Generally, you can’t go wrong with a movie starring veteran action star Sammo Hung. He grew up with Jackie Chan, and although he has remained in Chan’s shadow, mostly due to not making his name in America – his movies and his Kung fu skills are clearly on the same level. This 1990 buddy cop movie has never had much fanfare outside its native Hong Kong, and after watching it … I’m surprised.
This is top-drawer Sammo Hung with some fun comedy and several quality Kung Fu fights. The plot is rather none-sensical though, serving more as an excuse from Hung and Karl Mak’s often funny squabbling banter. Karl Mak is comes across a tad misogynistic but still entertains, and proves a capable fighter in his own right. However as a vehicle for Hung, this showcases his comedy skills equally with his fighting, this time doing a spot-on Bruce Lee impression throughout – which I’d have liked a bit of explanation for, but it’s never explored.
Direction by kung Fu veteran Lau Kar-wing is decent with the fights well framed and delivered with often clever camera work (especially during the climactic warehouse scene). I’d say if you enjoy Hong Kong action cinema, this is one of the more immediate fun ones, with the action spread throughout the movie (not just at the end) with entertaining characters and decent comedy. Just a shame about that er… plot.
This new release from Eureka Classics boasts decent image quality. Not incredibly sharp but clear and detailed enough. The soundtrack offers up original Cantonese mono, or 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio English dub. Although this isn’t a showcase for your surround system. Dialogue is clear though and the English dub is surprisingly good. There are two audio commentaries, the first from Asian film expert Frank Djeng and martial artist / actor Robert “Bobby” Samuels. The second has action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema. Then there’s a collector’s booklet featuring an essay by James Oliver. Add to this interviews with crew and stunt co-ordinators. There is also a second disk covering the career of stuntman Mark Houghton. No interview or anything with Sammo himself though seems a strange oversight.
Not often has Chinese / Hong Kong action cinema been privy to the big budgets you see for a major Hollywood production, but following the Oscar success of Ang Lee’s acclaimed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came this lavish, beautifully filmed movie. Director Yi-Mou Zhang’s (Raise the Red Lantern) 2002 action/drama stars Kung fu star Jet Li as a lone assassin on the brink of completing his mission, who recants his journey and the foes he has overcome to be before his intended target.
Told in a series of flashbacks, what’s most notable about this is that each flashback is given its own colour scheme; sequences shot in garish red with red costumes and red tinged scenery, or blue costumes and blue scenery and so on. It’s a very effective approach and looks stunning. Add to this several visually creative fight scenes, and although the style is excessive and not exactly realistic, it gives the movie a distinct personality.
As this is mostly of the wire-enhanced style martial arts, it can occasionally look a bit silly, but under Zhang’s direction it’s cool and exciting more often than it’s not. Li is stoic throughout, but proves an effective lead, even if the more emotional and deeper performances come from Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love) and Tony Leung (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings). The story at times gets bogged down in philosophy too, and isn’t quite as engaging as I’d have liked. Regardless, this was still very entertaining and is possibly one of the best looking movies I’ve ever seen. Check it out.
During my obsession with all-things Hong Kong Cinema in the nineties, I considered this 1991 movie one of the top-tier titles. A historical Kung-fu epic that follows the story of Chinese folk hero, doctor and martial arts practitioner Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li). We’re dropped into a period in his life when western invasion looms on the horizon as he struggles to defend the way of life off the Chinese people during political and domestic turmoil.
Director Tsui Hark delivers a fine balance between historical drama and Kung fu action, in a beautifully filmed and highly entertaining movie. At times the budget feels stretched and there’s a few times it feels rough around the edges … and performances by the English / American actors are quite bad. However, where it matters it delivers. Co-starring Hong Kong veterans Yuen Biao and the exquisite Rosamund Kwan, we get strong scenes of character and emotional drama in between the action. The story which focuses on learning the right path, not letting other influences steer you astray etc. works well.
Yet it’s in the various action sequences where this excels. Tsui Hark knows how to showcase the various Wu Shu martial arts on display, and although some of it is of the ‘wire-enhanced’ variety – it’s exhilarating. That theme-tune also enhances every scene it’s used in. Main villain Iron Vest (Yen Shi-kwan) is a formidable opponent for Jet Li but is also a sympathetic character with depth I wasn’t expecting. Li himself is fantastic, and although an on set injury meant some stunts had to be performed by a stunt double, it’s barely noticeable. However his stoic yet likeable performance as Fei Hung is career defining and made the movie for me.
The Blu-ray, part of a Eureka Classics box set has the movie in decent condition, although I feel the picture could be a tad better for a 4K restoration. Soundtrack is presented in original stereo Cantonese, Mandarin or 5.1 English dubbed. Extras-wise there’s a commentary from Hong Kong cinema expert Mike Leeder and filmmaker Arne Venema. There’s also a documentary on real life historical figure Wong Fei Hung, which is in three parts spread over the first three movies in the set. Add to this interviews and a small booklet and this is decent treatment for one of the genuine classics of the genre.
When a religious sect set their sights on an ancient collection of armour known as the ‘armour of god’ – a pop singer turned adventurer seeking the same collection finds himself caught up in a kidnap plot. Along for the journey is a rich collector’s daughter.
First time watching of this 1986 Jackie Chan ‘classic’ and I must say… I was disappointed. I found the story to be weak and it often dragged, with too much focus on an awkward love triangle and long scenes of silly banter rather than adventuring or action. Speaking of action… a five minute brilliantly choreographed end fight, does not make for a great movie. The chase sequence half way through was good though. As a Hong Kong take of movies like Indiana Jones, this had little of the depth or personality and only managed to deliver on a several (admittedly) eye catching locations. Not one of Chan’s best.
I picked up the recent 88 Films limited edition and intend to check out the other cut of the movie, namely the 88 minute international version, which may benefit from a shorter run time. There’s a wealth of extras here, including interviews, music videos, clips from chat shows, a stunts featurette and 3 commentaries. The set also comes with a detailed booklet, cardboard slip case, art cards and double sided poster featuring newly commissioned artwork. The movie itself has a detailed, yet occasionally very grainy image. The soundtrack has original Cantonese on the extended cut, along with an English dub. The international version is English dub only, but is fairly well done. So I’m guessing this made for a worthwhile purchase in the end. However, considering how famous this movie is (I’m guessing more for Chan’s almost died accident than anything else) I found this one of his least entertaining efforts. For a better time, check out the sequel ‘Operation Condor’.
Sammo Hung has long been for me one of my favourite go-to Kung fu stars, and his output from the seventies to the early nineties could rival Jackie Chan, even if he’s not achieved the same level of fame outside of his native country. This 1986 ‘Kung fu western’ has Hung as an outlaw who returns to his home town to make good. Yet his criminal ways lead him to attempt to blow the train tracks to force a train to stop near the town and bring its wealthy occupants to spend their money. All the time various groups of people are heading to the town, including a group of ruthless bandits.
This is first and foremost a comedy, and a broad, slapstick one at that. The humour is silly but amiable and there’s some good gags that gave me a few chuckles. Veteran comedy stars of the Hong Kong film industry like Richard Ng and Eric Tsang are joined by names such as Yuen Biao (on fine form in some great acrobatic fights and a stunning three story jump from a burning building), Hwang Jang-lee and American star Cynthia Rothrock.
The action is mostly left to the end, although it’s certainly worth the wait. Also the various groups of people are all interesting and the anticipation for all these to come together is palpable. An entertaining, well made movie with several stand out scenes that makes this, whilst not necessarily up their with the very best, well worth a watch.
This release from Eureka Classics is packed. We get four cuts of the movie, the original theatrical release, the extended international version (which I watched), Shanghai Express version and the hybrid cut. The soundtrack has both the original Cantonese language with subtitles and there’s also a decent English dubbed soundtrack. There’s two audio commentaries, scene-specific audio commentary with actress Cynthia Rothrock, interviews, behind the scenes featurettes and more. There’s also a poster with newly commissioned art work. All in all, impressive stuff.
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