here?)

Naturally, everyone WHIGGS out thinking that this is another assassination attempt, and there is just horses, horse ramming,soldiers and fire all over the place. 

We are then transported into the inner chambers of the stressed out Wu Zetian who has amazingly large hair and is still refusing to eat, despite her right hand woman acting as the poison tester and making sure her favorite soup is a-ok for the eating. And, there is an endearing exchange between the two ladies, and a dual purpose comment about survival. And then suddenly, it is announced that the Chaplain's Talking Deer has arrived with a very important message for Wu Zetian.

Wait. What? 
A talking deer? 

(checks the cover of the DVD case to make sure we're watching Detective Dee, because thus far we've had a whole lot of mysterious stuff... but no Detective.)

So, yeah. The talking deer. See, the Chaplain is on a religious sabbatical in the temple, and thus sent his deer to do all the talking. During the conversation between Wu Zetian and the deer, we get a mysterious message about how Venus has been trapped for 8 years and that the kingdom will not have peace until he is released.

(checks the DVD case again)

Now, if this doesn't make a whole lot of sense to you... it's all ok. Via the magic of google translator set  to translate from English to Mystical Chinese Deer, along with Wu Zetian's amazing deciphering abilities, we are able to decode the message and find out that the deer is telling her to release Detective Dee from the prison where he has been held for 8 years as a result of his opposition and resulting rebellion against her. She immediately tells her right hand woman, poison tester, warlady, kung fu killer, Jing'er to go find out if Detective Dee is still alive and in prison. Jing'er begs to have the whole thing ignored. But, she gets shot down and off to prison she goes.

Upon arriving at the prison, Jing'er makes perhaps one of the toughest dismounts E-V-A-R in the history of dismounts. We sort of felt obligated to hold up score cards!


We find a rather scraggly pair of men shackled together and taking discarded memorial to the furnace to be burned. In the middle of their exchange about the state of the nation, a prison break, etc...


Well, ok. Probably not really Ninja. But at least of bunch of guys with some seriously covert skills. The resulting fight reveals that blind man is Detective Dee, and he is most certainly NOT blind. He was faking it. Jing'er realizes by now that something has gone awry, and she quickly cracks out the "Whip of Wonder" (Yes, that is our official name for it), and lays the smack down. Before too long you've got horse choppers and arrows and a whip and some HIIII YAH!!! The whole thing ends with Ninja jumping into the furnace while their backup guys flee the scene.

After a fairly adorable exchange between Detective Dee and the blind old man, he is whisked away to the palace where we find Wu Zetian, touting some SERIOUSLY wicked eyebrow business, watching a Chinese version of "Beat the living hell outta your opponent", otherwise known as a military examination. It is here that the still scruffy looking Detective Dee is brought up to speed by Wu Zetian. She reinstates him as the Imperial Commissioner in charge of the Phantom Flame case, which of course will need to be solved BEFORE her coronation as Empress... which is like, 4 days away.
Nice timeline lady!

And, it is in this scene that you begin question who's side Wu Zetian is on. Is she good? Is she bad? Is she a crazy renegade with decorative hair and crazy eyebrows??? Either way Jing'er is absolutely NOT pleased by the whole thing and would much rather "off" Detective Dee at her first chance. This is entirely confirmed as the two ride off together to his lodging arrangements.

 If the kids aren't in bed yet, we recommend you scuffle them off as there is a rather aggressive, quasi-nekkit bit coming up...

OK. So, Jing'er and Detective Dee arrive at this LOVELY Chinese "cottage" on a pond, with moonlight and singing frogs and... (sigh). Jing'er brings him up to speed on who the key players are, who has how many men in what army, etc. She returns his uniform to him, sans his Dragon Mace (aka "Whippin' Stick"), and then a sexually charged scene of hate, obligation, attraction, pride, fighting, and spitting of water "IN YOUR FACE!" unfolds.

And, just as things get sorta steamy...

Or, at least those Ninja look-alikes.

About a bazillion and half arrows fly through the windows at the nekkit Jing'er and Detective Dee. There are arrows on the floor, the ceiling, through the bird, in the chair, on the wall, in that post over there... it's like they're sitting on a porcupine! And just when you think it is all over, you see an assassin sneaking up with a lantern to see if they are dead. Perfect opportunity for Jing'er to and Detective Dee to launch into a surprise counter attack, right? NOOOOOOO!!!! Jing'er reaches out to open up the door!!! This naturally results in about 487 more arrows flying into the little cottage. How they escape the whole thing is a matter of sheer Kung Fu movie magic. 

In a nutshell, Dee takes off on a foot chase, only to run into the Prince... who tries to bribe him until Jing'er arrives on the scene.

Next day dawns and Dee is officially commissioned into the position of Chief Investigator. The investigation begins with a study of the remains and a visit to the massive Buddha. Donglai, being his usual quick to break arms self, is rather shifty eyed and accusatory during this whole thing. In the middle of an autopsy, Dee's lovely yellow canary BURSTS into flames, just like the other two men.

HHrrrmmm... the bird was shot with one of the 80 bazillion arrows. The arrows contain liquid poison.

Dee asks his former assistant, Zhong. Yes. That would be the very same Zhong that is the "foreman" of the Buddha building site. They have a natter over fire beetles, and realize that the only person who would know anything about them would be the former palace alchemist and doctor, Donkey Wang.


No. We didn't make that up. That is SERIOUSLY what his name is. And, he can only be found in the Phantom Market, a sort of underground black market freakshow of epic proportions. It is here that Donkey Wang tells Dee that he had the fire beetles and was trying to concoct a potion that turned out to be an epic failure. So, he burned the site to the ground and hoped that all the fire beetles went down with it... though he didn't actually bother to check (facepalm)

And where would this site be? 
Oh, yeah... right where the Chaplain has built his monastery. 

DUDE!! No wonder they call you Donkey Wang!!

And, just as you are finding out what the whole hullabaloo is surrounding the fire beetles, The Chaplain and his crazy splitting self arrives on the scene and makes trouble, attempting to kill Mr. Wang. (Snirk. Sorry. No matter how you say it, it's still funny) Out comes the Whip of Wonder, the Sword of Undoing, some flying kicks and punching, and then Jing'er saying that she KNOWS this isn't the Chaplain, but rather a dirty trick... because she knows the Chaplain personally. Then, Donglai notices the Ninja look-alikes up in the cliff face with some seriously crazy puppetry going on. Shoot... and I thought that was all CG. (teeehehehee)

Jing'er and Donglai chase after the Chaplain while Dee and ... Mr. Wang head to the surface. Upon arrival in a safehouse locale, Mr. Wang reveals that he is in disguise, using a sort of acupuncture, morphing technique. Dee has a montage here and realizes that Jing'er IS the Chaplain and is using the same technique to disguise herself.

So, to summarize: We KNOW that Jing'er is the Chaplain. We don't know what stance to take with Wu Zetian, We're not sure about Donglai because he's exceedingly shifty. WHODUNNIT???

(OK. We realize that we've dragged this on here, so we're going to try to succinctly wrap this)

As Dee and Donglai are walking and talking about the case, trying to unravel the mysteries at hand, and figure out how to get permission to meet with the Chaplain, they are confronted in public by the Prince. Yeah, the same guy that tried to bribe Dee two days back. He has chosen to bestow the Dragon Mace (aka Whippin' Stick) back up on Dee. Then he plants the seed that Wu Zetian ordered the former Emperor to be poisoned.


OK. So, Dee and Donglai decide to split up in order to cover more ground. Dee heads off to have a little chat with Wu Zetian about the whole thing, and to ask permission to go to the forbidden monastery. Donglai off to Master Jin's (fire guy #1) residence to see if he can dig up any info. The cocky prince gets shot in the head with a poisoned arrow and bursts into flames, Donglai finds that Master Jin's last inspection of the Buddha revealed unapproved alterations, and Dee confirms that Jing'er is in fact the Chaplain. After a bit of a cat and mouse confrontation, Dee tells Jing'er that Wu Zetian has every intention of sending the "Chaplain" away upon her coronation.


Things go awry and Dee suddenly finds himself fighting talking deer, of which he kicks one in the face... which IS pretty sweet no matter what side of the PETA fence you're on. A chase ensues, a drug is administered, and Dee is accidentally stabbed in the chest by the shrapnel of Jing'er's sword.

As she attempts to return him to the palace so that he can get treatment, they get ambushed, she gets shot with spears, and both are pretty much dead meat. However, she somehow manages to climb a tree with Dee on her back, making them virtually undetectable to the Quasi-Ninja that keep popping up periodically. 

When Dee comes too, he realizes that she is really, really hurt, loads her onto a pony, gets the low-down on the Chaplain figure (a clever cover set up to put fear into people via the hand of both Wu Zetian and Jing'er). 

In the end, she makes it to the palace and ends up dying in the arms of Wu Zetian... but only after it is implied that there was an unspoken, unrealized love interest relationship between the two of them.

SO, Dee heads back home, looking to connect back with Donglai. Upon arrival, he discovers that his front door has been boobie trapped. But to what???

(wait for it.... wait for it...)

Poor Donglai, our delicate albino friend has been strapped to a post, completely exposed to the sun, and filled with fire beetle venom. When the boobie trap is sprung, the black shroud over him is ripped away and he is burnt to a fine crisp in mere seconds... 


(Well played albino boy!)

Ok, So... Jing'er is dead, but was not the culprit. Donglai is dead, be he wasn't the culprit. Wu Zetian is still alive, but why would she create chaos upon the eve of her coronation??? SO, WHODUNNIT??? 

Dee opens Master Jin's paperwork and realizes that the Buddha has been structurally compromised. But who would have the authority to do that? 


As it turns out Zhong was looking for some sweet, sweet payback after he spent 8 years in prison and had his hand cut off only after being tortured. He made the whole false trail of evidence to throw Dee off and squish the Empress before anyone was the wiser. So, Dee confronts him, a sweet flying, punching, swinging from chains, hot lava, FIRE BEETLES fight scene takes place. And it is glorious. 

In the end, the Buddha falls in a different direction than intended, Zhong bursts into flames and refuses to accept defeat, the Empress is saved, and Dee must flee to the Phantom Market far away from the light as he has been injected with the poison of the fire beetles. 


Ok. So, there is so much in this movie that you REALLY need to see it for yourself. Why? Because there just isn't enough blog space OR time for us to really detail it all for you. You can rent it from any brick and mortar shop, or pretty much any digital rental provider. It isn't on Netflix yet, but I would imagine it should hit it within the next 6 months.

~The Mavens