Red Wolf Review
For one of his last films as director Yuen Woo-Ping chose a relatively simple action movie that is essentially a knock-off of the rather poor Steven Segal vehicle Under Siege. As such you can probably guess that Red Wolf is a film about a ship that is the target of a terrorist attack Hong Kong style! There are of course some minor differences in setting and characters. The ship under threat here is a cruise liner populated with holiday-makers who are subjected to the most callous group of terrorists I have seen on film in sometime while their only hope is a lone security guard (Kenny Ho) with a past that haunts him, and the formidable beauty of a petit thief, Linda (Christy Chung), who is using the cover of her waitress job to gain her pick-pocketing opportunities.
Red Wolf immediately suffers from an overly cumbersome opening 30-minutes that while doing their job of introducing the lead characters and the situation they find themselves in it just lacks any kind of consistency and fails to completely draw you in as it should. Fortunately the final hour is fiercely edited to provide us with just enough action and plot devices to hold our interest and yes, even excite thanks to several fine action sequences. We are even treated to a little humour with the standout moment being the boxing antics of Christy Chung.
The female leads really steal the show as they combine a simply smouldering visual allure with Elaine Lui's menacing turn as a terrorist and Christy Chung's light hearted portrayal of a petit thief caught up in a situation she has absolutely no control of. The two offset each other perfectly as they end up facing off with one another (as do the male leads) and as it should be, the audience is rooting for the Christy Chung character although you will be hard pushed not to feel a little sorry for Elaine in the closing scenes. Of course we cannot forget the male leads with ex Jackie Chan stunt group member Kenny Ho playing the one-man rescue team and the formidable Ngai Sing taking up the reigns of a relentless terrorist leader. Both put in commendable performances although it really is more acting by numbers than usual for an action production, but then that is what Red Wolf is all about and in the action stakes it certainly delivers some exciting sequences.
Standout moments include a great stunt that sees Kenny Ho dive off the ship attached to only a rope in a scene highly reminiscent of Die Hard while there are plenty of other falls the various actors endure, all of which will satisfy your need for those bone crunching displays we have come to expect from Hong Kong Cinema. As you might expect from Yuen Woo-Ping the choreography on display in the fight sequences is often superb with Woo-Ping having opted for a more street style that focuses very much on the actors kicking prowess with Ngai Sing in particular putting in some outstanding moves. Several small bouts of combat punctuate the action throughout while some particularly inventive scenes crop up later on and see the use of soap, water and bath mats of all things! The final showdown between Kenny Ho and Ngai Sing is another fine kicking fest but even here the film falls down with overly long interruptions to the action as we see another plot thread being examined in far too much detail for my liking.
A decent cast, some great stunts and some invigorating fight sequences all make Red Wolf an entertaining movie but they can never quite make up for its slow start, an overly simple plot which is filled with holes (a pointless back story for Kenny Ho and a completely forgotten character by the films ending are two such examples) and something I have not mentioned yet, an absolutely dire musical score, all of which puts it firmly in the realms of a 'Popcorn Movie'.
This Hong Kong Legends release is Region 2/4 Encoded.
Presented in its original 1:77:1 Aspect Ratio with Anamorphic Enhancement the first thing you will notice is how for a more recent Hong Kong effort the picture quality on offer is slightly lacking. The print sourced is in decent condition with barely a speck of dirt to be seen leaving the only noticeable problem in the form of a medium level of grain that is present throughout the entire feature. For the most part the grain does not cause too many problems with detail levels kept relatively high and colours well defined, while black levels too are handled with care. Where the grain does cause problems however is in a few scenes, one in particular being within the ships freezer where the level of grain becomes irritating and mixed with some digital smearing, artefacts are quite noticeable for a brief period of time. Another area where this problem crops up is in the entire finale fight sequence which suffers from a high amount of grain and various artifacting. To be honest this is not that great a problem, but it is quite unexpected given the quality of Hong Kong Legends titles that are considerably older than Red Wolf and certainly took me by surprise. What we have here in essence then is a picture that is perfectly watchable and at times very good, but maybe not quite what it could have been although this is almost certainly down to the condition of the prints HKL were given rather than a testament to their restoration techniques which as we all know are some of the best around.
Both the original Cantonese Language track and an English Dub track are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. For primary viewing purposes I of course chose the preferable original language track that was in very good condition and provided a fine, if slightly underused DD5.1 Audio experience that presents the dialogue clearly via the centre speaker and spreads the music and sound effects mainly across the front speakers but does occasionally make use of the rears, but never to any great extent. The optional English Dub track offers essentially the same DD5.1 experience, and I can also honestly say that the English dub is not a bad effort and acceptable for the occasional viewing.
The optional English subtitles are to their usual high standard with no sign of spelling or grammatical errors present. Dutch subtitles are also available.
This is the second Platinum Edition from Hong Kong Legends (the first being their superb Game of Death release) which means we get a second disc full of extras and a rather nice cardboard slipcase that matches the design of the previous Platinum Edition (this one being number 2 in the collection) and of course houses the slim line double Armaray case, but is it all worth the extra £5? Well lets take a look at what is on offer...
Disc one plays host to an Audio Commentary with HKL regular Bey Logan who is joined by the films leading lady, Christy Chung. This is in essence two friends sitting back and enjoying themselves as they talk about the film, share jokes and stories, chat about their previous and present film projects (both were working on Highbinders at the time) and much to Bey's and every male member in the audiences delight, Christy fakes an orgasm - four times! Throughout all this Bey manages to squeeze in some information on the films shoot, its location and of course the cast and crew while Christy freely contributes with plenty of inside information and stories from the set. In all while this commentary does not offer up quite the same depth of information we have come to expect from Bey it still ranks as one of his best due to the infectious nature of the pairs humour and the obvious enjoyment they have garnered from this recording and it will certainly be subject to repeat plays from myself.
The only other extra content on disc one is that of Trailers and information on further HKL titles. Of most interest are the Trailers for the forthcoming releases of Police Story 2, Ninja in the Dragons Den and Naked Killer, all of which are looking very nice at this stage.
Moving on to disc two you will find no less than 3hrs 30mins of video based extra content, all of which is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen plus of course we get some picture and text based content that take the added value of this disc even further. In a similar fashion to the various 'floors' of features found on the Game of Death: Platinum Edition this disc features 6 'decks' for you to explore, all of which focus on a particular area of content.
The Honeymoon Suite is dedicated to the delectable Christy Chung and contains two segments. The first segment, Love on Delivery is an 18-minute interview whose name refers to that of Christy's work on the (quite brilliant I might add) Stephen Chow film of the same name. During the interview Christy covers her route into Hong Kong Cinema, and then her work on Red Wolf whereupon she goes on to talk about the most significant movies of her career so far as well as talking a little about her recently released book. The second feature found on this deck is The Bare Facts which is a text based biography for Christy Chung that offers a far more in-depth look at her film work that combined with the personal touch of the interview makes for a fine look at Christy Chung and a good first 'deck'.
The Ballroom is the next deck which focuses our attention to that of the delightful Elaine Lui. The first segment contained within is Lights, Camera, Action which is an 18-minute interview with Elaine that entirely focuses on Red Wolf and sees her discuss her time with director Yuen Woo-Ping and co-stars Christy Chung and Ngai Sing. Martial Law Uncovered is a further 17-minute interview session with Elaine that sees her discuss her time working with Sammo Hung on his US Television series, Martial Law. This segment is again quite in-depth and as an added bonus we get to see some footage of Sammo in action on the television series and some behind the scenes footage with Elaine on set. Both interviews prove to be highly informative but most of all entertaining as Elaine is a very cheerful and engaging character, which makes these 35-minutes, fly by. Also found on this deck is Angel on Fire, a 52-picture Photo Gallery consisting of promotional and glamour photos of the lovely Elaine Lui and is most definitely worth a look!
The Gymnasium continues the interview themed decks and this time we are in the presence of Bobby Samuels who plays the indistinguishable black terrorist with a great haircut! The first interview segment is titled Red Wolf Re-visited and with a 19-minute runtime that Bobby makes superb use of proves to be an entertaining watch. Bobby mainly talks about his efforts to form the 'G7', which was the first Western Stunt Team in Hong Kong, he then goes on to explain how they landed their first contract for the film Red Wolf and divulges some stories from the set for us. The second interview, Gentlemen and Warrior, sees Bobby explain his interesting efforts to break into the Hong Kong Movie world and how Sammo Hung took him in and got him started. This segment is again highly informative and entertaining thanks to Bobby's engaging and enthusiastic manner, while the list of people he has met and become friends with is quite envious to any die-hard fan of the Hong Kong movie genre! A Candid Camera 11-picture photo gallery rounds off this section and contains some photos of Bobby Samuels on the set of Red Wolf and like the Elaine Lui Photo Gallery, is well worth your time unlike the majority of HKL Photo Gallery efforts.
The final interview deck is the Captain's Quarters which features what is probably the weakest of the interviews so far from the ships captain, Steve Brettingham. With a runtime of 16-minutes Steve explains how he got into the stuntman/acting business, remembers his time with the 'G7' stunt team and has some stories from the set of Red Wolf to tell before he winds things down with his thoughts on the work he has done with Jean Claude Van Damme and the great Sammo Hung. While this interview is not short on stories and indeed contains some interesting facts Steve never comes across quite so enthusiastic about his work as the other interviewees do, which makes this interview a little harder to enjoy, but is still a worthy inclusion. Also present on this deck is the Ngai Sing Stunt Workshop which sees the films first officer and all-round superb Martial Arts stunt-man Ngai Sing give a class as part of the Hong Kong Stunt-Man Training School. With a running-time of 37-minutes this feature makes for a highly entertaining watch as we get to see Ngai Sing impart his years of knowledge on the trainees, talk about his roles in various films and the stunts he has done, and we also get to see him show off a few moves and to choreograph and develop a fight sequence which the trainees all take part in. All in all a very compelling and fascinating piece on the future Matrix: Reloaded co-star and the world of Hong Kong stuntmen.
The Upper Deck features a highly accomplished HKL produced 72-minute documentary entitled Hero makers: Hong Kong Stuntmen in their own words which is exactly as the title suggests. Featuring several Hong Kong stuntmen talking about their profession they discuss such issues as the development of the Hong Kong Stuntmen association and the recently founded Hong Kong Stuntmen Training School. Other topics covered include how they are perceived by the public and of course the obligatory (and great fun) segment that includes first-hand accounts of stunts gone wrong, some of which are quite gruesome and one in particular raised my respect for Sammo Hung to even greater heights. This documentary is thoroughly entertaining and made all the more re-watchable thanks to the inclusion of clips from forthcoming HKL titles such as Project A, Project A Part 2, The Scorpion King, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, Winners & Sinners, The Young Master, Police Story 2, Ninja In The Dragons Den, Naked Killer and Crime Story!
The other extra to be found on this deck Yuen Woo Ping - Genius on the move is the same animated biography you will find on other HKL discs and while it is certainly interesting all but first time buyers will have seen it a number of times already!
The final deck, The Forecastle is also the most sparse with only trailers in sight. Those featured are the original Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer and the HKL Promotional Trailer for Red Wolf, and a promotional trailer for In the Line of Duty, all of which are presented in the appropriate Anamorphic Widescreen Aspect Ratios.
After more than five hours of extra content (including the Audio Commentary) I can only say that I was left wanting for more. Not because the features on offer lacked in content, instead it was because they are all so well produced and offer such a huge amount of information and entertainment value for fans of both the movie and the Hong Kong Action genre that I was sad to come to the end of the extra features. All I can do now is watch the excellent Hero Makers documentary again and wait for the next HKL release!
The basic concept is hardly inspiring but it lends itself to a reasonably paced action movie and while Red Wolf never delivers the goods as it should considering the talent onboard it makes for a fun night in and is certainly worthy of a look. As far as the DVD itself is concerned, I will admit that I like many others was more than a little worried as to what extra content Hong Kong Legends could provide but I would also not by lying if I said that Bey Logan and the team at Hong Kong Legends have excelled themselves and made this package an absolute must have for fans of the Hong Kong action movie genre.