Mercenaries from Hong Kong was the Shaw Brothers’ take on films such as The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Geese, preceding Golden Harvest and Sammo Hung’s better-known Eastern Condors by five years. And to mark its 40th Anniversary, Arrow Films has made a new 2K restoration from the original 35mm negative and brought it to Fantasia.
The film opens with Luo Li (Ti Lung, Avenging Dragon, Black Magic 2) a Vietnam vet and occasional smuggler and assassin taking a workout with weights before going off to kill two guys who are in the process of drugging and raping a woman. But it’s not out of a sense of decency, he doesn’t even try to rescue her. It’s purely revenge, the two had done the same to his fifteen-year-old niece.
One of the pair happens to be related to Hong Kong’s biggest crime boss which means he has to make an escape that includes leaping out of windows and pulling outrageous stunts on a motorcycle.
That still leaves him needing to leave Hong Kong before he’s caught. But help appears in the form of He Ying (Yu On-On, Legend of the Bat, Swordsman II) one of the richest women in Hong Kong. She can intercede on his behalf as well as make him rich. All he has to do is put together a team of mercenaries and retrieve Naiwen, (Phillip Ko, Ninja Terminator, Angel on Fire), the man who killed her father from his hiding place in Cambodia.
Mercenaries from Hong Kong was the third of a hundred and twenty films directed by Jing Wong (City Hunter, God of Gamblers 2). And if you think that’s impressive he’s written two hundred and seventeen of them including this one. And even here the mix of frantic action, frequently tasteless humour, and a bit of skin that would become his trademark was already in place.
We get to see plenty of this as Li puts his team together, saving Blanche (Pak-Cheung Chan, 12 Hours of Terror, Royal Tramp) from castration by a jealous husband wielding garden shears in the process. There are several other action scenes during this part of the film, including a massive brawl in a parking garage, but none where there’s quite that much at risk.
Eventually, he assembles a crew that also includes his best friend Ruan, a deadly knife fighter (Michael Chan Wai Man, Iron Protector, Lost in Time), the team’s marksman Lei (Lo Lieh, Return of Bastard Swordsman, The Vampire Combat), as well as a hand to hand combat expert (Wang Lung Wei, Twin Dragons, Project A 2) and an expert lock picker and safecracker (Wong Yu, The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, Dirty Ho).
Despite the constant violence and sometimes grim plot elements, much of Mercenaries from Hong Kong feels almost light-hearted. Our heroes never really seem to be in much danger and make quick work of their enemies without getting their matching tracksuits dirty. This is even true during the mission itself which takes up surprisingly little of the film’s running time.
However as it gets into its final act, Mercenaries from Hong Kong does an incredible one hundred and eighty degree turn and becomes progressively darker as hidden agendas and double-crosses abound. The bodies start to drop at an amazing pace before it all ends on a note that surprised and actually shocked me.
Fans of Asian action films will love Mercenaries from Hong Kong. It has all of the elements that made the films that Hong Kong made in the 80s so much fun, the action is constant and inventive with everything from baseball bats to a bazooka being put to use. The storyline never lets logic, or good taste, get in the way of the mayhem.
It also should be of interest to those interested in the history of Hong Kong cinema due to its status as one of Jing Wong’s early works. His huge output and frequent work with the region’s major talents helped shape the industry. Amazingly he’s also still active, directing two features, New Kung Fu Cult Master and its sequel this year.
Since it was Arrow Films that restored Mercenaries from Hong Kong it’s only a matter of time before it’s released on Blu-ray and/or their streaming service. If these films are your thing, you’ll want to see this one.