Dragon Dynasty Re-Issues Hong Kong Classics Shanghai Express and Above The Law!

Dragon Dynasty makes a habit of reissuing the most entertaining martial arts movies. Their newest releases are a Sammo Hung classic, [i]Shanghai Express[/i], and Cory Yuen’s [i]Above The Law[/i] – examples of the wildly divergent styles to be found in the genre…

[b][i]Shanghai Express[/i][/b]

[i]Shanghai Express[/i] [also known as [i]Millionaire’s Express[/i]] is a sweeping farce that mixes a number of disparate elements: Keystone Kops sequences, the Orient Express, and the classic Western to oddly entertaining effect. Trying to summarize the movie’s plot would be exhausting, but here are a few of the high points: Hanshui Town’s corrupt police rob the bank and leave town; a scavenger/scam artist robs corpses – but it’s a war games simulation and he gets caught by the “dead”; a thirties-style gang plans to rob the Shanghai Express; the scam artist tries to makes amends by stopping the train so its passengers will spend their money in Hanshui. And that’s barely scratching the surface.

Sammo Hung directs – and stars as the semi-repentant crook – with vigor and humor. Main characters include: the fire chief who becomes Hanshui’s police chief [Yuen Biao], and the sheriff who’s been on Hung’s trail [Eric Tsang]. Among the various other characters are a madam who loves Hung; the madam’s band of prostitutes; three samurai [one, woman] who are taking a Chinese treasure to Japan, and a gentleman in a deerstalker who is having an affair.

Somehow, all these disparate elements combine to create an epic of martial arts mayhem and goofiness that makes it very difficult to look away from the screen. The fight choreography [by Hung and his Stuntman Team] ranges from stunning and mind-blowing to hysterically funny. For martial arts movie aficionados, many of the best martial arts actors and stuntmen have cameos [it’s like a group of friends got together to make a movie and decided that everyone they knew should pop up in it somewhere – which is exactly the case!].

As part of the marketing for North America, Cynthia Rothrock is featured prominently on the box art and cast list, though her role is fairly small – except for a truly demented fight with Hung. Richard Norton makes an appearance as well, and even has a few lines [he suffers a particularly nasty defeat…].

Somehow, [i]Shanghai Express[/i] manages to be an entertaining movie [many serious martial arts fans consider it a classic, though I’m not sure that even the two early CG effects warrant such devotion] instead of a mass of confusing bits. It’s energetic and fun and that makes it worth seeing.

Features include: Audio Commentary by Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan; Rare Deleted Scenes; Express Delivery, an interview with Sammo Hung; Way Out West, an interview with Yuen Biao; Trailblazer, an interview with Cynthia Rothrock, and a Trailer Gallery.

Shanghai Express – Grade: B
Features – B+
[b]Final Grade: A[/b]

[b][i]Above The Law[/i][/b]

Above The Law is notable for a number of reasons: it was the first film produced by star Yuen Biao; it’s one of Cynthia Rothrock’s first leading roles, and it’s one of Cory Yuen’s earliest directorial efforts. The plot is a fairly typical vigilante one, with a Hong Kong prosecutor getting fed up after yet another witness – along with all seven members of his family – is killed to keep two gang lords from going to trial.

Biao plays the prosecutor; Rothrock is a testy police inspector who comes to suspect of killing the two gangsters; Cory Yuen doubles up as a slob cop who winds up as Rothrock’s partner, and Melvin Wong plays the stern, but philosophical police lieutenant – and Rothrock and Yuen’s direct superior.

With its slim, focused plot, [i]Above The Law[/i] hurtles along. In some ways – notably the use of guns and explosives – feels a bit like a John Woo gangster movie, but the martial arts are spectacular enough to give the film a unique feel. Yuen shows himself to be able to direct action [choreographed by Sammo Hung’s Stunt Team, of course] of all sorts. The movie features car chases, gunfights, Eastern martial arts, kickboxing and even some impressive climbing and jumping stunts. What’s even more unusual is that Yuen does some very nice work with character moments [not always a strong point in martial arts movies].

If you’re new to martial arts movies, some of the acting will be surprising. Biao and Rothrock are far better actors than they are usually given credit for. Wong plays his character’s twists with a black humor that is singularly prepossessing. Even kickboxing champion Peter Cunningham’s over-the-top performance [as an assassin] fits nicely into the conventions of the genre. Special mention should also be made of Karen Shepherd’s appearance as assassin whose sole reason for being in the movie seems to be in order to show that Rothrock doesn’t just kick the guys’ asses. Their brawl is great fun.

Originally released as [i]Righting Wrongs[/i], [i]Above The Law[/i] is a classic. It combines its gangster and martial arts elements in a way that feels right – and it arrives at a conclusion that is surprisingly Shakespearean. It really holds up well as a film [it was released in 1983], as well as a showcase for some of the best martial arts choreography ever.

Features include: Audio Commentary by Bey Logan; Alternate Endings [we barbarians seem to like happy, shiny endings, after all]; The Vigilante, an interview with Yuen Biao; Action Overload, and interview with Cynthia Rothrock; From The Ring to The Silver Screen, an interview with Peter Cunningham, and a Trailer Gallery.

Above The Law – Grade: A
Features – B+
[b]Final Grade: A-[/b]

EM Review Posted by Sheldon A. wiebe
06/06/07

[b]Check the DVD Page for more current DVD reviews…[/b]

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