Warriors Two Review
Back in 1978 Sammo Hung furthered his reputation as a force to be reckoned with through the release of Warriors Two, his latest directorial effort produced under the Golden Harvest stable in the latter stages of the Shaw Bros. reign. With martial arts pictures still hugely lucrative and therefore a major part of the various studios output of the time Sammo needed a concept that would give the audiences something they hadn't seen before. He found this in Wing Chun, a form of martial arts highly regarded by practitioners but one that had rarely been translated to the screen due to the lack of wide scale teaching and difficulty in developing the moves into viable fight choreography.
As a product of late seventies martial arts cinema the basic plot structure is incredibly simple. Set in a small village where the films key characters live, the treacherous Boss Mok (Fong Hak-on) is plotting against the village elder in order that he can rule the town with an iron fist. With the aid of his subordinates the plan is set in motion but overheard by a headstrong young man known as Cashier Wah (Casanova Wong), who takes a beating but escapes to the aid of Leung Jan (Leung Kar-yan), a Wing Chun master who looks after the young man in his clinic. To lure him out the subordinates of Boss Mok kill the young man's mother, so with revenge on the cards Wah must first seek the teaching of Master Jan before avenging his mother's death and saving the village in the process. Throw in the primary legends of the Wing Chun style and how it was passed down through generations. Then name the lead characters after the genuine historical figures of the art and you have a strong basis for a feature that uses the gentle art to create a very powerful example of martial arts action cinema at its most sublime.
Blessed with the time and support available to the burgeoning Hong Kong film industry of the era Sammo and his team of actors and stunt men trained for several months with a genuine Wing Chun master so they had a serviceable knowledge of the form in order to not only perform realistically onscreen but to also be able to adapt the moves so the camera would capture them better while still maintaining their authenticity. This leads to some of the most compelling fight choreography of the young Sammo's career, utilising the various forms of Wing Chun including my personal favourite - Sticking Hands - to create a range of set pieces that rarely see the actors part ways for more than a few seconds as the close-quarter combat favoured by the basics of the style are used for a series of complex hand and leg based exchanges which keep your eyes open and your brain active in order to appreciate every block and attack. The style is further enhanced by mixing in some more traditional kicking techniques which are always a big hit with the audience, looking wonderful on camera and here through the talents of super-kicker Casanova Wong we are treated to some truly astonishing displays of balance, control and inhuman ability to leap through the air, twisting and controlling his body's every move. The supporting roles even manage to impress by contributing to the martial arts choreography, with the likes of Yuen Biao and Lam Ching-ying relegated to double and extra work here without ever getting a major character, but their contributions can be seen throughout the film. Someone who does get a major fight scene of their own is another friend and regular of Sammo's, Lau Kar-wing, who fends off a number of men as bodyguard to the village elder which sees him wield dual swords and put his brother's famed monkey style kung fu antics to the test.
The actors compiled really are some of the very best we have seen in Hong Kong martial arts cinema. Leung Kar-yan, the master imitator probably best known to Hong Kong Legends regulars through Legend of a Fighter dons some make-up to increase his years and become Master Jan, a legendary Wing Chun sifu who adopts Cashier Wah as his student to train alongside his current lead student, Fatty (Sammo Hung). Gaining a rise in status through the grey hair and wispy moustache Kar-yan has always been good in straight-faced roles and does not disappoint here, portraying a man of great status with a wry superiority and the swift, graceful movement you would expect of a sifu. As Wah Casanova Wong is given the lead character role, one that involves going from victim to aggressor with a lengthy yet thoroughly entertaining training sequence in the middle. As with most roles of this ilk little is really asked of him in terms of acting, instead he relies upon the character’s situation and his raw ability, making him someone the audience can root for and feel safe in the knowledge he is probably going to come out on top. Sammo takes a somewhat secondary character in Fatty, giving himself the role with a comedic edge that relies upon his good will being exploited by bullies in the initial act of the film, before going on to become a major fighting force in the later stages wielding the double-sword particularly well.
Then we have Tiger Yang and his unkempt facial hair, Lee Hoi-san and his impressive physical stature and Fung Hak-on with his genuinely disturbing physical attributes that were used so well in this era of Hong Kong cinema. The villains of the piece will by synonymous with regulars of the genre, each playing their stereotypes with a hint of the extreme in their delivery and performing commendably well in the action set pieces where it counts. Of all the villains the trademark wolf in sheep’s clothing who betrays the existing village elder gets the most memorable role, with Dean Shek in the same part he had and would play countless times past, present and future. Unfortunately his is remarkable for all the wrong reasons, with Sammo strangely choosing to over-extend the obligatory fight sequence with the natural coward, working the slapstick routines for all they're worth and getting a few laughs in the process, but nothing reaching the entertainment that could have been had should he have moved on sooner and joined in the major fight between Wong and Fung Hak-on. This is one of the serious detractors to an otherwise stunning epic final battle, one to rival that seen in Hung's debut directorial effort Iron Fisted Monk for spectacle. Elsewhere the finale irritates by making the sole female character so weak, another student of Jan's her character suffers the same abusive torment that many of Sammo's female characters do but here it feels odd as she is clearly shown earlier in the film as being quite able and high on the list of her teacher's students. Beyond applying a few weapons techniques she merely ends up serving as fodder and an unlikely storage object for items Sammo can put to his disposal in the quite brutal final battle.
Picture and Sound
Warriors Two is the first HKL DVD release to benefit from the range of Fortune Star remastered prints now available to distributors of classic Hong Kong film. The improvements are immediately obvious with the transfer boasting vitality with rich colour definition and strong textures throughout, really bringing the action to life while maintaining natural skin tones and lighting. The actual print shows barely any signs of damage with a stable image and good encoding to prevent any compression errors, with only shots entailing a great depth of scene featuring some obvious grain and degradation in the detail levels prevalent in tighter compositions. Shadow detail is also fairly lacking at times with the night based bamboo forest set piece showing an obvious step back in picture quality to the earlier segments, but this picks up for the interior sections that follow and bring the film to a close.
While the picture benefits greatly from the Fortune Star collaboration hardcore fans will be disappointed with the Cantonese language track which has also been restored, complete with new sound effects to accompany the action. Sacrilegious to some the alteration of the original audio has already caused a great deal of vitriol to fly in the way of HKL, and I too would call for them to make sure this doesn't happen in future or alternatively they should include original mono tracks for the purists. Personally though - unlike say with Heart of the Dragon on the Fox/Fortune Star range - I had no real issues with the new sound effects as beyond sounding a little too sharp on the mix they are a relatively good choice and for me did the film no harm. The actual 5.1 remix for the Cantonese track is fairly restrained keeping in line with HKL previous efforts, maintaining clear and audible dialogue and a good ambient spread for the music.
A new English dub is available for those who like to make their ears bleed while optional English subtitles to the usual standard are also present. English SDH and Dutch subtitles round off the discs setup options.
Bey Logan offers another fact filled commentary track for a film he shows genuine adoration toward, divulging many biographical facts on its leading actors and pointing out the numerous supporting players and stunt men along the way. References to location shooting and the Golden Harvest studio are frequently interspersed amongst the engaging conversation over the innovative action seen throughout, while a little education is given on the Wing Chun style and proving to be of great use to those like myself who want to appreciate the lengths gone to ensuring the martial arts seen within the film is genuine.
Taking a new direction for the bonus material Hong Kong Legends have used interview footage with Sammo Hung, Casanova Wong, Fung Hak-on, Sifu Guy Lai and Leung Kar-yan to create a 45-minute making of featurette detailing the production of Warriors Two. Introduced, broken into sections and book ended by Bey Logan who also takes the opportunity to demonstrate his own martial arts skills this feature proves to be more compelling than individual interview pieces, editing the footage they have into a documentary style narrative that discusses the finer points of the film. Particular emphasis is put on the Wing Chun style, with Sifu Gai Lai, a master in the form explaining the basics and going into the training he provided Sammo, his team of actors and stunt men. Elsewhere director/actor Sammo Hung and actors Casanova Wong and Leung Kar-yan are paid respect with segments on each, with the latter having always bothered me slightly in his interviews and this trend continues here where Kar-yan seems to remember certain aspects of the production differently to everyone else, usually with the point of view being in his favour. Sammo offers some basic insight to one of his early projects but the interview footage is quite old now, being taken from the same sessions you will find on the earliest HKL DVDs meaning his English is a slight hindrance to both him and the viewer. The featurette is brought to a close with some perspective given on the industry then and now, with Fung Hak-on in particular speaking some very truthful words leaving only Bey Logan to wrap up with a tribute to Bruce Lee, one of the most famous Wing Chun exponents.
The remaining bonus material consists of the usual trailer gallery featuring the UK Promotional and Original Theatrical Trailer, and promotional trailers for numerous other HKL and Premier Asia DVDs.
Considered by many as a precursor to Sammo’s Wing Chun masterpiece The Prodigal Son his efforts here reflect a slightly less mature director whose focus wavers in the latter stages of the action. This hindrance never stops Warriors Two from being an excellent piece of martial arts cinema, merely diluting a wonderful mix of exciting fight choreography brought to the screen by a fine ensemble cast set in place to entertain the audience as they do the action justice. The DVD from Hong Kong Legends is very good providing the audio concerns do not affect you, in which case it may be worth hanging on to see how the Region 1 Fox DVD fares when released in April.
Last updated: 23/06/2018 21:34:26