aka 中華戰士 aka Zhong hua zhan shi aka Dynamite Fighters aka Yes, Madam 3
Written by Tsang Kan-Cheung
Directed by David Chung Chi-Man
Magnificent Warriors is a required Michelle Yeoh film to watch. There is so much energy and joy here as she gleefully beats the tar out of dozens of people while cracking whips, flying planes, and firing guns. She’s a pure pulp action hero who runs guns for rebels, flies her own plane, dogfights fighters despite being outmatched, goes on secret missions, does her job, helps inspire the people to fight, and stands tall against impossible odds.
Yeoh easily outshines costars Derek Yee and Richard Ng and the entire film is built around her mission against the invading Japanese. I don’t mean to cut Richard Ng short, he does hold his own as a live-action cartoon drifter con man who bumbles into all the action. Ng’s unnamed Drifter comes complete with his own cartoonish theme music that completely contrasts with the rest of the film’s adventury score, which totally works for hammering in the point that his character is a completely different archetype plopped into this mayhem. Together Ng and Yeoh overshadow Derek Yee so much that despite his character being a James Bond analogue he can barely keep up with them (and it stands out even more with Yeoh moving on to being an actual Bond girl!) Yee was from a prominent entertainment family and would eventually move into producing and directing and based on his output he seems to have found a good fit, several of his films being acclaimed as classics.
Magnificent Warriors is one of the Hong Kong films I rented from the late, lamented Le Video in San Francisco, I was working through Yeoh’s filmography (shockingly, most of her movies weren’t available in video stores in the Midwest!) and this one was amazing enough I watched it twice and ended up with a DVD myself soon after. It also begot my love for Richard Ng, as he popped up in some of the films I rented in rapid succession but was first memorable here.
aka 美人魚 aka Mei Ren Yu
Written by Stephen Chow Sing-Chi, Kelvin Lee Si-Zhen, Ho Miu-Kei, Lu Zheng-Yu, Andrew Fung Chih-Chiang, Ivy Kong Yuk-Yee, Chan Hing-Kar, and Tsang Kan-Cheung
Directed by Stephen Chow Sing-Chi
It isn’t really a secret that I’ve been less than enthused with the movie industry coming out of China in the past decade. As more and more Hong Kong stars and directors get lured away by big budget Mainland firms to pump out soulless imitations of Hollywood blockbusters, my interest in what they do great grows less and less. A few directors are working against the trends, but the only one with the clout to basically do whatever he wants is Steve Chow. Though Chow took extended time off in front of the camera to work more on the production side, his return to directing has been a welcome development. First he came back with Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, and soon after with The Mermaid, where Chow returns to his roots with a love story buried beneath a bunch of other movies. The Mermaid went on to slay at the box office, becoming the highest grossing film in China (not any more, lol!)
The Mermaid feels like a first draft of a love story that everything else was stapled around. Some of the side scenes are amazingly awesome, while others fall short and seem weird. Overall there just isn’t enough in the rest of the film to seem like a filling meal. Chow obviously saw the Dolphin Cove documentary as we even get actual footage of the dolphins being slaughtered multiple times throughout the film, and the imagery is used again when the humans attack the mermaid hideout. The US military’s sonar that kills sea life is also mentioned, though here it is sonar developed by a company that causes fish to explode and damages the mermaids, leading to their hiding out in a cove. Tossing this stuff into a comedy is a brave move, and while not pleasant to see, helps put actual stakes on the table both within the film and in real life. Some people might think twice about where the food they eat comes from.
aka 狂獸 aka Kuang Shou
Written by Lee Chun-Fai
Directed by Jonathan Li Tsz-Chun
The Brink is a return to old school Hong Kong action complete with huge brutal fight sequences and piles of bodies. The hook is this film largely takes place on and under the water, with the final battle sprawling across a ship rolling in the waves of a massive typhoon. I can’t recall an action film with anywhere close to this many scenes that involve water, and the choreography takes advantage of all the rocking boats and waves and characters. The action scenes alone are fantastic enough to make this a recommendation, and the story and tone is perfect for those of us who grew up renting dodgy Hong Kong action VHS tapes long ago. In fact, it might be a bit too on the nose in that aspect, with some of the characterization not really translating well into a modern setting.
Jonathan Li Tsz-Chun makes his directorial debut here, having spent 15 years serving as an assistant director on a number of high-profile productions (Infernal Affairs III, Love Battlefield, Blind Detective) and now ready to make his own mark. The Brink is a strong debut with plenty of distinctive action that you won’t see anywhere else.
Police detective Sai Gau (John Zhang Jin) plays by his own violent rules, and has to live with the consequences of those rules when tossing a guy out a window causes the victim to land on a police cruiser and kill the patrolman inside. Despite being acquitted in the resulting investigation, Sai Gau still has a violent reputation and often taunts his boss as a pencil-pushing fake cop. Sai Gau is raising the daughter of the man he accidentally killed (played by Cecilia So Lai-Shan), and doing such an attentive job that she’s 18, pregnant, and alone. This leads to some awkward scenes that normally would provide some characterization, but here just seem to be characters sitting around in near-silence.
Vampire Cleanup Department
aka 救殭清道夫 aka Gao Geung Jing Dou Fu
Written by Yan Pak-Wing, Ho Wing-Hong, and Ashley Cheung Yin-Kei
Directed by Chiu Sin-Hang and Yan Pak-Wing
SFFilm had their annual Hong Kong Film Festival and due to the power of having two tickets leftover from the last festival I went to see two films in this festival! This time, all the films were at the fabulous Vogue Theater, which is a bit of a headache for me to get to but at least parking around there isn’t terrible (also a skunk sprayed my car as thanks for me stopping in time to not hit him as he ran across the road, lol!) While my car now stank, Vampire Cleanup Department did not, but it wasn’t a new paradigm in Hong Kong horror comedy, either. Unfortunately it is one of those middle of the road flicks that are hard to write about, due to me not wanting to slam it too hard due to the parts that were good, but not wanting to praise it to the heavens due to the parts that were bad. It’s sort of a modern take on the Mr. Vampire flicks, except imagine if the one-eyebrowed priest was employed by the Hong Kong government in a secret department. The squad takes down vampires when they pop up, and since this is a Hong Kong film they are of the hopping variety.
We follow Tim Cheung (BabyJohn Choi Hon-Yik) as he moves from hapless schlub to member of the Vampire Cleanup Department. It helps that he is the son of two former members who were killed while on duty, his mother’s last act was giving birth to him after a vampire attack. This makes him a legacy hire but also means he’s got some vampire immunity that is explained just well enough when needed for plot purposes. As the new guy he gets all the garbage details including cleaning up the office via constant sweeping and also memorizing and making the different vampire amulets (the strips of paper with writing on them that the priests put on vampire heads to freeze them or control them.) This framework lets them follow the traditional hero’s journey arc, except with some extra films stuffed along for the ride.
A Hero Never Dies
aka 真心英雄 aka Chan Sam Ying Hung
Written by Yau Nai-Hoi and Szeto Kam-Yuen
Directed by Johnnie To Kei-Fung
Johnnie To takes the heroic bloodshed genre and does a three card monte of deconstruction and chaos to make an entry that is a great example of all the genre’s tropes while simultaneously lampooning them and also pointing out how serious and sad they are in reality. It’s so over the top it wraps around back below and then swings back over the top again. At the time A Hero Never Dies came out, the John Woo movies that popularized it worldwide were over 20 years old, and while that turned things into overdrive, there was still plenty to mine out of the concept.
The two Triad fighters here are both introduced at the top of their game, but as they are from rival factions they know that one day they will be forced to face each other in battle. Until then, there is a mutual respect for the only other person who can approach you in quality and honor. The song Sukiyaki plays constantly, it is the theme of the heroes at the bar where they have a drinking and shooting showoff contest, and later when the heroes are in tragedy, the theme is a constant reminder of their former lives.
Lau Ching-Wan is Martin (Dealer/Healer), the larger than life killer with a cowboy hat with ridiculous gunslinger vibe. He borrows his look from so many films at once and spends many of the action films popping up to save the day for his crew. Leon Lai Ming is Jack (Three), the cool slick loner assassin character that spends much of his time being in quiet disapproval at how things are run badly by his boss. Both of them wear sunglasses constantly, often while indoors, and each is their own one man army. Martin’s girl is Fiona (Fiona Leung Ngai-Ling), who is experienced with being the girl of a Triad, while Jack’s girl Yoyo (Yoyo Mung Ka-Wai) is more naive with what the eventual end will be.