Before he reached a modest amount of stateside success with the television series "Martial Law," Sammo Hung was something of a legend in China and Hong Kong. Hung was a member of the Seven Little Fortunes, a Peking opera troupe, whose former members also include Yuen Biao, Corey Yuen and Jackie Chan, among others. Hung was also among the group of filmmakers that spearheaded the Hong Kong New Wave during much of the 80's and early 90's.
One of the films that further solidified Hung's multi-hyphenated career (as a director, fight choreographer and actor) was the western, martial arts, comedy, adventure movie "Shanghai Express." While not easy to pigeonhole the film is full of some great comedy, wonderfully staged action sequences and the great over the top energy that made films from Hong Kong during this time so enjoyable.
The story centers around Chin Fong-tin (Hung), an oddball of an outlaw who hopes to bring some much needed wealth to his home town. Chin hopes to do so by blowing up a nearby railroad forcing the wealthy passengers off a train to hold up in the town and spend their money until the line can be repaired. However, a plan by a group of thieves who are bent on stealing from the passengers throws things off. Now, the whole town is in trouble and Chin must band together with some of his some of his cohorts and try preventing the worst from happening.
The film contains a few other plot threads that somehow manage to converge near the end of the film. While the transition between all of them may not be the smoothest, they do add some interesting elements to the film. Hung directs himself and a great cast of characters, many of them recognizable Hong Kong movie stars, in a fine foray of mayhem that could only come out of Hong Kong during the 80's.
Along with Hung, the film features performances from Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Richard Ng, Lam Ching-Ying, Eric Tsang, Rosamund Kwan and Cynthia Rothrock. There is even a nice little nod to legendary Hong Kong folk hero Wong Fei Hung in the film. The movie's schizophrenic nature allows it be more than just a run of the mill entry from Hong Kong. However, it's the action scenes that make it a little more memorable. Consider a stunt where Yuen Biao cart wheel/flips off of a three story building and then gets up and walks away, in one single take as if nothing happened. It's this level of insanity and bravado that makes most of the performers from the Seven Little Fortunes so impressive.
Still, the numerous plot threads can get to be a bit overwhelming and the Hong Kong humor may just be too big a pill for some to swallow. It keeps the film from really elevating itself to a place where it won't be forgotten. It's not a great film from the Hong Kong New Wave but a good one given the circumstances.
Dragon Dynasty has released yet another fine looking movie into their Asian film line. Given that films from the early part of the Hong Kong New Wave rarely received the best treatment as far as preservation goes, The Weinstein Company and genius products are doing a great job thus far on making some great looking transfers of some Hong Kong classics. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for "Shanghai Express" is solid. It does suffer from some faded color, grain and scratches but most of these are negligible during most of the films running time. Overall, even in its muted state, colors come through nicely, with good black levels complementing them throughout.
The DVD comes with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 Cantonese Chinese mix. It does a good job of filling out the original mono track that the film was presented in. The dialogue doesn't sound canned, music fills the surrounds at appropriate times and the sound effects come through as needed. To say the least, the DVD sounds pretty good even with the "up conversion" from mono to 5.1. The DVD also comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 English dub or the original mono mix in Dolby Digital 2.0. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Bey Logan provides yet another optional commentary here. Unlike his commentary on a few other Dragon Dynasty discs, here he seems best suited for the material as he lets his wealth of Hong Kong film knowledge bleed through on the commentary. Whenever he goes in to discussion of the industry, the history, the actors in this particular venue you can't help but walk away a little more informed.
Also included on the DVD are interviews with Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, and Cynthia Rothrock. Four deleted scenes showing the film in its original state reveal just how good the DVD transfer is. Two trailers for the film are also included on the disc.
Despite a number of plotting issues, "Shanghai Express" is a solid example of some of the fervor and tenacity present during the Hong Kong movie industry's heyday. It's filled with some great action scenes and some very funny comedic antics. Hung and Biao are in good form, as is the rest of the cast, making for a movie that is amusing and ultimately just plain entertaining.