APES ON FILM: Just Another Day in Kung Fu Paradise

Posted on: Jun 27th, 2023 By:

Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.


4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Willie Chi, Carman Lee, John Ching, Kuei Li, Chun Lam, Kam-Kong Wong, Yamson Domingo
Director: Ringo Lam
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
Region: B
BRD Release Date: May 29, 2023
Audio Formats: Cantonese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (34.90 Mbps)
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 105 minutes



The burning of the Shaolin temple is the best thing to ever happen to Chinese filmmaking. The historic rivalry of the Kung Fu practicing monks against the Qing dynasty is the gift that keeps on giving, blessing the world with a legacy of films loaded with martial arts-packed action. Kung Fu films are a staple of genre cinema, at times of varying degrees of quality, but rarely are they ever not entertaining.

Ringo Lam’s 1994 film BURNING PARADISE is yet another notch in the belt of Kung Fu’s cinematic tradition, once again taking advantage of the fateful clash of cultures within Chinese history.

After Shaolin disciple Fong Sai-yuk (Willie Chi) and his master Chi Nun (Wu Xi-qian) are attacked by a regiment of Qing soldiers, the two men find refuge with the prostitute Dau Dau (Carman Lee). Chi Nun is killed in a second attack by the Qing army, and Fong and Dau Dau are taken as prisoners to the Red Lotus Temple where dozens of Shaolin monks are held captive by the deranged Elder Kung (Kam-Kong Wong), a former Qing general. Kung keeps Dau Dau as one of his concubines while Fong is left for dead in a cavern of corpses. Dau Dau bargains for Fong’s freedom who is soon forced to a duel with one of Kung’s men, a former fellow Shaolin monk. From this point on, escape from the heavily armed and booby-trapped fortress is the name of the game as Kung reveals his depravity every step of the way.

BURNING PARADISE quickly becomes a simple action-packed story of exodus and rescue, and doesn’t do much to deepen the fabled conflict of good versus evil beyond the usual notions of bad guys do bad things, and good guys are left to clean up the mess. The magnificent martial arts duel in the desert that kicks off the film gives an allusion of a sweeping Chinese epic, but the film quickly becomes confined to the claustrophobic environs of the elaborate set-bound caves of the Red Lotus Temple.

Any narrative dynamic of the film arises from the development of the characters who become more interesting in the face of adversity as new allegiances are revealed as the story progresses. But the notion of “good” has a narrative ceiling, and those who align themselves as protagonists get there and stay there. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously, imbuing it’s characters with good-natured but terrible humor loaded with groan-worthy one-liners.

The action, on the other hand, never stops and ranges from sensational swordplay and flying guillotines to deadly paint splatter that hits like shotgun blasts. Plenty of bodily bi-section and decapitation will keep mutant gore-monger audiences thrilled throughout the film. However, the final kills involving the big baddies are a little disappointing, likely because the most exciting attacks are used up in the rest of the movie’s non-stop action.

BURNING PARADISE is Ringo Lam’s first and only martial arts film. The director was typically known for making more modern crime-based movies and was recommended to direct BURNING PARADISE by the film’s producer, the celebrated martial arts filmmaker Tsui Hark. Actor Willie Chi was primed to be the next Jet Li after taking over Jackie Chan’s role in his next film DRUNKEN MASTER III, and is perfect as the best of good guys in BURNING PARADISE, but only went on to make three more films. The movie, considered a flop upon release, raked in just under two million Hong Kong dollars in 1994. But like many cult films, BURNING PARADISE found its audience through home video.

Eureka Entertainment presents BURNING PARADISE in a beautiful high-definition Blu-ray release, with vibrant colors and excellent sound. The disc contains few, but quality, features, the highlight being a robust commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng. Other features include a short archival interview with producer Tsui Hark and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Eureka’s limited edition offers a booklet written by film critic James Oliver and a lively slipcover with exclusive new art.

The Kung Fu film can hardly be considered dynamic storytelling, but filmmakers continue to get plenty of milage out of the genre. BURNING PARADISE may not offer anything particularly unique beyond pure entertainment but it is a no-pressure flick that’s an absolute joy of rich characters and electrifying action that would be fun transposed onto certain more contemporary western franchises (I’m talking to you, STAR WARS). Highly recommended.



When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly.

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RETRO REVIEW: Hanging Out With MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED at The Strand

Posted on: May 17th, 2014 By:

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976); Dir. Peter Yates; Starring Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch, Harvey Keitel, Larry Hagman;  May 18 at the Strand Theatre @ 3:00 PM.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

One of the truest joys of watching retro movies is that so many of them could never, ever be made today. We like to think of culture as a steady march of progress, but it’s more like a cycle of tides, with some particular mood cresting before receding, like the way the risqué shocks of the 1920s eventually morphed into the repressed sexuality of the 1940s. Moments come and go all the time, and what made sense for one era and one particular group of people can seem like it was beamed in from another world just a few years down the line. It’s not that they “don’t make them like they used to.” It’s more of a question of how they were ever made that way to begin with.

For example, look at MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED, one of the strangest studio comedies produced during a very strange period of the mid-1970s when the rules about mainstream movies had shaken themselves apart and nobody quite knew how to put them back together. One part workplace comedy, another part slobs-versus-snobs, but also part serious social drama, MOTHER exists in a kind of weird pocket outside of genre. If you haven’t seen it, there’s no easy point of context to prepare you for what to expect.

Just going off the title, it’s easy to imagine MOTHER as a forerunner to the trucker-film craze kicked off by Burt Reynolds a year later in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977), but although the title characters are certainly drivers, their wheels are attached to Los Angeles ambulances instead of highway big rigs, and their antics are more in service of retaining their sanity over making a big score. Mother (Bill Cosby) is an irreverent veteran driver tasked with breaking in the rookie Speed (Harvey Keitel), so named because of his past selling drugs as an undercover cop. Mother and Speed encounter rival companies, tension with other drivers (including Larry Hagman in a pervy supporting role), and a loose collection of setups and punchlines, all the while hoping to make enough dollars to keep themselves and their business afloat. Meanwhile, the unfortunately-nicknamed Jugs (Raquel Welch) moves to escape her job as the dispatch and den mother for the boys and become the first female driver in her staunchly chauvinistic profession.

Welch’s plotline exemplifies the film’s jarring shifts in tone. Viewers are invited to laugh along with the drivers and the wacky ways in which they let off steam—Cosby, in particular, is at the peak of his talent and delivers plenty of laughs—but the film also aspires to blow the lid off of what was, at the time, a pretty scandalous industry. In an effort to maximize profits, drivers would sabotage rivals, bribe police officers, and invent phony fares to milk government kickbacks. Less the lifesavers that their marketing would have you believe, the ambulance business was more like a taxi service with steeper leverage over its customers. If you weren’t worth the driver’s time, then good luck finding another way to the emergency room.

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED was the brainchild of animation giant Joseph Barbera (the latter half of the Hanna-Barbera empire) who enlisted Tom Mankiewicz to construct the screenplay. Mankiewicz was a veteran screenwriter who presided over the James Bond franchise during its transition from serious spy fare to pulpier, more audience-friendly material and his particular tastes are all over MOTHER, including pairing slapstick wit and sudden violence. Mankiewicz, in particular, knew how to construct a set piece, as did MOTHER’s director Peter Yates, who helmed the iconic Steve McQueen picture BULLITT (1968) and later the less-successful (but justly infamous) KRULL (1983). MOTHER is likewise stocked with big, high-concept moments that keep things from getting too limp or self-important, which would have been death for a movie that so desperately wants to be a good time.

Ultimately, the real appeal of the film is Cosby, Keitel, Welch, and the rest of the ragtag assembly of drivers. MOTHER, JUGS, AND SPEED is a “hangout movie,” one in which most of the fun comes from revisiting these characters like a group of old friends. That’s another appeal of retro cinema. For better or for worse, even as the world changes around us, our old friends remain exactly the same.

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED plays @3:00 on May 18 at The Strand. Get tickets HERE.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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