Eastern Condors Review
Often seen as Sammo Hung's tribute to 'The Dirty Dozen', Eastern Condors certainly does contain a very similar storyline but the action set pieces throughout simply blow the aforementioned American war film clean out of the water! Sammo is one of ten Chinese convicts (imprisoned in America) chosen to undertake a mission deep behind enemy lines in Vietnam where upon successful completion of this mission each of the convicts will be set free and even paid for their efforts! What Sammo and his team do not realise is that they are simply meant to be there as a smoke screen for a real team of commandos, but end up doing the job themselves when the mission is aborted at the last minute.
Far more serious in tone than a typical Sammo Hung movie Eastern Condors still manages to raise a few laughs in-between the many action sequences (mostly from the convict who is continuously hitting on the guerrilla women) and occasionally even in the middle of all the action (usually down to the weird giggling general!). The film is essentially a series of action sequences where you attempt to guess who will survive, what makes this formula work so well is that in a very short period of time you grow to like the characters and you genuinely want to see them succeed in their mission. It is worth pointing out that Eastern Condors is notably more violent that a typical Sammo Hung movie, this is mostly due to the fact that it is played so seriously with many of the deaths we see being particularly tragic due to the nature in which they occur (not overly violent, just the situation in which the characters die). Using a satisfying mixture of John Woo style gunplay (in a 'Bullet in the Head', machine gun style way) and some outstanding street fighting style martial arts action Sammo has created many memorable scenes. The martial arts action seen is far more direct and hard-hitting in style (than compared to say, Magnificent Butcher) but is also extremely impressive with some amazing displays from the lead stars. The action finale contains a breathtaking mixture of gunplay and martial arts that I guarantee will be viewed repeatedly just so you can fully appreciate the choreography and physical prowess required to do said choreography justice. Of the lead cast Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao shine both dramatically and physically, but of particular note would be the inspiring performance (again, both dramatically and physically) from former beauty queen Joyce Godenzi as a guerrilla sent to aid Sammo and his team. Joyce actually trained with Sammo specifically for this movie and she really went all out to prove what she is capable of and it is this enthusiasm for her role that is projected on to the screen with outstanding results.
Utilising many classic ideas from previous war movies (a Russian roulette style sequence, a prison camp, a traitor in their midst) but adding that Hong Kong action spin on it all Sammo has created a well balanced movie that showcases many great actors, but most of all a great director who pulled off a dream project in style.
This is the third Hong Kong Legends DVD to receive a compulsory cut from the BBFC (the first two HKL DVD's being Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Body Weapon). The cut comprises of 22 seconds where Yuen Biao tears the head off a snake, this scene was cut due to the BBFC's stance on animal cruelty within films but really does not detract from the film as a whole.
Considering this film was released in 1986 this really is another stellar release from Hong Kong Legends. Presented in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement the original print is surprisingly clean with very little sign of damage (just the occasional scratch). There is some noticeable film grain, especially in the opening thirty minutes but it is kept at an acceptable level. Detail is remarkably high (especially in the latter half of the movie) while colours are well rendered creating some lush vistas. The only real fault with the picture can be found in the airport and plane scenes where the dark colours present tend to create some compression problems in the form of pixellisation, this does not last all that long though and is quite forgivable considering it is most likely down to the original print.
Another HKL release that boasts a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of both the original Cantonese Language track and the English dub is great to see. My preference as ever is the original Cantonese Language track, unfortunately within the first thirty minutes there are three slight sound problems coming in the form of a beep and what sounds like a slight distortion on the other two occasions. The remainder of the Cantonese track is fine with no audible problems; in fact apart from these initial problems it is overall an impressive track with very clear dialogue. The English dub is free from any sound faults but is on the whole, a little less impressive as it has a muted feel throughout. Both sets of subtitles are as ever clearly presented with no spelling or grammatical errors present (I can only vouch for the English track here!).
When originally announced, this DVD was scheduled to include an audio commentary from Sammo Hung, along with some exclusive deleted scenes but alas, it was not to be. Instead HKL have provided us with a reasonable set of extras, most of which have been replicated on the recent Sammo release, Magnificent Butcher. For a change the Original Theatrical Trailer (which I usually find gives far too much away with Hong Kong releases) is worthy of a look as it contains the only surviving footage of the aforementioned deleted scenes, as well as what looks to be an outtake from Yuen Biao. There are two screens of text prior to the Trailer outlining the extra footage found within, this is a nice touch and one that is sadly missing elsewhere on the disc (they could have used such a method to describe the BBFC cut to the movie). Also present is HKL's own promotional trailer that is nicely put together, as well as the trademark Photo Gallery that for once is actually worth a look, as rather than just containing stills from the movie it also shows a few photos of the deleted footage and the films original poster.
As ever the always highly informative animated biographies are a welcome inclusion. For this release we are presented with biographies for Sammo Hung and Joyce Godenzi, both of which offer interesting insights to the stars backgrounds and film careers. Sammo's biography is the same as that featured on the recent Magnificent Butcher DVD and is extremely in-depth with a running time of just over 20 minutes it actually only covers Sammo's life up to 1986, further parts of his biography are due on forthcoming HKL releases. Joyce Godenzi's biography is far shorter but gives us an equally in-depth look at her notably shorter career. The final extra present here comes in the form of two interview sessions with Sammo Hung. The first interview covers Sammo's beginnings (from his days in the Peking Opera School to his work in films) and is also found in slightly edited form on the recent Magnificent Butcher DVD, while the second interview features Sammo specifically talking about Eastern Condors. In this interview Sammo offers some unique insights to the making of his dream project, his enthusiasm for which will surely please many fans.
For both Hong Kong movie fans and general action movie fans alike this is a stunning film that contains some outstanding action sequences making it a must see. The DVD is another superb effort from Hong Kong Legends that will satisfy the majority of fans, however the cut footage will certainly disappoint some but I urge you not to let that put you off purchasing this disc.