Issue #260            HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES               April 18th, 2005

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Downtown Torpedoes
(1997; Golden Harvest/Paragon Films)

Cantonese: San tau dip ying
Mandarin: Shen tou die ying
English: Godly Thief Spy Shadow


RATING: 7/10


The English title is a real head-scratcher but this high-tech espionage thriller more than makes up for in excitement what it lacks in credibility. Jackal (Takeshi Kaneshiro), Cash (Jordan Chan Siu-chun), Sam (Charlie Yeung Choi-nei), and Titan (Ken Wong Hap-hei), leading members of ATM (Available Tactical Mercenaries), are blackmailed by the HK government to perform a high tech raid of MI5 headquarters. Their objective: steal some virtually flawless US currency printing plates, which the British agency has taken from a criminal element in Iran, and apparently plan to make use of themselves. Hooking up with deaf computer whiz Phoenix (Theresa Lee Yee-hung), the team pulls off the job without a hitch. However, the briefcase carrying the evidence the government (represented by Alex Fong Chung-sun) is holding over their heads also houses a bomb and one of the team is killed in the subsequent blast. The remaining members must determine how they can retrieve the plates, in order to clear their names. To reveal more would compromise some enjoyable twists but, suffice to say, the climax unfolds in Budapest with an exciting chase through some beautiful locales.

Jordan Chan Takeshi Kaneshiro Theresa Lee (left), Charlie Yeung

While it initially seemed like little more than a Hong Kong variation on Brian DePalma’s MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (with a little James Bond thrown in for good measure), this Teddy Chan Tak-sum film inaugurated a mini-trend of hi-tech action/adventures designed to lure audiences away from Hollywood product. For added box office appeal, the movies were cast primarily with up-and-coming young stars, but the quality dipped with each successive picture, culminating in the atrocious SKYLINE CRUISERS (the title of which makes about as much sense as DOWNTOWN TORPEDOES, but no matter). Aside from some shoddy digital FX work, Chan’s film is first-rate on a technical level, with tight pacing and well-choreographed and edited action that is never jumbled and confusing. The leads do a fine job, though with the exception of Theresa Lee's super hacker, they could have benefited from some more personality. Regardless, this is first rate escapist entertainment that more than fulfils its goals.

Alex Fong Charlie Yeung (left), Ken Wong Ken Wong

DOWNTOWN TORPEDOES earned an unfortunate footnote in HK film history when a crew member was killed by a piece of shrapnel during an on-set explosion. The production company had not received the proper clearance in advance to perform this particular pyrotechnic effect and subsequent news reports revealed that this type of safety violation was actually commonplace in the industry and could result in far more accidents of this sort (fortunately, there have apparently been no more since). Additionally, this turned out to be the last film for noted art director Eddie Ma Poon-chiu (THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR, THE PHANTOM LOVER), who succumbed to cancer at a young age.


DOWNTOWN TORPEDOES was one of Mei Ah’s initial DVD releases and while not nearly as bad as some, it looks its age. The master is the one also used for the tape, LD, and VCD releases; in other words, burned-in theatrical subtitles, and they are a bit fuzzy to boot. Blacks looks overly light at times, smearing is evident, chapters are dropped in at 5 minute intervals, and there is no time coding, menu or extras. That said, it’s a watchable enough presentation and the audio (an effective Dolby Stereo mix) does not sound nearly as compressed as some early Mei Ah discs (on the other hand, the Mandarin version is monaural and dismal by comparison). The DVD initially hit store shelves packaged in a jewel case that fit into a slide-out cardboard container. It was later re-issued in a regular keepcase and that is the version one is most likely to encounter nowadays.

This DVD is available at:

Images in this review courtesy of Mei Ah. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2005. All Rights Reserved.

Theresa Lee

DVD Specifications

  • Hong Kong Release
  • NTSC Region 0
  • Mei Ah Laser Disc Co. #DVD-065
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Sync Sound Cantonese and Dubbed Mandarin Language
  • Subtitles (Permanent): English, Traditional Chinese
  • 17 Chapters
  • 4:3 Letterbox (1.70:1)
  • 89 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Australia: MA 15+
  • Germany: 12 (cut)/16 (uncut)
  • Hong Kong: IIB
  • Netherlands: 16
  • Ontario: AA
  • Quebec: 13+
  • Singapore: PG
  • Contains moderate violence


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful