Review for Magnificent Warriors
This hasn’t happened to me for a while. It’s been four days since I watched the review disc of Magnificent Warriors, and it’s only know that I’m getting around to putting my fingers to keyboard. Magnificent Warriors is a film that I most certainly enjoyed, was definitely entertained by, but was left curiously unenthusiastic about it, lost for words to convey my relaxed apathy. I still don’t know quite what to say about it, and hopefully the next few paragraph of stream of consciousness will help me distil an opinion regarding the film. After all, it’s a mid-eighties kung-fu action flick, one starring Michelle Yeoh, and it has been likened to Indiana Jones. That way lay the Armour of God films, so we should be onto a good thing, right?
At the height of the second Sino Japanese War, with the Japanese occupying Manchuria, they are spreading their influence through China. Ming Ming is a pilot who gets a mission to Kayi City, hidden in the mountains. It’s a town where the Japanese are keen to establish a presence, and Agent 001 has been secretly working with the town leader against them. But now it’s getting too dangerous, and the leader wants out. It’s Ming Ming’s mission to fly him too safety, but when she gets there it’s too late. The Japanese are about to take over in force, and she has to decide whether to stay and fight.
Magnificent Warriors gets a 2.39:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and you have the choice between PCM 2.0 Mono English and Cantonese with optional English subtitles. Visually it’s an impeccable transfer, clear and sharp with excellent detail and rich and consistent colours. There is no sign of compression or the like, and the action and stunts come across brilliantly. I went with the Cantonese audio and found it decent enough, with the usual caveat regarding harsher original theatrical audio compared to warmer home video mixes, and a slight lamentation that there is no home video Cantonese audio for this title. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos.
The first run release of Magnificent Warriors will come with an o-card slipcover, and a 20-page booklet with writing on the film from James Oliver, along with plenty of film stills and production images.
The disc boots to a static menu page that lists all the audio and subtitle options, as well as the following extra features.
Audio Commentary with Asian Film Expert Frank Djeng
Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder & Arne Venema
Michelle Yeoh Interview [Archival] (6:58)
Tung Wai Interview [Archival] 12:53)
1989 Guy Laroche Advert with Michelle Yeoh and Jackie Chan (0:33)
Hong Kong Trailer (3:53)
UK Trailer (1:34)
So is Magnificent Warriors the precursor to Lara Croft, is it the Indiana Jones clone that the blurb suggests? It’s true that Michelle Yeoh can certainly work a whip in a tense situation, but that only happens in one scene in this film; although it is an obvious homage. Actually Magnificent Warriors has a lot more in common with the 1983 Tom Selleck movie, High Road to China, although it must be noted at this point that Selleck was almost Indiana Jones himself, and High Road to China is certainly on the Fedora bandwagon. But when it comes to the story, a pilot hired to complete a mission, and instead sticking around at the destination, getting into the middle of a little war, the two films are siblings.
The film begins by introducing the protagonist Ming Ming, and exploring her action hero credentials. She’s on a mission supplying guns to rebels, only they try to double cross her. She’s coolly provocative in how she deals with them before making her escape in a biplane. She then flies back to base where she gets her next mission, after being tested once more. Once she gets to the city, she meets the other protagonists in the film, the plucky secret agent, who could stand to be a little smarter, the honourable but timid leader of the city, his more outspoken girlfriend, and a passing drifter who’s a trickster conman, but honourable with it. Then there are the antagonists, with the Japanese personified in their cruel leader, and the local collaborators.
The action and the stunts are spectacular, the fight sequences are as good as you can get from 80s kung-fu cinema, and the film blends comedy with drama just as you would hope. The good guys get in and out of scrapes with abandon, while the bad guys continually level up their villainy as the story progresses, to the point of the climax, where the townsfolk effectively have to go to war against the Japanese army.
It all sounds like a lot of fun, and it actually is, but there are a couple of negatives to Magnificent Warriors that stick with me after the experience. The most significant issue is the utter even keel that Ming Ming maintains through proceedings. No matter how tough the situation, she approaches it with a sense of understated joy and playfulness. This kind of hero isn’t uncommon in Hong Kong cinema, but it does kind of knock verisimilitude for six when people are dropping one-liners and quips while facing a firing squad. The second thing is the final volte face of the villain. The Japanese commander has been ramping up the cruelty and his disdain for the locals through the film, but only by being utterly defeated by them does he see honour in them, and starts treating them fairly... That’s a development that is hard to buy into, and it knocks me out of the story just as the end credits start to roll.
Magnificent Warriors is a fun movie, but it’s just not a memorable one. It has flaws to be sure, and they don’t outweigh its selling points, but they do diminish it enough to make it rather disposable fare. Eureka do give the film excellent presentation, but they haven’t exactly delivered on extra features, especially compared to those extras they solicited with the PR blurb with this release, but which obviously didn’t make it to the final disc.
Magnificent Warriors can be purchased from Terracotta Distribution, direct from Eureka of course and the usual mainstream e-tailers.
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