Monday, 12 August 2013

How can you like that crap? Dissecting guilty pleasures #1

The concept of a guilty pleasure is a bit silly when applied to such things as films and music, but it's a handy phrase for liking things that you know aren't 'good'. For example, the films of Godfrey Ho;

Mr Ho is not the Orson Welles of Taiwan (to say the least) but I haven't seen a single one of his films that wasn't infinitely better than thousands of more professionally made, slickly directed and better acted films. For example...

The Dragon, The Hero (dir. Godfrey Ho, Taiwan, 1979)

Starring: John Liu, Dragon Lee, Tino Wong, Phillip Kao Fe

If forced to give this movie a mark out of five I would award it 3.5 or even 4, but why for Christ's sake? It's obviously rubbish isn't it? Let's see...

Synopsis: Two fighters with an inherited grudge (John Liu & Tino Wong) join forces with each other and a musclebound martial artist (Dragon Lee) to defeat a sadistic psychopath (Philip Kao Fe) who needs only to see a fighting style once in order to master it.

Very brief, objective review:
Godfrey Ho's usual bizarrely inept direction and lack of pacing, plus illogical plot twists, unbelievable characters and very poor dubbing are redeemed only by well-staged fights, especially the climactic one. 2/5

Rambling subjective review:
Godfrey Ho's work of the late 70s/early 80s is perhaps the pinnacle of trash kung fu cinema; camp, colourful, ridiculous and bizarre. Although his inventiveness became dulled by the endless stream of ninja movies (usually including a Z-list western actor), his earlier work was rarely less than entertaining, and often intentionally funny as well as incidentally so.
In The Dragon, The Hero, Ho brings together some of the most idiosyncratic kung fu performers of the era:
The aristocratic/snooty-looking Tino Wong, here cast in a rare heroic role, in which he is immensely likable.

The moody, funny-looking John Liu, one of the great kickers of the era

The athletic, Bruce Lee-looking Dragon Lee, often wasted in lookalike roles

The intense, fanatical-looking Phillip Kao Fe, perhaps (along with Hwang Jang Lee & Lu Feng) the best kung fu villain of the era.

In addition, there is a great and amusing cameo by the unmistakable Bolo Yeung.

Kao Fe's larger-than-life villain (who uses a huge hourglass to time how quickly he defeats and kills his victims) would completely overshadow the movie if not for the fact that everything else in the movie is equally outlandish and cartoonlike. In fact, even some of the movies' martial arts are as silly as everything else; Tino Wong & John Liu's 'strike rock fist' style being a particularly unwieldy, if photogenic method of combat.

The UK dubbing adds an extra dimension of fun to the film, a mixture of dopey and melodramatic voices, seemingly done by a cast of 3 or 4 British actors in attempted American accents. Dragon Lee's voice is the same kind of strange John Wayne impression that Bruce Lee was often saddled with in his UK releases.

Basically; weird characters, rambling, picaresque story, bizarre plot twists, nice locations, presumably in rural Taiwan, plus top class fight scenes = top entertainment. 5/5


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