The latest release from Dragon Dynasty features a pivotal film in the impressive career of martial arts superstar Jet Li. Already a huge star in Asia when The Enforcer was originally released in 1995 as My Father the Hero, Li was best known for his period films like the classic Once Upon a Time in China and Fong Sai-Yuk series. His first contemporary action film was 1994's popular The Bodyguard from Beijing, which established Li as a versatile star who could carry himself in both historical kung fu epics, as well as modern-day action thrillers. Following the success of The Bodyguard from Beijing, Jet Li reteamed with director Corey Yuen for The Enforcer, resulting in an incredible showcase of martial arts action.
Li stars as Wei Kung, an undercover cop in Beijing sent by his bosses to infiltrate a Hong Kong crime syndicate. Kung is reluctant to take the assignment, as his wife is seriously ill, and he doesn't want to be away from his son, Johnny (Tse Miu). But duty calls, and Kung is soon in the good graces of gangland thug (Sau Leung "Blacky" Ko), who works for the nefarious Kwong Po (Rogghuang Yu of Iron Monkey fame). As with most Hong Kong crime lords, Po is a sadistic, maniacal freak with a sinister plot that involves getting rich by taking many lives. When police inspector Fong (Anita Mui) begins to suspect that Kung is part of the gang, she begins to investigate his family, only to be drawn in by the dying wife and the too-cute son. It also helps that Fong suspects that there is more to Kung than meets the eye. It should come as no surprise that Kung's cover is blown, and Johnny is taken captive by Po, leaving father and son no choice but to fight side by side as they whoop ass on the bad guys.
There are more than a few similarities between The Enforcer and Jackie Chan's Supercop (a.k.a. Police Story 3). Both are films about undercover cops who must infiltrate a sinister gang, gaining the trust of the gang by helping with a prison break-out. Both films also feature strong female co-stars as tough cops, and both heroes find their loved ones in jeopardy when their cover is blown. But while Supercop has all of the light comedic touches that define Jackie Chan's best work, The Enforcer has a tone that is decidedly darker, even by the standards of other Jet Li films.
Jet Li's best work has always been his period pieces, which stand out above his more contemporary action films. But among his modern-day movies, The Enforcer ranks among the best. The film does drag at times, but that is more than made up for by the action sequences that are truly incredible. The climatic showdown pitting Li and Miu against Yu and his thugs is nothing short of spectacular. At one point, Kung ties a rope around his son's waist, and uses the boy like a weapon. Make no mistakes, this is Li at his best, with moves so lightening quick it seems like they must be playing at a faster speed.
In addition to the action, The Enforcer features a solid performance by Li, who was really beginning to come into his own as an actor. Li has great chemistry with Miu, who played his son earlier in The New Legend of Shaolin. Miu's performance this time around is stronger, and he and Li work better as a team. The late Anita Mui also brings something special to the film as Inspector Fong in a role that could easily have been a throwaway part. Her moments with Johnny and his dying mother, while bordering on melodramatic, give the film an added touch of humanity that is often missing from Hong Kong action films of this nature.
The Enforcer has some flaws here and there, including a pace that slows down at times and a ridiculously over-the-top performance by Yu, but by and large it is a very solid film. It more than delivers when it comes to action, both of the shoot 'em up and the foot to ass variety. Fans of both Jet Li and quality Hong Kong action flicks should be more than thoroughly entertained.
The Enforcer is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. At this point I have yet to see a Dragon Dynasty release that was anything less than very good when it comes to picture quality, and this is no different. I never saw the Buena Vista/Disney DVD release from 2000, but I'd be willing to bet this is essentially the same product, only with some added bonus material. Still, the picture quality is impressive, with a clean transfer and no visible flaws or defects.
The Enforcer is presented in 5.1 Dolby, dubbed in English, with optional subtitles in English and Spanish. This is the only real drawback, in that there is no Chinese language dialog track, and up to now, Dragon Dynasty has been good about offering releases with the choice of dubbed or subtitled. According to a statement issued by Genius Products, which is the distributor for Dragon Dynasty, there was no useable Cantonese-language track available for The Enforcer. This may bother some purists--but being a purist myself, I didn't really mind. Sure, the dubbing isn't the best, but is by the standards of most Hong Kong films that have been dubbed, it really is pretty good. The audio mix is good, and the levels are all consistent.
From the very beginning, Dragon Dynasty collection has distinguished itself with its audio commentaries and bonus featurettes that deliver more than most fans of Hong Kong cinema could ever ask for. While most fans of Asian action films would be satisfied with releases that don't look like crap and subtitles that can be easily read, Dragon Dynasty has gone the extra mile to deliver quality bonus material. Hong Kong film expert Bey Logan delivers another one of his exhaustively authoritative audio commentaries. Logan's commentaries have become a staple of the Dragon Dynasty series, and so far he has yet to disappoint. Also included on the disc are three featuettes: "Crowd Pleaser: An Exclusive Interview with Legendary Producer Wong Jing" (17 min.), "Like Father, Like Son: An Exclusive Interview with Star & Former Child Prodigy Tse Miu" (16 min), and "Born To Be Bad: An Exclusive Interview with Super-Kicking Nemesis Ken Lo" (20 min.).
If you are a fan of Jet Li, martial arts movies, or Hong Kong crime thrillers in general, and you haven't yet seen The Enforcer, then now is the time to check it out. If you already own the previous DVD release, then you'll have to decide if the bonus material is worth the upgrade.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]