A couple of months ago I was going through a bunch of my unwatched DVDs . I had accumulated quite a bit of stuff featuring a Mr. Sammo Hung. So why not have a marathon of some of his stuff. Most of it was stuff I was watching for the first time with some old favorites thrown into the mix for safeties sake.
Sammo Hung is perfectly adept at playing everything from an affable everyman to a complete badass. I think my first exposure to Sammo besides Enter The Dragon was Meals On Wheels. Of course I didn't even know who Sammo was when I first watched Enter The Dragon till years later. It took awhile but Sammo grew on me. For awhile it was all about Jackie Chan and later Chow Yun-Fat as I'm sure it was for many people when they first got into the Hong Kong cinema explosion of the '90's.
Don't Give A Damn (1995)
“If possible, I would fart on her face.”
My first film of the marathon and a first time viewing. Sammo plays the usual tough guy cop here. His rival is a crazy customs cop played by Yuen Biao. The two cops are trying to stop a large drug shipment. Mix in Sammo's boss played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, in a role intended Jackie Chan. A couple of hot girls and some antics at the police station. Plus two rival gangs who are battling for the drugs as well. All in all it's a fairly generic setup for a buddy film. The action is decent enough. The comedy on the other hand is a mostly poor. There's also some extremely offensive politically incorrect "humor" involving Takeshi Kaneshiro and Yuen Biao in blackface that nearly derails the whole film. Besides that unforgeable bit the quality of the picture and the audio of the copy I watched was poor. Sure that's not the film's fault, but it did subtract greatly from the viewing experience.
Well the marathon is off to a rocky start. Hopefully the next flick will pick things up a bit because Don't Give A Damn made me not give a damn.
Island of Fire (1990)
A prison film with an all-star ensemble cast. Sammo plays the part of a con who's main goal is to break out so he can see his son. While Sammo doesn't get to kick any ass here he turns in a fairly good dramatic performance. Tony Leung plays a cop who goes undercover as a prisoner. He's investigating why supposedly executed criminals are turning up alive on the streets committing murder. Jackie Chan turns up in jail for accidentally killing crime boss Andy Lau's brother. After a couple attempts on Jackie's life, Lau gets himself sent there to take out Jackie himself. I guess he believes in the whole if you want a job done right thing. Anyway the other major star in the prison is Jimmy Wang Yu as some sort of crime boss. After a lot of prison clichés and some Cool Hand Luke references we eventually get to the big mystery of what's going on at the prison. An entertaining enough flick, as long as you go in not expecting it to feature a lot of Jackie and Sammo. Jackie gets a couple of good fight scenes and Sammo gets in on the action during the climax. Good for an undemanding Saturday afternoon viewing.
Return of the Secret Rivals (1981)
Ah, a little old school Sammo kung fu action. Sammo plays um....a dude named Dirty Guy. See Dirty is no pervert, no he got that name on account of his unwashed/diseased head. Which I have to say is truly a sight to see. Dirty helps some rebels fight against some evil and incompetent ruler dude. That's really all there is to the story. And that part of it doesn't really kick in for some time. Before that we're "treated" to lots and lots of antics involving Dirty pissing off Carter Wong. See Wong is Sammo's rival in some prophecy about being the next ruler and he's also the villain of the film. The always wonderful Dean Shek is under-used here as Wong's aide. He turns up from time to time for his usual brand of comic goofiness. But it's all too brief. There's a scene so groan inducing here that involves Dirty calling on a heard of cows to fight off a squad of troops. That scene had me wanting to hit eject. Overall a somewhat lighthearted Kung fu farce. A few good fights help liven up the sometimes slow moving story.
Kung Fu Cult Master (1993)
Wow! Wall to wall insanity! Crazy wire fu! Sammo in as a white haired old master! Gorgeous Chingmy Yau! Jet Li being Jet Li and there's a vampire too! This is the type of Hong Kong film I miss. Insane action set pieces and a willingness to throw reality out the door. At times the film felt like a live action Dragon Ball episode. There where so many characters that sometimes the film got a little confusing as to who the good guys and bad guys where. Plus the story feels a tad unfinished. Like it's the 2nd film in a larger series. Doing a little digging I found that apparently it was the first film in a proposed trilogy. It's a shame because the end of the film really leaves you hanging.
The King Swindler (1993)
Ugh! Never have I had to sit though such mind numbing crap. The "story" (HA!) revolves around Sammo's character who is a gambler/fighter and all around terrible parent. He ends up taking a powder in prison and leaves his bratty kid with a police woman and her young daughter. What follows next is that hours seem like days as the film inflicts all sorts of "cute" antics on us from the kids. After awhile Sammo returns from prison, beats up some people, then we're "treated" to a heart warming ending and I took the noose from around my next and stepped down from the chair and went to bed. Crying myself to sleep in a fetal position.
Well the next morning I awoke and King Swindler was nothing but a memory. A very painful and shameful memory. And it was on to the next film.
My Lucky Stars (1985)
My Lucky Stars is the amazing story of a group of courageous men out to save their friend and redeem their souls in the process. Muscles (Jackie Chan) is on the trail of a corrupt Hong Kong cop. With the help of his partner Ricky (Yuen Biao) they've tracked him to an amusement park in Japan. Some sort of Ninja clan shows up (Amusement park clan perhaps?) and Ricky is captured after a brief battle. Jackie....um Muscles needs help to get his partner out. So he gets his boss to recruit his old buddy Kidstuff (Sammo) and his gang of crooks to help out. Seems Kidstuff and the gang don't trust Muscles now that he's become a cop. But the cops pull a frame job on the gang, implicating them in a bank robbery. So they agree to help in order to clear their names. Then though the use of jokes about diarrhea and how best to feel up a woman when your tied to her we learn something about these brave men and ourselves. That and we get treated to a kick ass climax in a funhouse. A highly recommend romp.
Shanghai Express (1986)
This film is a little bit of everything. Western. Comedy. Kung Fu. Adventure film. All wrapped up in an all-star cast. Your never quite certain when or where the story takes place. The plot concerns a train called The Millionaire's Express. Sammo plays a bandit who returns to his home town after several years. He's got a bad rep around town for his antics. He attempts to waylay the train there in hopes of revitalizing the town's failing economy and making things right. There are others with various reasons for being there as well. Including three Japanese Samurai after some ancient parchment. A bandit army out to pilfer the train and a gang of bungling crooks who used to be the town's police force. There's tons of slapstick comedy and various visual gags. A lot of it is funny, but a few gags will leave you just shaking your head. That said though you will be entertained and by the time the film reaches the final twenty minute battle royal you'll be on edge of your seat as one crazy stunt follows another.
The Gambling Ghost (1991)
Here's a film that for what ever reason I just love. I shouldn't. It's all sorts of dumb. But damn it if it just doesn't charm the pants off of you. Sammo plays three different generations in the same family. The father and his no good gambling son and the ghost of the grandfather as well. Seems old gramps was a famous gambler who died under mysterious circumstances. His ghost comes back to not only help his grandson cheat at gambling but to get revenge on the one that double crossed and murdered him. Unlike King Swindler the zaniness and overall lack of action don't hurt the film. It's just a fun time that never feels forced or too cute for it's own good.
Eastern Condors (1987)
The Dirty Dozen done Hong Kong style. A total action blast and a great way to wrap up the marathon. It's often considered one of Sammo's best films. It's definitely one of my personal favorites from his filmography. A group of Chinese-American soldiers who also happen to be convicts and or prisoners of war are given a chance at winning their freedom. If they can slip into Vietnam and blow up an abandoned U.S. ammo storehouse they'll all receive pardons. The tone is a bit darker then the majority of Sammo's films. The action is great, both hand to hand stuff and gun battles. The final battle in the abandoned ammo is a knock out.
Not a bad marathon. There were a few clunkers in there to be sure. King Swindler I'm looking at you! But overall I really enjoyed the heck out of the line up for the most part. And the thing is I barely scratched the surface of Sammo's amazing filmography.