Review for The Millionaires' Express
It’s not often that you might place an order for a film, and wind up getting four, but that is what will happen when you get The Millionaires’ Express Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release from Eureka Entertainment, limited to just 3000 copies. For its first release run, you’ll get a two disc release with two versions of the film on disc 1, and two more versions of the film on the second, including the International release version that was originally released in the UK on DVD by Hong Kong Legends over 15 years ago at this point. You’ll also get more extra features than you can shake a stick at. It’s not a film that is as well known as the usual Jackie Chan mainstays that casual kung fu fans go for, but it really should be. The Millionaires Express is jam-packed with Hong Kong acting talent; you’ll spot famous faces from practically every kung fu flick of the era, and as a comedy Eastern Western, it does something really quite original as well.
The Millionaires’ Express is the regular train from Shanghai that is usually the exclusive transport of the wealthy and the well to do. At the best of times this would make it a prime target for banditry, but this time around the Japanese ambassador is travelling on board with a map to the Terracotta Army. It’s no surprise that interest in this particular train is high, most notably among a bunch of nefarious gangsters and their bandit sidekicks. The plan is to ambush the train just past the town of Han Shui. Han Shui has trouble of its own, the bank has just been robbed by the unscrupulous town security, and infamous son of the town, Ching Fong Tin has just returned with a bunch of prostitutes in tow, with a plan of his own. By blowing up the tracks before the train reaches the town, the train passengers will have to visit Han Shui, and spend some money at the brothel he intends to set up. He doesn’t count on the gangsters or the bandits showing up, or even the government agent that has been pursuing him.
Hong Kong Theatrical Version (97:11)
International Extended Version (101:42)
The International Extended Version naturally has scenes that aren’t in the Theatrical Version, but the Theatrical Version actually has some scenes that aren’t in the Extended, which has resulted in the Hybrid version on the second disc, the hypothetically ‘complete’ version of the film.
Shanghai Express English Export Version (92:40)
The Millionaire’s Express Hybrid Cut (108:57)
All versions of the film in this release come courtesy of a 2k restoration, and The Millionaires’ Express looks awesome on this transfer. Detail levels are excellent on this 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. Colours are rich and consistent, there is a nice level of film grain, there’s no visible sign of compression, and while the image is pin sharp and absolutely stable, it looks delightfully filmic throughout.
The splendid transfer does great justice to the cinematography. Everything from the production design, the costumes, the sets and the lighting comes across beautifully, and this film looks worth ten times the budget. The fight choreography comes from the old school of Hong Kong cinema, and is a joy to watch, as are the slapstick sight gags and the mind-blowing stunts.
It’s all PCM 1.0 Mono on these discs, with all but the Shanghai Express version on disc 2 having Cantonese audio, while Shanghai Express and the International Extended Version also get English audio. The three versions with Cantonese audio also get subtitles. I stuck with the Cantonese audio, and was happy enough with the experience. The audio is mono of course, but it’s of decent quality, bringing the action and music across with warmth and depth, while keeping the dialogue clear. There’s just a bit of harshness at the high end, but it’s not a debilitating issue. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, and from the presence of modern slang (cougars meaning older women), they are newly created for this release. Sometimes subtitles can briefly knock you out of an experience, and 2000s slang applied to a movie from 1986 made me blink.
The discs boot to static menus.
The release will also come with Eureka’s 28 page booklet with writing from James Oliver as well as plenty of stills and promo imagery.
Disc 1 offers the following extras.
Audio Commentary with Asian Film Expert Frank Djeng on Hong Kong Theatrical Version
Selected Scene commentary with Cynthia Rothrock and Frank Djeng (17:24)
Audio Commentary with Arne Venema and Mike Leeder on Extended Version
Cynthia Rothrock on The Millionaire’s Express (16:35)
There are also the following in Archival Interviews, although the newest Cynthia Rothrock interview was made in lockdown.
Shanghai Express: Behind the Scenes with Cynthia Rothrock (14:24)
A New Frontier: Interview with Sammo Hung (10:58)
Express Delivery: Interview with Sammo Hung (14:46)
Trailblazer: Interview with Cynthia Rothrock (23:59)
Way Out West: Interview with Yuen Biao (20:51)
On The Cutting Edge: Interview with Yukari Oshima (30:16)
You get the Alternate Credits from the English Release (4:16), and three flavours of Trailer.
Finally there is the MLS Featurette. This was supposed to be on the My Lucky Stars Trilogy release (actually it is on that disc but there’s no listing on the menu screen), but that error is rectified by including it here, assuming with justification, that Sammo Hung fans will pick up both releases. The Behind the Scenes featurette lasts 6:53.
Millionaires’ Express is one of those films that have it all, except maybe a coherent plot. But this film is from that era where niceties like plot and depth of character were less of a concern, than having a rip-roaring time watching a film that wouldn’t fail to entertain. This film entertains in spades. It’s your classic mix of action and comedy, with plenty of slapstick, farce and death defying stunts thrown in for good measure. From the introduction of the hero, Sammo Hung’s Ching Fong Tin as he loots seemingly dead Russian soldiers, to the film’s action packed climax, the pace is relentless and the thrills and comedy laid on in generous measure.
There is a nice mix of oddball characters played by a veritable who’s who of Hong Kong cinema, from the rival masters travelling with their equally antagonistic sons, the adulterous Sherlock Holmes look-alike who keeps trying to find time away from his hefty wife to be with his mistress, the idiotic security guards turned bank robbers, and the samurai who are so adept with their swords that they are a menace to passing flies. Millionaires’ Express pays homage to Spaghetti Westerns in its wonderful cinematography, as well as Indiana Jones in terms of its style and characters, but plays like nothing less than a live action cartoon.
I quickly found myself lost in its charms, and on a couple of occasions was startled into belly laughs that were actually painful. It’s nice to occasionally watch a film without pretensions, and Millionaires’ Express was an unadulterated joy. I did learn this time however, that an unadulterated joy doesn’t sustain when watching three versions of largely the same film, across three successive sultry summer nights. I wasn’t going to watch the dub only Shanghai Express, but I did want to see the differences between the Cantonese versions. I can tell you that subsequently I will be watching the Hybrid Version exclusively. It’s a well put together version of the film, putting in all elements of the Theatrical and the Extended versions, but not harmed in terms of pace or energy. That early scene in the brothel is delightfully funny in the Theatrical Cut, yet I’m surprised that the Yuen Biao versus Sammo fight sequence is in the Extended Version and not the Theatrical. It’s a great selling point to the film. With the Hybrid Cut, you get it all.
The Millionaires’ Express has been a long time coming on Blu-ray (must be British Rail) but it’s definitely been worth the wait, as Eureka Films have created the definitive collection for the film. Definitely get this Limited Edition, as the eventual Standard Edition might lack the second disc and that Hybrid cut.