Anyone with any experience at all with Hong Kong cinema knows Michelle Yeoh. Although she is relatively new to the viewers of the US, making her big Stateside break in the best of the awful Pierce Brosnan Bond Films, “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997), Yeoh faded pretty quickly from the public consciousness. It was not until her role as Yu Shu Lien in the surprise Kung Fu hit “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” (2000) did she become somewhat of a household name. Consider this, Tomorrow Never Dies was Yeoh’s 19th feature film role.
Hong Kong action stars don’t fare well in the US market for some reason. For every Jackie Chan (of which there is exactly one) there are tens of Chow Yun Fat’s who go completely unappreciated in the US market.
Fortune Star DVD, one of several zillion companies releasing Hong Kong action movies in the US, brings Yeoh’s fifth film, Magnificent Warriors, to the US market. Magnificent Warriors is a fun little film that takes the best of the (then) emerging Hong Kong new wave and mixes it with a traditional chop-socky plot and a nifty historical time period. Magnificent Warriors takes place in 1938 as the Japanese are just about to storm out of Manchukko (Occupied Korea) in the Chinese mainland. Yeoh is Fok Ming-Ming, mercenary pilot of a small biplane who runs black market weapons to Chinese rebels just over the Manchukko border.
In the small village of Kaal a Japanese Army garrison wants to build and staff a plant to manufacture poison gas for use against the Japanese. Unknown to the Japanese General, the Lord of the Kaal, Lord Yauda, has cut a deal with the Chinese nationals over the border, and if they help him escape the city he will tell them about the poison gas plans.
It’s up to Fok Ming-Ming to fly in, rendezvous with Chinese spy 001, and rescue Yauda. Well, things don’t go as planned and Fok Ming-Ming finds herself fighting to free the city from Japanese occupation.
What makes this film so much fun are the numerous kinetic fight scenes. Yeoh is a masterful martial artist and paired with the right director, like David Chung, shows off a skill to rival Jackie Chan. Tung Wai’s fight and stunt choreography is better than average and really lets the audience see how well Yeoh knows her stuff. When she kicks a guy across the room you can’t help but wince for the poor bastard.
Magnificent Warriors isn’t a straight fu-drama either and offers lots of comedy relief, almost all of it supplied by Richard Ng as a drifter, cheat, and liar who is more than happy to help Fok Ming-Ming free the city. Ng’s humor is very classic slapstick and it works well within the confines of this film.
Although it looks to have been shot in exactly one location (with various camera angles) Magnificent Warriors never feels claustrophobic.
Magnificent Warriors really borrows from some other notable films (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Project A, and The Seven Samurai), but does so with such appreciation for the subject matter that it’s nearly impossible to complain. The climax, for example, is all of The Seven Sakurai compressed to about 15 minutes, and for all intents and purposes, comes right out of left field but still feels perfectly suited to the plot.
I don’t know, call me a sucker but I get all warm and fuzzy when the downtrodden rise up and expel their overlords.
Even if the plot is somewhat wish-fulfillment for the original Chinese audience, i.e. being able to actually fight off a Japanese garrison with swords and arrows and in doing so lessens the lingering scars of the Sino-Japanese war, the ending avoids being disingenuous. Sometimes the only way to win is to wreck the place.
Now, I tend to be history fixated and thus did find a few laughably inaccurate bits in the film:
Fok Ming-Ming’s biplane is obviously modern (when it’s used)
The Japanese “zero” she squares off against isn’t even a good replica of a zero (when it’s used)
When Fok Ming-Ming and the Japanese pilot face off in the air it’s radio controlled plane theater as two obvious models swoop over the landscape.
The Japanese show up at the end in modern (and I mean 1987 modern) tanks and jeeps
Still, if I wanted a historical epic I’d watch Men Behind the Sun or The Last Emperor again, besides, Magnificent Warriors isn’t meant to be anything but an exciting adventure and provides a welcome lighthearted addition to any worthwhile chop-socky collection.
The only other gripe I have is with the score. It’s only 20 seconds long. It loops. It’s used over and over and over and over again. After the first hour I scoured the disk in case turning off the 20 second score was an option. It wasn’t, and as expected with all pieces of really repetitive music, it stuck in my head for days.
The DVD released by 20th Century Fox and Fortune Star contains several cool extras. Some fun but otherwise uninformative interviews with cast and crew, a Michelle Yeoh bio and photo gallery, both a new and an original trailer, chapter stops, Dolby 5.1 in both English and Cantonese (with English subs).t my 'Five Animals' style on the disc.