AKA: The Postman Fights Back
Director: Ronny Yu
Producer: Raymond Chow, Yuen Woo Ping
Cast: Leung Kar Yan, Chow Yun Fat, Yuen Yat Chor, Fan Mei Sheng, Cherie Chung, Eddie Ko Hung, Brandy Yuen Jan Yeung, Chiang Cheng, Lee Fat Yuen, Hui Ying Sau
Running Time: 88 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Postman Strikes Back is a unique entry in the Hong Kong action genre for a number of reasons. Set in 1913, it’s a movie which brings together elements of the old-school and the new-wave which can only be appreciated in retrospect. An early directorial effort from Ronny Yu, with the exception of his 1986 production with Brandon Lee, Legacy of Rage, it wouldn’t be until over a decade later when he’d receive full recognition for his talents, when he helmed the iconic tale of doomed lovers in The Bride with White Hair.
Without the presence of Yu in the director’s chair, it could easily be mistaken for a Yuen clan movie. Yuen Woo Ping takes the rare position of sitting in the producers chair, Brandy Yuen is on action direction duties, as well as playing a bit part, and Sunny Yuen takes a substantial supporting role. Taking the lead role of the postman in question is Beardy himself, Leung Kar Yan, although it should be noted here he’s only sporting stubble. All four of these guys would work together again on 2 more movies in the same year – The Miracle Fighters and Legend of a Fighter – both of which would be directed by Woo Ping, which may explain why he chose to sit this one out.
If the members of the Yuen clan represent the old school, then co-stars Chow Yun Fat and Cherry Chung represent the new-wave. Chow was still a full 4 years from chewing on a tooth pick for his influential turn as Mark Gor in A Better Tomorrow, however his leading man charisma is very much already in place, often threatening to steal the show from Kar Yan whenever they’re onscreen together. Chow and Chung had worked well together the year prior for Ann Hui’s The Story of Woo Viet, and they’d work together several more times over the course of their career’s, including An Autumn’s Tale, Wild Search, and Chung’s last movie before retirement, Once a Thief.
The story of Postman Strikes Back sees Kar Yan playing a courier in a rapidly modernizing China. On his latest delivery, the village elder confesses that they don’t have enough money to pay him. However, Kar Yan, being the nice guy that he is, instead of getting mad decides to look for another way to make money. It seems he’s in luck when a shady character played by Eddie Ko (who also turns up in the previously mentioned The Miracle Fighters), offers to pay him handsomely to deliver a number of boxes to a recipient several days journey away.
Kar Yan takes the job, and enlists a few men to help with the journey. The group comes in the form of a con man with ties to the underworld, played by Chow Yun Fat, an explosives expert played by Fan Mei Sheng, and an acquaintance played by Sunny Yuen (most recognizable as the witness from In the Line of Duty 4). Much to his chagrin, he’s also soon joined by a female villager, played by Cherrie Chung, who wants to help so that she can be paid to find her sister in Shanghai, who was sold off due to her family having no money.
Of course the job isn’t as simple as it first seems, Ko advises that they’re not to open the boxes under any circumstances, and if need be destroy them rather than let them fall into enemy hands, and soon the group find themselves under attack from unknown assailants at various stages in their journey. Another aspect that makes Postman Strikes Back unique is that it was entirely shot in Korea, so their journey takes them through a variety of beautiful landscapes, from tree covered mountains to frozen lakes, the scenery is frequently stunning.
It was often said that Korea would allow Hong Kong productions to film in the country, as long as they included a few Korean actors or crew. This appears to be the case here, as Korean actress Kuk Jeong-suk takes a significant role as a mysterious character that becomes a potential love interest for Chow. Also making memorable appearances are regular faces from the Korean kung fu movie scene – Jack Lam, Kwon Il-soo, and Jang Il-do. Lam and Il-soo play a pair of assassins that kick off what can be considered the first fight scene at the 45 minute mark. It’s a fun fight, with Il-soo literally hiding Lam by piggybacking him, to make a kind of tag team tandem fight against Chow.
Surprisingly, Chow performs well in the fight scenes, and actually seems to be given more than Kar Yan. Utilizing his scarf against opponents, the choreography and editing serve to make him look like a competent screen fighter, much to Brandy Yuen’s credit. The piggyback fight scene isn’t the only creative action sequence, with another entertaining scene having Kar Yan and his cohorts traveling across a frozen lake, only to be attacked by a group of spear wielding attackers on ice-skates! I would question the historical accuracy of this scene, but then again this is from the same guys who had Donnie Yen doing tricks on a BMX in Drunken Tai Chi.
Of course the shadiness of Eddie Ko’s character in the early stages make it a no-brainer that he turns out to be the villain of the piece. Ko has made a career of playing villains, from taking on Hwang Jang Lee in Hitman in the Hand of Buddha in the previous year, to a remarkably similar role which he’d play in Duel to the Death a year later. When you see his roles in both movies, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Ko goes on a take no prisoners rampage in the final third of the movie, which also involves a nicely staged one-on-one against Chow, and by the end of it, it’s safe to say that the postman has all the reasons he needs to strike back.
The final showdown pits Kar Yan against Ko in a forest, with Ko decked out as a ninja and employing all of the tricks we’ve come to expect from a ninja action scene. Again, there are signs of the new-wave at play here, with Kar Yan’s creative way of being able to locate Ko being particularly innovative. That being said, those looking to watch Postman Strikes Back purely to check out Beardy in action may be left disappointed. Ronny Yu has never been a director to make straight forward kung fu flicks, with perhaps the exception of 2005’s Fearless, and here is no exception. For the most part Postman Strikes Back plays out as an adventure movie, interspersed with some creative action and fight scenes.
As a director, Postman Strikes Back was only Yu’s third movie, and his inexperience shows most in the non-action periods when it’s all down to him to keep things moving. This is no more evident that in the first third of the movie when we’re being introduced to the main characters. None of it is particularly engaging, and it’s only once the action kicks in that things get interesting. Thankfully, once it does, it comes regularly, and while not top tier stuff, the creativity and picturesque settings adequately compensate. While there are arguably a few shortcomings in its execution, at the end of the day Postman Strikes Back gives us 2 generations of bad-ass cool onscreen together in the form of Leung Kar Yan and Chow Yun Fat, and that alone warrants it as worth a look. Oh, and did I mention the exploding rats?
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10