Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: One-Armed Boxer / The Chinese Professionals (1972)

When I was 13, a friend of mine enrolled in Tae Kwon Do classes, and he immediately began trying to convince the rest of us to join him. At first I was resistant to the idea, which is weird because I enjoyed watching martial arts action movies. I loved Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee and the hugely popular ’80s ninja films. I also liked the idea of knowing how to do those fancy moves, and being able to defend myself. There were a lot of bullies roaming the halls of my junior high school – and they often roamed in packs, which made standing up to them seem like a bad idea for for anyone who didn’t savour the thought of taking on seven or eight guys at once. Chuck and Bruce and Sho Kosugi would do it in the movies, and it seemed kind of magical to me. It was almost like those guys had superpowers.

In light of all this, I’m not sure why I said no when my friend Doug urged me to sign up for Tae Kwon Do classes. Maybe because I knew that guys like Chuck and Bruce spent years studying martial arts, and I didn’t want to do that. So instead I took books out of the public library – books about karate and judo and generic “self defence” – and I hoped to learn some tricks from them. They tended to have comic-book-like panels of photographs showing the reader how to do the various moves. I remember looking at those pictures, but I’m not sure if I ever tried to copy the moves.

My other friend Doug had exactly the same reaction as me (minus the books). We talked about the pros and cons of taking classes with Doug and somehow agreed that we didn’t want to do it. I also talked to my Dad about it. I said really smart things like “Why would I need to take classes when I can simply watch the movies and read the books and learn how to do things that way?” My Dad explained to me in a very polite and reasonable way that I was an idiot. I don’t remember all of then finer points of his argument, but it included things like: “There’s a difference between reading about something and actually doing it.”

After a few weeks of deliberation, my friend Doug and I both decided to join our other friend Doug in studying Tae Kwon Do.

One of the weird side effects of studying a martial art was that it made me see the movies differently. I no longer thought that the spectacular moves of Chuck or Bruce looked magical. I started to understand and recognize what they were doing. Even though Tae Kwon Do was different than Karate or Kung Fu, I still felt like I was seeing some of the same techniques that I was learning reflected back at me from the TV/VCR and the big movie theatre screen. In some ways it was great. It made learning from the movies actually seem a little more possible. It also made me feel like I knew stuff; like I had inside information, or that I had joined an exclusive club that included people like Chuck and Bruce and Sho –

Okay, Sho was a little different because he was a ninja, and ninjas used all kinds of fancy weapons like throwing stars and nunchaku sticks (more commonly referred to as numchucks or nunchucks by the bullies at my school who would try to make them in shops classes). Weapons were not a part of our Tae Kwon Do training, and our instructor had no use for them whatsoever. When I saw them employed in a movie, they still seemed somewhat otherworldly to me.

On the downside, learning a martial art in real life made watching the movies a little less exciting. The magic was gone, and I could only see the science or the art of what the performers were doing. I could still be impressed by the years of training and the amazing skills on display, but it was kind of like I had been allowed to peek behind the curtain and I now knew what was going on back there.

Fortunately, as school started to demand more and more of my time, and I got involved with things like playing in a band, my years of martial arts training came to an end. By the time I was immersed in film and theatre at university, going to those brutal hour long workouts three times a week was a distant memory to me (and unfortunately, it was starting to show in my level of fitness). This meant that the magic of movie martial arts started to slowly creep back into my life. It was probably the North American rise of Jackie Chan in the latter half of the 1990s that finally cinched it. I loved Jackie and I watched every film of his that I could put my hands on. There were others, too, but Jackie was my new hero.

I may have seen Jimmy Wang Yu in a movie at some point, but it was most likely back in the really old days of renting crazy martial arts films on VHS and Beta. He was not someone I really knew much about in my adult years. I had heard of some of his films, but had no memory of ever seeing them. When I stumbled onto a nice set of four Jimmy Wang Yu films somewhere in my movie buying travels, I knew that I had to pick them up.

One-Armed Boxer (1972) is the first movie in the set, and I decided to give it a go last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. It brought back so many wonderful memories of the old school martial arts films that I used to rent with my friends when we were kids. It begins with a rivalry between two schools of martial artists, one of them honest and good (Jimmy Wang Yu’s) and the other one nasty and criminal at heart. I can’t name all of the other movies that feature this “rival schools” plot device, but I can tell you that my friend Ian and I spent many hours playing a video game called Rival Schools back in the ’90s – but that’s another story. Suffice it to say that this is a fairly compelling storytelling choice, and it works particularly well in One-Armed Boxer.

Also known as The Chinese Professionals, this movie features another wonderful (and somewhat familiar) plot device: the “bad” school, unable to defeat their rivals in an honest manner, bring in martial arts masters from all over the world to help them – each one from a different martial arts tradition. There is a Yoga master from India, two mystic Tibetan lamas, two Thai boxers, Judo and Karate experts from Japan — AND a Tae Kwon Do master! As someone who has a particular interest in Tae Kwon Do, I can tell you that it’s pretty rare to see it depicted in an old school martial film (at least in my experience). I do have one movie in my collection called When Taekwondo Strikes (1973), which I’m pretty pumped about – but that’s another story. 

I can’t really call myself an expert on martial arts movies, or Hong Kong movies – certainly not on Jimmy Wang Yu movies – but for my taste, One-Armed Boxer (1972) is old school martial arts action at it’s finest. The fact that it includes so many different styles of martial arts makes it particularly wonderful to behold. I haven’t even touched on the whole “one armed” aspect of this movie, but suffice it to say that it’s a big part of what makes The Chinese Professionals a #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic. If you’ve seen any of the “one armed” movies out there, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen any of them, then this is the perfect place to start. There is a sequel of sorts called Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976) which is considered to be even better, but I would still say start with this one. It will punch up any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, and possibly kick-start a whole new cinematic obsession. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Cannibal Curse (1988)

Several years ago, I went into a used bookstore with a friend of mine. It turned out that the store was owned by a guy I kind of knew from a radio drama workshop we had been in together a few years earlier. I was a university student at the time, but the workshop was organized by one of the professional theatres in town. As students of theatre, we could get credit for taking courses at this theatre, which is how I wound up there. I also had the kind of voice that often inspired people to tell me that I should go into radio. So, I figured what the hell?

A couple of the other people taking the workshop were from the university, but the vast majority of them were much older. I would say that they were hard core radio fans. And by radio, I don’t mean people who listened to music on the many rock, pop and country stations, as I did all the time. I mean people who listened to the CBC – or Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for those who don’t know. The CBC was full of programming like news, interviews, call in shows, and radio dramas (which could sometimes be comical, rather than serious, but were always referred to as dramas). The person teaching the radio drama workshop was in fact a well known CBC radio personality. I think this is why most of the people had signed up for the course. And one of those people was the guy who owned the bookstore that my friend and I stumbled into one rainy afternoon.

He recognized me right away and was super friendly. While I answered his questions about what I was doing these days, my friend found a table with a bunch of posters on it. They were movie posters, but not for any movies that he or I had ever seen (or even heard of). They appeared to be Asian, although neither of us could have even said which specific country they were from.

“I got those from a guy who used to run a theatre,” my former radio drama colleague told us. “If you’re interested in them, I’ll give you a deal!”

I don’t remember what kind of deal he offered us, but it must have been a good one because we took it. We each brought home a pile of posters that day. It’s a funny thing to own posters for movies that you have never seen. You want to display them, because they look cool, but you’re not sure if you should because you haven’t seen the movies and you’re not sure if they’re any good. One thing is certain, we both became very interested in tracking down these movies and watching them.

For years I couldn’t find any trace of these films. Books like Asian Cult Cinema didn’t seem to include most of them, although I started to suspect that the titles of the movies could have been changed multiple times, for different markets. Once the internet became a thing, I tried searching there. At first I found nothing. But every couple of years I would give it another try. Eventually I found a couple of movies I could download. One of them was called Exposed To Danger (1982). The posters that we had (and I believe we had two different variations) made it look like a Women In Prison film. Unfortunately, I can’t find either of those posters online. According to the Hong Kong Movie Data Base, Exposed To Danger is a thriller from Taiwan.

This is the only poster I can find online for Exposed To Danger (1982). Not sure what genre it’s trying to look like, but it’s not Women In Prison. Our posters are a lot cooler looking, by the way…

The movie starts off with a woman arriving somewhere on a boat. As she walks along the beach, she witnesses some kids attacking a turtle. This causes her to have flashbacks of being abused in a women’s prison (and my friend and I immediately recognized the images from the posters we had purchased all those years ago). Unfortunately, those flashbacks end and the movie goes on (and on and on) with no further Women In Prison action. I can’t really tell you what that movie was about, but a few other people have reviewed it online. It sounds like it might be closer to a slasher film of some sort, although the slasher action doesn’t really start until the last half hour.

My friend and I lost interest in trying to follow the plot because of one technical oddity: the copy of the movie that I had downloaded and burned to DVD seemed to have four different languages on it – two sets of subtitles and two audio tracks – and they were all playing at once. I figured that I had made a mistake and somehow chose to turn them all on before I burned the disk. In any case, it was extremely distracting and became quite hilarious to us. We wound up laughing hysterically while the movie played in the background. To be honest, it came at the end of an all day movie marathon and I’m not even sure if we actually finished it. If there was a grim slasher story playing out, we missed it.

Fast forward a few years (to last Friday), and I discovered a DVD in my collection that featured a movie called Cannibal Curse (1988). It is an actual manufactured DVD that I purchased somewhere in my travels. I knew nothing about it, but the movie was described as this:

“A woman tries to attract her reincarnated lover from her previous life but eventually turns to the aid of an evil sorcerer who rules over a tribe of cannibal midgets.”

Call me crazy, but it sounded like a perfect candidate for a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. I popped the disk into the player and sat back with a bag of popcorn ready to enjoy some crazy Hong Kong action/horror. Within the first few minutes I was laughing in disbelief. This brand new, manufactured DVD was doing the same thing that my cheap downloaded movie did several years ago: four languages – two sets of subtitles and two audio tracks – all playing at once. And there was no way to turn any of them off. I started to wonder if this was how the movie had been distributed back in the day. They knew it was going to several different markets, and they were too cheap to make four different prints, so they just put all four languages onto the one print. And now the cheapskate distributor of the DVD simply transferred the old print onto DVD.

This is, of course, pure speculation. But you know what? I kind of liked the movie this way. Maybe it was nostalgia for the experience my friend and I had had with Exposed To Danger. Maybe it just added to the zaniness of Cannibal Curse. I don’t know. The reviews I could find were all pretty negative. Asian Cult Cinema gives it one star and says “The story is preposterous and the acting is abysmal.” The movie is listed under the title Curse in there, by the way. It’s also known as Virgin’s Curse.

I suppose Cannibal Curse is a bad movie, but I found it to be strangely entertaining. Maybe my expectations had been sufficiently lowered by the online reviews I had seen prior to watching it (“Incredibly bad Hong Kong flick..” one guy says.). Maybe the quadruple linguistic assault elevated the experience for me. Who knows? The important thing is that Cannibal Curse (1988) is an example of a kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that I don’t explore as often. The unique and sometimes wonderful world of Asian horror/action/exploitation cinema. And Cannibal Curse is an example of all three of those things. I know that there are others lurking in my library somewhere, waiting to be discovered. And I shall look forward to unearthing them on a future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.