Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Man from Hong Kong

(1975) Written and directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith; Starring: Yu Wang, George Lazenby, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward and Rosalind Speirs; Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Rating: ***½

“It’s a convention for these kind of movies that five or six guys will attack the hero and he’ll just punch each of them in turn, then they’ll all get up again, and the trick is not to have people apparently waiting their turn too long.” – Brian Trenchard-Smith (from the DVD commentary)

Exploitation Month continues with a special category of film peculiar to the land down under, Ozploitation. If you want a quick and dirty primer on the weird and wild world of Australian exploitation, I heartily recommend the amazing documentary Not Quite Hollywood. One of the filmmakers featured in the documentary, Brian Trenchard-Smith,* helped define the new wave of Aussie exploitation cinema with his brand of explosive, take-no-prisoners filmmaking, starting with The Man from Hong Kong (aka: Dragon Flies). The Australian-Hong Kong (Golden Harvest) co-production, made on a budget of approximately $550,000 (Australian), manages to do a whole lot with very little. Of course, anyone familiar with the Golden Harvest martial arts films know they’re in for a golden harvest of whoop-ass, and boy does The Man from Hong Kong deliver.

* You owe it to yourself to seek out Trenchard-Smith’s fun and insightful trailer commentaries on Trailers from Hell. Each one is a mini-seminar in low budget filmmaking.

With Ayers Rock as a distinctive backdrop, two cops (played by Trenchard-Smith regular Roger Ward and Hugh Keays-Byrne)* track down and apprehend a drug runner (played by a 22-year-old Sammo Hung). In the space of a few minutes, we’re treated to an elaborate fight scene on top of the Australian landmark, and a fiery (literally) car chase sequence.** When the Aussie cops discover their suspect doesn’t speak English, they call in an overseas police inspector (Yu Wang) for help, thus providing our title.

* Fun fact: Ward and Keys-Byrne both appeared as opposite sides of the law in Mad Max (1979). Of course, the latter actor is probably best known for his role in the sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road, as Immortan Joe.

** Another Fun fact: In the ensuing explosion, a car door flies off toward the camera. In his DVD commentary, Trenchard-Smith noted that the door missed the crew by only a couple of feet.

The Man from Hong Kong unabashedly displays its influences, with a strong James Bond vibe running throughout. It’s a master stroke of casting that the villain is played by none other than one-time 007 George Lazenby. Lazenby seems to enjoy his role as the ruthless kingpin, Jack Wilton, who controls an extensive network of drug and prostitution rings. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, but not above stacking the deck in his favor.

As a protagonist, Fang Sing Leng (Yu Wang) is lacking, just slightly less amoral than Wilton. He’s equally misogynistic, and almost sociopathic in his thirst for vengeance (arguably the same deficits lobbed at the character’s famous British counterpart). One of his sexual conquests, Angelica (Rebecca Gilling), nurses him back to health, and enjoys a brief, torrid romance (told through an obligatory cheesy montage), only to be discarded when she’s no longer essential to the plot. Then again, it’s easy to argue Fang Sing Leng’s casual violence and sexism is a conscious effort to simultaneously spoof the modern action hero archetype and pay homage to the genre.

The Man from Hong Kong has enough over-the-top stunts and supercharged action scenes for ten other movies. Action’s the main attraction, with one spectacular sequence after another: the aforementioned opening scene, hang gliding over Hong Kong and Sydney, an octane-fueled car chase, and our hero taking on an entire karate dojo.* Fans of Aussie action flicks will likely recognize actor/stuntman Grant Page** as an assassin (he also appeared in Road Games, which was covered here a couple of months back). Page provided many of the stunts, doubling for Jimmy Wang Yu in a climbing scene (without a harness), and the film’s hang gliding sequences.

* Watch for the director in a cameo, appearing as the karate studio manager. He gets beaten up and thrown through a glass window by Yu Wang, and for good measure, is beaten up again on the roof of an elevator. Trenchard-Smith remarked that his star didn’t pull his punches in their scenes together, a likely byproduct of their often contentious working relationship.

** Page suffered a wardrobe malfunction in a restaurant fight scene, splitting his pants. It didn’t deter Grant or the crew from continuing to film the scene.

Not all of the movie’s elements have aged well, with some casual racism and xenophobic remarks. The dialogue hits a low point when one of the white policemen cracks a “yellow peril” joke. Nevertheless, you have to give the film credit where it’s due, with an attempt to tip the scales in the favor of the hero. Trenchard-Smith stated that he wanted to make a statement of sorts by staging love scenes between an Asian man and Caucasian woman, something that was against the grain for movies from this era.

As an action flick, The Man from Hong Kong is beyond reproach, boasting excellent fight scenes, fast-paced car chases and a stellar cast. It’s just a shame some of the previously noted trespasses bring it down a notch. With only a few reservations, however, this Bond-on-a-budget movie does a damn fine job of keeping us entertained.

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