AKA: Condors Commando
Director: Sammo Hung
Writer: Sammo Hung
Cast: Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Lam Ching-Ying, Dr. Haing S. Ngor, Joyce Godenzi, Yuen Wah, Yuen Wo-Ping, Yasuaki Kurata, Phillip Ko Fei, Billy Lau, James Tien, Ng Hon, Ha Chi-Chun, Billy Chow, Corey Yuen, Cheung Kwok-Keung
Running Time: 100 min.
By JJ Hatfield
After the Vietnam war Vietnamese and Chinese prisoners in the US are recruited to go to an unknown country and perform an unknown mission. Once they accomplish their unofficial task they will be given freedom from jail and enough money to make a start in the land of opportunity. They are trained only a little and told nothing. It’s 1976 and they are going to parachute into an unknown jungle area. From there they meet up with their contact and start on the road to even further danger. They have to remain hidden and would be killed if caught. When at last their commander Lt. Col.Lam (Lam Ching Ying) is forced to tell them the real reason they are in Vietnam everyone realizes they may never get back to the US and enjoy that freedom.
If the plot of Eastern Condors sounds a bit familiar is because it is a plot that has been used by pretty much every film industry, tailored to the audience. People in the US might liken it to “The Dirty Dozen” or one of the many rip offs.
The team is led by Lt. Col. Lam and they meet up with three Cambodian freedom fighters, three women who are led by Joyce Mina Godinza (Married to Sammo Hung 1995) her younger sister and another guerilla fighter complete the group.
They venture into a local village for information and Lt.Col. Lam has another reason for traveling to this particular village. While there they encounter “Rat” (Yuen Biao) who sells illegal goods and makes a lot of deals. They all need to get out of town fast but Rat insists on taking his “grandpa”with them even though he is mentally unstable.
Most of the plot and screen play we have seen before. After yet another prisoner/soldier is killed Lam is forced to tell them where they are going and exactly what they will need to accomplish to complete the mission. Can they fulfill the mission? Even if they can how will any of them survive?
The originality and the saving of the movie lies squarely with the fighting and action sequences. This is not just another rip off and that is due to the efforts of the actors and some tight fights choreographed and performed by Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. Even Joyce Mina Godinza did most of her action and stunts though she had absolutely no previous training. The fights are quite good and Sammo may be in his absolute best shape here. Biao as always is able to amaze with his inventive mix of solid martial arts, acrobatics and fighting skills. One aspect of the fighting is different in this film in that all blows and strikes were said to be full contact.
Of course there are typical war movie scenes. Tough guys showing a tender side while inept and clumsy guys turn into great soldiers in no time. The brave soldier sending his group on without him, knowing he will die there. There are double crosses, betrayal, many explosions, a lot of gun action and some very good fight scenes, especially after the few who are left reach their destination. Sammo has a finale fight with an insanely cackling general (Yuen Wah) who proves impossible to overcome with usual fight methods.
A note of interest: “Haing S Ngor” is the same “Dr. Haing S. Ngor from the later filmed “The Killing Fields.”
“Easter Condors” was nominated for:
Best Action Choreography
Best New Performer (Chi Cun Ha)
Best Supporting Actress (Joyce Mina Godinza)
JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 8/10
Eastern Condors is another one of those huge cast movies that Sammo seems to like to put together from time to time. In comparison with Shanghai Express, Condors is as serious as that one was comical. Packed with HK elite, Sammo Hung, Corey Yuen, Yuen Woo Ping, Yuen Biao, Lam Ching-ying, Joyce Godenzi, Yuen Wah, Billy Chow, Hang S. Nor and Dick Wei, the world was one serving of under-cooked chicken away from losing an entire generation of kick-ass kung fu legends. Luckily, Jackie Chan and Jet Li decided to ditch or all could have been lost.
Well anyway, the familiar faces are cool to see together, even though many of the parts are not fully written. Stereotypes mostly fill in the gaps. Besides Sammo, Biao, Wah, Lam Ching-ying, and Joyce, nobody really sticks out in the performance department. And even those performances are kind of run-of-the-mill. The rest basically serve as cannon fodder for this Dirty Dozen remake.
The casting of Dr. Hang S. Nor as a retarded prisoner really annoys me. It seems like a stunt since his part really isn’t needed. How many academy award winners appear in this kind of stuff anyway? From the Killing Fields to a Sammo Hung kung fu kickass movie? What a joke!! I heard Tom Green wants him for his next celluloid embarrassment.
Eastern Condors finally jumps into high gear during the last twenty minutes in a near classic showdown between the good guys and bad guys. Some of the great match-ups include Joyce vs. Dick Wei, Sammo vs. Billy Chow, Yuen Biao vs. Yuen Wah, and finally Sammo vs. Wah.
Reefer’s Rating: 7/10
Cheap melodrama made cheaper by taking place in post-war Vietnam. This is not Sammo Hung’s version of The Deer Hunter…it’s just an HK action vehicle with everybody’s least favorite was as the backdrop and, for that reason, it is more highly acclaimed that it deserves to be.
Aside from that, there’s not a whole lot that can be said about this movie. It’s got some fighting (but not a whole lot), it’s got gunfire, it’s got a couple of explosions, and it’s got a woefully underused character named Stuttering Keung. What else? There’s Dr. Hiang S. Ngor from The Killing Fields to lend it some credibility and to remind us all what a horrible event the Vietnam War was. Don’t expect any tear-jerking political statements, though; this is an action movie, not a war movie.
This is a disappointment for Sammo Hung, but some may find it a refreshing change of pace from the “jolly fat man” Sammo. Here, he ain’t jolly, and he looks like he dropped a few pounds for the role. The action sequences aren’t as numerous as many of us would like, and while they’re done proficiently enough, they just don’t have that extra “oomph” that Sammo’s stuff usually does. It’s a pity. The manner in which the last villain gets polished off partially redeems things, though (say “Aah”, motherfucker!!!).
Watch it at your own risk and don’t pee outside…it’s a good way to get ambushed, as Eastern Condors shows us not once but twice.
Numskull’s Rating: 5/10
By Vic Nguyen
Sammo Hung delivers yet another masterwork in his filmography with this well crafted war epic with an all star cast, which consists names such as Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Yuen Woo-ping, Charlie Chin, Joyce Godenzi, and Oscar winner Dr. Haing S. Ngor. Ex-cons are assigned to destroy a cache of military arsenal in postwar Vietnam, with freedom offered in return. What they don’t know is that there is little chance of getting out alive. Vibrant and inventive action direction highlights this piece, with some of the best stuntmen in the business showing off their stuff. Includes a superb, machine gun laden, balls-to- walls finale with fast paced choreography that is not to be missed by anyone.
Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 8/10