Friday, July 29, 2016

085. Shaolin Temple and 086. I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now?

Jump to I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? (1975)

085. Shaolin Temple aka Seven Spirit Pagoda aka Xia Nu Bao Ta Jie (1976)
Director: Sheng Tang
Writers: Yin Yi
From: Cult Cinema

After the Emperor is assassinated by his War Minister, the prince must be smuggled out of the city so that he may one day return and get revenge. Unfortunately, the prince is poisoned during the escape and the only antidote is guarded at a secret temple.

We open with a shot panning, jerkily, up a waterfall while an unseen narrator talks about the wonders of China and the abiding patriotism of its people. This becomes the primary theme of the movie as countless people die for the sake of the Emperor's lineage purely out of principle.

After the credits, we get an extended dance sequence for the Emperor's pleasure. At the end of the performance, a messenger arrives announcing that the minister of war has turned traitor and his forces are approaching the throne room. The minister immediately arrives and announces his plans to seize the throne. The Emperor expresses his disappointment since he'd only given the minister the position because he was the Empress' cousin. She's so humiliated by the betrayal that she commits suicide by walking at a moderate pace into a pillar.

Yup. It's basically, “Bonk, dead,” and not the only time this happens in the movie. This is about as good a barometer of the film as you're going to get.

The princess commits suicide by stabbing herself with a small hairpin and the Emperor is killed by the minister. General Ho, the Emperor's bodyguard, is tasked in the Emperor's dying breath to get the prince out safely so that he may one day get revenge by killing the minister with the same blade that killed the Emperor. Cut to the next shot with no explanation of how the General and prince escaped the throne room.

To be fair, that is a good plot hook for a samurai-based D&D game. It even suggests the basic arc of the campaign: escape the city, train the prince, return for final confrontation. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't follow that arc.

The prince is spotted while trying to leave the city, the General stays behind to hold off the guards, but the prince gets hit with a poisoned dart. The General tells his men to take the prince to the General's daughters who will then go to the sacred temple where the antidote is kept. The General dies facing off against the guards and the prince escapes. The boatman who helps him escape, by the way, kills himself afterward by bonking his head on a rock rather than accidentally reveal the General's plan.

After a few more sacrificial peasants, they meet the General's daughters, citizens die to protect him, and the prince, in no way, proves worthy of the sacrifice. He's a whiny idiot before he's poisoned and a big old sack of useless after.

The daughters split up. One stays to protect the prince, the other goes to the temple filled with swastikas (yeah, it's more than a bit weird) where she has to fight seven abbots to get the antidote. Meanwhile, the evil guards catch up with the prince and the leader who killed the General squares off with the daughter. Both fights play out concurrently so the timeline doesn't make any sense.

Temple daughter gets the antidote and returns just in time to see her sister get poisoned. They both kill the evil leader and the poisoned daughter commits suicide rather than let her sister give her the antidote. The prince is saved, immediately returns to the city, disguises himself as a beautiful dancer, and gets his revenge on the minister. The final shot of the prince is him dressed as the Emperor looking out over his court with the same stupid smile the minister had. This implies that he's going to be just as bad a ruler which I don't think was the filmmakers' intention and makes all the deaths on his behalf wasted.

Honestly, this flick was a bit of a slog. Writing out all the plot points, I actually get excited. That sounds like a good movie, game, comic, whatever. I'm down for that story. The execution, though, is just so bad. This is 100% a case of “take this story and do it better.” The dubbing is awful, the sets are cheap, and the fight scenes aren't that impressive except for one moment.

The daughter guarding the prince is fighting two of the minister's men. She kicks the sword out of the hand of one and, as it's coming down, she stabs one guard in the stomach and kicks the sword into the gut of the other. It was the one time I liked the imagination of the film. Apart from that, it almost feels like it's a parody of martial arts films, but without any wit.

This appears to be in the public domain: my copy has no copyright logos and several other sources list it as PD. I've uploaded a copy to the Internet Archive here if you feel compelled to watch it, but I can't give it much of a recommendation.

086. I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? (1975)
Director: Steven Hilliad Stern
Writers: Mickey Rose from a story by Jerry Cutler and Mickey Rose
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A man in desperate need of money puts a hit out on his wife after buying a life insurance policy. When the policy is declined, though, he has to run through the list of all the people the hit job's been handed down to before his wife is killed.

I'm trying, and failing, to find a way to describe the film more than the little blurb above this. That's the plot. The movie itself is a series of goofy gags of an increasingly-frantic Oliver going down the line of people the hit job's been passed down to. Initially, Oliver paid Bobo $25,000 to kill Clarice. Bobo paid Patlow (a man in brownface doing an Indian stereotype, which, just, no) $20,000. Patlow paid Dr. Binay $16,000. He split it with CIA spy Kirsten, who split it with fascist Italian Col. Ameche, who paid an actor $6.95 to carry out the hit.

The movie has a 3.6 on IMDB and what commentary I could find on it was pretty negative, so I'm a little hesitant to admit that I like this movie.

This is unapologetically a goofball comedy in the spirit of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or the films of Peter Sellers (who was supposed to star in this, but had a heart attack shortly before filming). Tonally, this even seems a bit like Get Smart, and that maybe highlights the central problem—those are all products of the 60's and this movie's from 1975. This doesn't have a 70's sensibility.

My perspective, though, is skewed by watching all the dreck in these Mill Creek sets. Compared to the dragging “Get it?” timing of the Crown International comedies or, god forbid, the Marimark productions, this has wit, a sense of what kind of comedy it's trying to be, and a relentless pace. There are constant gags, including my favorite line, “Divorce is serious business. It could put a severe strain on your marriage.”

And that's maybe the test. If you like that line, you'll probably enjoy the movie. If not. . .

This is listed as public domain everywhere I look, but I can't find a free copy streaming anywhere and Mill Creek stamped their name on my copies so I can't add it to I enjoyed it and would recommend it, but not so much that you should try to pay money to watch it. If you stumble across it somehow, though, give it five minutes. You'll know if it's for you or not within that span.

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