Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Forgotten Movies Week - Brian Trenchard-Smith's THE MAN FROM HONG KONG

In keeping with Stacie Ponder's "Don't Be a Douche, Internet" day of saying nice things about people, allow me to take a moment to run a little appreciation of George Lazenby. The guy's been a bit of a whipping boy ever since he replaced Connery as James Bond in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE and I for one am sick of it. It seems to me that the reason people don't like him is because he's not Sean Connery; hey, I'm not Sean Connery, either, and plenty of people don't like me, although for completely different reasons. There are plenty of folks who think that he either ruined OHMSS (I like that abbreviation) or that if it wasn't for Lazenby, it would have been the very best Bond film, instead of just one of the best Bonds. Now, this is just complete and utter bullshit, if you ask me. No, the guy isn't as talented as Connery. He may not have his guy's style and inherent coolness, but you know what? Lazenby, as it turns out, has a coolness all his own. Perhaps my favorite moment in the entire Bond series comes early on when Diana Rigg is pointing a gun at Lazenby and he grabs her arm in half a second and gets her to drop the gun (which, of course, leads to the inevitable seduction scene). This isn't just the kind of thing Connery would have done, it's right out of the book and Lazenby handles it all perfectly, and at this moment (along with that great "This never happened to the other fellow" line), Lazenby makes his mark on the role and at no point in my many viewings of this excellent film have I ever imagined Connery playing Bond in it. He may not have owned the role, but Lazenby owns ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, no question.

A lot of people look at OHMSS and say, "Well, that was the high point for George Lazenby", and again I tell you all that you're wrong - wrong, I say! - because Lazenby's follow-up films were a very interesting lot. He produced and starred the mercenary film UNIVERSAL SOLIDER (directed by ZULU's Cy Enfield), which remains a forgotten film in its own right (I've never seen it, but it sure sounds intriguing), and followed it with Aldo Lato's WHO SAW HER DIE?, one of the best Italian horror films of its time and one of the most cynical, too. But it was what he did after that, a three film deal with Hong Kong's Golden Harvest, that earned Lazenby even more respect on my end. Lazenby was an avid martial artist who trained under Bruce Lee, and the first film was supposed to be a co-starring role opposite Bruce Lee in GAME OF DEATH, which fell apart after Lee's death. STONER was supposed to follow that up, so Lazenby took the Lee role (with Angela Mao playing the role Lazenby was to play) and while it's no classic, it's still a solid Golden Harvest production and Lazenby remains quite impressive as an action hero. Doing many of his own stunts (he was considerably taller than most of his fighting opponents, which made finding a double quite difficult) he's quite good in all of the martial arts sequences, holding his own against some of the all-time greats and he has a nice rapport with the great Angela Mao. STONER was both a hit and a quality flick, but it was with THE MAN FROM HONG KONG, Lazenby’s next Golden Harvest feature, that he proved that he knew who to work with in order to make him look good. A co-production between Golden Harvest and the Australian Film Company and written and directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (with fight scenes handled by Sammo Hung, who also has a small role), this one is an absolute drive-in/Grindhouse winner, one of the best action films of its era. It's filled with plenty of great action and a nice, almost (though not quite, thankfully) tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about itself that keeps the film equally amusing when people aren’t beating and kicking each other. And George Lazenby’s in it – what more could you want?

Opening with a Sammo Hung fight scene on Ayres Rock (!), the film is mainly shot and set in Australia, so therefore the man from Hong Kong is not Lazenby but rather Jimmy Wang Yu (who the IMDB credits with co-directing the film), coming off of the huge international success of THE ONE-ARMED BOXER. The title credits sequence gives us a wonderfully goofy idea of what to expect, with a Wang Yu martial arts demonstration intercut with footage of hang-gliding over Hong Kong, all to the tune of Jigsaw's awesome 70s hit "Sky High" (which was written for the film). Do these two elements intersect? Yes they do, and once that happened it I quickly came to the realization that I going to love this movie; my friends who I watched the film with agreed, as we then re-watched the opening credits, sang along to "Sky High", and couldn't get the grins off our faces for the entire 103-minute running time. The plot is standard stuff: HK cop Yu goes to Australia is catch criminal mastermind Lazenby and lots of stuff blows up. Cars crash, houses get demolished, the top floor of an apartment building is destroyed, the usual. But it is all done so well, a perfect mixing of Aussie and Hong Kong talents at their peak, that I dare you not to enjoy it. It's one of those great action movies where all of the set pieces would be highlights in lesser films, but you put them all together and you've got pure movie gold. It's hard to pick just which scene is the best, but I think the edge has to go to an extended chase/fight scene between Yu and STUNT ROCK's Grant Page that just keep going and going and gets better and better as it does; you keeping saying to yourself, "Jesus Christ!" with each insane, back-breaking stunt and why this scene isn't considered a classic I don't know. The film is really a vehicle for Yu (one of the first martial arts movie stars), with Lazenby merely stepping back and playing bad guy, but he makes for a satisfactory villain and he and Yu have an outstanding fight at film's end that sends it all out on a high note - a "sky high" note, at that. Yeah, unoriginal as it is, this is still one awesome movie.

THE MAN FROM HONG KONG is currently available as a beautifully remastered Region 3 DVD from Fortune Star, who has an output deal here with Fox, so hopefully they'll get around to it in the U.S. at some point. But if you've got the region-free player (and you really should), this is one really worth picking up, because god damn is it fun.

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