Movies Till Dawn: New and Vintage Action from Asia

Millionaire’s Express” (1986, Arrow Video) Sammo Hung, a small-time criminal with oversized ambitions, hatches a scheme to revive his small town by derailing the titular train and forcing its wealthy passengers to spend money at his new hotel/brothel. This admittedly ridiculous plan is further complicated by do-gooder fireman turned police chief Yuen Biao and rogue cop Eric Tsang, who plans to rob the train, as does a multinational gang of bandits with designs on a map carried by three samurai (including legendary kicker Hwang Jang-lee and the impressive Yukari Oshima). Based on that plot breakdown, writer/director Hung’s epic-scaled Western tribute/comedy might seem overstuffed with side plots, but Hung keeps all the threads no only coherent but also entertaining; it helps that the fight choreography is absolutely stunning (with Biao landing on his feet after a two-story leap among the highlights) and the comedy bits very funny, as does his massive cast of Hong Kong superstars, including pop singer Kenny Bee, Australian Richard Norton and American Cynthia Rothrock, veteran bad guy Dick Wei, and even the venerable Jimmy Wang Yu. A prime example of Hong Kong martial arts cinema at its most vibrant period in the 1980s; Arrow’s two-disc Blu-ray bundles four different versions of the film, including the Hong Kong theatrical versions, two different international edits, and a “hybrid” cut which integrates footage from the three other versions (and yes, all four are different and worth watching). Multiple commentaries by, among others, Rothrock and various experts, are also included, as are interviews with Hung, Biao, and Oshina, and alternate English credits.

Dragons Forever” (1988, 88 Films) Final screen teamup of the Three Dragons: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao, who as children underwent grueling training in Chinese opera that installed the exceptional physical skills they used to become movie stars in Hong Kong. Those superhuman abilities fuel this uneven but frequently exhilerating action/comedy/romance/thriller, which positions Chan as an oily lawyer and ladies’ man whose affection for environmental scientist Pauline Yip causes him to rebel against his nature-bespoiling client, factory owner Yuen Wah. Chan recruits his pals Hung and Biao to aid in the fight, but Wah – whose portrait of corporate evil approaches silent film villain-level dastardliness – has an army of goons (including Billy Chow and the amazing Benny “The Jet” Urquidez) on his side. Hung also directs “Dragons” with fellow former student Corey Yuen (who oversaw action sequences in “Lethal Weapon 4,” “The Expendables,” and more), and their work on the martial arts scenes bristles with kinetic energy and extraordinary choreography – Biao appears to defy gravity in a fight in the factory – which puts the cast and stunt team through the astonishing physical abuse that helped mythologize Chan in the 1980s and ’90s. The story itself is secondary and the leads are saddled with cardboard (and in Chan’s case, unpleasant) characters, but the film’s raison d’etre is its array of fights, and in that regard, it’s solid and hard-charging entertainment. 88 Films’ Limited Edition Blu-ray release is a stellar showcase for “Dragons Forever,” presenting three different versions of the film – the original Hong Kong theatrical cut, a Japanese edit with extra scenes and te outtakes that capped many of Chan’s ’80s efforts, and an international cut with English dubbing – in both Blu-ray and 4K editions on two discs. Each version is loaded with new and vintage extras, including two commentary tracks by martial arts movie experts Mike Leeder, Arne Venema, and Frank Djeng, as well as interviews with members of the cast, stunt team, and Hong Kong film historians. A sizable booklet with essays and numerous production photos, as well as international trailers, music videos, and repros of the original Hong Kong one-sheet and lobby cards round out this exceptional set.

The Roundup” (2022, Capelight Pictures/MPI Home Video) Burly South Korean cop Don Lee (Ma Dong-seok, also a co-scripter) puts to the test his favorite method of solving crimes – with his ham-sized fists – in a case involving a psychotic criminal (Son Suk-ku) kidnapping and murdering other South Koreans in Vietnam. Sequel to the 2017 feature “The Outlaws” features more of that film’s crowd-pleasing blend of room-wrecking fight choreography and character-driven comedy within a ’80s cop/crime movie context that balances mayhem, humor, and a compelling story; Lee/Ma – a charismatic presence in “Train to Busan” and “The Eternals” – continues to craft his offbeat approach to leading man status as a one-man wrecking ball with expert comic timing and a surprising lack of self-aggrandizement. Capelight Pictures’ Blu-ray features the original Korean-language audio track (with) subs as well as an English-dub and German-language option.

Big Time Gambling Boss” (1968, Radiance Films) Tradition and loyalty prevent yakuza soldier Koji Tsuruta from accepting the top position of his crime family in pre-World War II Tokyo, so the prize goes to the son-in-law (Hiroshi Nawa) of the current and ailing boss, who is a puppet/proxy for less scrupulous elements within the gang. The appointment does not sit well with Tomisaburo Wakayama (of the “Lone Wolf and Cub” films), the actual heir apparent who’s serving a jail sentence, and whose return to the gang threatens to upend their carefully constructed way of business, honor, and life. Those expecting a violent Japanese gangster thriller will find in “Big Time Gambling Boss” a more measured drama in which the violence occurs more through choices and emotion than sword or gun; the excellent cast and Kosaku Yamashita’s pensive direction give the shifting allegiances and disruption of the yakuza code emotional weight and impact that places the film closer to American noir than the blood-soaked crime pics of Seijin Suzuki. The Limited Edition Blu-ray, by new UK boutique label Radiance Films, offers a restored image and two excellent featurettes by historians Chris D and Mark Schilling, who offer a wealth of information on the history and rules of yakuza films, as well as info on “Gambling Boss” itself, which is part of a lengthy series by Toei. Short essays by Stuart Galbraith IV and Hayley Scanlon are also featured in the liner notes.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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