A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 438 – 5 Superfighters

5 Superfighters – May 12th, 2011

One might think that last night’s movie was truly the ultimate when it comes to movies with incredibly thin plots to allow for a truckload of fight scenes. One would be wrong. Oh so very wrong. Because movies like this one exist and I’ve got to admit, it’s hard to beat. This was yet another movie acquired from my coworker’s husband. We knew nothing about it when we got it other than that it was a kung fu movie. IMDB doesn’t even have a running time listed (it’s about an hour and a half, for anyone curious) so we figured out if it was watchable tonight by popping it in and forwarding to the end to see what the timer on the DVD player read. The disc has no options, the dubbing is patchy, the soundtrack cuts out oddly in a few places and there are VHS artifacts carried over to the DVD release. It was a mystery to us and oh, oh am I glad we own it.

This is not going to be a long review because really, what can I say about this movie? It’s fairly low budget and the plot is a thin shell around fight scene after fight scene. I can’t comment much on the acting both because of the dubbing and because of the lack of plot. I can talk about the fighting and the soundtrack, but that’s really about where we stand here. There’s just lot a whole lot of substance and that’s clearly by design, not accident. No one set out to make this movie an epic masterpiece of storytelling. But more than one person obviously set out to make it a little over ninety minutes of king fu fighting.

There’s a trope I’ve noticed in watching the kung fu movies we’ve done so far. It’s the hidden kung fu master. The true masters, the people who can beat anyone and teach the main character the necessary skills to beat the villain and whatnot? They aren’t running schools or taking on student after student. They don’t walk around announcing that, like Neo, they know kung fu. No. They live normal and mundane lives until some heroic type brings trouble to their doorstep. In this movie we have a drunken beggar, a fisherman and a bean curd maker. The only reason we find out that they can do kung fu in the first place (let alone that they’re masters) is because they get forced into defending themselves. On the other end of the spectrum, we have a teacher and his three students, whom he took in and raised after finding them as orphans. Granted, he’s not running around preening about his skills, but he’s not hiding in plain sight or anything. And so when the villain, a kung fu master proclaiming that he is the master of correcting bad kung fu, shows up, he kicks said teacher’s ass. And he whoops all three students too. So off they go to find new teachers so they can learn how to beat this mysterious master to exact revenge for their first teacher’s humiliation.

If you’re thinking there’s anything more to this movie than the three students (and their teacher) all going out and finding new people to learn from? You are clearly expecting too much from this movie. Even the scenery is minimal at best. Each of the three students goes out to find a new teacher. One finds a woman who makes bean curd and kicks the snot out of four potential suitors who won’t take no for an answer. He ends up getting some bonus lessons from her blind father too. One finds a drunken beggar whose character is a pretty hideous stereotype, so I kind of found other things to do whenever he was on screen and talking. Fighting, on the other hand, well, he’s pretty kick-ass, which is the point. Then there’s the third student, who meets a fisherman who tosses a net over him, then takes him on as a student. They all have to convince their prospective teachers to take them on. They all fight and train and fight some more. Meanwhile at home the teacher gets a new teacher of his own. And there’s more fighting. And more fighting. And eventually everyone meets back up again and there’s a big climactic fight with the villain and the teacher and students tag each other in and out and use all the techniques they’ve learned in their time apart.

There’s certainly a lot of humor here, with tongue in cheek characterizations and lines. I wish I could hear the original delivery and read the translation subtitled because while I suspect that things like “Your method of instruction is lousy!” and “[I come] from a far away place… all the way from HELL!” were intended to be hilarious, I can’t quite tell if they’re faithful to the original. It’s all so very silly. But I would say the dubbing takes away from that. It changes the timing and delivery on lines and exchanges and I can’t say this is a problem exclusive to this movie, it certainly could have been done better.

One thing I do like about the soundtrack we have here is the music. Again, no clue if it’s in the original, but man is it fantastic. It runs the gamut from cheesy late 70s jazz to hilarious 80s synth. It’s an incongruous combination of music and movie and there’s something so perfect about it. It adds into the whole vibe of the movie and I’ve got to say I thoroughly enjoyed it, dubbing and all. There’s just something fun and mindless about it. I didn’t even have to do any reading to enjoy this movie. I just sat back and enjoyed the fight scenes and humor and music and really, that seems to be the whole point of this movie.

May 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Five Superfighters

May 12, 2011

The Five Superfighters

After watching several of the grand epic films of Yimou Zhang it is almost a relief to watch a simple, low budget, brainless kung-fu movie. It would be difficult to make a simpler movie than this one, at least plot-wise. It would also be difficult to fit any more kung-fu into a ninety minute film than is crammed into this one – the movie is seventy to eighty percent fighting scene with a couple seconds of establishing shots and a couple lines of dialog to explain why the next fight is going to happen.

My one complaint would be that I can’t figure out who the five titular super fighters are. Pretty much every single character in this movie is a kung-fu master of some sort, so it’s a lot more than five. I’m guessing the five refers to the three apprentices in the story, their master, and the wandering dickweed who starts the whole movie going by beating the crap out of all four of them.

Things get underway when a man in black drifts into a peaceful town and starts taunting and then beating up kung-fu fighters. He starts out by defeating an entire dojo of students and eventually their master. This is just to establish his M.O. As he leaves the dojo he comes across three young students and their master, and decides to teach them a lesson as well. He beats each of the students individually, then all three together, then their master as well.

That very evening, without rousing their master and his wounded pride from a troubled sleep, the three students decide to go out into the world to find other kung-fu masters so they can develop their skills and return on their master’s birthday in six months to defeat the man in black. (Of course they have one last quick friendly fight between themselves first to decide who gets to go south.)

Each of them finds an unlikely master to train with. One comes across a young widow who makes a living selling home-made bean paste and who he discovers while she is fending off a trio of ruffians. Another meets a drunken cripple who turns out to have uncanny skills. The third enters into servitude with a simple fisherman who has unearthly abilities with a bamboo rod.

They each fight their potential master/mistress to gain the right to learn. Then there’s some more fighting which is part of their training. And more fighting to establish at the end of the six months that they’re learned enough to go back out into the world. In the mean time their old master has a re-match with the man in black and becomes a depressed drunk since he’s humiliated a second time and his young apprentices have all left him. (He demonstrates the depths to which he has sunk by fighting his kindly neighbour who brings him food to eat.)

It’s just a movie packed with fight scenes. Which is actually pretty cool. I didn’t have to use my brain at all tonight. I could just sit back and take in the pretty pictures. The fights are full of cool moves and fun humor. Everything is very much tongue in cheek. At the start of the movie I thought that perhaps I had seen it before, but now I’m less sure. I think it’s more that this movie is so steeped in the tropes and cliches of the genre that were well established before this was made. It has hints of Drunken Master. It has familiar kung-fu settings and stereotypes. It just feels comfortable and familiar.

I also really enjoyed the eclectic soundtrack. It’s a mix of all kinds of different styles and each fight has its own theme. It uses jazzy seventies guitars and electric video-game bleepings such as would have been popular in the eighties when this movie was made. And oh, does the version we watched tonight feel gloriously mired in the eighties. To start with it is your usual cheesy US dub. It’s also clearly encoded from a VHS master (there are VHS artifacts like tracking errors at the top of the frame and occasional lines through the center of the picture.) It’s also pan & scan – mostly. The opening credits bizarrely change aspect ratio – anamorphic for any title that would otherwise have gone off the sides of the TV but cropped for shots that have no titles over them. (The credits are over the initial fight scene of the man in black coming to town and kicking some unworthy asses.) Taken all together I was transported back to my high-school days of renting Jackie Chan movies from Mike’s Video or watching kung-fu films on channel 38. It was a fun and nostalgic feeling.

This isn’t a big movie. It isn’t a great movie. It’s one of hundreds of low budget films ground out by the kung-fu powerhouses of the sixties, seventies and eighties. It doen’t have anything original or new to say. It’s just a bung of fun fights strung together, and that is just fine with me. Not every movie has to be great – some can just be fun.

May 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment