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Magnificent Warriors

Fox // Unrated // July 22, 2003
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted July 18, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Touch, Supercop) plays an adventurer, who at the open of the film delivers a gun dealer to some villagers and must escape after the deal goes bad. Thankfully she's handy with a whip (gee, I wonder where the inspiration for that came from?) and has a machine gun hidden on the back of her simple horse cart. As long as she gets her money, she doesn't mind a little tussle. And , it is a tussle she is in for when she is drafted to go pick up a revolutionary in Mongolia who holds information about the Japanese occupying forces.

After a mix-up involving a watch and a carrier pigeon, she mistakenly thinks that a tramp gambler (HK Comedy mainstay Richard Ng, Pom Pom, Winners and Sinners, Millionaires Express) is her contact. After straightening out the confusion and Michelle rescuing both the tramp and her contact(Derek Yee, Buddha's Palm, Death Duel) from attackers, the trio aide a minor lord of a small providence that is being taken over by the Japanese, who intend to build a chemical weapons plant in the town. Despite being outgunned by the vicious Japanese, they and the townsfolk fight back with bows vs. guns, homemade bombs vs. mortars, fists, feet, and pride.

Magnificent Warriors (1987) was the last film Michelle Yeoh made before her aborted retirement from film acting. After she was discovered in a commercial that featured Jackie Chan, she took the leap to top billed star very quickly with Yes Madam, Royal Warriors, and Magnificent Warriors. Then she married D&B tycoon Dickson Poon and abandoned her film career for marriage. It was only once that marriage dissolved that she returned to making films. And, for someone who entered and left a high profile career so lightly, it doesn't show onscreen. She has admitted that Magnificent Warriors was an arduous film to make, but you'd never know from watching the film. There is even acting in her fight scenes, the first fairly carefree despite being dire, then in the later ones tougher and meaner since the stakes have been raised. It is a little touch, but one many HK action stars would lack.

I was a little lukewarm on Magnificent Warriors when I first saw it. I watched it after I'd seen Royal Warriors, Yes Madam, Supercop, Butterfly and Sword, Heroic Trio and Wing Chun so it came late in my Michelle Yeoh cycle. I actually enjoyed it a lot more this time and it is a welcome example of the good old days of Hong Kong film making, the days when HK films were made for HK tastes without pandering to Western ideals. It is fair to say that HK audiences in the mid 80's weren't too sophisticated. A deep plot was second or third to the onscreen action and the stars/characters. There was a wildness in the film-making that became infectious if you are an action/b-movie fan. When you see a stuntman propelled through the air an explosion behind him, you know there is a good chance he isn't well padded and may be doing this for the first time. But HK film makers, like the audience, were game for anything as long as it had energy. The reckless abandon when filming also wasn't so much as callousness as a need to please an audience and lacking the budget and time to be safe about it.

The director of the film is David Chung, who also directed Michelle in Royal Warriors, and the action choreography came courtesy of a team that included Stephen Tung Wai (The Blade, As Tears go By, Days of Being Wild) and Stanley Tong (Supercop, Rumble in the Bronx, First Strike). And the action is all solid and frequent. Michelle is quite impressive using weapons like the whip and rope. Soft weapons are much more difficult to use, not only is it harder to be accurate but there is a greater risk of hurting yourself. A dogfight between Michelle's biplane and a Japanese zero shows the crudeness of HK film at the time, but when it comes to hand-to-hand combat the film never fails. And, action aside, the anti-Japanese plot is a good familiar one in HK film. The Japanese occupation has always been a sore spot and movies like this and Chinese Connection seem to want to make up for some residual guilt over maybe not fighting back. So, here we get a band of simple folk risking their menial lives rather than be overrun by the superior soldiers.

The DVD: Fox. Well, this is light years away from the HK DVD, and I now realize part of my original lack of enthusiasm for the film probably had to do with the terrible quality of that disc. Thankfully this is a far better presentation.

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. It should be noted that the aspect ratio may be a bit cropped; however it isnt to a degree that the main frame image is hurt or the action is hindered... While the film still looks low budget and the cinematography doesn't help the overcast skies they had on location, it is still a much sharper and far more detailed transfer than the terrible HK DVD which was mired with poor print quality, terrible ghosting, and pixellation. This transfer is free of any of those defects and is nearly spotless print. The contrast is greatly improved as well, and you can actually see what is going on the night scenes, something that you couldn't do with the old HK DVD. This is definitely the edition to buy and shows that Hk film, depite its reputation, can be cleaned up and considerably improved over most of the lackluster imports that became so commonplace.

Sound: English or Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround with optional English or Chinese subtitles. Well, the original Cantonese track still suffers from poor HK audio quality, like a reverby canned sound to the sound fx and some muffle on the dialogue, but one imagines there just isn't much room for improvement. On the new English dub track the music is a bit too low in the mix. Every now and then an explosion will really kick in and fill out the speakers with some punch, but overall it is pretty thin. Again, I liken these remixes of a low budget mono mix very much like the "mega bass" button on 80's boom boxes- sure they might deepen the range and change the sound a little but not necessarily to a vast degree of improvement. The dialogue goes by fairly fast in some parts, so being a quick reader will help.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers, two for the film (original and new), plus trailers for Magnificent Butcher, Hong Kong 1941, Kiss of the Dragon, Naked Killer, City Hunter, Heart of Dragon, and The Transporter.--- Photo/still Gallery---Original Promo Materials Gallery.--- Michelle Yeoh bio and photo gallery--- Interviews: Michelle Yeoh (6:57) and action co-director Tung Wai (12:51). Michelle talks about how the film was difficult (3 weeks of action shooting turned into 3 months) and the differences between modern film-making and the old days. Tung Wai also talks about the film, working with other HK stars, and the changes in the HK stunt system.

Conclusion: A very entertaining film from "the good old days" of HK action fun and flying fists. It is pretty solid wall-to-wall entertainment. The comedic and dramatic elements never get too ham-handed or drag the film down and the characters are applaudable. The DVD presents a very fine transfer with fair extras at a decent price. If you are an HK fan, it is a very good buy and worth adding to your collection.

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