Wu Tang Clan ain't nothin' to fuck with!
The Hong Kong actioner Shao Lin da peng da shi, aka Return to the 36th Chamber, is part of a trilogy of films that inspired the legendary U.S rappers Wu Tang Clan, and as such is as famous for its musical influence as its place in cinematic history. Wu Tang must be the only hip hop group—probably the only music group of any genre—whose entire schtick revolves around Hong Kong chopsocky. But forget the music. We're about cinema today, though to reiterate—Wu Tang Clan ain't nothin' to fuck with!
In Return to the 36th Chamber a group of fabric workers scam their evil bosses into backtracking on a pay cut by having a Shaolin monk with invincible kung fu take up their cause. Problem is the monk is just a regular Joe named Chao Jen-Cheh and he knows no martial arts. When the ruse is exposed, Chao is humiliated and roughed up. But at that point he goes to the shaolin temple where he learns real kung fu. Well, sort of. He learns how to build bamboo scaffolding, but in true zen form he realizes the skills are transferrable. He returns to the place of his humiliation armed with his bamboo-fu, and this time he aims to make the bad guys pay.
Basically, the movie follows the predictable Hong Kong martial arts formula of early defeat of the good guy, followed by rigorous training with a tough-but-inscrutable master, capped by redemptive kicking of evil guy asses. But even with its standard plot—not to mention bad make-up, silly wigs, rough prosthetics, and cookie cutter plot—the movie is still fun. The fight scenes are of course amazing and the comedic elements are lowbrow but effective. Too bad guys like Chao Jen-Cheh don't exist in real life. There are a lot of workers that could use an ass kicker like him these days. Shao Lin da peng da shi premiered in Hong Kong today in 1980.
Big trouble in little China.
After running across a poster this pretty we simply had to watch The Terror of the Tongs. Of course, the quality of an old Hollywood movie set in Asia is inversely proportional to the number of times you hear a gong. In The Terror of the Tongs you hear quite a few. You know the drill. Someone says the bad guys' headquarters is in the old part of town—GONG!—cut to the villains in their lair. Usually such movies feature white cast members Asianized with make-up and putty eyelids, and this is also an inverse indicator of quality.
But on that score Tongs defies the rule. Most major cast members are white, but the movie, though inherently racist, is not a bad piece of entertainment. A paradox? Indeed, young one. But we mean to say that once you get over the minstrel aspects—if you ever do, and we don't suggest that you should—what you get here is a fun little tale of a white ship captain in the mysterious Orient dealing with forces he can barely comprehend. When he accidentally comes into possession of a valuable item it results in the murder of his airhead daughter and sends him on a mission to make the responsible tong—i.e. Hong Kong mafia—pay.
Geoffrey Toone plays the noble and aggrieved captain, while veteran Brit actor Christopher Lee stars as the evil tong honcho Chung King. The film is beautifully made, with big sets and florid colors that dazzle the eye, and it's less predictable than you'd expect. It's clear the filmmakers were deadly serious, which makes it funny that the final product is considered pure cheese today. If you can look past the yellow makeup and prosthetic eyelids you'll find some entertainment here. And if not, at the very least you'll be thankful how far we've all come. The Terror of the Tongs premiered today in 1961.
Annie Belle streaks across Hong Kong and stardom follows.
Above you seen an Aller, aka Carlo Alessandrini, poster for La fine dell'innocenza, which premiered in Italy today in 1976 and was titled in English Annie, after the lead character Annie Belle. The star of the film had acted under her real name Annie Brilland up to this point, but adopted Annie Belle as her stage name for this film and the rest of her career. Yes, technically she acted as Annie Belle in an earlier movie—Laure, which came out about a week before Annie, but we strongly suspect that made-in-Manila sex romp was shot later and simply went through post production more quickly. Another small movie from 1975 is credited to Belle, but we're sure that was done much later. Annie is the film that made her Belle.
It's a coming of age story in which Belle proves to be too independent for all those—male and female—who wish to possess her. She begins the film under the wing of her incest-minded father, travels with him to Hong Kong, where he's arrested for money laundering, forcing her to fend for herself. From there she makes the inevitable sexual splash in upper crust expat circles around the island. And who can fault them for their interest? In real life Belle is a tiny, tomboyish figure, certainly no more than 5' 2”, but onscreen she comes across as even lusher than the Hong Kong hills. There's no disputing it: the camera loves her. She's one of the most striking stars of any era of cinema.
La fine dell'innocenza is remembered for its extended sequence depicting Belle's escape from a brothel. She pulls it off—no body double—by sprinting starkers through the Hong Kong streets, leaping onto the back of a motorcycle driven by an associate, careening through traffic as she wantonly flouts local helmet laws, leaping off the bike and running again, now chased by cops, to a public fountain, where she's finally apprehended. The scene is worth rewinding just to see all the locals gawking from the backgrounds of the shots. They must have thought, watching this platinum blonde boy-woman with the jet back muff running through their city—what the hell do these foreigners smoke?
The king has left the building.
We ran across this 1974 Bruce Lee memorial magazine originally printed in Hong Kong and sold throughout South Asia and had to share it. The cover is amazing, we think, with its blue background and golden hand graphics. The interior photos aren't in color except for the insides of the the covers, but among them are some interesting ones, including childhood shots, photos of his wife Linda Emery, promo images from his movies, and a couple of shots of Lee in his coffin, which some may find morbid. We especially like the production photo of Lee and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from Game of Death, and the shot of him with his son Brandon. The magazine is short—only 26 pages including the covers, but on the rear you get a photo medley of Lee in various modes, which is a nice way to end the collection. We have more pieces of Lee memorabilia in the website, so click his keywords at bottom if you want to check those out.
Gemser makes a movie out of spare parts.
In Porno Esotic Love Indonesian sexploitation superstar Laura Gemser finds herself in another exotic locale—this time Hong Kong—where she engages in another series of softcore romps with hirsute westerners. She made something like twenty-six movies along these lines, which is why the makers of this one couldn't resist taking shortcuts. They cobbled together a good chunk of the footage from Gemser's previous outings and shoehorned them into a new narrative about a woman seeking revenge for the heroin overdose of her sister. The cynical usage of previously shot footage makes this one of director Joe D'Amato's worst efforts, but also one of his most profitable, we suspect. We can't possibly recommend the movie, but in order to compensate for the aching sense of loss you probably feel, there's a promo shot of Gemser below kicking back on a large rock, or perhaps the world's smallest deserted island, depending on how you want to look at it. Porno Esotic Love premiered in Italy today in 1980.
Dylan—Rab Dylan, that is—plays in Hong Kong.
Above, a nice cover for Azzurro è l'inferno, aka Hell Is Blue, 1968, by Rab Dylan for the Italian publishers Silpe as part of its Giallo 70 line. This was Silpe's first publication of many. The story is espionage set in Hong Kong, with all the James Bond style trappings. The author Dylan was pseudonymous, in this case for Italian writer Gualberto Titta, who we assume was worried people would laugh at his last name. What's notable about this book, at least for us, is that the company was founded by genius illustrator Mario Ferrari, who we've featured several times. And once we knew that, it was suddenly obvious this was also Ferrari's work on the cover. He's top tier, and you can see plenty more from him here, here, and here.
Hah hah, don't worry about my gun. Worry about my mood.
Above, a photo of German actress and dancer Taina Béryl, aka Taina Beryll, aka Tayna Beryll, happily playing with a sidearm, which given a choice is better than her unhappily playing with it. Her name is often spelled "Tania" around the internet but that's incorrect. As a dancer Taina-not-Tania Béryl performed at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, and in cinema was seen in such productions as Une blonde comme ça, L'inconnue de Hong Kong, and Berlin, cites with los Espias. 1963 on the image.
Jeanne Bell karate chops her way across Hong Kong.
T.N.T. Jackson, for which you see the U.S. promo poster above, is a mid-budget blaxploitation flick built around clumsy martial arts, a flimsy plot, and shoddy acting. But it has Jeanne Bell. Playboy magazine had made Bell a centerfold in 1969. From there she launched a movie career, with T.N.T. Jackson coming ninth in her filmography. She plays Diana “T.N.T.” Jackson, who learns that her brother was killed by Hong Kong drug dealers and seeks payback. While the plot is nothing special, Bell certainly is. She was twenty-five and wore a bouffant hair-do when she first appeared in Playboy; in T.N.T. she was thirty and had blossomed into an unforgettable beauty with a frosted afro, kicking and chopping her way across the movie screen. All the fight scenes are hilarious, with their cut-rate choreography and claw-handed posing, but they're fun to watch, especially the one in which she kicks the shit out of a bunch of guys while wearing only panties. That bit seems to us a clear homage to Reiko Ike's totally nude fight in 1973's Sex & Fury, another movie that surpasses its limitations by piling on style and attitude. Is T.N.T. Jackson actually good? No—but we bet it'll make you smile. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1974.
Xenophobia: Don't leave home without it.
The above poster was made to promote the Japanese run of a West German sexploitation film that originally had the unwieldy title Die jungen Ausreißerinnen - Sex-Abenteuer deutscher Mädchen in aller Welt, which is sometimes shortened to just Die jungen Ausreißerinnen, or “the young runaways.” For distribution in English it was called Innocent Girls Abroad. It has nothing to do with Mark Twain's similarly titled classic, but is of course a softcore romp done anthology style, with Doris Arden headlining as the main innocent. She doesn't appear on the poster, though, save for in the lower lefthand corner. We suspect the Japanese distributors decided she wasn't boobalicious enough, which just goes to show what they know, because Arden is spectacular by any measure.
Anyway, what we have here is a cautionary tale featuring beautiful young travelers and the pitfalls they encounter, slavery among them, with the various misadventures taking place in Hong Kong, London, Beirut, Paris and Rome. Arden gets the Beirut segment and it consists of her telling the local police her story: raped by her stepfather when she was fifteen, a runaway drifting from place to place, ending up in a harem where she becomes a sexual servant, enduring a year of bondage before her escape. Many sexploitation films are joyful or comical or contain messages of female empowerment—Die jungen Ausreißerinnen isn't one of those. You've been warned. After opening in West Germany earlier in the year it played in Japan for the first time today in 1972.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1952—Chaplin Returns to England
Silent movie star Charlie Chaplin returns to his native England for the first time in twenty-one years. At the time it is said to be for a Royal Society benefit, but in reality Chaplin knows he is about to be banned from the States because of his political views. He would not return to the U.S. for twenty years.
1910—Duke of York's Cinema Opens
The Duke of York's Cinema opens in Brighton, England, on the site of an old brewery. It is still operating today, mainly as a venue for art films, and is the oldest continually operating cinema in Britain.
1975—Gerald Ford Assassination Attempt
Sara Jane Moore, an FBI informant who had been evaluated and deemed harmless by the U.S. Secret Service, tries to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford. Moore fires one shot at Ford that misses, then is wrestled to the ground by a bystander named Oliver Sipple.
1937—The Hobbit is Published
J. R. R. Tolkien publishes his seminal fantasy novel The Hobbit, aka The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Marketed as a children's book, it is a hit with adults as well, and sells millions of copies, is translated into multiple languages, and spawns the sequel trilogy The Lord of Rings.
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