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Issue #190 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES December 15th, 2003

This week's issue is dedicated to the memory of Blackie Ko Shou-liang (Ko Sau-leung, in Cantonese), who passed away last week at the age of 50. In addition to being Taiwan's greatest daredevil, Ko also had a solid career as a stuntman and character actor in numerous films from the early '70s onwards. He will be missed.

The Moon Warriors
(1992; Team Work Production House)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Jin san chuen suet
Mandarin: Zhan shen chuan shuo
English: Legend of the War Gods

With Sammo Hung Kam-po behind the camera, and Tony Ching Siu-tung and Corey Yuen Kwai choreographing the action, this HK period fantasy promises stirring battles, and delivers in spades. That said, this is still a comparatively low-key effort that expends time exploring its characters and their emotions between the expected eruptions of ferocious combat. This extra attention to nuance is almost certainly due to the involvement of noted filmmakers Mabel Cheung Yuen-ting and Alex Law Kai-yui (AN AUTUMN'S TALE, NOW YOU SEE LOVE, NOW YOU DON'T). Both are credited with planning, while Law also penned the screenplay.

As the film opens, Yen (Kenny Bee/Chung Chun-to), the 13th. Prince and ruler of the empire, must flee on horseback from his kingdom, along with a small group of loyalists, when the palace is invaded by enemy troops. At the head of these rebellious forces is his brother, the 14th. Prince (Kelvin Wong Siu), who seeks to ascend the throne rather prematurely. When Yen stumbles into a trap, he is saved from death by Fei (Andy Lau Tak-wah), a guileless fisherman with tremendous martial abilities and one very unique pet: a domesticated killer whale named Hoi-wai. With Fei in tow, Yen and his troops journey across country, where they meet up with the Emperor of Lan Ning (veteran Taiwanese kung fu movie star, Chang Yi) and his daughter, Princess Moon (Anita Mui Yim-fong). In the aftermath of a surprise attack, Fei escorts the bratty princess (who has been promised in marriage to Yen) to safety and, after some initial friction, the two fall in love. It is soon revealed thereafter that Yen's prime confederate, Mo Shin-yee (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk), is secretly in league with his brother but cannot carry out the traitor's assassination order because she has fallen for the deposed monarch. When the 14th Prince discovers that the fugitives are hiding near Fei's village, he orders his troops to massacre the population, the lead-in to a final confrontation between the two siblings.

Cinematographer Arthur Wong Ngok-tai (IRON MONKEY) is not entirely successful at disguising the fact that footage featuring the whale was shot entirely in an Ocean Park tank. In all other respects, though, this is a slick and well-produced adventure, on par with what one would expect from its creators. Lau gives a likeable but conventional performance, Cheung and Mui are well cast in precisely the opposite sort of roles they usually play, and Wong is a sneering, spirited villain. There is also a splendid score by James Wong Kim and Mark Lui Chung-tak which mixes a driving, spaghetti western-influenced theme and stark battle passages performed on traditional instruments with calm, reflective transitions that compliment the dramatic mood very nicely.

Cover art courtesy Tai Seng.

Andy Lau and Maggie Cheung. Image courtesy Tai Seng.

Anita Mui. Image courtesy Tai Seng.
Tai Seng #33614 (U.S. label)

Cantonese (Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0, DTS), Mandarin (Dolby Digital 2.0), and English (Dolby Digital 5.1) (all post-synced)

Optional English Subtitles

16 Chapters Listed in the Menu -- No Illustrations

Letterboxed (1.75:1)

Coded for ALL Regions

Macrovision Encoded

NTSC Format

86 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Contains moderate violence

DVD menu courtesy Tai Seng.

Australia: M 15+ (Medium Level Violence)
Great Britain: PG*
Hong Kong: II
Nova Scotia: 14 (Violent Scenes)
Ontario: R (Violence)
Singapore: PG

* This rating seems incredible, considering the violence here and the BBFC's strict policies, but there it is.


Tai Seng's DVD offers a slightly different version than the edition Universe has had in circulation on various formats for the past decade. That variant concluded with five minutes of footage showing Andy Lau practising at Ocean Park with the killer whale, accompanied by one of Lau's Mandarin songs. Tai Seng's DVD offers the theatrical edition, with the end credits rolling over a black screen and a different song by Sally Yeh Chian-wen heard. Thankfully, the company has included the Ocean Park footage as an extra, along with bios, filmographies, and promos for other titles. Ric Meyers and Frank Djeng are also featured on a commentary, discussing the performers and choreography, but Meyers' sarcasm grates on one's nerves and is largely unwarranted. Slight digital instability is apparent at times but the presentation is very clean and largely pleasing. The heightened foley FX on the stereo re-mixes are a welcome addition but the track (likely derived from the optical track of the source print) has a very flat upper end and a hum is heard during quieter moments; the original mono is also offered. The English subtitle translation here is much improved over previous editions. Reader Mark Galloway tells me that this identical cut of the picture is also included on the Mei Ah import DVD, which has no other extras.

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E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com