Tuesday, 1 March 2022

The 36 Deadly Styles

Six by six

The 36 Deadly Styles
aka Mi quan san shi liu zhao
Taiwan/Hong Kong 1982 Directed by Joseph Kuo
Eureka Masters Of Cinema Blu Ray Zone B

The 36 Deadly Styles is the second of the eight movies to be featured in Eureka Masters Of Cinema’s splendid Cinematic Vengeance - Joseph Kuo Blu Ray boxed set release. And, as entertaining as it certainly is, I’m hoping that this one is also the most confusing because, honestly, I’m still not quite sure what’s going on in the movie. After a nice credits sequence which popped me right out of the film for reasons I’ll get to a little later, we are dropped into a fight with two characters being chased through a forest and somehow in the middle of a vendetta. The survivor, I think, is revived and hangs out with a bunch of monks, one of whom has good Kung Fu skills. The reason for the vendetta seems to be... someone killed someone at some point and now the whole family has to die because of it.

However, there’s another story going on here too... with a different guy (who looks a bit like some of the other guys from the other part of the story), also trying to kill off the survivors of a family... I at first thought but, quite near the end, it’s revealed he is trying to kill the man who stole the only information available on The 36 Deadly Styles of Kung Fu... burning them himself without learning them, for the good of all. And, while the other story strand mentions 8 fighting styles, all with stupidly elabourate titles (as is the norm in films like this) such as the “Play the bamboo flute underneath the blue sky” series of deadly blows... the actual 36 styles mentioned in the title of this movie don’t, in actual fact, come into play at all and are never revealed to either the audience or any of the characters.

It all gets very confusing and it doesn’t help when fight scenes between the two parallel (but apparently not connecting) story arcs, such as they are, are cross cut with each other for no apparent reason whatsoever. I’m not sure what conclusion we were supposed to come to from this but, trust me, I was working hard just to decipher that much from the plot which, it has to be said, remains mostly absent.

What that leaves, of course, is a lot of fighting and silly poses, punchy sound effects and even a lot of comic relief, such as one of the villains dressing up in drag in a scene for, honestly, no apparent motive that I could work out. There are also a lot of scenes where people suddenly clutch their chest as their body remembers the terrible kicks and punches they took in various flashbacks to fights from decades before (which, trust me, does nothing to make the film any more comprehensible... quite the opposite, especially if you can’t figure who is flashing back to whom). So, yeah... of course the film is completely watchable and I had a good time with it.

Actually, the real surprise here was the fact that, for a film where the writers (again, such as they are) and director seem to have such a blasĂ© attitude to the way everything hangs together, the prints and transfers on these things are absolutely beautiful, showing no sign of neglect or suffering from any kind of ‘throwaway’ attitude. Another surprise... and it really shouldn’t have been at this point, since I’ve seen a few films like this... was the music.

There is a credited composer on this although, I don’t know why because there’s a heck of a lot of needle drop in this. Starting off with those opening titles I mentioned earlier, which had me nearly jumping out of my seat as they use Jerry Goldsmith’s main theme from Hour Of The Gun. Indeed, there are a few instances of both this score and a couple of other Goldsmith pieces throughout the film, including a touch of his Bandolero score and a smidgeon of an extended sting from The Cassandra Crossing. But it’s not just Goldsmith, of course, who has been filched for the score here. There are also instances of things like Henry Mancini’s score to The Pink Panther and John Williams’ score to The Time Tunnel used during the course of the movie. Which brings me to my next question...

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that I can play ‘spot the cue’ on various Asian ‘classics’ of the 60s, 70s and 80s and, indeed, would refuse to watch them if they weren’t released with their original soundtracks intact. However, there have been quite a few of these releases over here in the past few years by the likes of Eureka, Arrow and 88 Films and, while the scores to these things are pretty much untouchable in their original countries, where copyright laws are almost non-existent, you have to wonder how these companies in the UK can get away with releasing these as they do without paying royalties to various composers. I’m happy that they can though so, you know, no complaints from me here.

And that’s me done with The 36 Deadly Styles, I think. A true mess of a movie in terms of just what the hell is going on at any given minute... and quite often why it’s going on too. But, if you like films with some nice looking kung fu choreography in prints and transfers which look nothing short of spectacular, then the Eureka Masters Of Cinema’s release of this one is definitely for you.

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