Chop Shop

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“Just because you CAN make a movie…”

chopshop…doesn’t mean you should. For this movie had a shot at setting a new low: I was serious contemplating awarding it no stars at all, before it fractionally redeemed itself in the final reel. Key word there: fractionally, because there is hardly a level of this which is not awful. Made in 2003, it’s set a decade or so previously and, if you’re being particularly charitable, you could perhaps think the early nineties video and audio quality is an attempt to capture the era in question. The sound – often an issue on micro-budget movies – is particularly terrible, ranging from muffled and inaudibly quiet to ear-splitting loud (and equally inaudible). But there is hardly an aspect here which is not cringe-inducingly bad in execution. Even the overall structure is so flawed, you wonder at what point it ever made sense.

There’s a narrator (Greer), who supposedly is telling the story of Lisa Stewart (Michaels) based on a journal she just happened to find, in which Lisa had documented her entire life – never mind that the journal is a thin school notebook containing barely any content, or that Lisa apparently abandoned this precious record without a second thought, for the narrator to find. As with so many other factors e.g. the scene of Lisa jogging with her journal, the purpose of the narrator is not clear. It seems to be to burble inconsequential rubbish such as – and I paused the movie specifically to write this down – “Now, I never had a near-death experience – but, Lisa, she nearly did.” There is a post-credits sequence which explains who the narrator is speaking to; this makes about as much sense as the rest of the film, which would be not very much.

The story being retold is set mostly at a car-repair place where the heroine takes her vehicle to be fixed after it was in a wreck. When she comes back to check on it, she is assaulted, raped by multiple employees, and dumped back in her own apartment by one of the workers, who doesn’t have the stomach to finish her off as ordered. A fatal mistake! For Lisa’s psyche has been shattered by the attack, and she returns to the compound on Halloween Night to wreak revenge on those who abused her. And, presumably, to pick up her car. It’s clearly aiming to be I Spit On Your Grave but doesn’t have anything like the necessary guts on either end of the rape-revenge story-line, though watching Stewart in psycho mode is at least more fun than watching her as a thoroughly unconvincing Buppie. I particularly laughed like a drain at the use of a vacuum cleaner as an offensive weapon, which could be (yet almost certainly isn’t) intended some kind of pseudo-feminist statement on the role of women in the workplace. Wretched in virtually every way, if there was ever such a thing as getting your artistic license revoked, the creator here should be summoned to court.

Dir: Simuel Denell Rankins
Star: Shannon Michaels, Shannon Greer, Rob Rose, Mark Schell

Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia

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“Not sure if serious…”

johannaThe scenario here could be the jumping-off point for a wilderness adventure, with a train going across Mongolia being held up by a tribe of nomadic locals. and the Western women on board taken hostage by the princess who leads them (Xu). But it ism’t. Indeed, Ottinger seems almost deliberately to go out of her way to avoid anything that might increase the pulse above a resting rate. What follows is more a depiction of rural Mongolian life, which appears to have changed very little since the era depicted in Warrior Princess. It’s a topic that seems to have entranced the director, as she went on to explore the topic at greater length in Taiga – and when I say “greater length”, I mean it, since that film lasts eight hours and 21 minutes. This clocks in at a comparatively brisk 165 minutes, with the first hour almost entirely within the confines of the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian Expresses, before exploding out into the wide, sweeping vistas of the Mongolian steppe.

Until then, it introduces us to the Western women, led by Lady Windermere (Seyrig), an ethnographer who knows both the Mongol culture and their language – skills which prove fortuitous, to say the least. The others include a Broadway singer (Scalici), and a young backpacker (Sastre), whose use of a Sony Walkman – kids, ask your parents! – is about the only thing which locates this in a specific era. But once they are taken hostage, for reasons which are never even hinted at, the film largely loses interest in them, save the backpacker, who appears to “go native” more than the others.  It becomes more about the princess, for whom “action” is simply part of everyday life. She hunts with her bow and arrow; she talks with visiting emissaries from other tribes, treating them with scorn where appropriate. She rules – in the literal, rather than the social media corrupted sense of the word.

Quite what any of this has to do with Joan of Arc escapes me entirely. The whole movie feels like some kind of trolling exercise, aimed at readers of this site, by having the pieces in place for an action heroine film, and then steadfastly refusing to deliver on it. But if so: hah! Joke’s on them, because I didn’t actually hate this. Seyrig, who was the star of one of the best Euro-horrors of the seventies, Daughter of Darkness, is always worth watching – or, more relevantly, worth listening, as her voice sounds like slowly melting butter. There is enough quirky eccentricity early on, such as the Kalinka Sisters, a trio of strolling players also on the train, to keep things moving, until the landscapes and culture then take over. While I’d still say Cave of the Yellow Dog is the best “slice of Mongolian country life” film, and I will not be sitting through Taiga anytime soon, this is probably not something the likes of which you’ll have seen before. As such, Ottinger deserves admiration for pursuing her own artistic vision, regardless (it appears) of any commercial constraints.

Dir: Ulrike Ottinger
Star: Delphine Seyrig, Ines Sastre, Xu Re Huar, Gillian Scalici

Thanksgiving: The Widow, from Into the Badlands

Here’s something, for which to be very thankful. From AMC’s series Into the Badlands, the introduction of The Widow. Frankly, we’d far rather see more of her (or even Daniel Wu as Sunny, head assassin to the main villain), and a good deal less of the whinily irritating teenage lead. But sequences such as what you see below, will certainly make us come back for more!

Bound To Vengeance

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“Bound to disappoint”

boundforvengeanceI’ve been watching horror movies for over 30 years now, and appreciate that a certain amount of idiotic behaviour is to be expected. People will go into cellars. They will stand right beside the apparently-dead body of a masked killer. They will trip over those pesky tree roots. They will split up. That goes with the territory. But this entire film is predicated on a terrible decision which the lead character makes early, then refuses to reconsider, though the results clearly indicate its wrongness and she could change her mind at any time. Eve (Ivlev) has been captured by the psychopathic Phil (Tyson), but lures him into a trap by feigning unconsciousness, bludgeoning him with a brick and chaining hum up in her place. Escaping the house, she finds herself in the middle of nowhere, but gets the keys to the truck. At this point, what absolutely any sensible person would do, is high-tail it out of there, notify the authorities and let them take over.

But then, there’d be no film. Instead, she takes at face value Phil’s claim that he has a number of other houses, also containing kidnapped women [itself, a scenario that begs the question, “Why?” Wouldn’t it make more sense to have one large house with multiple rooms?]. Worse yet, she decides to make him lead her to them, so she can free the other captives. Even after neither the first nor the second go anything like as desired, Eve plunges on, apparently for no better reason than a touching belief that, hey, third time’s the charm. Of course, if she gave up, she (and we) would never find out the connection to her boyfriend (Kjornes), crudely telegraphed by the director through frequent inserts of shaky home-video footage of the two of them, interacting before her abduction. Mind you, nor would it allow for the moral to become “All men are bastards” rather than “This man is a bastard”; as is, there is not a single redeemable male character in the entire thing.

Credit is due for focusing almost entirely on the revenge side of the equation: we know Eve has been through hell by the point we meet her, and Cravioto doesn’t feel the need to have that aspect portrayed at length. Ivlev and Tyson are both decent in their roles, with the former demonstrating a steady growth in personal badassness that is adequately gratifying, and comes to a satisfactory conclusion with one final decision which actually does make sense. It is an enormous shame that everything leading up to the moment is based on a horrendously-flawed concept, which the film doesn’t attempt to acknowledge – hell, the worst genre film is still required to have a scene of someone waving their cellphone around and muttering, “No signal…” Even if some of the other aspects are laudable, as mentioned above, the overall result is irrevocably weakened, and won’t stick in your mind for any good reasons.

Dir: J. M. Cravioto
Star: Tina Ivlev, Richard Tyson. Kristoffer Kjornes
a.k.a. Reversal

The Assassin

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“Like watching a Ming vase dry.”

AssassinI have seen worse action heroine films this year. But I certainly haven’t seen any which were more irritating. I confess, this is perhaps partly due to expectations, because all I knew about this one going in, came from the trailer, which made it look like an interesting piece of genre cinema. Well played, trailer: well played. You completely sold me a sow’s ear on that one. If I’d done some research on the director, I might have had a better idea of what to expect, for it turns out just about every frame of action the movie contains, is in the trailer. The rest is a disjointed mess of scenes, characters and plot-lines that seems to insult the audience’s intelligence by its pretense at being a coherent work. Even more irritatingly, the critics are lapping it up, judging by the gushing reviews I saw. Truly, do not believe the hype: neither Chris nor I were at all impressed by this steaming pile of art-wank cinema masquerading as entertainment. Some lush photography is about all this has going for it.

The plot sounds like it might have something going for it. In 9th century China, Yinniang (Shu) is a hitwoman, who hunts down and kills corrupt officials as required by her mistress, Jiaxin, who raised her from a child. After Yinniang fails to carry out a mission, due to the presence of a child, Jiaxin punishes her by making the next job to kill Yinniang’s cousin, Tian Ji’an (Chang), who was once also her fiance, and is now the governor of Weibo province. Needless to say, this does not sit well with Yinniang, and nor is it long before the old flame is (somewhat) rekindled. More than that… Well, I’m not able to say, because the film appears to delight in being obscure for obscurism’s sake. We cut into the middle of a fight scene, which after a few seconds reverts to a long-range shot, and then ends equally abruptly, with no explanation offered of who was doing what, to whom, or why. Call me old-fashioned if you like, both Chris and I still consider story-line at least somewhat important.

Apart from some nice cinematography – Hou goes against the grain, not opting to shoot in widescreen ratio – the only other positive thing I can find to say is Shu’s portrayal of Yinniang. Not so much during the dramatic moments, as during the (rare) action scenes, where her absolutely economy of effort is extremely effective. There’s an air of a Japanese samurai about her; rather than florid aerial battles, she swiftly disposes of most opponents in three or fewer strokes. If only the sequences between these has demonstrated such brevity and directness. Instead, it’s a confusing and unengaging mess, that annoyed me so much, I couldn’t even fall asleep, once I realized this was probably going to be irredeemable. Damn you, Hou. However, damn whoever put the trailer together, even more.

Dir: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Star: Shu Qi,  Chang Chen, Zhou Yun, Satoshi Tsumabuki

Son of the Morning, by Linda Howard

Literary rating: starstarstarhalf
Kick-butt quotient: action2

sonofthemorningTime travel! A smart, strong-inside heroine who learns to kick some butt! Secrets buried in long-lost documents! Medieval knights, and a castle in the Highlands! Action! Danger! Romance (sort of)! What more could one want for a great read? Well –quite a bit, actually, as my literary rating indicates. (To be fair, though, the book has genuine positive points, and my wife –we read it together as our “car book”– has stated that she’d give it four stars.)

The most obvious positive feature is main character Grace St. John. An intellectual, gentle, slightly overweight woman of about 30, who’s never been exposed to violence or significant hardship, in the first chapter she witnesses the sudden, brutal murders of both her husband and her brother, who are her only family and the center of her world. Framed for their killings and forced to flee for her life, with no warning and nothing but the clothes on her back and her laptop, she’s forced to learn to survive on the street, and off the grid. Driven by a determination to avenge her loved ones, take down the killer, and translate the documents that contain the mystery he’s willing to kill for, and needing to stay alive to do that, over time she believably transforms into a street-smart woman who can take care of herself, fight and use a gun if she has to. (And on a couple of occasions she does have to.) She’s a very well-drawn, admirable character that the reader readily likes and roots for.

All of the other major characters are also vivid and well-developed, including a really hateful villain. The plot is nicely constructed, in the main; some aspects are broadly predictable, but it also included a couple of major surprises I did not see coming. Howard writes well, for the most part; there are a lot of finely-turned phrases, touches of wry humor that balance the serious tone, and effective construction of scenes and evocation of atmosphere. (One reviewer complains about the time devoted to Grace’s paralyzing terror, right after the trauma of the killings, over crossing a street to use an ATM machine, and to her problem in finding a place to relieve herself; but to me this was a way of showing the situation she started from, in all its extreme difficulty, and gets us right inside of her head in the midst of it, with no sugarcoating.)

For me, though, the negatives were significant. A major one is the treatment of the Templar angle. Since the 1950s (beginning with a now-discredited hoax which any number of pundits and writers still pass on as fact) a pop-culture mythology has grown up around the Templars as guardians of Deep Dark Secrets that supposedly discredit Christianity. The classical version is that Christ didn’t die on the cross, but rather lived on to marry Mary Magdalene and sire the line that became the Merovingian royal family of France. Howard leaves out the Mary Magdalene-Merovingian scenario, but she creates her own wrinkles on the theme. Regardless of their beliefs about religion, readers with any grounding in serious historical or biblical studies will recognize this as the kind of thing that you might read in a supermarket tabloid. It’s not helped here by the fact that, even taking the book on its own terms, the Templars’ interpretation of the physical evidence that leads them to their supposed theological discoveries is so logically flawed and implausible as to be ludicrous. But this whole motif isn’t introduced until the penultimate chapter. (And on the other hand, Howard does take the existence of God seriously, and has a relatively high Christology; and Grace, in the same chapter, offers an excellent simple explanation of theodicy in terms of free will. So while many Christians will have problems with the book, it won’t please hardcore religion-phobic readers either.)

Howard’s writing background and credentials are rooted in the romance genre; and though the cover of this edition and the cover copy don’t clearly identify this book as a romance, it does embody some of the genre conventions. One of these is explicit sex –of course, not all romance novels feature this, but this one does, to a considerable degree. Except where crucial dialogue is embedded in these scenes, they can usually be skipped over by readers who don’t appreciate that sort of thing (so if you want detailed evaluation of those parts, you’re reading the wrong review!). But the problematic elements here go deeper; for a “romance” genre novelist, Howard can be singularly tone-deaf to what makes for real romance.

It’s no spoiler that Grace and medieval Templar knight Black Niall will be a couple, since the cover copy tells us so. Grace and Niall, during the course of the book, experience a cross-time psychological connection (at first, just in dreams) that allows them, at times, to experience each other’s voice and presence. This is never explained, and doesn’t really come across as credible. But it focuses strictly on intense sexual attraction; there’s very little if any element of getting to know each other as anything but sex objects. That continues when they meet in person. Given that Grace is portrayed as a person who takes sex seriously and has never been with any man but her husband, this comes across, as even she recognizes, as out of character. It isn’t really plausible either, and rather than making the relationship come across as a “love for all time,” as the cover copy bills it, it seems more like a heat period. I didn’t feel any kind of personal emotional connection between hero and heroine for most of the book. And while I respect Grace for her past scruples, the juxtaposition with Niall’s background of womanizing, and the unspoken implication that this somehow verifies his virility and desirability as a partner, tends IMO to reinforce a really unhealthy double standard for males and females.

A couple more quibbles are worth mentioning. Howard has done some historical research, shown by the array of apparently accurate factoids she can muster here and there. But it’s apparent that her research consisted of mining for factual snippets in areas where she realizes that she’s ignorant. She does not have a general warp-and-woof knowledge of the medieval world, and that allows her to make a few noticeable (to me, at least) errors. I was also frustrated with the plot device of a character being secretive without any good reason to be, simply to artificially exacerbate the conflict. So on balance, I did like the book; but it wasn’t the four or five-star read it could have been with different handling.

Note: There is some bad language here, including a number of f-words, which come mostly from the villain(s); but even some of the good characters cuss some.

Author: Linda Howard
Publisher: Pocket Books, available through Amazon, both for Kindle and as a printed book.

A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.

Deadly Sanctuary

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“Razing Arizona”

deadlysanctuary“Feisty, flame-haired reporter, Kendall O’Dell is drawn into an evil web of conspiracy beyond anything she could have ever imagined when she accepts a position at a small newspaper in Castle Valley, Arizona.” Action heroine and local interest? Okay, I’m in. I shouldn’t have bothered though, because virtually from the get-go, this is cringe-inducingly bad. Nice though it is to see our state used, with scenes shot in New River and Black Canyon City, the script feels like it was written by someone who had never been to Arizona, and based it entirely on stereotypes.

Which is a bit of a surprise, because author Sylvia Nobel, who wrote both the source novel and co-wrote the screenplay, has apparently lived here since before I was born. So there’s absolutely no excuse for a world in which half the men wear Stetsons and there appears to be more lethal fauna than Australia. I’ve lived here for almost 15 years, and have never even seen a live snake in the wild: the heroine here (Kochan) virtually steps on one the first time she gets out of her car. About the only thing it gets right is that, yes, we locals do hate with a passion, the “snowbirds”, part-term winter residents who clog up restaurants and the freeways for us locals.

Not, under ANY circumstances, to be confused with the 1969 film in which Klaus Kinski played the Marquis De Sade, this sees O’Dell seeking to unentangle a web involving dead girls in the desert, an apparent police cover-up and a shady home for young runaways, all the while fending off the attentions of a rich adoption lawyer and a colleague at the paper. It certainly doesn’t help that five minutes in the company of Kendall would have any domestic abuse advocate reconsidering their position, she’s so irritatingly perky. The rest of the characters are one-dimensional cliches as well, and the storyline requires a staggering degree of belief suspension.

While the concept at its core is marginally plausible, it’s quite inconceivable that those involved would execute it in such a half-assed and incompetent way, behaving in a manner the writers of Scooby-Doo would reject as laughably implausible. Indeed, between its simplistic characters and Nancy Drew level plotting, the whole thing feels like a story written for an undemanding eleven-year-old.  Interestingly, seven years ago, Nobel was involved in an earlier effort to get her work filmed, only to see it melt down in a morass of shady financing. That piece also talks about the circuitous route Nobel had to take to get the O’Dell franchise going, including selling her romance novels at Walmart, and it’s a great saga of someone with a dream coming out on top. Unfortunately, based on this lettuce-limp adaptation, they should have left the idea buried, as the cinematic gods clearly intended.

Dir: Nancy Criss
Star: Rebekah Kochan, Eric Roberts, Paul Greene, Bobbi Jeen Olson

Bait

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“Tea and no sympathy.”

baitBex (Smurfit) and Dawn (Mitchell) are partners in a market-stall selling coffee and cake, and have dreams of opening a “proper” coffee-shop, but lack the necessary funds to do so. Traditional sources of money, such as banks, turn them down, so when Dawn’s new boyfriend, Jeremy (Slinger) turns out to be an angel investor, it seems too good an opportunity to be true. Which, of course, is exactly what it is, because Jeremy turns out to be the acceptable face of a very brutal loan-sharking operation. Even though they actually refuse his money before accepting it, he insists on them paying for his time, an amount which rapidly escalates out of control. It’s clear Jeremy will stop at nothing to extract payment, and demonstrates exactly that savagery, on both women, as well as their loved ones. Gradually backed into a corner, there’s only one way out for Bex and Dawn; be every bit as ferocious and merciless.

It probably helps that Smurfit and Mitchell have been friends since their drama school days, and their easy relationship comes over as entirely natural – though non-native British speakers may occasionally want to opt for subtitles! [Hell, I found myself straining my ears on occasion, having clearly been out of the old country for too long…] It’s very much a long, slow descent into hell, with the women on the receiving end for more than 80% of the movie before – and I trust this isn’t much of a spoiler here, given the film opens with a blood-stained Dawn slumped by a bath – finally getting to unleash their fury in a gore-drenched finale.

While certainly satisfying on a visceral level, this comes over as somewhat far-fetched, with neither woman having demonstrated any real tendencies for aggression; the “defending the family” approach only goes so far, not least because it’s the child-less Bex who goes furthest. Not that Jeremy doesn’t deserve it; Slinger comes over as a psychotic version of Simon Pegg, and it’s crucial that the film creates a villain who is both monstrous and believable. Be sure to stick around after the credits for a spectacularly splattery bit of claymation from maverick film-maker Lee Hardcastle, which is just glorious; it almost suggests a sequel where Bex and Dawn turn into a hardcore, British vigilante version of Thelma & Louise.

Must admit, I’d probably have preferred to see that, with the set-up here taking longer than necessary – for example, is there any reason we need to see quite so many scenes of Jeremy and his sidekick extracting payment? Still, the final payback is fully deserved, and gleefully shot by Brunt, leading into a coda which suggests a new, steely determination and “take no shit” attitude as a result of the hell through which the heroines have gone. It suggests an almost Nietzschean fable is being told, that what does not destroy you, in the end will make you stronger and help you achieve your goals. Seems more than slightly morally questionable, although maybe it’s just me!

Dir: Dominic Brunt
Star: Victoria Smurfit, Joanna Mitchell, Jonathan Slinger, Rula Lenska
a.k.a. The Taking

Autumn Blood

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“The hills are alive…”

autumnbloodFeaturing some of the most luscious landscapes I’ve ever seen, unfortunately, that’s easily the best this Austrian film has to offer. While certainly ambitious, in its attempt to sustain an entire feature-length narrative with little more than a few lines of dialogue – and even those are largely superfluous – it brings home why talking movies talk. Too much here is unexplained, leaving you with an irritating series of unconnected events, whose motivation remains forever opaque.

It begins with two small children witnessing the death of their father in a shooting incident. Several years later, the girl, now a young woman (Lowe), she is attacked while bathing in a mountain spring by a lascivious local man. Her mother dies shortly after, leaving her and her younger brother (Harnisch) without protection, though she continues going in to collect their weekly allowance. The man shows up, with two friends, at their remote cabin, and the girl is assaulted again. A social worker (McCrudden) has been alerted to the childrens’ situation, but when she shows up and starts looking for them, the local men decide they need to silence all the witnesses to their crimes.  That won’t necessarily be as easy it seems.

Actually, I didn’t mind the lack of dialogue too much; in some ways, it was a refreshing antidote to a certain type of film (hello, Quentin Tarantino), which thinks its characters can never stop flapping their lips for a moment. However, it doesn’t feel like the (unfortunately-named) director Blunder, the script, or the actors, realized they need to step up their game in the absence of dialogue, and use non-verbal elements to tell the story instead. That never happens, and although the basics are never unclear, this isn’t the case for important elements, such as who kills their father, and why he returns to play a pivotal – indeed, bordering on deus ex machina – role at the end. The setting is deliberately kept ambiguous: what little dialogue there is, is in English, yet the backdrop is unlike any English-speaking country with which I’m familiar.

As noted, the performances are also problematic; Lowe likely comes off best, perhaps because she has most screen time, which allows her character to develop a little further. Certainly, no-one else gives anything even approaching a memorable portrayal, with neither the villains nor the social worker appearing to be more than plot points, on which things build to an extended, largely forgettable climax in the woods. I have to say though: as a commercial for the Austrian Tourist Board, it’s entirely successful, even if, going by this, the native residents may need to work on their interpersonal skills a bit. When the on-screen action loses your interest, as it almost certainly will at some point or other, you can just sit back and admire the Alps instead.

Dir: Markus Blunder
Star: Sophie Lowe, Maximilian Harnisch, Gustaf Skarsgård, Annica McCrudden

The Lady Assassin (1983)

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“Fairly whizzes past – though not necessarily in a good way.”

lassThe running time here is 86 minutes, but would probably be closer to two hours if they’d filmed the fights at normal speed. Because the undercranking – filming at a slower than normal frame-rate, so action looks quicker when played back at the normal speed – in this one is both copious in volume and excessive to its degree; I kept hearing the Benny Hill theme in my mind during the fight sequences. That’s a shame, because the performers here are talented enough they don’t need it, and the technique detracts from, rather than enhances, their skills. On the other hand, perhaps they needed to hurry things up to make room for the plot, because there’s quite a lot of that to fit into the film too. Let me try to summarize it.

There are two heirs vying for the imperial throne, Fourth Prince (Tony Lui) and Fourteenth Prince (fortunately, princes #1-3, 5-13 and 15+ are not apparently interested). To tip the balance his way, Fourth gets the assistance of dissident Lui Liu Liang (Ku), whose niece Si Niang (Leanne Liu) helps retrieve the emperor’s will, so #4 can doctor it and make himself the heir instead of #14. After taking over, Fourth exiles Fourteenth and “forgets” all his promises to Lui about not being so harsh an overlord. When Lui keeps showing up at court to remind Fourth of his broken oath, Fourth opts to silence his former ally permanently. But in so doing, he makes a mortal enemy of Si Niang, who joins forces with Fourteenth’s bodyguard, Tsang Jing (Chu) to take care of the usurper, who has hired some additional help of his own, in the form of a Japanese martial-arts master.

Despite the title, this is probably more of an ensemble piece, with Si Niang just one of many pieces to the jigsaw puzzle which is the plot, albeit one pivotal to proceedings. In particular, she’s the one who breaks into the Imperial Palace, locates the will’s secret hiding-place, and extracts it so Fourth can make himself the declared heir to the throne, thereby kicking off the events that follow. However, she is among a number of interesting female characters, also including Jade and Pearl, who assist Tsang Jing, and Lui’s daughter. While I have my previously-noted and significant qualms about the style of filming, which feels a good 15 years older than its actual 1983 date, I certainly cannot complain about the quantity of action, which is copious, and the people involved clearly know what they’re doing. The script is a bit of a mess though, with elements that just peter out, such as Fourteenth Prince, who must have had another engagement elsewhere. And the ending has to be among the most abrupt of all time, coming, literally, before the final body has even hit the floor. It occupies an uncomfortable position between old- and new-school Hong Kong cinema, and you can understand why the Shaw Brothers’ star was on the wane, and increasingly eclipsed by Golden Harvest.

Dir: Chin-Ku Lu
Star: Leanne Liu, Norman Chu, Tony Liu, Ku Feng