Color, 1970, 94 mins. 45 secs.
Directed by Albert Yu and Felix Villar
Starring Alex Tang Lee, Rosemarie Gil, Yukio Someno, Romy Diax, Johanna Garcia, David Yau, Lito Legaspi
DRAGONS NEVER DIE
Color, 1974, 93 mins. 50 secs.
Directed by Chen Chi-Hwa
Starring Alex Lung, Hong King Kit, Hon Kwok Choi, Yukio Someno, Rohodra Silva, Chan Ling Wai, Eva Linda
Code Red (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
The barrage of hundreds of martial arts films that filled theaters in the '70s managed to pull off some pretty odd cross-genre experiments in its prime, with horror in particular finding itself frequently wedged into action-packed stories of revenge and spiritual enlightenment. Case in point: this pair of Filipino-Hong Kong co-productions reportedly shuffled around the drive-in circuit by Hallmark Releasing at one point, though one is heavier on the horror elements than the other.
First up is Devil Woman, a combination of traditional kung fu action and supernatural snakesploitation with a kinda-sorta plea for social tolerance that mostly gets tossed out the window by the halfway point. A small town in thrown into disarray one dark and stormy night when a baby girl is born with snakes instead of hair. Her father is barely dissuaded from killing her at birth, and of course the baby seems to draw large reptile friends into their hut at the most inopportune times. The townspeople decide this is all "the devil's work" and point the finger at the bizarre girl who grows up to be Manda (Gil), an oddball free spirit who wears a turban over her head to stop people from going vigilante on this modern-day Medusa. However, that doesn't stop the local men from trying to spy on her taking a nude swim and generally tormenting her, and things get even more complicated with the untimely death of her parents and the arrival of a Chinese doctor (Lee) expertly skilled in the ways of kung fu. All of this turns into a perfect recipe for martial arts mayhem and snake horror as Manda and her growing snake cult members unleash a vengeful wave of death on the population.
Featuring a soundtrack pilfered from Chariots of the Gods?, a protracted boxing match, and the highest quotient of flying snakes you'll ever see, this is a messy but fascinating curio that's also among the very first in the trend of snakey Asian horror films. The snake action is fortunately a lot less heavy on mutilation than some of the more notorious Hong Kong outings out there, and oddly, the nature of Manda's hair is kept under wraps (literally) for most of the running time. (Needless to say, the element of surprise is ruined by the poster design and pretty much any still you'll see from this one.)
First released on DVD by Code Red in 2016 as a co-feature with the oddball Aussie film The Night, the Prowler, Devil Woman came to Blu-ray in late 2017 from Code Red with a scan that does the best it can given the extreme rarity of the film and the condition of the only available print. Colors are faded and muted but acceptable, while film damage and grain have been left alone in all their retro glory; the DTS-HD MA English dub track is also limited to the source of course but sounds fine for what it is.
Also included on the Blu-ray in standard definition is Dragons Never Die, a thinly plotted but action-packed martial arts programmer originally released as Guo shu shi duan and frequently confused with many other similar releases. Also titled Kung Fu 10th Dan on the usual action theatrical circuit, the film charts the journey of wandering Li Tin Ming (Lung) and companion Hsiao San (36th Chamber of Shaolin's Choi) who test their skills at various towns around the countryside. They get a lot more than they bargained for when they stumble into turf controlled by a gang lord known as the Leopard, whose swift removal leads to massive payback from his father and fellow fighters with the fate of a vulnerable town in the balance.
That plotline sounds a lot more linear than the experience of actually sitting through this film. It's filled with typical fight scenes, of course, but you also get egg fu in a chicken house, a zombie dream sequence, erotic iron pounding, melodramatic death speeches, and random comic relief. The strange, heavily accented dubbing doesn't help clarify the plot all that much, but fortunately it doesn't matter all that much given that the film is about 90% fight scenes. This one was first released by Code Red on a double-disc DVD set, Maria's Kung Fu Mayhem, along with such other titles as Angry Dragon, Revenge of the Dragon, Fist of the Double K, and Mandarin Magician. The scope transfer of an English-dubbed print is again restrained by the source, naturally, and the SD presentation looks basically identical to what's on the DVD. It makes a more suitable fit here though given the nature of the films and the fact that they share one star, Yukio Someno, who seemed to have a brief corner on the market playing Japanese bad guys in Hong Kong movies. Theatrical trailers for both films are also included.
DRAGONS NEVER DIE
Reviewed on January 14, 2018