Millionaire’s Express | aka Shanghai Express (1986) Review

"Millionaire's Express" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Millionaire's Express" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Nobles’ Express
Director: Sammo Hung
Writer: Sammo Hung
Cast: Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Olivia Cheng, Eric Tsang, Lam Ching-Ying, Kenny Bee (Chung Chun-To), Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Yukari Oshima, Wu Ma, Rosamund Kwan, Dick Wei, Richard Ng, Wang Lung-Wei, Yasuaki Kurata (Shoji Kurata), Emily Chu, Yuen Wah, Hwang Jang-Lee, Bolo Yeung
Running Time: 98 min.

By JJ Hatfield

“Millionaire Express” is a film that combines martial arts, comedy and westerns. There are quite possibly more martial arts/actors gathered together in this film than I have seen anywhere else! Under the direction of Sammo Hung and including just about every recognizable popular star,comic,martial artist of the day and too many cameos to count. Yuen Biao, Lam Ching-Ying, Rosamund Kwan, Usauki Kurata, Dick Wei, Yukari Oshima, Yuen Wah, Richard Norton, Cynthia Rothrock, Phillip Ko, even Hsiao Ho is in this movie! (Look for the Fire Fighter/Sheriff Deputy).

Fong-Tin Ching (Sammo Hung) left his small town years ago promising his mother he would return when he had become wealthy. His plans went awry and he became a thief and con artist. By the time he returns home his mother has died and he is a wanted criminal. He packs up everything including his girlfriend’s brothels prostitutes and head for his small town to buy up and revitalize the place. One of the numerous sub plots involves a bank robbery. The robbers have set a fire as a distraction leading Tsao Cheuk Kin (Yuen Biao) away from his law enforcement duties, as he is also Fire Chief and a reluctant mayor. This leads to a fantastic stunt where Biao cartwheels off a two story building which is on fire!

Fong devises a plan to force people riding on the elegant “Millionaire Express” train to stop in his town and spend money boosting the economy. Tsao can’t let Fong stop the train and that leads to one of the best on screen fights between the two men! Fong is also being pursued by a bounty hunter that looks like he stepped out of a Sergio Leone film. When a mercenary army arrives everyone is going to have to cooperate if they want to stay alive.

This movie makes for good entertainment only because of the fights. There are problems with pacing and a far too long rambling “lecture” from Fong about how the prostitutes were not bad and kept the wives husbands from leaving them to look for something different. Some of the comedy is of the slapstick variety but the finale fight scene is excellent and involves nearly all the characters!

Aside from the fights/stunts/action this movie is not at all what you would expect of Sammo at this stage of his game. The plot, such as it is wanders all over the planet…where is this exactly? Or even roughly. The clothes, hair, characters (such as Wong Fei – hung being a young boy) there is no continuity. Some people dress like gangsters. The mercenary army looks like escapees from a reenactment of the American Civil War. A lot of the props seemed to be from the 1930‘s but others made it appear to be much earlier or considerably further along in the century. I wanted to give this movie a higher rating but the slow development of the thread of a plot does not warrant it. However it is an entertaining movie even with all the continuity problems and is more than worthy of a couple of viewings.

JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 7/10


By Reefer

Art can make you think about things in different ways. Art can challenge you. Art can open your eyes to the things around you. Art can be beautiful, analytical, sad, difficult, and boring.Who needs art?! Judging from Shanghai Express, director Sammo Hung surely doesn’t.

Shanghai Express seems to be Sammo Hung’s excuse to invite every major star in HK cinema to his own personal kegger party. Trust me, this is the most fun you can have watching a kung fu movie. This film is filled to the brim with sight gags, slapstick, eye-popping stunts, and fast-paced kung fu from many of the best in the business.

The plot is not important, but it has something to do with Sammo returning to his home town with plans to repair its dwindling economy by blowing up some train tracks, forcing its rich passengers to get out and spend some money.

Did I mention that the very under-rated Yuen Biao also stars? He just performs one of the most amazing stunts I have ever seen here. Yuen does a backflip off from the top of a three-story burning building!!!! Full screen. Lands on his feet. Then runs over to some firemen and delivers a line of dialogue. All in one shot!!!! I watched this on DVD three or four times. Looking for wires or anything that could explain how in the world it was done. I still don’t know. If any of you do know, please email me. He does kinda sink into the ground a little so maybe a landing mat was involved.

Well, like I said, Shanghai Express is not artful cinema. What is my proof? Well,The Godfather never featured Al Pacino rolling half-naked down a snowy hill eventually turning into a huge snow boulder. Plus, Casablanca did not show Humphrey Bogart busting into his hometown with a truckload of whores accompanying him. Furthermore, Citizen Cane didn’t have a sequence where Orson Welles kicks Cynthia Rothrock’s ass after she questions the size of his manhood (though that would have been cool).

Shanghai Express is nothing but a good time.

Reefer’s Rating: 8/10


By Numskull

This movie is fun. Lots and lots of fun. More fun than a barrel of monkeys on behavior-modifying drugs. So fun, in fact, that I’m taking time out from my action-packed life of battling supervillains and torrid encounters with European secret agent babes just to tell you how fun it is.

But first, I have to tell you about Earthquake Boy.

I don’t know his real name. I don’t care about his real name. He lives in the condo next door and was dubbed Earthquake Boy by none other than myself because of his presumable lifelong habit of STOMPING up and down the stairs as if he weighs 800 pounds. I’ve seen the wastrel in person, and there’s no way in hell he weighs more than 190. But, for some reason which even Sir Isaac Newton himself would be hard pressed to explain, when this motherfucker climbs the stairs, window panes vibrate, candles get snuffed out, and rocking chairs suddenly take on a life of their own.

Anyway, when I first saw Millionaires’ Express, I was sitting in the living room with my friend Jeremy. We put the tape in.

It starts with a portrayal of Sammo Hung as a man who is not above the looting of corpses. When he is captured by a federal marshall-type guy (James Tien, I think), there is a scene where the two of them go tumbling down a snow-covered mountain, accumulating snow as they roll. Before long, the two of them are enveloped in a bad, and I mean REALLY BAD, SFX/animated snowball.

Here’s where Earthquake Boy comes into play. As the two guys are rolling down the mountain, Earthquake Boy descends the stairs. From the TV came half-assed avalanche sound effects; through the wall came the clompings and stompings of EB’s abnormally dense feet. As the giant snowball comes to a halt and falls apart with a crumbling sound, EB reaches the bottom of the stairs and celebrates his triumph by indulging in the luxury of hopping down from the next-to-last step, resulting in an extra loud THUMP.

See where I’m going with this?

Jeremy, with a facial exression suggestive of a broomstick up the ass, turns and looks at the wall.

“What in the name of the man who stole my x-ray vision was that?” says he.

“That was Earthquake Boy, the kid who lives next door,” says I.

“Sounds like he should be demolishing Tokyo,” he replies.

“He only does that while there’s no one here,” I retort.

We return our attention to the movie as Earthquake Boy gets in his dad’s car, SLAMS the door shut, and screeches off to God-knows-where.

And so the story unfolds. Yuen Biao, the fire chief of this little backwater Chinese village, does a flip off a the roof of a two-storey building and then just walks down the road like nothing happened. Wow. Sammo Hung brings back a carload of half-bit whores, all of whom are inexplicably clean, although Sammo himself and the car and totally caked with mud and traildust. Yuen, who has taken over as the village’s chief of security, tells Sammo, a wanted criminal, that he is not welcome. You can see the fight scene brewing already.

Fast forward to said fight scene. Earthquake Boy’s timing is remarkable. Just as Sammo and Yuen start to go at it, he returns, slams the car door shut, slams the condo door open (I didn’t think that was possible but he managed), and then STOMPS up the stairs again.

It was almost frightening. Kick connects, STOMP! Sammo hits the ground, STOMP! Puch connects, STOMP! guy crashes through a wooden bench, STOMP! ,The fight scene was spiffy, but it was hard to keep our attention focussed on it with Earthquake Boy presumably A) spying on us through some hitherto unseen peephole near the staircase or B) being guided by some supernatural force, possibly the ghost of somebody Jeremy or I once pissed off, hell-bent on diverting our attention from where it should have been.

“That guy should have an elevator installed next door or something,” says Jeremy.

“Then, with our luck, the bastard power would go out and he’d have to use the stairs anyway, ” I shoot him down.

As can be assumed by even the most mentally deficient of halfwits, Earthquake Boy doesn’t stop with the stairs. He slams doors shut. He slams windows shut. He slams drawers shut. He slams the toilet seat down. He sings in the shower. He must die.

Anyway, you can imagine how the rest of the movie went. As the story of Sammo Hung trying to get a train full of millionaires to spend money in this little one-mule (they couldn’t afford a horse) town unfolded, almost every punch or kick or smash wass accompanied or accentuated by a slam or a stomp or an off-key chorus from Earthquake Boy.

Fortunately for me, I was already accustomed to EB’s repulsive presence. Jeremy, however, was unable to draw as much enjoyment from the movie as he should have. He now owes Earthquake Boy a debt of blood, and best of all, I have a ringside seat.

Anyway, the little sub-plots in this movie are what really make it worth watching. Richard Ng cheating on his obnoxious cow of a wife was my personal favorite. The “secret agent” scene in the motel room is priceless. At least better than that ninja burglar shit from My Lucky Stars. Whenever I see Sammo, I can’t help but think of that scene and wonder why in the name of hell-bent fuck he thought it was funny. But anyway, don’t let that bother you. There’s also a pair of old martial arts masters whose kids don’t get along, a trio of samurai carrying a treasure map, a huge gang of bandits who can’t decide if they’d rather rob everyone or fuck Cynthia Rothrock, and the village’s former police chief trying to loot the townspeople (note to Sammo: magnets REPEL each other).

Anyone who sits through the first 75 minutes and bitches about the lack of action, remember this: the longer you suffer, the sweeter your reward. The movie concludes with a massive brawl, involving almost every character, in which half the town gets demolished.

See? Fun.

But not as fun as torturing Earthquake Boy to death. I, of all people, should know.

Needless to say, there will be no further expolits of Earthquake Boy in future reviews.

Numskull’s Rating: 8/10

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About JJ Hatfield

i like movies
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