• Shaw Brothers Collection II



    Released by: Well-Go USA
    Released on: 8/25/10
    Director: Various
    Cast: Various
    Year: Various
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    The Movies:

    Well Go USA has been releasing a few Shaw Brothers titles on DVD over the last couple of years and has recently starting boxing some of them up and offering them in four packs at a reduced price. Their second collection, aptly titled The Shaw Brothers Collection II, contains the following four films:

    BROTHERS FIVE

    Brothers Five starts off with a female martial artist named Yen Lai (Cheng Pei-Pei) who meets up with a man named Wei (Yueh Hua) who was separated from his four brothers when an evil martial artist named Lung Cheng-feng (the diabolical Tien Feng) killed their father and took over their family's kung fu school, Flying Dragon Villa. As Yen Lai and Wei travel across the land they decide to gather up his four missing brothers so that they can go on to avenge their father's death. While Lung may have a veritable army of assassins at his disposal, he doesn't know about what those five brothers (one of whom is played by Lo Lieh), each identified by a scar on his hand, are capable of once they reunite...

    Shot with an eye for dramatic flair and directed by Lo Wei (who made Bruce Lee famous with The Chinese Connection and Fist Of Fury), this Shaw Brothers film is a whole lot of action packed fun. While the plot isn't particularly riveting or unique, the film has enough quirk and plenty of gimmicks to ensure that it's never dull. The fight scenes come regularly and are very well shot and the action is plenty violent and exciting.

    Cheng Pei-Pei lights up the screen with plenty of legitimate charisma. Her character literally flies around the action and it's a blast watching her kick ass with the rest of the cast. Her chemistry with the five brothers she's tasked with reuniting adds an unusual air to the film while a great and truly sinister performance from Tien Feng ensures that the hissable villain is the type we love to hate.

    Most of the fight scenes involve weapons - there are plenty of swords and spears but also a couple of scenes where Wei uses what looks like a metal saucer of some sort to slash away at his opponents. With each of the five brothers having their own special moves and style, there's no shortage of uniqueness to the fight scenes whereas they easily could have become repetitive.

    Like a lot of the Shaw Brothers films from around the same time the movie was shot almost entirely on sets so it has that wonderful ‘fake' look to much of it. That said, the film is very well shot with some great widescreen photography that gives much of the action a very epic feel, particularly once the five brothers take the fight to their nemesis. A solid score and some fantastically colorful photography and costume work keep things interesting and the film winds up a completely worthwhile and genuinely fun endeavor.

    THE BRAVE ARCHER AND HIS MATE

    The least interesting film in the set is more noteworthy for who is in it than for what happens in it. The last of the Brave Archer films directed for the studio by Chang Cheh in 1982, it’s really got nothing to do with the three films that came before it in the series.

    As a baby, Yang Guo is adopted by Kuo Tsing and Huang Yung after his parents are killed. Fast forward a few years and the now teenage boy (played by Fu Sheng) wants to learn the martial arts from his parents who are a bit hesitant to teach him because his father used his martial arts skills for evil. His foster siblings are taught full on martial arts skills by their Uncle Kuo but poor Yang Guo is only allowed to dabble in the basics. Annoyed by this, he sneaks off to a nearby temple where he runs into a man named Ouyang Feng, (Wang Li) who knows more about the murder of his parents than Yang Guo does and who infers hat Kuo Tsing and Huang Yung may have had a hand in it. He agrees to teach him frog-style kung fu and takes him under his wing and trains him.

    From there the movie shifts gears and Yang Guo winds up heading to a palace where a gang of bad guys are searching for the mythical Dragon Girl who supposedly lives in one of the tombs on the property. He and his friends get into a fight with them which eventually leads into more regarding the death of his parents that segues into some decent fights that bring the picture to a finish.

    The problem with this picture, aside from the fact that it doesn’t have much to do with the three earlier efforts, is that during its last half it introduces too many characters and the ending seems rushed. The fight scenes are decent, even if Fu Sheng has very little to do in most of them, and it’s cool to see three of the Venoms pop up alongside him - Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng, Wang Li and Lu Feng – but the storyline can’t quite hold it all together in the later parts of the picture for this to have the lasting impact you might hope it would. That said, it’s entertaining enough if you keep your expectations in check, but given the caliber of the cast, you can’t help but want a bit more out of this than the film ultimately delivers.

    HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD

    The most unusual film in this set by a big, big margin, this fantasy film made by Shaw Brothers in 1983 is pretty wild stuff. When the film begins, two infant siblings are separated when their two parents are murdered by some evil martial arts masters who are in search of the magical Holy Flame. Raised separate from one another they’re both highly trained in different fighting styles. The male sibling, Wan Tien-sau (Max Mok), is trained by a master named Phantom (Philip Kwok) who is skilled in the strange art of the ghostly laugh, while the female sister, Wan Dan-fung (Yang Ching Ching) is raised by Jin Yin (a young Liu Hsueh-hua wearing an obvious grey wig to make her look aged) who leads an all female clan of warriors.

    When the kids turn eighteen, Wan decides to head to the moon cave where he knows his family’s sword is hidden. After meandering his way through its many traps he later meets a snake catcher and his foxy daughter (Weng Ching-ching) who he saves from being sacrificed by some bad guys. He eventually meets up with Wan Dan-fung, though neither realizes who the other is, and eventually they team up to stop get back their family’s weapons but not before Jin Yin manages to turn the two against one another. It all leads up to a pretty remarkable climax, one which you won’t see coming at all.

    Directed by Lun Chun-ku, this is one of those ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ productions that are so much fun to watch. Loaded with plenty of comedy, some intentional and some not, and some effective and some not, in addition to…. lots of flying, lasers, plenty of ghostly laughing and not so ghostly laughing, snakes, an unusually high skeleton quotient, nifty animated ghosts that zip around swamps, flying Chinese characters, the re-animated ass kicking corpse of an English speaking westerner, blood spray, swords that look like they came out of a He-Man cartoon, monster masks, and a wacky Shaolin monk. That’s a whole lot of crazy packed in to a tight eighty-five minute film.

    While the picture’s low budget is obvious from the get-go, it doesn’t really matter as it’s just so much infectious fun you won’t likely care. The action is near constant and while it is initially a little bit confusing, the plot cleans itself up by the time it really starts rolling making the many memorable characters that are introduced one after the other all part of the picture’s charm.

    JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED

    A courtesan named Shui Erh (Fu Yin-yu) is the illegitimate daughter of a prince who is raised in a brothel by a thug named Kao Lao-ta (Tan Hui-wei). When she offends a paying customer the brothel soon becomes scorned and falls into debt. Kao decides to get rid of Shui Erh and sells her off to a young prince (Tony Leung) who intends to use her as a bargaining chip in his attempt to usurp power from the current ruler. The prince sends three of his finest warriors - Lien Fei-hsia, Yen Shih-san and Szema Chung-heng - to transport her to his palace but not before Shui Erh's father learns of the news and sends one of his assassins, Shan Chun, to kill her before they can get to her.

    Shan Chun has everyone in the brothel killed and Shui Erh takes off into the forest to hide but is followed by an assassin. Thankfully a knight (Tung Wei) finds her and saves her and when he starts to fall for her, finds that his own life is now in danger as well.

    Directed by Cha Chuan-yi, the same man who gave us The Rapist and Supercops, Journey Of The Doomed is fairly sleazy stuff. The emphasis is more on the sexploitative elements in the film rather than on the martial arts though the last half of the film is really an extended chase scene in which Shei Erh and her knight do their best to evade the various factions that want to kill them both. There are a couple of stand out action set pieces, the finale in particular that takes place around a fairly spectacular battle, but there's a lot more attention paid to Fu Yin-yu's frequently naked body than anything else with a few scenes taking place in the brothel gleefully exploiting the female employees residing there.

    Throw in a few odd subplots including one involving Shan Chun and some completely bizarre hypnotic abilities and of course the romance between the knight and Shei Erh that make the film a little more complicated than it really needs to be and you're left with an odd film that can't quite figure out what it wants to be or where it wants to go. The picture is certainly entertaining enough but it really is a mish-mash of ideas that never really fully form. Enjoy this one is an exploitation picture rather than as a pure martial arts film and you'll walk away reasonably satisfied as there's enough sex and violence here to ensure that the picture is never dull even if it is at times unnecessarily confusing.
    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Brothers Five, The Brave Archer And His Mate, and The Holy Flame Of The Martial World are all presented in their original 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio in transfers that are, aside from the fact that they’re interlaced, quite attractive. Colors look nice and natural and while shadow detail is a bit wonky and a couple of scenes approach softness, overall the picture is stable and clean. Black levels look good, there aren't any major problems with print damage and mpeg compression artifacts and edge enhancement are never problematic.

    Surprisingly enough, Journey Of The Doomed is presented in an interlaced non-anamorphic transfer. While the image looks quite good for what it is, the lack of 16x9 enhancement is definitely a disappointment. That said, the source material used for this transfer was obviously in good shape. There aren't any problems with dirt or debris on the image nor are there any issues with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement. The color reproduction looks nice and accurate and skin tones look lifelike and natural

    Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound options are supplied in both English and Chinese for each film except Journey Of The Doomed (which is in Chinese only) with removable subtitles provided in both languages. Rears aren't used as effectively as they could have been and it would have been nice to have the original mono mix supplied as an option but the audio sounds decent enough. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and both mixes sound pretty clean though at times you'll probably notice some odd reverb.
    Save for a static menu and chapter selection, the only extra features on any of the DVDs in this collection are is the films’ original theatrical trailers.
    The Final Word:

    If you don’t already own the single disc releases, the Shaw Brothers Collection II boxed set is a nice way to get four very different films from the legendary studio in one fell swoop.