The most unlikely of kung-fu action superstars, Sammo Hung has all the moves of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, contained in a… well… downright fat body. To say that is not an insult; his weight is Sammo's trademark and the key to his long and illustrious career. In movies such as Enter the Fat Dragon, Sammo developed an entertaining schtick as the dumb fat guy with incredible kung-fu moves. Seeing his portly frame move with such inconceivable agility and grace causes an amazing disconnect. It just doesn't seem possible that a guy like that could perform those fights and beat the crap out of everyone he encounters. Nonetheless, when you see him in action, Sammo rules the screen. Combined with his extremely likeable onscreen personality and his talents as an ace action choreographer and film director, Sammo Hung's success was assured. To celebrate this prolific director and star of over 100 films, Fortune Star has put together the Sammo Hung Action Collection with three of his most-loved classics.
The 1980 Spooky Encounters (aka Encounters of the Spooky Kind) is a hybrid of the action, comedy, and horror genres blended together in a fantastically entertaining mix. Sammo stars as Bold Cheung, a likeable dope self-proclaimed as the most fearless man in the land. When his friends try to con him into staying in a supposedly haunted temple, Cheung sees through their deception and braves their fake scares, until the real ghosts come out to play of course. Later, his cheating wife and her rich boyfriend buy the services of a corrupt monk to raise the dead, attacking Cheung with an indestructible kung-fu zombie. His unforeseen resilience frustrates them to no end, causing an escalation in the extremes they'll go to in the attempt to knock him off.
The movie is a terrific mix of comedy, scares, and wild martial arts action that holds up much better than the later (also very popular) A Chinese Ghost Story Trilogy. The cheeseball makeup and special effects are a lot of fun despite how dated they are, and the movie even features Sammo naked. Highlights include Sammo's battle with his own possessed arm (a gimmick that would be reused in countless movies including The Evil Dead) and a completely out of nowhere zinger finale that must rank as the greatest ending to any kung-fu movie ever.
Also in 1980, Sammo starred in The Magnificent Butcher, directed by Yuen Wo Ping. Here he plays another likeable dope, this one named Butcher Wing, student of the celebrated Wong Fei Hung (whose exploits would be depicted in the Once Upon a Time in China series). After inadvertently starting trouble with a rival school, Wing brings the fight back to the temple of his disproving master, who humiliates the opponents in a hilariously complicated battle involving kung-fu and calligraphy. Vowing revenge, the head of the other school sends in his most talented thugs to take out Wing.
That's really all the plot there is to The Magnificent Butcher, which is essentially an all-fight movie. Fortunately, the fights are so awesomely choreographed that you can watch the movie dozens of times and still not catch all of the details. Yuen Biao stars as one of the primary baddies, but the best action scenes belong to an old fat drunk who can teach Sammo a thing or two about ass-kicking and a character named Wild Cat, master of the deadly cat-scratch technique. The story takes an unexpectedly dark turn with the murder of an important character, which feels inappropriate to the tone the rest of the movie had been building, but by and large the movie is still great fun.
Backtracking a bit, Sammo directed and choreographed Knockabout in 1979 but only appears in a supporting role as Fat Beggar. The movie stars Yuen Biao and Leung Ka-Yan as a pair of con men who indenture themselves to a kung-fu master with plans to bilk him out of a little cash, but later learn that their new teacher has some dark secrets he's willing to protect at all costs. Sammo's part as the annoying beggar also leads to some surprises.
Knockabout is a very broad and goofy but highly entertaining action comedy with quite a lot of Three Stooges-level slapstick. The wiry and lithe Yuen Biao really should have become the next Bruce Lee. The stamina he demonstrates in his fight scenes is incredible, especially during the very funny kung-fu jump-rope training session that seems to go on forever (in a good way). Like Magnificent Butcher, this is basically an all-fight movie with little plot of importance, but the many 2-on-1 fight scenes are astounding in the complexity of their choreography, and the slapstick is well integrated and holds up better than many comparable Jackie Chan efforts.
Fortune Star's box set contains all three movies in their original Cantonese language. The discs are encoded in the NTSC video format without region coding and will function in any American DVD player.
All three movies are presented in their 2.35:1 aspect ratios with anamorphic enhancement, and as the packaging proudly proclaims have been "Digitally Remastered". Fortune Star seems to be getting the hang of the remastering process the further they dig into their catalog. Naturally, picture quality will be highly variable depending on the age and condition of the film elements, but unlike some previous efforts (especially the A Better Tomorrow Trilogy) all of the movies here are fairly clean and consistent.
Black level is a little light, but the image of all three films is reasonably sharp with little edge enhancement, and has good colors. Magnificent Butcher has some digital compression problems not evident in the other two titles, and a very small amount of print damage, but on the whole the movies look as good as you could hope.
As with many of their catalog title remasters, Fortune Star has remixed the Cantonese soundtracks into new Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio options. The original Cantonese monaural mixes are also available in Dolby 2.0 mono, and each movie contains an alternate Mandarin dub track in Dolby 5.1. No English dubs were provided for the culturally illiterate.
Spooky Encounters has been given a very fun 5.1 remix with aggressive usage of the surround channels. Some of the original sound effects have been replaced with newly recorded audio, usually for the better. The dialogue channel is a little muddy, but unlike many of the studio's other 5.1 remixes the lip sync is fairly close to accurate.
Magnificent Butcher has had less tweaking done. The track is mostly mono with little stereo or surround presence, and it sounds like all of the original canned sound effects have been retained. Dialogue on this title is especially muddy, but again reasonably in sync. Knockabout's 5.1 remix is more gimmicky than the other two, with a lot of awkward and unnatural surround effects.
Fidelity on all three movies is about on par with other Fortune Star catalog remasters, not great but about as much as you can expect considering the way the soundtracks were originally recorded. The DTS tracks fare best, with the mono mixes sounding particularly thin and weak.
English subtitles are available, as well as both Traditional and Simplified Chinese. Fortune Star's subtitle translations have often been erratic in coherency, but all three movies here feature good translations, though they seem laced with a little too much modern profanity.
Every disc offers your choice of English or Chinese menus. Each movie includes the original as well as really bad newly edited trailers. Also available on every disc are photo galleries that can be viewed either as still images or part of an automated slide show.
The Spooky Encounters disc includes a 13-minute Interview with Sammo Hung, in which the star discusses his education at the Peking Opera School and his film career. The talk is not movie-specific. The interview was conducted in English, but Sammo's accent is quite thick, so the optional English subtitles come in handy (though the transcription is really poor).
Magnificent Butcher contains an older 7-minute Interview with Sammo, this one conducted in Cantonese and offered again with optional English subs. The focus of this discussion is the difference between the Hong Kong and Hollywood film industries. A 3-minute Sammo Hung Music Video montage of his greatest stunts is also available on this disc.
Finally, the Knockabout disc includes a 7-minute Interview with Leung Ka-Yan in Cantonese with English subtitles. The actor talks about his difficulty learning the complex action choreography, which was especially hard considering that he was the only actor on set not actually trained in kung-fu.
No ROM supplements have been included.
Fortune Star does it again. I've been very much enjoying their continued effort to dig out and spruce up classic Hong Kong movies, and this Sammo Hung Action Collection is one of their most entertaining box sets yet. Picture, sound, and supplements are on par with the studio's other releases, but the movies are so much fun this set comes highly recommended.
Armour of God Series
A Better Tomorrow Trilogy
A Chinese Ghost Story Trilogy
Infernal Affairs Trilogy
John Woo Collection
Once a Thief
Once Upon a Time in China I, II, III
Police Story Trilogy
Project A Series