The Postman Fights Back Review
Chow Yun-Fat is one of few Chinese actors not from a martial arts background to find success in Hollywood (not that this stopped whoever cast him in Bulletproof Monk). That’s not to say he’s had no experience with the genre – he completed the TVB martial arts course along with other television and film stars such as Ti Lung, he was, of course, in Ang Lee’s acclaimed wire-fu action-er Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and he’s participated in a selection of martial arts scenes, from fist fights in Tiger on the Beat and Full Contact, to brief swordplay in The Peace Hotel, and even wire-fu in the two aforementioned big-budget pictures. The point of all this is not to list his undeniably impressive credentials, but to make my point that he is not exactly known for his work in the various areas of this particular genre. Which is why, although Chow has consistently seemed competent during martial arts scenes, I couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive about watching him star in The Postman Fights Back, a fairly typical example of post-Shaw Brothers Hong Kong kung fu.
However, any fears I may have had about Chow looking out of place, not keeping up with the choreography, et al were soon laid to rest when I realised he wasn’t even playing the main supporting actor, let alone a lead character likely to be involved in lengthy fights. Instead, the leading role, of the Postman no less, falls to Kar-Yan Leung (not featured on the DVD artwork I might add). Although hardly famous by any means, this actor has featured in a fair amount of, what now might be referred to as “old school”, kung fu flicks, such as Yuen Biao’s Knockabout and Chen Kwan Tai’s excellent Iron Monkey, and also had a supporting role in Yuen Woo Ping’s Tiger Cage.
Inspired by a, presumably quite famous, Chinese folk tale, although there is a brief introduction at the beginning, the film starts by showing the postman Brother Ma returning to his hometown. The economy is hardly prospering, and the townsfolk tell him that they can no longer afford to employ him. Forced to find new employment, he reluctantly accepts a job to deliver a gift to a distant land, the catch being that he has to complete it in a week, and that it must be given to the enemy of the local Warlord. Ma’s soon joined by troublemaking gambler-extraordinaire Fu Jun, as well as two other delinquents – a thief, and a rather hefty explosives specialist. The bulk of the run-time follows their journey, which is frequently perilous, occasionally interesting, and full of double-crosses and minor twists.
Right from the outset there are many flaws – the potentially intriguing characters are marred by patchy development, and director Ronny Yu (now most famous for his trashy horror hits Bride of Chucky, and the recent blockbuster Freddy Vs. Jason) makes numerous mistakes with the pacing. Also, one specific criticism I have is directed towards the death of several innocent children towards the end of the film. Maybe I’m too used to Hollywood action films where this would never happen, but I felt it was unnecessary, and an entirely cheap way to turn the audience against the antagonist, something that should have been happening gradually during the film anyway.
The actual martial arts scenes aren’t that bad. They may be a little too fantastical for some peoples’ taste, but there’s no doubting their originality. From two villains fighting together in what Dave cleverly dubbed a “piggyback” type stance in his review of the HKL release, to the use of everyday objects such as a scarf (similar in concept to the wet towel in Once Upon A Time In China 2), there are certainly a few instances that will grab your attention. As far as I’m concerned though, everything pales in comparison to the final fight. Now I’ve heard a lot about ninjas, be it from accurate historical sources, or from humorous references that they “flip out” and decapitate people at every opportunity, but I’ve certainly never heard that they could do some of the things that the ninja in the finale does when he fights our hero the postman. These acts include climbing up one tree only to climb down a different one quite far away, disappearing quite literally into the air, and even tunnelling into the ground like some sort of supremely efficient mole.
That final fight is a great example of how the film is, at times, great fun in a very tongue-in-cheek and inoffensive manner. The characters provide plenty of comic relief, especially the explosives expert who at one point turns several mice into lethal weapons by filling them with gunpowder and lighting their tails, I’m sure not even the RSPCA could stop themselves from bursting out in laughter. The problems come when the filmmakers try to implement the serious dramatic elements, of which there are many. These two different approaches don’t mesh at all, and so as a whole the film is very unbalanced and hard to enjoy or appreciate.
Comparison with the Hong Kong Legends Region 2 release.
As you can see from the above comparison, the transfer on this release is superior in every way - the colours are more accurate, the detail is far sharper, and there is commendably little grain or print damage considering it is a relatively old Hong Kong film.
The DVD also impresses here, containing no less than 5 different audio tracks - Dolby 5.1 in both English and Cantonese, DTS, again in both languages, and the original Cantonese Mono soundtrack.
Both the 5.1 and DTS tracks are pleasing. The dialogue is crystal clear, effects during fistfights suitably punchy, and ambient effects also come through nicely. Other than for a few explosions, and some brief gunfire, the film isn't exactly too demanding audio-wise, so it's not exactly a surprise that all of the tracks cope well. There isn't much difference between the different surround tracks at all, with the DTS track only having a distinct advantage during the aforementioned infrequent dynamic scenes.
The only special features are two trailers, a New Edited Movie Trailer (01'26") and the Original Movie Trailer (03'57").
The film itself didn’t impress me much at all, but if you’re particularly partial to the martial arts films of the ‘70s and ‘80s, or are perhaps a fan of Chow Yun-Fat and thus feel compelled to own it, then the choice comes down to this, and the HKL DVD release. This digitally remastered Fox DVD has a great selection of audio tracks, and a very good transfer as well, but lacks the extras of the HKL release, so it all comes down to which you value more – AV quality or extra features.