Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Man from Hong Kong (1975)

The Man from Hong Kong is one of the more unusual ozploitation flicks of the 70s, being a kung fu movie set mostly in Australia.

It was actually an Australian-Hong Kong co-production, and although most of the action is supposed to take place in Australia many of the interior sequences were shot in the Hong Kong studios of Golden Harvest. It still manages to have a very Australian feel to it.

It opens with a drug deal gone wrong on the top of Ayers Rock, which as writer director Brian Trenchard-Smith explains on the commentary track was intended to set the tongue-in-cheek mood of the whole film, this being absolutely the silliest possible place in which to conduct a drug deal. Trenchard-Smith immediately pushes the movie in an even more tongue-in-cheek direction, with a Drug Squad detective chasing the drug courier up the rock where they engage in a spirited kung fu duel, while his partner speeds off in his car with a police helicopter in hot pursuit.

This is followed by the first of many hang-gliding sequences, with a glamorous female Australian reporter hang-gliding into the parade ground of the Royal Hong Kong Police, to land more or less at the feet of the movie’s hero, Inspector Fang Sing Leng (Jimmy Wang Yu). The inspector has been demonstrating his martial arts prowess, and after driving the reporter back to her hotel he proceeds to demonstrate his prowess in the bedroom. By this time Trenchard-Smith’s formula has become pretty clear - we’re going to have lots of action, interspersed with sex, romance and some fairly broad humour. And that’s what we get, done with considerable style and enormous energy.

Inspector Fang flies off to Sydney, to handle the extradition of the suspect captured at Ayers Rock. After interrogating the suspect in his inimitable style (a style that involves very large amounts of physical violence) Inspector Fang gets the name of the man behind the deal - the infamous Sydney gangster Jack Wilton (who also happens to be a formidable king fu master). After several more extended and very impressive fight scenes we finally get to meet Wilton. And it’s none other than George Lazenby, the former James Bond. And a very fine villain he makes too. Lazenby did his fight scenes himself, which wasn’t a problem for him since he’d studied martial arts under some chap by the name of Bruce Lee.

Much to the despair of the two Australian cops assigned to the case Inspector Fang proceeds to leave a trail of devastation in his wake as he pursues his criminal opponent with a zeal bordering on fanaticism. In between acting as a one-man weapon of mass destruction the Inspector also finds time to cut a swathe through the local female population. He is unstoppable on the streets, and irresistible between the sheets.

The mayhem accelerates with car chases, more kung fu and more spectacular stunts, all leading up to an explosive (literally) finale.

Having a former James Bond in the movie is rather appropriate since apart from spoofing kung fu movies The Man from Hong Kong also has a good deal of fun spoofing James Bond-style thrillers. It effectively combines Hong Kong-style action (lots of king fu) and Australian-style action (lots of violent mayhem with cars).

Jimmy Wang Yu and George Lazenby have a great deal of fun with their respective roles, while Hugh Keays-Byrne overacts outrageously as usual as an Australian Drug Squad sergeant. Frank Thring delivers a typically delightful and insanely overripe performance as Lazenby’s chief lieutenant. Ros Spiers and Rebecca Gilling don’t have a great deal to do other than looking sexy and engaging in bedroom romps with Jimmy Wang Yu, but at least they manage to deliver their lines with a straight face, which must have been fairly challenging.

Trenchard-Smith’s script is littered with groan-worthy but undeniably amusing dialogue, and his actors deliver his lines in the right spirit. No-one is taking this seriously, but everyone is enjoying themselves. His direction is frenetic but tightly focused. Russell Boyd (who has since gone on to win an Oscar as a director of photography) handles the cinematography with commendable skill but without succumbing to the temptation to try being arty.

Trenchard-Smith contributes a very entertaining commentary track. The movie was restored for its DVD release and looks splendid. It’s all very exciting and highly enjoyable, and the mix of action, sex and humour works perfectly. Like the best exploitation movies, The Man from Hong Kong glories in being an exploitation film. What more could you want?

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