A Fist Full of Yen (1982)
A Fistful of Yen
Fok Yuen Gap
Legend of a Fighter
Nomination Year: 2018
SYNOPSIS: If I were to describe A Fist Full of Yen, I could do so paraphrasing Kentucky Fried Movie :
'This is just a lost drunken movie that doesn't know where it is and no longer cares.'
and that would sum up the watching experience pretty accurately. If I were to actually sum it up, I'd say that A Fist Full of Yen is a movie about a dastardly Yul Brynner look alike (Yool) and his sister who want to rule a bunch of land in China and the handful of inept people who aren't really enthused by this plan. It would have been a whole village but that plot point was resolved pretty quickly with less than pleasing fire effects. Yool and Sis then spend the rest of the movie capturing and failing to keep captured three siblings from said village.
I'm not saying that a movie mostly about two sets of siblings with opposing moral values makes for a dull story because that premise can be mined for gold. What I'm saying is that you have to have something other than 'Yool and Sis are very bad but very powerful. Sister, Brother and Other Brother are in the right but their screen-fu is weak. Let's explore this in a never ending series of futile martial arts skirmishes.' Then there were the added technical oddities and the confusing characterization which prompted us at the film's conclusion to speculate whether the Uwe Boll flick we had lined up next could save the day. It did.
A Fist Full of Yen started off poorly with the longest, thinnest martial artists doing their thing as the digital transfer team decided to squeeze everything onto the TV screen from the standard movie format. I am not too particularly bothered by this because you see it a LOT in intro credits sequences, especially in Martial arts flicks. Yen's long thin people are riding a cart of supplies when they are ambushed by (what turns out to be) agents of Yool. Yool's Tools want the goods in the cart as tithe, the cart people need to get the goods to the village. Neither skinny side is backing down and the tension mounts. Cue...
Total blackout and credits. It's a long string of titles and names and throughout it all we see nothing yet hear a whole lot of ass-kickery going on. Someone named Chang has something significant happen to them (we assume from the anguished cry of "Chang!" we get in one of the only dialog lines through the title blackout) and the pony is clippity clopping his little pony feet (and the cart, we assume) somewhere in a hurry. The blacked out credit sequence goes on for enough time that the digitizing team can switch gears to normal width panned and scanned people and the whole opening fight has been resolved. Chang is indeed dead which is...bad? And one of the two brothers came afoul of something that has rendered him catatonic. The other brother escapes.
OH! You know what I just figured out? Chang must have been their pan and scan technician because with him dead there's nobody left to actually pan the scanning. That is the only nice explanation I have for the utter disregard the digitizers had for following the action. From after the title sequence through the rest of the film the transfer camera is stoically set dead center of the action which caused characters at the outer edges of the film to be cut in half or missing all together. Anyone who was lucky enough to be standing in the frame was cut off at the neck, perhaps as some sort of frame balancing to the half people on the sides. We got pretty good at identifying characters by their pants and chins.
Escaped Brother eventually reaches the village where Master Ko tells him to go back and get his brother and the supplies (insert implied 'you idiot' here). Master Ko accompanies Escaped Brother because, as we find out after they get captured again, Master Ko has powerful Herb-fu and they need to get some to Catatonic Bother. All three lite out of the camp followed closely by Yool's Tools. Escaped Brother and Catatonic Brother jump off a cliff into a river while Master Ko gets captured again (again) and then a short time later is killed in the cave of snakes off screen. I'd say the movie just got real but we hardly knew which chin was Master Ko's before he died.
Catatonic Brother conveniently washes up right near where Sister is doing laundry by the riverside while Escaped Brother will be known from here-on-out as Drowned Brother. Sister and Catatonic Brother spend very little time mourning Drowned Brother or Master Ko (for that matter) although really, Catatonic Brother isn't doing a lot at this point in time but lying around all glassy eyed. Still, you get the feeling that Sister has a favorite brother and it isn't the one who is (presumably) feeding the fishes somewhere downstream.
Meanwhile, Back at the Yool camp, a Japanese ambassador is giving ambassadorial gifts to Yool and Sis for things and stuff to underscore the point that both of them are amoral nasties. Consorting with the Japanese is a cultural no-no but that's OK, Yool has the Japanese ambassador killed by the fella in old guy hair and a hat. Apparently he has great kung-fu. Possibly he taught Yool the secrets of awesome-fu. Inexplicably, he might be the same guy who then shows up at Catatonic Brother's camp to heal him up and train him in the ways of awesome-fu. Hard to tell; does this movie have two old hair and hat wearing sadistic grand martial artists? Does Yool's old hair hat wearing guy retire from the screen at the same time an old hair hat wearing guy fortuitously shows up to teach Catatonic Brother the secret to beating Yool? I'm not sure if that bit of information is lost in the translation or if the movie just plain doesn't care.
Oh say, time for a training montage. Old Hair Hat guy insists that Catatonic Brother eats three poisonous centipedes a day. We're not sure if this is a cure or if it's just Old Hair Hat guy getting a good torment on. Anyway, while we are breaking for a training montage scene, I'd like to point out that most of the fights are cut oddly jerky...as if they filmed the scenes several times and then just spliced in the best takes with no regard to camera angle or hiding the cuts. If the beginning of the move was good in take 2 and the follow through was good in take 6, they would just jam those two together to make one "awesome" shot where the actor jump-cuts in the middle of the action. I might have given them a pass on trying (and failing) for artsy but you can endure only so many dramatic crash zooms past the actors to highlight the scenery between them before you stop looking for goodness in a film.
Somewhere around this point, Yool and Sis (who have acquired themselves a white guy martial artist. No explanation.) decide to teach the resisting village a lesson and torch it. The village torching is almost so short that a good yawn and stretch will cause one to miss the entire scene. Catatonic Brother and Sister are even less upset by this than they were about Escaped Brother becoming Drowning Brother. From this point on, the plot is to 'get' (presumably kill as this is the way of most martial arts flicks of this nature) Yool and Sis but I think it's because Yool and Sis are inherent dicks and not for any specific thing they have done. It's in the script, whatever. A whole lot of capturing and escaping happens and it feels like the director just wanted to film a bunch of fight scenes in different locations. "OK! Yool's Tools in the forest now while Catatonic Brother and Sister walk along the road. Aaaaand Ambush!" "Now, Yool's Tools hide among the rocks and when Sister walks by, grab her!" "Great! Now Catatonic Brother, go rescue your Sister! Oh! Did I mention the fella over there is your Drowned Brother? He is! Don't kick his ass too hard."
Oh right. After dropping Drowned Brother for a couple of reels, he's just sorta there hanging out in the woods one day.
Fight, fight, fight, drowned Brother gets a poisoned arrow. Fight, fight, fight, Catatonic Brother cuts off Drowned Brother's arm. Fight, fight, fight, Drowned brother dies of martial artsiness. Fight, fight, fight, Old Hair Hat guy sneaks into Yool's palace and gets caught. Fight, fight, fight, Sis and Catatonic Brother go one-on-one from the palace foyer to the beach (I always keep a beach off of my foyer, you never know when you'll need it for a good fight scene). Fight, fight, fight, Sis dies. Fight, fight, fight, Old Hair Hat guy is strangled.
Strange interlude in which Yool is talking to his dead sister. Most likely to show that not only is Yool evil, but now he's bug nuts crazy. I won't quibble, except to take the time to note that when they dubbed the dialogue they also added their own Casio-driven soundtrack. Like everything else in this movie, it wouldn't be Yen if they didn't do it half way: The dialogue is clean but they didn't bother to remove the old soundtrack before laying in the new soundtrack. It's...really bizarre. And most of the time inappropriately seductive and / or dramatic.
Finally (!) the movie comes to the end boss fight. Old Hair Hat guy pops up, presumably not strangled after all (or a zombie, or maybe a physically manifested hallucination) but then he actually dies (maybe) soon afterward. Yool and his invincible stick (ahhhh...?) beat the tar outta Catatonic Brother despite the awesome-fu training but then Yool decides to throw his invincible stick away (Ahhhh...?!?). Does this give Catatonic Brother the edge? We never know since the movie ends with an unfulfilled awesome-fu end maneuver which freeze frames in mid air. The End.
My recommendation? Go see Kentucky Fried Movie instead. Its A Fist Full of Yen is a much better movie.
- Deus Ex Machina
Good guy is down and about to meet his maker when assailants decide "He is not worth fighting! Let's go!"
Still of someone not even in scene
- Actors/Directors of Note
Actor Claim to Fame
Director Claim to Fame
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