Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Man From Hong Kong (1975)

Sorry, I didn't get a screenshot, but I think this poster art
should give you a good idea of what the film is about

I've been feeling a bit patriotic lately so I've been digging my way through some Australian genre films. The Man From Hong Kong is an Australian/Hong Kong co-production, coming courtesy of Brian Trenchard-Smith, a stuntman turned director who made a bunch of cool Australian stunt films before escaping to America to make action and horror films. I believe this film was mentioned in a documentary about Australian exploitation filmmaking called Not Quite Hollywood, which I've been avoiding because I know that if I see it I'll end up with a hundred new movies on the end of my DVD rental queue.

This film opens with a drug exchange going down at Uluru (then Ayers Rock). If you've ever been to Uluru you'd know it's way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere. Probably the least practical place for a drug exchange ever, except for maybe the bottom of the ocean or inside an active volcano. What's wrong with a train station in Cabramatta? The exchange man is played by the great Sammo Hung, who also did the fight choreography, so naturally when they're busted he runs up to the top of the rock and has a fight scene with copper Bob Taylor (wrestler-turned-actor Roger Ward). The other exchange man jumps in his car and tries to drive off (good luck mate, it's 450 km to the nearest town) but is pursued by a helicopter and somehow flips his car and blows himself up. Sammo isn't speaking to no whiteys so it's time to bring in... The Man from Hong Kong.

The Man from Hong Kong is a man (from Hong Kong) named Inspector Fang Sing Ling, played by badass Jimmy Wang Yu from the One-Armed Swordsman films. In his very first scene an Australian reporter (Ros Spiers) asks him what's so special about Special Branch and it then cuts to them totally doing it. "Do you often take white girls to bed?" she asks. "Only on Tuesdays and Thursdays." he replies. He's like the Chinese Shaft! When he finally gets to Australia he meets up with his contacts Bob Taylor and his exceptionally hairy partner Morrie Grosse (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Fang interrogates Sammo Hong Kong style which is to beat him half to death, while the two cops handle the situation Australian style, which is to look the other way and bugger off down the pub. Unfortunately Sammo gets assassinated on his way to the court house (by legendary stunt man Grant Page) and everything points to Jack Wilton, expert Martial Artist and drug kingpin of Sydney.

Wilton is played by one-time Bond George Lazenby. In his first scene he whips the asses of all his students, but in the end it's revelealed he has an iron bar concealed in his fist. So it establishes him as both a master of kung fu and a cheating scumbag. Economical storytelling. He's even got one of those swinging 70s pads with bright orange decor and an enormous safe filled with drugs, guns and explosives. Like a Bond villain's lair if he were a bit strapped for cash and had to live in a Sydney apartment building. He's also a big racist (the word "yellow" gets bandied about, which is weird for a guy so into Chinese culture) and he likes to show off at parties by playing William Tell with hot women. He's a huge asshole, in other words.

Basically the rest film is just this crazy Chinese dude tearing ass through Australia and beating up everyone who gets in his way. There's a pretty impressive fight scene that starts in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant and gradually works it's way into the main restaurant, leaving no piece of crockery, furniture or pane of glass intact. Later on he crashes Lazenby's party, fights all his henchmen and kicks over the buffet table. So he leaves a pretty hefty trail of destruction and hungry people in his wake.

One of the best fight scenes is where he climbs up the side of a building and breaks into Wilton's martial arts studio. There he fights an entire class of students with spears, swords etc, although what they were doing there in the middle of the night isn't exactly clear. Afterward he is picked up by a hot girl and nursed back to health. This is where he sleeps with his second white girl of the picture (must be a Tuesday or a Thursday). He even has a musical love montage, and sure, she makes a slanty-eye joke during their romantic picnic lunch, but nobody's perfect. So when the bad guys show up and run them off the road, killing her, you know they've opened up an extra-large can of Whoopass, Hong Kong style. This leads to a superb car chase which cuts a path of destruction right through a house. After running him off the road, Fang rams the bad guy's car until it breaks in half and when the driver catches on fire he just stands there and watches him burn. That's cold!

After hang-gliding onto his apartment building, Fang has his final showdown with Lazenby. During the fight he kicks Lazenby into a convenient open-air fireplace in the middle of his swinging apartment. The sound designers got a little overzealous here, it sounds like he fell into a deep fryer, but it's an impressive stunt that injured Lazenby. If you believe the rumours, he punched Trenchard-Smith afterwards. In the end Fang forces an illegal confession from him by shoving a live grenade in his mouth. Nobody seems to mind Fang's questionable methods though, so when he blows the shit out of the apartment with Lazenby and nearly all the evidence still in it, everybody has a good laugh. Ha-ha-ha, that man from Hong Kong, always murdering suspects and circumventing due process. What a joker!

They were obviously having a bit of fun with whole cop-on-a-rampage genre, so a lot of the dialog is pretty terrible, intentionally so. Could have done without the racist jokes, but it was made in Australia in1975 so to be honest I'm surprised there weren't a lot more. To be fair, Wang Yu's character is far more capable than any of the whiteys in the film, plus he's not afraid to mouth off to any assholes when necessary ("Hey, don't give me any SHIT!"). It was all dubbed in post-production (like an onion on your belt, it was the style at the time) with Jimmy Wang Yu given a pretty deep Western voice.

Cheesy dubbed dialog aside, this is a Brian Trenchard-Smith film, so you know it's going to deliver some kick-ass stunts, and it doesn't disappoint. Jimmy Wang Yu climbs up the side of a building, kicks a guy off a motorcyle etc. As far as I could tell, he also did a lot of his own stunt-driving too, including a great one where he screeches to a halt on the edge of a cliff, stopping right in front of Ros Spiers. There's some nice explosions, especially when the car explodes in the opening action scene. A car door whips right towards the camera making for an incredible shot, but it's clearly accidental and scared the shit out of the camera crew (on the commentary track Trenchard-Smith says they learned to chain the doors to the car after that). There's also a lot of hang-gliding, for some reason.

Enter the Dragon had been released a couple of years earlier, and this film was Australia's attempt at bridging Eastern and Western action styles. It's certainly not as polished as Enter the Dragon and the fight scenes definitely don't compare, but it's got some fantastic stunts that still hold up today. Definitely worth seeing for fans of Australian cinema, incredible stuntwork or garish 70s fashion.

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