Thursday, September 23, 2010

Shaw Brothers short takes

While we wholeheartedly applaud Celestial Films for the wonderful job they've done in the digital re-mastering of over 760 movies from the Shaw Brothers studio, we still think they deserve a swift kick in the balls for neglecting a handful of the sleazier and more offbeat Shaw offerings of the mid '70's -- namely VIRGINS OF THE 7 SEAS (1974), KILLERS ON WHEELS (1976) and THE DEADLY ANGELS (1977). All three played the U.S. drive-in/grindhouse circuit for years, with one earning its widest audience through Saturday afternoon TV showings, before slipping into near-total obscurity. Shown last week on a triple bill in the Temple screening room to an enthusiastic crowd of degenerates, all three are solidly entertaining exploitation flicks that instantly earned the Temple of Schlock seal of approval.

Pull five foxy fräuleins out of a SCHULMÄDCHEN-REPORT movie (before they've had time to get dressed, natch) and drop them in the middle of a Hong Kong kung fu flick and that's the pitch for VIRGINS OF THE 7 SEAS, pretty much everything you'd ever want from an alliance between the Shaws and West German smut peddler Wolf C. Hartwig's Rapid Film company (Actually, we would've included Ingrid Steeger and that gorgeous black gal from SCHULMÄDCHEN-REPORT #4 in the cast -- but hey, we never said this movie was perfect). Acquired for stateside distribution by Film Ventures International (FVI), with test screenings under the VIRGINS OF THE 7 SEAS title beginning in December 1975, pic was renamed THE BOD SQUAD by the start of the '76 drive-in season and evidently played to good business under that handle for several years.

In a desperate attempt to capitalize on the popular 10-hour NBC miniseries SHOGUN, which had premiered in the fall of 1980, FVI threw together a regional reissue under the rip-off title SHOGUN WARLORD beginning in August 1981, supported by their newer hit KILL OR BE KILLED as the co-feature (the double bill passed through the New York City area in June '82).

Story begins with the titular femmes -- all Caucasians, and only 3 of them still virgins -- held hostage aboard a junk en route to the evil Boss Won Tau’s domain, with the explanation that they were bound for Australia when captured by pirates. Captives are Karen (Tamara Elliot), her younger and innocent sister Donna (hot little Sonja Jeannine from 14 AND UNDER and SCHULMÄDCHEN-REPORTs #5-7), Anna (Diana Drube), Brenda (Gillian Bray) and the buck-toothed Celia (Deborah Ralls), and just when we thought we had never seen a more unflattering collection of wigs in our lives, the junk arrives at Won Tau’s place and every man from the Boss right down to his most bumbling lackey shows up sporting a ratty Cher weave. The girls are quickly stripped, cherry-checked by gloved servants and then groped by key members of Won Tau’s entourage, including his crazy henchman Ju-Lau (who gasps “I wanna cross the Gobi Desert on you!” while squeezing Donna’s bare butt) and the lesbian Aunt Jo-Fu, who sets her eyes on Karen. The 5 are then given lessons in the proper way to make love to a Chinese man (with an elderly woman as their instructor) and taught Chinese dance by the beautiful and sympathetic Ko Mei Mei (Hui-Ling Liu), a slave to Won Tau herself ever since her brother Ko Pao (Hua Yueh) challenged the Boss and then fled to organize an uprising against him.

Ko Mei Mei also secretly trains the 5 in martial arts so they can defend themselves against the horny, wealthy men who’ll be buying them at auction, her self-defense technique of choice being one that we quickly dubbed “deadly pit-spit style” because it involves olive pits as lethal projectiles. This leads to a jaw-dropping training montage in which nude white girls in hideous Rapunzel wigs cram olives into their mouths in fast-motion, spin around and spit the pits at pots of water that spring slow-motion leaks upon impact (while beer was spraying from mouths and noses all over the Temple screening room). And wait'll you see the slave auction, where a bidding war erupts over poor buck-toothed Celia and the winner turns out to be a squeaky-voiced millionaire who appears to be half-man, half-mouse! We knew when we saw the credit “Directed by Chih-Hung Kuei and Ernst Hofbauer” that this was going to be a winner, but by the 20 minute mark we were wondering aloud just how the heck this thing played theaters all over the U.S. for over 5 years without attracting word-of-mouth attention, ‘zine coverage or trade paper reviews. Best of all, the version we got through Cinema de Bizarre is German-language with fan subs that render nearly every line a howler (“I’m gonna turn off your gas and hang you from the Chinese wall!”), making this the most crowd-pleasing party movie we’ve come across in ages.

A Hong Kong hybrid of STRAW DOGS and the AIP biker flicks of the ‘60s like THE BORN LOSERS, Chih-Hung Kuei’s KILLERS ON WHEELS is a fast-paced and nasty B-flick ripe for rediscovery. When released stateside in 1977 by Howard Mahler Films, the same company that had unleashed the Shaw horror pic KILLER SNAKES a couple of years earlier, pic was blessed with a beautiful Neal Adams one-sheet that in no way exaggerates the action and brutality of the story (It also makes no attempt to conceal the film’s Asian origins in its credit block). When Mahler closed up shop a few years later, Terry Levene of Aquarius Releasing acquired the movie for a June 1983 reissue under the title KARATE KILLERS ON WHEELS.

Simple storyline opens with a trio of vacationers -- husband & wife, plus the husband’s younger sister -- encountering a rowdy gang of bikers aboard a ferry to Hong Kong’s outlying islands, where the three are headed to meet the sister’s fiancée (played by Danny Lee) for a weekend stay in his beach house. They reach their destination, but tensions mount through a series of increasingly hostile run-ins with the bikers (as well as in-fighting among gang members, a common subplot in this genre) until all hell breaks loose: their car is destroyed, the beach house trashed, the wife ravaged and the sister murdered (by having her face repeatedly slammed into a pile of broken glass!). While the revenge-crazed fiancée cracks open a half dozen biker skulls with a crowbar, the husband barricades himself and the wife inside the house to fight off the Yamaha-riding reinforcements in a vicious finale featuring deaths by electrocution, fire, boiling oil, harpoon gun and even outboard motor! This is top-notch action house entertainment, with blood and bare flesh to spare, plus a snappy soundtrack of stolen music ranging from Piero Piccioni’s “Identikit 2” (from COLPO ROVENTE) to Herbie Hancock's très funky "Heartbeat" and Lalo Schifrin cues lifted from KELLY’S HEROES! Unfortunately, the only version we’ve been able to track down (a) has no credits whatsoever, (b) is dubbed into German (c) with no subtitles and (d) has been trimmed of the more extreme barbarism, some of which can be glimpsed in the trailer. There’s also no IMDb entry to be found for this twisted little gem, leading us to believe that even normally diligent Shaw students can’t figure out what the heck it is!

THE DEADLY ANGELS is the only one of the three that we had actually seen prior to the Temple screening, and in a heavily edited TV version thanks to frequent appearances on WNYW’s “Drive-In Movie” in the mid ‘80s. With a rigidly structured script that doesn’t introduce its title characters until the 20 minute mark, it’s also the only one that could be called a mainstream formula actioner (despite the fact that it’s still packed to the rafters with hard-R-rated sex and brutality). Today’s kung fu fans and A.D.D. moviegoers might gripe about a slow first act but we quickly got into the groove and found the plot buildup satisfying, especially after the immediate all-out assault of the first two features. Designed to cash in on the popular American TV series CHARLIE’S ANGELS, pic became one of many Shaw Brothers films licensed exclusively in the U.S. by veteran distributor Mel Maron once he became president of the World-Northal Corporation in 1979. Released theatrically on a double bill with THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS (New York City opening: February 1980), it received its widest exposure as part of World-Northal’s popular “Kung Fu Theater” syndication package for television.

Nightclub owner Chin and his murderous employees, including psycho girlfriend Yu Chi and sadistic knife-thrower Feng, have a lucrative side business ripping off Hong Kong diamond merchants and using showgirls from the club to smuggle the contraband into Japan and Korea, with Feng closing each deal by slashing to death the beautiful courier with his collection of blades. When the corpses of several showgirls turn up in Korea and Japan soon after the diamond heists, Scotland Yard detective Miss Eve (Evelyne Kraft from THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN) arrives in Hong Kong to put together a 3-woman police unit to go undercover in Chin’s club and bust up the operation. All three women are skilled in martial arts and firearms, with each brandishing a different weapon of choice: Chinese cop Yang Che Sin (Nancy Yen Nan Hsi) swings a mean spiked bolo, Korean cop Kow Chen Chen (Chen Chin Lan) prefers a crossbow, and Japanese cop Lei Ping (Dana/Tsen Shu-Yi) is a crack shot with a slingshot. Once this setup is in place THE DEADLY ANGELS kicks into high-gear with plenty of well-choreographed fight scenes and action setpieces, and despite the slick Aaron Spelling-like exterior there’s a surprisingly high sleaze quotient that was nowhere in evidence in the T.V. print we watched back in the day. Ennio Morricone fans will be kept busy identifying the maestro’s music cues on the soundtrack (especially from THE SICILIAN CLAN), and the whole Temple crew cracked up during the big climactic action scene when we realized it was taking place in the same beach house from KILLERS ON WHEELS. Both are available from grey market dealers. Check 'em out.


venoms5 said...

Nice post. VIRGINS OF THE SEVEN SEAS has just been released on region 2 DVD with English subs. That DVD cover is the one if that is the same version Cinema de Bizarre is peddling.

I've got some behind the scenes stuff on these including some pics of production meetings between German producers, Hofbauer and Kuei Chi Hung discussing the film.

The Shaw co-pro THIS TIME I'LL MAKE YOU RICH is another one I'd like to see restored and released.

venoms5 said...

You don't have to post this comment, but I thought you guys might be interested in some of these scans from some of the movies you discussed in this cool post of yours...

Unknown said...

I agree. I even tried to contact Celestial and got no response