Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Two Films by John Woo (1976 & 1979)

"Two From Woo!"

Eureka are to be commended for bringing out two lesser known 1970s martial arts classics from director John Woo, better known to Western cinema goers for modern classics like 1997's FACE/OFF, A BETTER TOMORROW (1986) and HARD BOILED (1992). So what do we get in this set? 

Hand of Death (1976)

aka SHAO LIN MEN, in which a Shaolin monk (Tao-Liang Tan) is given the task of finding and killing a Manchu warlord (moustache twirling - well he would if it was long enough - James Tien) who is trying to destroy the Shaolin. Aided by Jackie Chan in an early role, our hero has to combat not only the lead villain but Sammo Hung and his bizarre plastic teeth in a movie that is the epitome of kung fu epics of the era.

Which means we get superbly choreographed fight sequences against beautiful scenery. The lead doesn't have that much charisma  and it's a bit slow going at first but HAND OF DEATH builds into great kicking and chopping entertainment.

Extras include a commentary track by martial arts cinema expert Mike Leeder, a whole range of dialogue options including Cantonese, Mandarin, and two different English dialogue dubs. There's also an archival interview with the director.

Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979) 

LAST HURRAH FOR CHIVALRY starts at a wedding where nearly everyone ends up killed after the husband-to-be's arch rival turns up with his army of assassins. It doesn't help that the bride-to-be is in his employ and stabs the groom. The only survivor swears revenge. But he's not the hero of our tale. 

He employs two hired killers, Cheng San (Wei Pei) and the wine guzzling Green Suit (Damian Lau), claiming he needs their help when actually he's manipulating them into storming his enemy's citadel on their own. 

The fairly slight plot is an excuse for some jaw-dropping swordplay and the film as a whole demonstrates how Woo had developed as a film-maker since HAND OF DEATH (which I suggest you watch first). A noticeably bigger budget helps as well. Your ability to suspend disbelief will determine how well you like the climax, though, as it all gets a little over the top. 

Extras include the same number of dialogue options as for HAND OF DEATH, a commentary track from Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, an archival John Woo interview and a trailer. The set also comes with a booklet featuring new writing on both movies by Matthew Thrift.

TWO FILM BY JOHN WOO is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 24th June 2019

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