The Lucky Stars 3-Film Collection Review
The original Lucky Stars trilogy, directed by and starring Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung, centres around five bungling ex-cons who find themselves helping police to bring down various crime syndicates. Despite Hung’s two Peking Opera School “brothers” Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao often featuring prominently on artwork for this comedy series, they play only supporting roles as a pair of cops opposite a large ensemble of other recognisable faces from HK cinema. The emphasis is very much on goofy humour, with the usual jaw-dropping martial arts unexpectedly taking second place.
Winners and Sinners (1983) gets off to a bright start, showing how the petty criminals managed to get themselves caught in the first place. A series of vignettes introduce us to Teapot (Hung), Vaseline (Charlie Chin), Exhaust Pipe (Richard Ng), wild-haired activist Curly (John Shum) and Rookie (Stanley Fung). The most comical of their exploits finds hapless cat burglar Teapot trying to make a swift escape by a zip wire, only to clumsily glide straight into the back of a police van.
Upon their release, the gang attempt to go straight and form The Lucky Stars Cleaning Company. At this point the film gets too preoccupied with bawdy humour – a trait that regrettably runs through the entire series, with the guys on this occasion vying for the affection of Curly’s sister Shirley (Cherie Chung). Much of the lowbrow comedy relies heavily on the talents of Richard Ng, whose gullible character is briefly fooled by his cohorts into believing that he has mastered the art of invisibility. This results in him prancing around Curly’s home naked, unaware that everyone – including Shirely - can still see him. Sometimes the slapstick on display hits the target, though often it is toe-curling.
With the pace sluggish at times, it comes as a welcome relief when Chan’s inept cop drifts into the story, frantically pursuing some crooks along a busy freeway on a pair of roller skates to recover a stolen briefcase. Hanging onto the side of speeding vehicles for added propulsion, jumping over a car, then gliding perilously under an articulated lorry, Chan easily provides the most memorable comic set piece. It concludes with a pile-up of absurd proportions, as if cheekily trying to outdo The Blues Brothers and every other car crash extravaganza Hollywood had to offer.
Through a series of unlikely events, the briefcase containing counterfeit money ends up in the back of The Lucky Star’s cleaning van, getting them unwittingly mixed up with nefarious criminal James Tar (an underused James Tien), who sets his goons onto them. A wonderful climatic face-off in a warehouse demonstrates Hung’s undeniable athleticism and Biao’s deft action choreography, without ever coming close to matching their best work.
Much of the same cast returned for My Lucky Stars (1985), though curiously they are playing slightly different characters. Veteran Eric Tsang replaces Shum this time, playing the principal stooge in the gang. Hung gets to play the fearless leader, with the peculiar moniker of Francolin Green – or Fastbuck if you are watching the English dub version. Slicker than its hugely successful predecessor, this follow-up nevertheless does not deviate far from the same formula.
A fast-paced opener finds determined cops Muscles (Chan) and Ricky (Biao) tracking a corrupt officer to Tokyo, where he has fled to a mobster’s lair hidden deep beneath an amusement park. It serves as the perfect excuse for an exciting chase - and some death-defying stunt work, as Muscles clambers high on a Ferris wheel. When Ricky gets captured, his beleaguered colleague decides for some inexplicable reason to call upon the help of his 5 friends from the orphanage. Galvanised into action, the wacky gang head off to Japan for a further escapade, accompanied by female cop Empress Flower (Sibelle Hu) who is assigned to supervise the mission.
The comedy is very patchy once again, while sometimes the visual gags are agreeably funny, often the humour is too puerile or gets lost in translation. One particularly silly scene in a Japanese restaurant finds them struggling with the language barrier, playing charades as a last resort to act out their order. The guy’s interminable lusting after Flower really does drag the film down though, with a line of tasteless dialogue that it could well have done without. Richard Ng is once again called upon to provide some easy laughs, with his quirky character trying to learn telekinesis, often with disastrous results. Guaranteed to raise a smile is Muscle’s not-so-subtle disguise at the end, as he moves around within the amusement park.
The film benefits greatly from some fabulous martial arts during the final confrontation, which includes a great standoff between Sibelle and Japanese bodybuilding champion Michiko Nishiwaki. Making a record-breaking HK$30 million, My Lucky Stars became one of Golden Harvest’s biggest box office successes at that time, so a further sequel was guaranteed.
That inevitable third instalment, Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars, appeared before the year was out. The franchise was clearly showing signs of fatigue at this stage - and you are never in any doubt that the filmmakers received sponsorship from Pepsi, with some quite glaring product placement. The lazy plot finds The Lucky Stars holidaying in Thailand when an informant is murdered on the beach and, before you know it, they are up against a group of deadly assassins.
This adventure follows in the same vein as before, tainted by lame comedy which often dates the film, yet partially redeemed by bursts of frenetic action. Smart casting sees Michelle Yeoh making a notable appearance in an early role as a judo instructor, plus Australian martial artist Richard Norton serves as a formidable opponent. When Hung, Chan and Biao appear together at the end, they light up the screen during some exhilarating, expertly choreographed battles against assorted adversaries. The magic of the Three Brothers exists here, just in precious short supply.
The 3 films make their HD debut in the UK courtesy of Eureka Entertainment, on separate discs as part of a set. My Lucky Stars has a new 2K restoration, while the others benefit from sparkling 4K restorations. Presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, they all look simply stunning, boasting vivid colours and plenty of fine detail.
My Lucky Stars comes with the alternate International Cut (English dub only), which runs around 7 minutes shorter. This omits some offensive dialogue, changes a punchline in the restaurant scene and edits out a brief confrontation with a group of bus drivers. The Cantonese version of the film restores 23 seconds that had been cut by the BBFC from previous UK releases (sight of a car being stolen using a piece of wire had previously been removed and a joke had been re-worded).
Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars includes the alternate Taiwanese version, which is approx. 12 minutes longer, extending certain scenes without adding much to the overall film.
Each film comes with a choice of original mono audio tracks in Cantonese or an optional English dubbed track. Newly translated English subtitles are included. There are no discernible issues with the audio tracks, with dialogue distinct throughout.
- Brand new feature length audio commentaries on all three films by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival)
- Winners and Sinners – Two archival interviews with director and star Sammo Hung (6 mins & 13 mins)
- Winners and Sinners – Sammo Hung retrospective featuring interviews with friends of the legendary director, actor, and action choreographer (20 mins)
- My Lucky Stars – Archival interviews with Michiko Nishiwaki (20 mins) and Sammo Hung (18 mins)
- Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars – Archival interviews with Richard Norton (33 mins) and Richard Ng (21 mins)
- Behind-the-scenes featurettes on all three films originally produced for their Japanese releases
- Outtakes, NG (“No Good!”) shots for all three films
- Trailers for all three films
- Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver (first 2000 copies, not available for review)
- Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling (first 2000 copies)