Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Writer: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Producer: Raymond Chow Man Wai
Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, George Lazenby, Rosalind Speirs, Frank Thring, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward, Sammo Hung, Rebecca Gilling, Grant Page, Bill Hunter, Lam Ching Ying, Yuen Biao, Corey Yuen Kwai, To Wai Wo
Running Time: 111 min.
By Jeff Bona
When a Chinese drug courier named Win Chan (Sammo Hung) is arrested in Australia, local police officials enlist the help of Hong Kong Special Agent Fang Sing Leng (Jimmy Wang Yu) to interrogate their captive. It’s soon established that Win Chan’s connection is a powerful Australian gangster named Jack Wilton (George Lazenby), who uses his legitimate import/export business as a front for his illegal drug network.
Unbeknownst to Australian officials, Agent Fang takes matters into his own hands and begins to infiltrate Jack Wilton’s organization. Despite Agent Fang being a master of weaponry and martial arts, he discovers that his secret mission is a lot deadlier than he ever imagined.
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (BMX Bandits), The Man from Hong Kong was not only the first Australian/Hong Kong co-production, it was also the first Australian martial arts movie ever made. In addition, it’s the only English-language film of Jimmy Wang Yu’s career (in the final product, Wang Yu’s dialogue was voice-overed by the late Roy Chiao, who is mostly known for playing Lao Che in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).
Brian Trenchard-Smith describes his movie as “James Bond Spoofery,” but I say it’s more of a homage. When I think of a James Bond spoof, I think Get Smart or even Austin Powers. It’s not like we have Wang Yu’s character speaking through a shoe phone or fighting a villain named Goldpinky. If The Man from Hong Kong a 007 spoof, then Enter the Dragon might as well be one too. The bottom line is both movies are heavily influenced by Bond films, but they’re far from being spoofs or parodies.
With that said, The Man from Hong Kong has everything you would expect out of a “007” flick:
Beautiful Women: Wang Yu makes love to the ladies and uses them as tools, so he can accomplish his objectives much easier.
Extended Car Chases and Explosions: Even before George Miller’s Mad Max films, Brian Trenchard-Smith (along with Grant Page, one of Australia’s top stuntmen) were already experimenting with high octane chase sequences with no or very little regard for safety. There’s a vehicle explosion in the movie that looks like it came out of a Michael Bay flick (i.e. debris and mechanical chunks flying right towards the camera); the main difference is Brian’s film is the real deal, especially since computerized effects didn’t exist in 1975.
Gadgets: One of the very few films to really make use of the hang glider. Sure, it’s no Aston Martin with ejector seats; but for the time, the device was hip, cutting edge and extreme.
Catchy Theme Song: English pop band Jigsaw composed a Bond-esque track called “Sky High,” which was more popular than the movie itself. It became a world-wide hit in 1975, reaching #3 on the U.S. Billboard Chart and #9 in the U.K. Singles Chart. Two years later the song gained even more success in Japan, selling over 570,000 copies; it’s no wonder why the song was prominently featured in 2000’s Japanese/Korean film Asako in Ruby Shoes.
The Presence of a former Bond: In 1973, George Lazenby signed a three picture deal with Golden Harvest. Starting with Game of Death, the films were intended to team Lazenby up with Bruce Lee, but due to Bruce’s sudden death, the three movies eventually became The Shrine of Ultimate Bliss, A Queen’s Ransom and the title you’re currently reading about.
Jimmy Wang Yu (One-Armed Swordsman) – who usually gets a bad wrap for being overly cocky, both onscreen and off – is often looked down upon for not having any visually impressive martial arts abilities. In the 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!, cast and crew from The Man from Hong Kong expressed negativity towards working with Wang Yu:
“Jimmy was just horrible” – Hal McElory, Assistant Director
“One of two worst people I’ve ever worked with in my life” – David Hannay, Producer
“He basically had no respect for anybody” – George Lazenby, Co-star
Apparently, Wang Yu tried to take complete control over the production, which caused heated arguments between him and director Brian Trenchard-Smith. In fact, Brian has a cameo in one of the film’s key fight scenes – a duel between him and Wang Yu – which takes place on top of a moving elevator. In the scene, many of Wang Yu’s punches aimed at Brian were supposedly real, which is the result of Wang Yu not getting his way.
Wang Yu may have been difficult, but it’s evident that he put his heart an soul into the project. There were many instances where I was trying to find a stunt double, only to realize it was Wang Yu himself sacrificing his safety. Wang Yu isn’t dumb. He knew this was a big budget motion picture that had the potential to make him an international action star, so he wanted to make sure the public noticed what he was capable of. After all, Bruce’s death was still fresh and everyone – including Wang Yu – wanted to grab his torch.
If you’re a fan of the Mad Max series, you’ll appreciate co-stars Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter from Mad Max), Roger Ward (Fifi from Mad Max) and Frank Thring (The Collector from Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome). The fast, witty dialogue between Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward and Wang Yu are some of the film’s finest moments. It’s funny to see Hugh Keays-Byrne so animated and alive, as opposed to his wooden “Mad Max” character. Roger Ward looks like a completely different person, probably due to the fact that he has a head of hair (he’s the bald, Mr. Clean-looking guy in Max Max).
In addition to his cameo as Win Chan, Sammo Hung serves as fight director. Sammo’s martial arts choreography is a mixed bag – some of it is smooth, some of it is brutal and some of it is lacking any type of excitement or energy. As a whole, there’s really no room to complain, especially during the savage match between Wang Yu and Lazenby. What happens to poor Lazenby definitely never happened to the other fella…
The Man from Hong Kong is a blast. In many ways, it’s an easy film to make fun of because of its 1970’s cheese factor and corny one-liners; at the same time, you can’t deny that its action sequences are breathtaking and light years ahead of their time.
Jeff Bona‘s Rating: 8/10