Above The Law Review
This is much better. At least for films starring Cynthia Rothrock, who might well be known as a direct-to-video star here but who achieved no small amount of stardom in Hong Kong. Above The Law, known elsewhere as Righting Wrongs, is a vigilante thriller starring Rothrock as a police officer investigating the corruption within Hong Kong. Her job is made easier when she uncovers corruption everywhere, from her finding it necessary to pick and choose a partner - rather an incompetent one - from the ranks of the many officers on the make and to show some concern over the level of corruption within the force. Unforunately, in taking these worries to her superior officer (Melvin Wong), she's entirely unaware just how far up it goes.
What she discovers is a public prosecutor (Yuen Biao) is prepared to break the law in order to bring in criminals who are otherwise escaping justice. When a trial he was bringing before a judge collapses after all of the witnesses are either murdered or are too frightened to appear in court, he chooses martial arts over the judiciary and the short shock of violence over arrest. Inasmuch as Rothrock assumes Biao is as guilty as those he's seeking to bring in, they soon form a partnership, each one working in respect of the other and finding that corruption knows no bounds in Hong Kong.
A bleak action thriller, Above The Law is a terrifically violent film, one that dallies with appearances in court rooms and in police stations but is clearly a good deal more enamoured with bloody action. What it does very well is to remember that martial arts ought to quick, to be astonishingly violent and that a good fight ought to end in little over a minute. Perhaps it's from watching a good many martial arts films of late - very typical Hong Kong features that see a legendary form rediscovered via the finding of a book of techniques - all of which see fights edge over the ten-minute mark, which do become very dull, but the often ferocious fighting in Above The Law arrives like the rain after a long, dry summer. A fight between Cynthia Rothrock and Karen Shepherd, though slightly longer than the average, is marvellous, with the two of them scaling a shopping mall in pursuit of one another before ending, as these things rarely do, with a well-timed blow. Above The Law offers Rothrock one of her very best roles and she's certainly not out of place here. Similarly, Melvin Wong, in spite of being assisted by the usual incompetent goons, all of whom are swiftly dealt with by Rothrock, has a great time in the film, never more so when Rothrock arrives at an airport in pursuit of him. Bleak as this is, one is never sure how Above The Law will end but it's fair to say that you won't presume to know before the final scene plays out.
But Above The Law belongs not to Rothrock nor to Wong but to Yuen Biao. Whether diving out of the path of speeding cars, jumping out of an apartment building, tossing a still-warm corpse into Rothrock's path, making use of a pane of glass in his fighting Peter Cunningham or, in his day job, trying to bring down Hong Kong criminals while in court, Biao has many of the best scenes in the film. In the interview included as a bonus feature in Shanghai Express, Biao hopes that his name will live on through the films he'd starred in during the era in which this was made. If he was thinking about Above The Law, then he's sure to be remembered fondly, showing that martial arts can be tied to an entertaining, if pitch-black, story and can revel in the sudden and bloody violence that one expects of martial arts.
Like their presentation of Shanghai Express, Above The Law comes to DVD looking and sounding good. Unfortunately and perhaps due to its modern-day setting, there are problems in its production with it never looking a good deal better than an episode of Miami Vice - Rothrock's fondness for pastel shades do date it to that era - while the night time shots often obscures the action in darkness. So while Above The Law doesn't look great on DVD, it's fair to say that the DVD presentation is not at fault and that Dragon Dynasty have done a very good job with what they were presented with. After all, there's only so much you can do with the gentle lighting, the flatteringly soft focus and the stark white design of the sets that were so prevalent during the eighties. Again, there's a small amount of noise noticeable here behind the dialogue and though it doesn't affect what one hears (or not), it is mildly irritating. Finally, there are English and Spanish subtitles, which are reasonable off the Cantonese (DD5.1 and Mono) and English DD5.1 audio tracks.
Commentary: Bey Logan returns to record a feature-length track for Above The Law. Revealing himself to be a man with more than one string to his bow, he doesn't restrict himself just to martial arts this time but, from acknowledging a friend in the Hong Kong legal profession, reveals the courtroom inaccuracies in Above The Law. Once again, though, this is a chatty, informal track with Logan revealing much from behind the scenes, a remarkable amount of biographical information on the cast and a real love of Hong Kong cinema. Even what he knows of Cynthia Rothrock - and there can't be many who know that much - is surprising, even, I would assume, to Rothrock herself.
Interview w/ Yuen Biao (16m26s): This being the second Dragon Dynasty release with an interview with Yuen Biao, he's straight into the background to the making of Above The Law, in which he was encouraged to develop his own story. After starring in features that were starring vehicles for Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, it's a wonder that he went for so bleak a film but he did, limiting, in his own words, his acting in favour of showing off his martial arts skills. Once again, he's a good interviewee and one comes away liking Biao, not least for describing his co-stars, particularly Cynthia Rothrock, in very generous terms and for acknowledging that his co-stars play an important part in the success of Above The Law.
Interview w/ Cynthia Rothrock (12m39s): As with Yuen Biao, this carries on the interview with Rothrock that began on Shanghai Express but moving on to talk about the stunts and action in Above The Law. Rightly, she does dwell on her fight with Karen Shepherd - in doing so, she reveals that Shepherd was contracted not to be shown dying but that a stuntman in drag neatly sidestepped that problem - and ends with a fond look back at her time in Hong Kong, describing it, probably fairly, as offering her the best action scenes that she would have in the movies.
Interview w/ Peter Cunningham (18m42s): Kickboxer Cunningham is only on the screen for a very short time in Above The Law, including a fairly memorable opening, but appears here in his gym talking about his beginnings in martial arts, his appearance in the film and what happened in his career thereafter. This is a good interview, not really for what Cunningham has to say but more that he's a likeable guy who made it into films not only for his ability as a martial artist but for being liked by the right people when the opportunity arose.
Alternate Endings (22m35s): At that length, this actually takes in most of the end of the film even as it was seen in the cinemas. However, what is different is that it's not so surprising a way to resolve the action. Without giving very much away, it's not a terrible ending but it's nowhere near as good as what was offered in the theatrical cut. And, as if one ending wasn't enough, there's a very short postscript to the film contained in the last few minutes of this feature.
Finally, there are a couple of Trailers (3m41s, 1m52s), one for the Hong Kong release and the other for the US issue of this film.