Director: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Cast: Ti Lung, Michael Chan Wai Man, Candice Yu On On, Nat Chan Pak Cheung, Lo Lieh, Ngaai Fei, Philip Ko Fei, Wong Yu, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Yuen Wah, Lee Hoi San, Aai Dung Gwa, Cheng Miu, Cheung Gwok Wa, Ko Hung, To Wai Wo
Running Time: 90 min.
By Matthew Le-feuvre
Known for his affable personality as well as an eccentric reputation for having “fingers in many pies” pursuits, Wong Jing began his steadfast career at the Shaw Brothers’ prominent movie town enclosure, learning the logistics of a machination that was, essentially, built upon committment, self opportunity and the ability to present original concepts within a studio production collectively. And, like most of his peers, he excelled himself as a notable scriptwriter and 2nd unit director prior to being exclusively upgraded to a full directing credit with casino/gambling sensations: Challenge of the Gamesters (1981) and Winner Takes All (1982); both pictures – unreleased in the western hemisphere – featured the late, sorely missed Wong Yue; stalwart ‘Shaw’ contractee, Chen Kwan Tai; and the rather underrated, long redundant Patrick Wu, as principal stock players.
In addition to producing or working over the years with highly ranked A-listers – such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Simon Yam and Michelle Yeoh – Jing maintained a collaborative and personal friendship with quirky funnyman, Lolento Chan (The Magic Crystal), himself a regular participant of whatever production Jing is currently involved in. However, no stranger to the art of performance – giggles aside – this spirited filmmaker has also delighted in gracing the jade screen with truly demented Hitchcockian-type cameos (ala Twin Dragons (1992), playing an inffectual faith healer), yet contemporary audiences are probably more familiar with Jing’s controversial and extremely viscreal 90’s features: The Naked Killer (1992) and The Last Blood (1991), although both City Hunter (1992) and the wire-fu laden Last Hero in China (1993) had been designedly toned down at a time when age restricted categories were systematically endorsed; these alternative, but no less enjoyable popcorn distractions, were/are still endulgent enough to satisfy even the most hardened of cynics.
Indeed, Jing’s world of ‘make believe,’ often surrealist approach is ebulliently crafted in a way the great Tsui Hark or even the nihilistic John Woo may wince with envy or applaud with competitive enthusiasm. In equal designation, technically, these resourceful, gifted and innovative visionaries basically retain a similar celluloid style: multiple quick edits and an inordinate bodycount are two personalized touchstones that tends to inspire audience appreciation, but can simultaneously infuriate critics for lack of realism or originality. Nevertheless, after continued exposure absurdity becomes championed by escapism in its purest form, which is why a film like Mercenaries from Hong Kong might have struggled either commercially or (in) dealing with censorship issues if had it been released following the wake of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (1986) sequence or Ringo Lam’s City on Fire (1987).
Mercenaries from Hong Kong is bloody, gritty and extremely fast-paced, as one would expect from a Hong Kong picture. Jing’s unappologetic third foray behind the camera dispenses with storyline subtleties or complexities from the outset. Either by choice or tactful administration, he also limits himself from using over elaborate production values, special effects or convoluted dialogue seemingly by steering directly to the crux without pretension or stylized self glorification as Mercenaries from Hong Kong opens to a rock orientated soundtrack and unusual close-up shots of a heavily tattooed enforcer Luo Li (Ti Lung), rigorously weight-training for a solo revenge assignment against a triad-linked drug dealer, who’d previously and intentionally hooked Li’s niece to heroin dependency.
In a scene blatantly lifted from Andrew V. McClagen’s political action hybrid The Wild Geese (1979), featuring then-James Bond sensation, Roger Moore: Li force-feeds his target with his own narcotics, thus inducing death. Barely escaping, Li options (as anyone would do!) to go underground as he discovers a contract has been circulated for him, via a prevailing triad fraternity.
Conveniently at this juncture, Li is approached by a mysterious lady named, Hei-Ying (Yvonne Yu), whose tycoon father had been murdered by an assassin, Na Wei (Philip Kao). Ying propersitions Li to (A): hunt down Wei, (B): kill him and (C): retrieve an audio tape containing top illicit business deals which is in Wei’s possession. In return for Li’s services, Ying offers the luxury of both money and freedom if he journeys to the treacherous jungles of Cambodia to fulfill his mission. Agreeing with her terms, Li assembles a special team of former army comrades comprising of Lei Tai (Lo Lieh), a sniper trained soldier who desperately needs capital for his daughter’s kidney transplant; Hong Fan (Wang Lung Wei), a driving ace; conman/cabaret nightclub performer, Curry (Wong Yue) and womanizing explosive expert, Blanche (Lo-Lanto Chan). Together, after confronting numerous obsticles, both in Hong Kong and Cambodia, the mercs reach their objective where Na Wei is being protected by a guerrilla army that discreetly trades opium for weapons or medical supplies. Posing as smugglers they gain entrance, capture Na Wei and learn all isn’t what it appears to be. Suspicion, dissension, duplicitousness and sacrifice ensues at an untold price.
Verdict: Motifs of brotherhood, loyality and naturally, betrayal, are all quinessential elements which one favourably reconciles with, despite the fact of being proverbially generic, either erswhile or in contemporary terms. However, solid performances (especially from Ti Lung) and consummate fight choreography including very few explosive set pieces, otherwise reinforces Mercenaries from Hong Kong from plummeting into total obscurity. Although at intervals, reprehensible and horrifically violent, but never commonplace, this slice of exploitational cinema, perspectively, is an unique exploration into military bravado and criminal machiavellianism.
Matthew Le-feuvre’s Rating: 8/10