The Man from Hong Kong Review

A drug deal is going down on Ayers Rock, but the police have been tipped off. They arrest a Chinese dealer, Wen Zhan (Sammo Hung) but he refuses to talk. So Hong Kong-based Inspector Fang Shing-Ling (Jimmy Wang Yu) is called in…

The rebirth of Australian cinema began in the 1960s with foreign co-productions such as Wake in Fright aka Outback, Walkabout and Michael Powell’s They’re a Weird Mob and Age of Consent. By the time The Man from Hong Kong was shot in 1974, homegrown film production had begun again with mainly “ocker” comedies which were popular at home but made less impression overseas. The Man from Hong Kong is therefore something of an anomaly in the Australian industry. Most of the major films of the 1970s revival played as arthouse fare worldwide, but there were always directors and producers to make more commercial films Down Under. The Man from Hong Kong is one such, a co-production between Sydney’s The Movie Company and Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest. The latter had been Bruce Lee’s production company, and they were keen on making a straight action vehicle for their new star Jimmy Wang Yu. However, the end product is Australian to a fault, with an opening sequence set on Ayers Rock and most of the running time taking place in Sydney. You sense the kite-flying element of the plot is mostly there to give you a good aerial view of the harbour and give the tourist trade a boost it hardly needed.

Apart from Jimmy Wang Yu and Sammo Hung (who doubled as the film’s action director), the cast is principally Australian, as is much of the crew. In between kicking bad guy butt, Fang Sing-Ling’s methods exasperate his two local cop partners (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, best known now as the Toecutter in the first Mad Max, and Roger Ward) and he also finds time to bed not one but two women (Ros Spiers and Rebecca Gilling). Chief villain is George Lazenby, who hadn’t impressed as James Bond and isn’t much better here, though he does get to do some of his own karate. Jimmy Wang Yu is personable enough, but he’s very much Bruce Lee lite here.

The director was British-born Brian Trenchard-Smith, who began in the film industry as an editor before setting up his own company for making trailers. His first feature was The Love Epidemic, made for Hexagon Productions, a comedy about venereal disease. (It’s noticeably missing from the Hexagon boxset which I reviewed for this site two and a half years ago – go here for further details.) Trenchard-Smith had previously made an award-winning documentary about stuntmen, which was certainly good preparation for The Man from Hong Kong, which was his next feature. Since then, Trenchard-Smith has worked squarely in the commercial sector, with mostly action-oriented fare some of which has a cult following (such as Turkey Shoot), with the occasional gentler item such as Frog Dreaming and Jenny Kissed Me. He does certainly does a competent enough job with this film, though the main attractions are the action scenes. Russell Boyd’s Scope camerawork is very smart. He had previously shot The Love Epidemic and Michael Thornhill’s Between Wars, and his next film would establish him as one of Australia’s great cameramen: Picnic at Hanging Rock. The soundtrack features a couple of songs, “Sky High” and “A Man is a Man”, of which the best I can say is that they are very much of their time.

The Man from Hong Kong is entertaining enough on its level, though by modern standards the casual racism and sexism might disturb the delicate. How it stands in Hong Kong action cinema I’ll leave for others more expert to judge. As an Australian film, it stands as a decent example of the more commercial end of the country’s film industry and an early showcase for emerging talent on both sides of the camera.

The Man from Hong Kong has, as far as I’m aware, yet to have a DVD release in Australia. The version under review is a Hong Kong edition, in NTSC format and encoded for Region 3 only.

Shot in Scope, the film receives a DVD transfer in the ratio of 2.35:1, anamorphically enhanced. Benefiting from a healthy bitrate (frequently over 8 Mbps), it’s a good picture, sharp when it needs to be – a little soft otherwise. Colours are a little on the brownish side, but as I haven’t seen the film any other way, I can’t comment further.

Being a product of the pre-Dolby era, The Man from Hong Kong was released to cinemas worldwide in mono. That’s the one of the three soundtracks on this disc you should listen to. It’s a little hollow-sounding, betraying some post-synching work in places, but generally it’s fine. The two 5.1 remixes, in Dolby Digital and DTS, sound like analogue tracks with occasional directional effects added – the helicopter in your right surround speaker during the opening sequence, bullets during the opening credits There’s nothing to choose between them: they sounded absolutely identical to me, and equally pointless. The English subtitles aren’t amazingly accurate (I can’t judge the Chinese ones.) Oddly, they translate a couple of brief Cantonese dialogue exchanges near the beginning that otherwise remain unsubtitled. Soundtrack and subtitle options can only be selected from the menu, not during the film via your remote.

Extras comprise the original trailer (4:00) and a re-edited new version with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (1:53)., both in anamorphic 2.35:1. The original version is very much “adults only” as it includes a fair amount of the film’s violent action, not to mention Rebecca Gilling’s topless scene. There are two stills galleries, one self-navigating to the sound of that “Sky High” song, the other requiring you to go back and forth. Finally, there’s a deleted scene (3:07), which is mostly a showcase for Hugh Keays-Byrne's overacting. Also on the disc are trailers for City Hunter, Wheels on Meals and Final Victory. All the menus are bilingual, Chinese and English.

The Man from Hong Kong is not quite a classic, but still an entertaining slice of action schlock from yesteryear. A definitive DVD will probably not arrive until an Aussie company like Umbrella put out a release with a retrospective documentary and possibly a commentary. Until that comes, if it does, this Hong Kong release is pretty decent.

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