MERCENARIES FROM HONG KONG (1983) review

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Wong Jing’s third film as a director, even before he became a film producer, Mercenaries from Hong Kong was the Shaw Brothers’ answer to Andrew V. McLaglen’s The Wild Geese (1978), which itself foreshadowed Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise by throwing a starry team of aging mercenaries in a suicide mission. And so here we have the ever-charismatic Ti Lung as a war veteran/medicine smuggler who is hired for a hefty sum by a powerful, seductive businesswoman (Candice Yu) to kill the man who murdered her father (Philip Ko) who’s hiding in Cambodia with a small guerrilla army. Ti Lung assembles a team comprised of his old friends Michael Chan Wai Man (deadly with knives), Lo Lieh (a peerless marksman), Johnny Wang Lung Wei (a fearful brawler), Wong Yu (a master at picking locks) and, last and least, Nat Chan (a womanizer, admittedly not the most useful skill in the team). But as they prepare for their mission, they must contend with the vengeful brother (Yuen Wah) that Ti Lung gunned down earlier, as well as a mysterious antagonist (a particularly intimidating Lee Hoi San).

As an all-star men-on-a-mission action film, Mercenaries from Hong Kong delivers in near-flawless fashion, thanks to a charismatic central team, a rollicking pace, a dash of sultry seduction from Candice Yu, a few plot surprises, and an abundance of furiously enjoyable action scenes handled by Tang Chia, Wong Pau Gei and Yuen Bun. Sure it’s quite derivative, borrowing entire plot points from not only The Wild Geese but also, expectedly, The Dirty Dozen, but it’s executed with enough gusto and has enough star power by itself that it doesn’t really matter. Plus it sets itself apart in a few very Hong Kong ways. Lest we forget this is an early Wong Jing film, but it’s a Wong Jing film nevertheless. That means gratuitous nudity and a few sex jokes, of course, but also a delightful sense of cheesiness. For instance, the assembled team of mercenaries wears no less than four different matching outfits throughout the film. And we’re not talking just assorted camouflage outfits (which are logical) : there’s a hilarious pink-ish motorbike suit (with matching pink-ish motorbikes, of course), a casual light blue tracksuit, a dark blue (with single red stripe) pajama, and so on. The mercenaries from Hong Kong may be tough killing machines, but they sure are cute. There’s also outrageous accessories like the darts that Wong Yu can fire from his sleeves and from his back, a weapon more at home in a Yuen Chor Wu Xia Pan. But while much cheesier than any of its Hollywood models, Mercenaries from Hong Kong actually manages to be even more brutal and unforgiving. Sympathetic characters are offed scene after scene and children are not spared ; betrayal undermines the team and designated bad guys may not be that bad after all. This juxtaposition of explosive action, unabashed cheesiness and outright tragedy makes this film a heady Hong Kong brew, and one of the best modern-day set Shaw Brothers films.

Long Story Short : Despite its derivative concept and plot, Mercenaries from Hong Kong entertains immensely thanks to a charismatic ensemble and great action, while its heightened sense of cheesiness juxtaposed with unforgiving brutality set it apart from its models. ***1/2

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