The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
Cinapse is all about cinematic discovery. This Shawscope Volume 2 column is, therefore, a watch project for our team, and guests, to work through this phenomenal set from Arrow Video. These capsule reviews are designed to give glimpses of our thoughts as we discover these films for ourselves. Some are kung fu cinema experts, some less so; all are excited for the adventure.
The Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers Studio cranked out a staggering number of feature films over its lifetime. With worldwide influence continuing to this very day, their contributions to cinema are myriad and undeniable. Arrow Video has curated a second volume of titles; an intentional way to wade into the deep waters of the Shaw Brothers. Beyond capsule reviews, our team also offers thoughts on the set curation and bonus features. Watch along with us, join us in the comments, or reach out on social media (linked below) if you’d like to submit your own
Special Guest Charles Bujan
By the 1980s the Shaw Brothers were having an identity crisis. The classic Kung Fu films the studio built their brand on had fallen out of favor with audiences. During this time of uncertainty & desperation they gambled on new genres & more western-flavored contemporary offerings. A highlight of this era– Mercenaries From Hong Kong— is the story of a group of military veterans hired to track down an assassin hiding in Cambodia and while the film features an all star cast of recognizable Shaw Brothers players, led by Ti Lung at possibly his coolest, the stand out is the young & inexperienced writer/director Wong Jing who infuses what might have been a grim men-on-a-mission action thriller with an endearing mix of juvenile silliness, over the top action & spectacular stunts. Jing’s earnest & eager to entertain approach of almost non stop action & gags feels like a kid gleefully playing with his action figures. When the team of assembled badass killers regularly travel together wearing matching jumpsuits or there are posters of cute kittens on the wall of the rapist drug dealer’s penthouse, the movie has the feeling & charm of a Max Fisher production. Wong Jing is having fun and genuinely hopes you are as well.
Despite the shrinking market share of DVD sales overall, 2023 is a golden era for Hong Kong cinema making its way to high definition home video in the United States. At the same time that Arrow Video is releasing these amazing Shaw Brothers box sets, other companies like 88 Films and Shout Factory are also cranking out disc after lovely disc of kung fu and heroic bloodshed titles to such a degree that it is an embarrassment of riches. Alongside all these old school kung fu movies here, I’ve also been enjoying the In The Line Of Duty films that I’ve recently picked up. The energy and style of the action films from that time and place are simply irreplicable. And let me tell you: Mercenaries From Hong Kong is 100%, grade-A, top tier, my shit. Easily the biggest surprise on the set and most closely aligned with my personal contemporary 1980s heroic bloodshed vibe that I came up with as a film fan, I adored this. Director Wong Jing has over 100 directing credits to his name and is still working today, but this is a very early work at the beginning of his career and it just absolutely pops with the energy of the industry at that time. Stunts are dangerous, choreography is killer, and melodrama is a must. It helps that the legendary Ti Lung stars here as he assembles a ragtag group of former comrades in arms to undertake a mission assigned by a beautiful femme fatale. Before our guys are hurling grenades in the jungle, however, they’ve first got to enjoy the town in matching tracksuits while a thumping soundtrack guides them. Ridiculous, energetic, and mixing classic tropes with the “lightning in a bottle” that was 1980s Hong Kong cinema, I adored Mercenaries From Hong Kong and am likely to revisit this more often than most any other title I’ve discovered in these sets.
Going from historical kung-fu epic to a present day batshit crazy man on a mission flick delivered a pulpy face melter that made Mercenaries From Hong Kong a definite high point of the set for me. Wong Jing administers a dose of 80s action madness that features a team of Vietnam vets clad in matching Members Only jackets laying waste to not only Hong Kong, but Cambodia as well. Mercenaries is a film where no one walks down the steps, they simply jump out the closest window with a bazooka in hand to a rock infused soundtrack and a well timed explosion in the background for good measure. Obviously a reaction to their competitors at Golden Harvest proving no one can do action like Shaw Brothers, Mercenaries From Hong Kong is truly a sight to behold and a hell of a fun ride.
And We’re Out.