The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
Cinapse is all about cinematic discovery. This Shawscope Volume 2 column is, therefore, a watch project for our team, and guests, to work through this phenomenal set from Arrow Video. These capsule reviews are designed to give glimpses of our thoughts as we discover these films for ourselves. Some are kung fu cinema experts, some less so; all are excited for the adventure.
The Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers Studio cranked out a staggering number of feature films over its lifetime. With worldwide influence continuing to this very day, their contributions to cinema are myriad and undeniable. Arrow Video has curated a second volume of titles; an intentional way to wade into the deep waters of the Shaw Brothers. Beyond capsule reviews, our team also offers thoughts on the set curation and bonus features. Watch along with us, join us in the comments, or reach out on social media (linked below) if you’d like to submit your own
It’s gonna be a no from me, Dawg. I was concerned right away from the title that there might be too many characters for me to really cling onto a hero’s journey. And it turns out I was right, as my white western ass simply could not follow the sheer breadth of characters introduced at an extremely rapid clip in Ten Tigers Of Kwangtung. Which, honestly, is maybe partially my fault as a westerner who isn’t familiar with the folk hero type characters that many in the contemporary Hong Kong audience would have been familiar with… but it also comes down to a sloppy movie that didn’t compel me to care enough to sort out all of these characters. When someone like Beat Takeshi introduces you to a hundred different yakuza in his complex crime films, it can be a struggle to follow at times but it’s often very rewarding to invest the effort. It turns out Ten Tigers is a splice job, though. A whole bunch of scenes for a different movie were filmed and when that movie wasn’t able to be completed, they came up with a flashback structure that bounced around in time and followed different characters in different timelines. A ton of the usual Chang Cheh actors are here, but honestly even by the final battle (in which a dude gets his head kicked clean off… which is admittedly rad as hell) I wasn’t even sure who the villains were and who the heroes were. I was just completely lost throughout the runtime of this one and tried my best to simply enjoy the stars and the bloody kung fu. It’s worth noting, however, that there’s a highly informative commentary track available that does explain the troubled production history on this title. And there’s a video essay bonus feature that is quite good as well. Arrow’s Blu-ray set here continues to feel like a prestige way in which to enjoy these films even if some hold up far better than others.
The Ten Tigers Of Kwangtung is an ambitious yet convoluted mess of a Chang Cheh/Venom Mob beat’em up and is definitely my least favorite on either set. The first 45 minutes of the film is a setup for a revenge-o-matic that makes you wonder who’s righteous and who is evil. Characters come and go and change appearances generally making it hard to discern, is this the flashback or contemporary time period? While the morality of these films is usually pretty black and white I found it rather bizarre how many of our righteous Kung-Fu masters Cheh was willing to sacrifice this go round while he was trying to make us figure out who were the good guys and who were evil. The Venom Mob films as a whole have felt a bit over stuffed for the Shaw Brothers brand of lean and mean action flick, but here it feels like either we’re missing about an hour of footage or Cheh was trying something that might have felt clever, but just came off as mean spirited and half-baked.
What in the name of mediocrity is this? I thought maybe it was just my long admitted Kung-Fu fatigue rearing it’s bored and ugly head… but it seems that my partners-in-crime here confirmed that this was – indeed – as poorly constructed and lacking as I feared. In other words, it’s not just me!
Finding out this film features cut scenes and splices from a variety of other works is not a surprise. There’s no cohesion, no clear cut sides of the battles, and no real direction to it all. With Cheh at the helm and the Mob featured prominently, this is an incredible disappointment. In fact, it seems altogether fair to say that this film is clearly the worst of the Venom Mob films.
I was so very in love with the first boxed set and this one has been difficult for me. While much of this difficulty seems to be a “me” thing, the fact that this film took me several attempts to finish and I came out without any real clue what was going on seems to not just be my personal difficulties in watching the Shaw catalog that have struck me this go ’round. As Ed notes, the kick in the final battle is indeed a highlight, but the list of lowlights is far greater… with the only thing I’m truly sure about is that the film will be almost wholly forgotten about by me in a few weeks max.
At least it looks and sounds great, as Arrow is always great for. Unfortunately, sometimes they give the full Arrow treatment to films that really don’t deserve it.
And We’re Out.