Magnificent Warriors Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: February 21, 2023
Audio: Cantonese and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Run Time: 92:28
Director: David Chung
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, spy, smuggler, and ace pilot Fok Ming-ming (Michelle Yeoh) is sent into a small village in Japanese-occupied East Asia in search of a secret agent (Derek Yee Tung-Sing). Along the way, she’s thrown off her trail by a nameless conman (Richard Ng Yiu-hon) and finds herself embroiled in an explosive political situation.
As the 1970s ended, so did Shaw Bros. Studio’s stranglehold on the Hong Kong and Taiwanese film markets. Upstart Golden Harvest began chewing into Shaw’s market share and young students of the Peking Opera school, like Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, and Jackie Chan, rocketed into super-stardom, eclipsing the previous generation’s contract players. Recognizing a power vacuum and public interest in new matinee idols, Dickson Poon’s D&B Films ‘discovered’ Michelle Yeoh (born Yeoh Choo Kheng), Malaysia’s Miss World representative and co-star of Jackie Chan’s 1984, erm, Guy Laroche commercial, who was originally schooled in ballet. D&B renamed their new luminary Michelle ‘Khan,’ trained her in stunt work, kung fu, kickboxing, taekwondo, and Cantonese (she was raised speaking English and Maylay), then introduced her via a supporting role in Hung’s The Owl vs Bombo (1984). Soon after, D&B cast her as the lead in Corey Yuen’s Yes, Madam! (1985) – the first of nine loosely affiliated films known as the In the Line of Duty franchise. She followed that up with two similarly titled movies under the director David Chung, Royal Warriors (1986), another cop thriller that was rolled into the In the Line of Duty series, and a pre-WWII-set adventure called Magnificent Warriors (aka: Dynamite Fighters, 1987).
Magnificent Warriors is an all-purpose mid-‘80s action movie, combining highly choreographed martial arts, ensemble comedy, Rambo-style macho military action, and Indiana Jones-style pulp escapades, all in service of showcasing every angle of Yeoh’s blossoming skillset. Clearly conceived as a Hollywood/Hong Kong hybrid, I suspect that the filmmakers were inspired by Eric Tsang’s Indiana Jones-esque Armor of God (1986), a Golden Harvest production co-directed by and starring Jackie Chan that was was, for a period, the highest grossing film of all time in Hong Kong. Chan’s film is bigger and more polished, but Magnificent Warriors has more to prove and every ounce of that pluck and determination shows up on screen. There’s something for everyone, from explosive set pieces and genuinely terrifying vehicle stunts, to creatively staged fight scenes, highlighted by Yeoh’s incredible speed and whip/rope work. Comic relief is handled by Lucky Stars and Pom Pom series favorite Richard Ng, who plays basically the same loveable dope he plays in those films, and singer-songwriter/composer Lowell Lo, who also supplies much-needed (and entirely melodramatic) pathos alongside Chindy Lau. The gags tend to overstate their welcome, but Chung always works his way back to another action sequence, culminating in a relentless climactic siege that pits the heroes and their villager friends against the technologically superior Imperial Japanese Army.
Chung has an impressive and eclectic resume as a cinematographer, including Tsui Hark’s Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (1980), Ann Hui’s Boat People (1982), Alex Law’s Painted Faces (1988), Jing Wong’s God of Gamblers (1989), and Tsui’s Once Upon a time in China (1991). His director’s CV, on the other hand, was much shorter, consisting of The Chase (co-directed with Ping To, 1977), It's a Drink! It's a Bomb! (produced by Sammo Hung, 1985), the two Michelle Yeoh vehicles, the charming sci-fi-sex-comedy I Love Maria (co-directed with Tsui Hark; aka: Roboforce, 1988), and Web of Deception (1989). Yeoh made one more movie for D&B, Stephen Shin’s Easy Money (1987), before marrying Poon and retiring from filmmaking. The couple divorced in 1992 and she returned to acting alongside Chan for Stanley Tong’s Police Story 3: Supercop (1992), a massive hit that turned her into one of the highest paid actors in Hong Kong and, after a substantial release in the US, scored her a supporting part in a Bond film, Roger Spottiswoode’s Tomorrow Never Dies, in 1997.
Thanks to Yeoh’s post-Super Cop and Bond popularity, Magnificent Warriors was pretty easy to find on US VHS in the late ‘90s and, thanks to her post-Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon popularity, it also had a healthy life on stateside digital media, including an anamorphic special edition from 20th Century Fox in 2003 and a streaming HD version that is regularly (and still) available on free-with-ads services/apps. 88 Films’ Blu-ray debut features a brand new restoration taken from a 2K scan of the original camera negative and is presented in 2.35:1, 1080p HD video (Eureka Entertainment is releasing their own UK exclusive Blu-ray the same week as 88 Films and the two discs probably contain the same transfer). Cinematographers Ma Chun-Wah & Law Wan-Shing shot a lot of the film on outdoor sets in overcast and nighttime conditions, which limits detail, but still manages to infuse a lot of atmosphere into their shots via diffused lighting and smoke/mist. Vibrant costume highlights help punch up element separation throughout the largely neutral palettes and, aside from the darkest shots, edges are tight without appearing too oversharpened (you can see some vague haloes in wide shots). Grain looks a bit fuzzy and clumpy in still shots, but looks pretty natural in motion. The noticeable issue, if you’re looking for one, is that some of the textures are a bit on the soft side. I don’t think this is the result of excessive DNR enhancement, though, since DNR usually creates a litany of digital artifacts.
Magnificent Warriors is presented with English and Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack options. Most Hong Kong films were still shot without sound and dubbed into multiple languages at the time, so, while Cantonese was almost certainly spoken on-set and the Cantonese track has the most convincing lip sync, there’s no guarantee you’re going to hear the original cast’s voices, no matter which track you opt for. Given that Cantonese was still a new language to her at the time and the voice sounds a little off, I assume that Yeoh didn’t dub her performance in either language (edit: in his commentary, Frank Djeng verifies that only Richard Ng and Lowell Lo dubbed their own performances). The Cantonese dub is a bit crisper than the English one, but they’re basically the same in terms of music and effects quality. The thin foley and canned effects are common for the period and not something I’d hold against 88 Films. Composers Wing-leung Chan & Renato Piccioni (who I assume worked in tandem, but perhaps did not) do their best to make mid-’80s synthesizers sound as big as an orchestra and it works pretty well for the swash-buckling main theme that is, unfortunately, way overused.
Commentary with Frank Djeng – The NY Asian Film Festival programmer and incredibly prolific commentator/interviewer (his work for 88 Films and Arrow is broad) gets down to business discussing the careers of the cast & crew, the history of the locations and the Second Sino-Japanese War, Magnificent Warriors’ various influences (good ol’ Frank is always ready with a comparison or two to spaghetti westerns, God bless him), and technical aspects of action scenes.
Archival interview with actress Michelle Yeoh (6:57, SD) – Yeoh has some pretty terrible memories of the production, recalling difficulties during filming, learning to use a whip, the differences between a Hong Kong and US production, and her first film.
Archival interview with stunt coordinator Tung Wai (12:53, SD) – Tung talks about working with Yeoh, Jackie Chan, and Sammo, finding space to inject personal style into the action, and the differences between coordinating fist fights and shootouts.
Alternate English opening credits (1:49, HD)
English language trailer
Two Hong Kong trailers
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