EXPECTATIONS: A retro piece of action/martial-arts schlock.
REVIEW: An action/martial arts film set in Australia? Sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. Directed by schlockmeister Brian Trenchard-Smith, director of such cult-classics like BMX Bandits, Turkey Shoot, Stunt Rock and Dead End Drive-In, The Man From Hong Kong was his second theatrical film and was making a big splash for the Australian film industry at the time. The film was the first co-production between Australia and Hong Kong and it had a rare occurrence of having an Asian lead, in this case, Jimmy Wang Yu, best known for the martial-arts classics, One-Armed Swordsman and Master of the Flying Guillotine. It also stars George Lazenby as the main villain, best known for his one-time stint as the British agent, James Bond. After the James Bond stuff, his career went through a downward spiral, eventually leading to roles in Hong Kong films, showing his capable stunt background and eventually leading to The Man From Hong Kong. It is also has fight choreography from a then 22-year old Sammo Hung Kam-bo, who is known for being a fantastic martial artist working alongside Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and even the man himself, Bruce Lee. So with all these elements in the film, does it all add up?
Jimmy Wang Yu (dubbed by veteran actor Roy Chiao) stars as Fang Sing-ling, an inspector from the Special Branch of the Royal Hong Kong police force. After he has one of his activities in the horizontal and vertical refreshment industry (courtesy of Ros Spiers and later, Rebecca Gilling), he is sent to Australia to bring back a drug smuggler (Sammo Hung Kam-bo) for extradition. But when the drug smuggler gets taken care of (not a spoiler), Fang ends up staying in the land down under longer than expected. With the help of two Aussie Cops (Immortan Joe Hugh Keays-Byrne and Roger Ward), they follow the trail of crime to an all-powerful kingpin, gun-runner, drug-peddler, martial artist, racist and all-round badass Jack Wilton (Daniel Craig George Lazenby). Will Fang defeat Wilton at his own game of martial arts and stop his EVIL ways?
The answer is: OF COURSE! But when has that stopped a movie from having some fun? And fortunately, The Man From Hong Kong has that in spades. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith clearly utilizes a light, self-referential tone to the formulaic crime story and the film is all the more entertaining for it. Clichés and conventions are switched around and it makes more of a refreshing experience. One example is how much carnage and destruction Fang Sing-ling makes. Cars get smashed, buildings get destroyed, the whole shebang, and yet it is hilariously brushed off as a stereotypical outlook against Asians. Another example, when was the last time we saw an Asian action lead having a very active sex life on film? Well, in this film, Jimmy Wang Yu, not only has one, but two sexual partners. It is clear that Trenchard-Smith was going for a James Bond vibe for the character of Fang Sing-ling and it works, especially with the sexual innuendos that make fun of the stereotypical image of Asians. One line that was said in a sex scene had me in stitches. There’s also a romantic montage that comes off as hilariously cheesy, complete with horse riding, picnics and lovey-dovey moments that would feel right at home as a commercial for menopause. I also liked the cinematography by Russell Boyd. The film looks vibrant and colourful for an action film such as this and it does show remnants of a soon-to-be Oscar winning cinematographer.
Enough about the love, let’s get to the action. Jimmy Wang Yu portrays his character as a force of nature and his reliance on brutality rather than grace or agility makes for some entertainingly messy fights, thanks to Sammo Hung‘s fight choreography. There’s an action scene that evolves from a chase scene into a kitchen fight, between Fang and a bad guy (played by veteran stuntman Grant Page) and it starts off in a routine way, but the tension is raised as the knives come in and it is entertaining to see the two go at it at such an elongated time. As good as that fight scene is, it does not top the fight scenes between Sing-ling and Wilton. George Lazenby looks like he’s having a lot of fun as Wilton, relishing his racist attitude towards Wang Yu and embracing the stunts that he has. Well, maybe not the stunt where he is set on fire; similar to the stunt that Jackie Chan did in Drunken Master 2. That would have really pissed him off.* Hell, there’s even a fight scene on top of Ayers Rock! Nowadays, this will never, EVER happen. Films can’t even film 100 feet near there now, so the action scene is one of the many moments that makes The Man From Hong Kong such a cult classic. Another moment that can be seen as throwaway in today’s standards is a part when a car explodes, and a flying sheet of metal flies ever so dangerously close to the camera.
As much fun as the fight scenes are in the film, it is the car chase preceding the climax of the film that is the most impressive. Filmed without permission and permits* (like the guerrilla filmmaking suggests), the car chase involves tons of property damage and vehicular warfare involving other cars, billboards and even an entire house! With just cameras mounted on mirrors, dashboards and car-roofs, such beautifully orchestrated chaos can be ranked alongside other fantastic car chase sequences like in Bullitt and Mad Max and others. Funnily enough, Quentin Tarantino had stated that he is a big admirer of director Brian Trenchard-Smith and in one of Tarantino‘s films, Death Proof, the climactic car chase sequence looks eerily similar to the one in The Man From Hong Kong, that it almost comes off as grossly derivative.
If there’s any problem with the film, it is the script. It goes along in a very predictable fashion that it does take the fun out a little, particularly during the first act. It does not help that some of the jokes/lines of dialogue can be seen as racist, but that could be just be me, drowning in the sea of political correctness today. And aside from Jimmy Wang Yu and George Lazenby, none of the supporting actors stand out in any way, and yes, that includes Hugh Keayes-Byrne and Roger Ward, two of the most likeable and talented veteran Australian actors today, making the most out of very little they have from the script.
But overall, The Man From Hong Kong is a fantastic piece of cheesy, schlocky fun that has fantastic stunts, a cool hero and villain, colourful cinematography and a light, self-aware sense of humour that makes the film soar Sky High.**
* Facts that are true from the fantastic documentary, Not Quite Hollywood.
** Reference to the classic song, Sky High by Jigsaw.
Fantastic action scenes
Jimmy Wang Yu and George Lazenby are terrific in their roles
Fun, self-aware tone adds much entertainment value
Can be racist at times
The story is very predictable and formulaic
Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, George Lazenby, Ros Spiers, Hugh Keays-Bryne, Rebecca Gilling, Frank Thring, Bill Hunter, Sammo Hung Kam-bo
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Screenwriter: Brian Trenchard-Smith