Exhumed: A Child’s Treasury of Jimmy Wang Yu Movies
“Exhumed” revives very old Teleport City reviews from the first couple of year’s of the site’s existence (roughly 1998-2001). I can’t necessarily vouch for the quality, or even always the opinions, of 1999 me, but in the name of entertaining you like I’m some kinda dancin’ monkey, I have dug up these graves and present the corpses to you, more or less unaltered and in all their “there were a lot fewer avenues of research back then” moldy, ignorant glory. Enjoy the many dated references!
Editor’s Note: Back in the day, Jimmy Wang Yu was one of my favorite punching bags, and I’m glad I was never a punching bag for him. Because I hear he was actually pretty tough. This was before a lot of his old wuxia films were available, so all I had to go on were his kungfu films from the 1970s, most of which were terrible. In the two decades and change since then, I’ve seen several great Jimmy Wang Yu films, a few good ones, and more bad ones. So let’s call it even, hope I never run into him in a dark alley, and have a little fun.
Golden Swallow (1968)
The evolution of Hong Kong martial arts films actually begins far earlier than people think, with Kwan Tak-hing making Wong Fei-hong films during the 1920s and being so successful that most people actually began to think of him as Wong Fei-hong, and most of the legendary exploits of Hong Kong’s most famous folk hero (at least after the movies) were actually just things that happened in Kwan’s films. Thanks to Hong Kong’s disregard for their own art, no one really had any interest in preserving these films once they started getting old. Thus, most of us will never get to see one.
Beginning with the explosion in samurai film popularity in Japan thanks to guys like Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, Hong Kong films soon started picking up influences from their Japanese counterparts. The sword hero films of the 1960s were born. These films defined the early era we know as the “modern era” of martial arts. Color films, and films that are actually still around for us to enjoy. No one made these films better than the Shaw Brothers studio, and their biggest director was Chang Cheh.
Chang Cheh and his original crew, which included Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Leih, and the incredible Cheng Pei-pei, were at their best in this spectacular, blood-drenched tragedy. Normally, you throw a “romantic triangle” plot at me, and I’ll be as far away from it as Meg Ryan is close to it, but by golly, no one does romance like Chang Cheh! You may not be able to pass this off as a date movie, but if you find the right boyfriend or girlfriend, they should be watching these movies anyway.
Cheng Pei-pei stars as Golden Swallow, the object of affection for two rival swordsmen (Jimmy Wang Yu and Lo Lieh, back before both of them got ugly). Silver Roc (Wang Yu) is out to avenge the murder of his family by the Golden Dragon gang. He leaves as his calling card a golden dart, which the gang mistakes for the similar calling card left by Golden Swallow when she’s done dealing out justice.
Silver Roc wants to win Golden Swallow’s affections, so he challenges his equally heroic rival, Han Tao (Lo Lieh) to a duel. Golden Swallow manages to stop them from killing each other, but before any issues can be resolved, the Golden Dragons show up to kill everyone. Silver Roc is accidentally mortally wounded by Han Tao in the ensuing battle, and tricks he and Golden Swallow into leaving, unaware that reinforcements for the gang are on the way. As Han and Swallow leave to meet him later, Silver Roc valiantly fights against the unstoppable wave of henchmen, stopping to die only after he has slaughtered every last one of them.
Meanwhile, convinced that Swallow really loves Silver Roc, and unaware that The Roc is dead, Han Tao wanders off into the wilderness, vowing to never stand in the way of the two lovers. Bittersweet tragedy abounds in this heart-wrenching tale. On top of that, Chang Cheh layers on so much bloodshed and wholesale mayhem that even John Woo’s most ambitious slaughter looks like kid stuff. The production is lavish and stylized. Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, and Cheng Pei-pei are spectacular as the heroes doomed to sadness. This is definitely one of the classics of early martial arts cinema.
Trail of the Broken Blade (1966)
Similar in plot to Chang Cheh’s Golden Swallow is this equally heart-wrenching tale of doomed love and doomed heroes. I actually prefer this film to the more celebrated Golden Swallow, though both are incredible, emotional films. A good old-school Shaw Brother martial arts film is like a good old punk rock record. There are plenty of other types of entertainment I enjoy, but at the end of the day, nothing makes me happier than sitting down with a few friends to watch an old school Shaw Brothers flick or listen to old Clash records.
When a hero (Jimmy Wang Yu) avenges the slandering of his father, he becomes a wanted man and must go into hiding. He lives a modest life as a stable hand in some rural, out-of-the-way village, thinking every day of the woman he loved and had to leave behind. She, in turn, spends time thinking of him. Alas! The woman spends all her time trying to figure out the whereabouts of her one true love. She also spends some time fighting off various assailants. A heroic swordsman falls in love with her, but realizes her heart belongs to another. As an act of kindness and devotion, he vows to find her missing love and reunite them.
His journeys eventually lead him to Jimmy Wang Yu, and though he suspects Wang Yu to be the missing hero, Wang Yu refuses to admit it, fearing that reuniting with his true love will only put her in grave danger. However, she too is looking for him, and soon all three are reunited. Just in time, too, since they manage to draw the ire of a local bigwig gang as well as the men seeking to kill Wang Yu. This being a Chang Cheh sword hero tragedy, Wang Yu figures the heroic swordsman and woman are in love. The heroic swordsman comes to the same conclusion about the woman and Wang Yu. Everyone does their best to die amid heroic sacrifice, and for the most part, they are successful.
One-Armed Boxer II (1971)
Few will argue the fact that Jimmy Wang Yu was the greatest male star of the Hong Kong martial arts screen during the 1960s. His work in early Shaw Brothers sword hero films like One-Armed Swordsman, Trail of the Broken Blade, and Red Lotus Temple revolutionized the film industry. He was suave, chivalrous, and able to slaughter a hundred villains single-handedly. So it was only fitting that Hong Kong’s greatest sword hero be among the first stars to make the transition to kungfu hero. Jimmy’s first foray into unarmed martial arts was Chinese Boxer, a decent enough film, especially by early standards, but it was clear that Jimmy would not rule the kungfu world the way he had rules the sword hero world.
But that doesn’t mean he didn’t turn in some great films. Of all his unarmed fighting films, it is in One-Armed Boxer II that he is most unarmed, as he only has one arm. Jimmy first got into the armless guy swing of things in One-Armed Swordsman and a sequel. Then he lost his arm for One-Armed Boxer and this film. This one, which is also known as Master of the Flying Guillotine is the second best of all the armless guy martial arts films — of which there are shockingly many. The best is still One-Armed Swordsman.
This is also a weird one. Not exactly a sequel to the first one but working in the same territory, the film opens with a creepy Throbbing Gristle like soundtrack. A blind kungfu master learns that a one-armed Ming revolutionary has killed the two pupils he sent to apprehend the rebel. so he does what any good blind kungfu master would do; he flies through the roof and vows revenge. The blind man fights using the dreaded flying guillotine, a decapitating weapon that even has it’s own movie. It’s a metal box with retractable blades connected to a long chain. All you have to do is throw it on your enemy’s head, and pop! Off comes the noggin!
Meanwhile, our one-armed hero, played by Jimmy Wang Yu, is busy showing off for his students by walking up walls and doing other stuff that kungfu masters do. They decide to attend a kungfu tournament where the combatants do all sorts of crazy stuff. A fighter from India has arms that extend out like 20 feet — a trick that would later be used in the Street Fighter video game. There’s also a Thai Boxer, some regular kungfu guys, a kungfu woman, and a mysterious Japanese guy in a big hat. The blind master shows up and recruits many of the fighters in his quest to kill every one-armed man in the area until he gets the right one. Luckily, there seem to be a lot of one-armed guys in this town.
The movie is great. Wang Yu looks good against all the weird martial artists, and there is a supernatural feel to much of the film. It’s brutal and bleak, with the spooky soundtrack and some intense fighting. I think it’s great. One of the best kungfu films out there, just for the sheer weirdness of it all. And the fightin’ ain’t bad, either.
Furious Slaughter (1972)
Although Jimmy Wang Yu does not have one arm in this film, he does get to sport a dapper fedora, so I guess it’s not a total loss for him. This film, however, is a fine example of why Jimmy is a better one-armed hero than he is a two-armed one. Having one-arm pretty much excuses his limited on-screen talents. When he’s swinging both arms wildly around, as in this film, there’s really no excuse at all. He may be a fine fighter in real life, but take the sword out of his hand, or give him both hands, and he’s just not very good. It’s a shame, really, because the man was spectacular in the Shaw Brothers sword epics of the 1960s. With a few exceptions, however, he simply could not make the transition.
A lot of things refer to this as an Indiana Jones inspired film, which I don’t exactly get, seeing as Jimmy isn’t searching for treasure or shooting Nazis or hanging out with an Arab who possesses a rich, baritone voice. I guess since Jimmy wears a fedora that makes him an Indiana Jones character.
Curious plot here. Jimmy plays a gruff do-gooder of a rickshaw man who decides to protect a town from the rabble attracted by the local brothel/gambling hall. The only problem with his plan is that no one in the town seems all that interested in his daring-do. In fact, most of them like having the brothel around, and I guess I would, too, and I’d be pretty pissed if Jimmy Wang Yu showed up one day out of the blue and started saying, “I’m taking your sure-thing piece of ass away. Believe me, I’m doing it for you, brother!”
But that doesn’t stop Jimmy from crusading against evil in the town’s name. Eventually, some bad guys just throw lime powder in his eyes and plant some axes in him. Thus he dies tragically defending the townspeople from an evil they all seemed to like having around. They weren’t even that evil until Jimmy starting hitting them.
When this stuff isn’t happening, he just pulls around a rickshaw. This movie is not very good on any level except maybe on the level where guys pull rickshaws around. If that’s the sort of movie you want to watch, then this one is pretty good, I suppose, though I’m not really an expert on movies about guys pulling rickshaws around for two hours. I’d imagine pulling a rickshaw around can’t be that much more excruciating than watching this movie. I’m also pretty sure Toshiro Mifune made a much better rickshaw guy movie.
Jimmy does get to swing his arms around a lot, and in the end, although he still has both arms, he gets to go blind, so he at least gets to work a disability into the plot. Despite dying, Jimmy reprises his role in the direct sequel, if you can believe that, called Bloody Struggle. Yes, only Jimmy Wang Yu can be so tough that he can get an ax in the head but then come back for the sequel.
Bloody Struggle (1972)
This equally amusingly titled film is the sequel to Furious Slaughter. I guess it is pretty bloody, and I struggled to get through it, so there is truth to the title. If I was British, I might even say that watching this film was indeed a bloody struggle. I don’t know what it was about Furious Slaughter that made people want to make or see a sequel, but here it is. This one gets a lot more into exploring just how boring a kungfu film can be — a subject touched on in the first film but not as fully developed as it is here.
The film picks up soon after Jimmy’s untimely demise at the end of the first film, in which ten axes planted in his body didn’t stop him from being a house afire and killing bad guys galore before dropping dead. Now, his sister is in town trying to find out who was responsible for her brother’s death. Only he’s not dead, see? Well, he can’t see. No, he’s not dead at all. After all, having lime powder tossed in your face and then having someone hit you with an ax over and over and over wouldn’t kill Jimmy Wang Yu! No, he’s just been hiding in a barn, hitting bails of hay, and waiting for his eyesight to return.
When it does, he and sister both go out for revenge. They swing their arms around a lot and Jimmy gets about a dozen more axes stuck in him. He even has one in his head, but he keeps on truckin’ until the bad guys are all dead. The he dies, too. I guess. I don’t know. It didn’t work the first time. But as far as I know, there was never a third film called Grumblin’ Vengeance or anything. So maybe he died for good. Suffice to say, my interest in this film died long before Jimmy Wang Yu.
I have to conclude that, in these films, Jimmy is not really that good at his job. I mean, in part one, he tries to save a town from the local whorehouse when everyone in the town seemed to like the whorehouse. And then the bad guys threw axes into his fac. And now he comes back in part two and can’t go ten seconds into a fight without getting more axes in his face. That’s a pretty interesting style, but not one you want to try in real life. Still, it’s pretty fun to watch a guy with a dozen axes stuck in his body running around hollerin’ and fighting. So I guess it wasn’t a total loss.
Beach of the War Gods (1973)
Why, Jimmy, why? The man was so slick during the 1960s in his Shaw Brothers roles. He was so good. And then, sometime round about Chinese Boxer, the man slipped on a banana peel, only recovering his footing once or twice after that. This film is not an example of Jimmy Wang Yu recovering his footing, even though he trades in the kungfu for what made him famous — swingin’ around a sword. Unfortunately, it just isn’t very exciting.
But it isn’t horrible. I mean, I wasn’t mad that I watched it. I didn’t feel ripped off that I spent 50 cents renting it. All in all, it’s a thoroughly average film, my reaction to which was, “It was alright.” I just wasn’t moved or excited the way I was by earlier Jimmy Wang Yu films like One-Armed Swordsman or Trail of the Broken Blade, both excellent examples of Jimmy at his best. And it was by no means down there in the depths alongside Iron Man or A Man Called Tiger.
The film is pretty simple. Some Chinese village is being badgered by Japanese brigands and pirates. Jimmy plays a wandering hero who helps the town defend itself against hopeless odds. In the interim, he jumps over walls and stuff. He’s always been pretty good at that. Uninspired but competent enough swordplay comprises most of the action, and to the film’s credit, there is a lot of it. Jimmy, of course, dies tragically but heroically, still standing up. That may be a spoiler to someone who’s never seen a martial arts film, but the rest of us could pretty much see it coming during the opening credits.
I don’t think any one man in the world has made more films smearing the Japanese than Jimmy Wang Yu, and I wonder about his family’s history during World war II. I mean, the guy really fucking hates the Japanese. Sure, tons of kungfu films have the Japanese as their central villains — an understandable lashing out after the atrocities committed by Japan against China during World War II. But it seems like if you were to sample 500 kungfu films featuring evil Japanese, at least 400 of them would star Jimmy Wang Yu.
So anyway, the final verdict on this film is “ehh.” It’s unspectacular but not unwatachable. You won’t find yourself writing lengthy essays about what a great film it is, though you may throw in how Jimmy Wang Yu expresses his hatred of the Japanese by remaking the Japanese film Seven Samurai, with himself, of course, in the role of all seven samurai.
Knight Errants (1973)
Well, you can’t always have art, and when Jimmy Wang Yu is involved, you can almost never have art, especially if it was made during the 1970s. No one hates the Japanese like Jimmy, and in this film, he once again gets to kill some of them. He plays a guy named Shaolin. Shaolin’s dad was killed by the Japanese. Years later, Shaolin seeks revenge against the sons of the men who killed his father. Shaolin wears 1970s flares, and everyone really digs plaid. The only person who doesn’t wear clashing plaids is this little old Yoda looking woman. She’s the evil matron of the Japanese thugs. Towering under her opponents at about four feet tall, she reminded me of that annoying lady from Poltergeist, only this one can kick ass.
She also gets to lie underneath the tire of a car and laugh maniacally as Jimmy Wang Yu peels out on her. Yes, that’s your hero, folks. He backs over a little old lady and then tries to peel out on her stomach. Ouch! Lucky for her she has super duper karate training, meaning during the whole thing she can just shake her fists and laugh as Jimmy looks on in confused amazement. Even though she’s evil and all, it’s pretty hard to get behind a hero that just tries to run old ladies over with his taxi. I mean, he could at least fight her. If she kicks his ass (which she does), he probably doesn’t deserve to be a hero. But I guess in Jimmy’s special world, heroes can to rotten things to senior citizen and we are supposed to cheer them.
To his credit, that scene was pretty cool. Unfortunately, it’s the best thing in the film. The rest of it is typical Jimmy Wang Yu fare. He swings his arms at people. They swing them back. It’s elevated a notch by the inclusion of talented martial arts star Yasuaki Kurata, but he’s the villain, as usual, and even he can’t pull a four-star fight out of Jimmy Wang Yu. So they mostly just swing their arms around and run to and fro in a shipping yard.
Knight Errants is better than many Jimmy Wang Yu films that came after he made the rather unsuccessful transition from sword hero (where he was good) to kungfu hero (where he wasn’t). But that’s sort of like saying it’s better than getting your knees pounded with a hammer. I didn’t hate this movie the way I hated films like Bloody Struggle, but it sure isn’t an example of how good a kungfu film can be. You can do worse than Knight Errants, but anything worse will probably also star Jimmy Wang Yu.
Iron Man (1973)
There really isn’t a damn thing I can say about this movie other than it really, really sucks. I can’t decide if this or A Man Called Tiger is the worst Jimmy Wang Yu film ever made. Maybe this. It took me almost a year to finish watching this horrible piece of tripe. I tried. I really tried, but after 15-20 minutes, I just had to turn it off, and I couldn’t bring myself to watch it again for months.
Set during World war II, Jimmy is at his Japanese-hating worst as a man who gets his hand chopped off by rotten Japanese scoundrels. Yep. Jimmy is doing the one-armed thing again, only this movie is so weak, he doesn’t even sacrifice a whole arm for it. In fact, once he gets a black glove, his hand seems to magically reappear.
The film is filled mostly with Jimmy seeking revenge against the Japanese. He does this by swinging his arms furiously at them, and they swing their arms back. The whole thing swung me into a pleasant sleep where I dreamed I was doing something more enjoyable than watching Iron Man, like getting my kneecaps hammered on by mafia thugs.
Point the Finger of Death (1977)
Poor Jimmy Wang Yu, crushed under the weight of a faltering career, returned for this film to what he does best — getting his arm cut off. What’s this guy’s problem? He can’t hold onto his arms to save his … well, arm. I am taking all my old broken action figures that are missing limbs and selling them on eBay as “authentic Jimmy Wang Yu dolls.” Wait, weren’t the Jimmy Wang Yu Dolls a glam band during the 1970s? No, sorry, that was the New York Dolls. As far as I remember, they actually had all their limbs.
This time around, Jimmy is a noble Ming revolutionary who is double-crossed by some of his fellow rebels, who are actually working for the Ch’ings. In the ensuing battle, he gallantly lops his own arm off in order to stop the spread of poison from an arrow. Since this is the martial world, he doesn’t bleed to death, and is actually able to still jump over trees while gushing blood from his gory stump. Actually, he doesn’t even gush that much blood, because HE IS JUST THAT FUCKIN’ TOUGH!
He then spends the rest of the movie skulking around and seeking revenge with his arm tucked inside his shirt, which is sometimes pretty obvious. There are moments when it looks like he has his hand on his hip, and he’s got this huge thing jutting out of his side. They should have taped that down, like Lon Chaney in that weird-ass movie where he’s the circus performer who pretends to have no arms, but actually does have some extra thumbs. Pretty good movie.
All in all, this film is not original, but is pretty good, probably thanks to the involvement of the wonderful Liu Chia-yung more than anything else. Jimmy gets to grumble some decent lines but still looks tired and a bit wooden. The rest of the cast is just fine, and the film offers a goodly serving of kungfu bloodletting. While it’s nowhere near the calibre of One-Armed Swordsman or One-Armed Boxer II, it’s still an enjoyable one-armed adventure that hits you with both fists. Actually, I guess it only hits you with one fist. Well, no. Actually, it sort of waves a sword in your face for a while.
Fantasy Mission Force (1985)
I don’t know if any of you out there have ever actually felt your brain melt, but if you have, you know what it’s like to experience the acid trip that is Fantasy Mission Force. Jimmy was definitely on that brown acid when he dreamed up this crackpot film, and thank god for whatever drugs the man was doing. I love this film! SIt has flying Amazons, vampires, and Abraham Lincoln in it! Anyway, almost as wacky and convoluted as the film itself is the story of how up and coming martial arts star Jackie Chan came to be in the film. Keep in mind that much of this is conjecture, wild accusation, conspiracy theory, and half-truth. It sure is interesting though.
Back in the day, Jackie was working for Seasonal Entertainment and director Lo Wei. Lo Wei was the guy who directed Bruce Lee’s three films before Enter the Dragon. Wild rumor had it that Lo Wei, a notorious thug and triad member, was furious that Lee dissed him to go to America and make Enter the Dragon. Thus more than a few people believe that Lee was murdered and Wei’s goons were responsible. So fast forward a few years. Jackie Chan is saddled with the task of being “the next Bruce Lee,” despite the fact that lee and he are totally different types of fighters making totally different types of movies. But they both worked for Lo Wei. Chan was getting sick of toiling away in Seasonal flops like To Kill With Intrigue, though he did make some great films at the time. Lo Wei’s vehicles simply were not taking the young star where he wanted to go.
When Chan was approached by a Taiwanese company with the chance to work with Yuen Wo-ping on Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, he jumped at it, and jumped ship. Once again, Lo Wei’s star had ditched him for greener pastures, and once again, Lo Wei was fuming. Again, speculation claims that Lo Wei sent thugs to Hong Kong to kill Jackie Chan, but Jackie was protected by the local movie star triad thug of Taiwan, Jimmy Wang Yu. Yep, they claim that the ol’ one-armed swordsman, who of course has two arms, fought off a whole bunch of Lo Wei’s men.
Chan now owed his life to Wang Yu, and Jimmy took it out in trade, calling on Jackie’s growing name to inflate interest in some of Jimmy Wang Yu’s own films. Jimmy’s star was well down the path toward waning, so adding Jackie to the list of cast members was a sure-fire way to guarantee the aging Jimmy Wang Yu a decent return on his films. Thus, you get Jackie showing up in Wang Yu films like this and Island of Fire. Like I said, take that shit with however many gains of salt you devote to the tabloids. One thing is for certain, and that’s that Chan must have owed something pretty heavy to Jimmy Wang Yu to show up in some of those films.
Fantasy Mission Force is the best of the bunch, and definitely the weirdest damn thing Chan has ever done. He’s not exactly a member of the main cast, but he keeps popping up, along with Cheung Ling, as a whimsical con-man. He shows up in the end to have a grand duel with Jimmy Wang Yu and his army of Chevy-driving neo-Nazi Chinese skinheads. That right there should clue you in on what sort of movie this is. Plot? Jimmy Wang Yu is a super soldier who assembles a team of misfits and renegades for a suicide mission. Yeah, familiar plot. Their mission is to rescue the leaders of the Allied Powers during World War II, all of whom have been captured by Nazis. One of the leaders is Abraham Lincoln. They are being held in Luxemborg, Canada. Jimmy Wang Yu has to go because Rambo, Snake Plisskin, and Baldy (Karl Maka’s character from the Aces Go Places films) were all busy.
Jimmy soon fakes his death and is revealed to secretly be the leader of the Nazis, all of whom drive long Caddies or something with swastikas spray-painted all over them. Curiously enough, Chinese nazi skinheads also figure prominently into the plot of Flash Future Kungfu. I don’t know if that’s a whole subgenre, but you can bet your ass I will investigate further. Along the way to saving the leaders, the ragtag band (one of whom is a young Brigette Lin Ching-hsia) encounters flying Amazons with magic powers, vampires and ghosts, and other things you would typically think of when you think about World War II films. There are frequent battles, Jackie Chan shows up to do some kungfu, and in the end he and Cheung Ling drive some bulldozers around.
By the time this film was over, I was weeping sweet tears of joy. I mean, someone thought of this. Even in the dead of summer in Florida, living in a squalid apartment on the edge of a swamp with no air conditioning, my nightmarish heat hallucinations never even came close to the level of pure nirvana this film helps me attain. Fuck drugs. All you need is Fantasy Mission Force. Were you thinking of piercing your nipples with buffalo bones, taking peyote, and seeing visions in the sweat lodge? Why bother when you can watch Fantasy Mission Force?
I’ve seen a lot of shit. I’ve seen movies where an evil dwarf kidnaps young virgins and chains them in his attic while his mom belts out old cabaret tunes. I’ve seen movies where the romantic triangle is between a man, a woman, and a corpse. I’ve seen damn close to everything this fucked up world has to offer, but Fantasy Mission Force still makes me scratch my head. If I watch it along with Young Taoism Fighter, I can actually travel through time and Sun Ra begins to make sense. Fantasy Mission Force is a source of great and dangerous power. You will either learn to wield it and thus experience all the earthly delights, or it will kill you. Possibly both.