Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon


Viewed – 07 May 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

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.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good+

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Millionaire’s Express


Viewed – 03 February 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

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.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

The Prodigal Son


Viewed – 29 January 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

I’d certainly say this is a good time to be a fan of martial arts / Hong Kong cinema, with countless movies dating back to the seventies getting deluxe releases. This 1981 action-comedy stars Yeun Biao as Leung Chang, a guy who believes he’s an expert street fighter. However after getting defeated by a highly skilled local opera school actor, he learns that his rich father has been paying his opponents off for years. Therefore, Leung decides to learn the skills of the actor to finally become a true master.

I recall loving this when first watching it during my Hong Kong movie obsession in the nineties. A fun twist on the usual kung fu movie storyline; under the direction of veteran Sammo Hung, this is a well shot, impressively choreographed movie with several memorable encounters and set-pieces. On this viewing I did find the focus on comedy got in the way of the action, and when the storyline turned more serious is when the movie really shined, like a night set attack on an opera school and the full-on final showdown. The plot at times was also is a bit convoluted, with an over-abundance of twists.

Support however from veteran kung fu stars like the late Lam Ching-ying (Mr Vampire) as well as Frankie Chan and a sequence involving Sammo Hung himself, and this movie still delivered a solid cast, some decent action and plenty of personality. I was however just left feeling the movie wasn’t quite the sum of its parts. I still enjoyed this and if you’re a fan of martial arts cinema – this is worth a watch. I’ve just seen better examples of the genre.

This release from Eureka Classics is fairly robust. The movie itself is in very good shape, with a lot of detail making this the best it’s ever looked. Soundtrack in original mono is still punchy with all those fighting sound effects packing a… er… punch. Extras we get both Cantonese and English dubbed soundtracks, as well as archival interviews with principle cast members, and a featurette about the martial arts style Wing Chun. There is also two commentaries, one from Frank Djeng & Bobby Samuels, and another from Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, which really make this release worth picking up. We also get a detailed booklet and a poster featuring newly commissioned art work. Not too shabby. This release is also a double feature with Sammo Hung vehicle ‘Warriors Two’, which I may also check out at some stage.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Project A


Viewed – 23 February 2020. Blu-ray

For some reason in the nineties when I was heavily into Hong Kong Cinema and the movies of Jackie Chan, this famed 1983 outing passed me by, even though I caught the sequel. Sitting down to this now, in pristine HD on a great Blu-ray from the fine folks at Eureka … I was both impressed at the action and stunt work but left cold by a rather messy plot. Chan plays Dragon Ma, a coast guard captain during the turn of the century, who gets embroiled in a series of weapons thefts by invading pirates. Along with a police lieutenant (Yeun Biao) and a petty crook (Sammo Hung) Chan turns out to be the best choice to save the day.

The story is a bit naff, disjointed and complicated by Chan’s usual brand of bumbling, squabbling and slapstick, although it’s a treat to see him teamed with fellow kung-fu stars Hung & Biao. The stunt work is at times wince-inducing crazy (especially the famous clock tower fall) and the fights frantic and brilliantly choreographed … but when the structure and plotting is this poor, it can spoil the fun. Thankfully then production values, set design and costumes are all top-notch. Chan also proves likeable as is much of the colourful cast, and when the villain is revealed he’s also quite formidable. As ever there’s also plenty of often silent-comedy influenced comedy and although quaint is more hit than miss.

For fans this is certainly one to check out, and the action still impressed even if it’s not Chan’s best.

The blu-ray from Eureka boasts great image quality sourced from a new 2k restoration. It’s generally sharp and colours really pop. We get the soundtrack presented in its original mono Cantonese as well as 5.1 Dts HD Master Audio which proves effective even if surrounds are not really showcased. The movie is similarly available in dubbed English. Extras consist mainly of talking-head interviews with cast and crew, but Chan is absent although we do get Yeun Biao. There’s also outtakes (a highlight with any Jackie Chan movie) and deleted scenes. We also get a detailed booklet. No commentary is a disappointment but overall this is great treatment for one of Chan’s most famous if in my opinion slightly overrated movies.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Wheels On Meals


Viewed – 15 September 2019 Blu-ray

I make no secret that I’m a big fan of martial arts icon Jackie Chan and over the years I have enjoyed many of his movies. There’s just something endlessly likeable about him that I feel not even names like Jet Li, Donnie Yen or even Bruce Lee come close. So sitting down to this 1984 kung fu caper, I had mixed emotions as I recalled not being its biggest fan back in the day. However at the time I was OD’ing on all things Hong Kong Cinema. Chan, teamed with frequent collaborator Yeun Biao play two mobile restaurant vendors who work out of a tricked-out hot dog van, who both fall for the same mysterious girl. At the same time a rookie private detective (another frequent collaborator Sammo Hung) has been given the case of tracking down said girl, whilst also a gang of bad guys are out to kidnap her. A bit of mystery then ensues bringing the three guys together to save the day.

This focuses heavily on interplay between the main characters with plenty of comical word-play that lends comparisons to The Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges, mixed with occasional action that throws in fights, a great car chase and a climactic series of encounters that make the long yet entertaining lead up well worth your patience. The inclusion of kick boxing champion Benny ‘the jet’ Urquidez is a particular highlight. Set unusually in what appears to be Spain the movie is filled with interesting locations and at times eye catching cinematography.

The overly-farcical nature of the plot, questionable depictions of mental patients and homeless people means it’s hard to get truly invested. Also Chan’s brand of stunt-work and Kung fu mostly takes a back seat … but its all done with such charm and sense of fun, I still had a great time.

The blu-ray from Eureka Classics has a pleasing, if generally soft image quality that although at its best during night time set sequences, is generally clean throughout… that bright yellow van especially pops. The soundtrack is presented in original mono and 5.1 Cantonese along with dubbed English in both mono and 5.1. Extras consist of outtakes, trailers and a few worthwhile interviews with key cast members. Not exhaustive but we do also get a detailed booklet with an essay by James Oliver. Solid treatment for what is for me a bit of a forgotten classic.

verdict:

(the movie) 3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray) 3.5 /5