Blu-ray Release: September 12, 2023
Audio: Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (HK Cut) and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (Import Cut)
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 90:28
Director: Ronny Yu
Set in the early days of the Chinese Republic, The Postman Fights Back tells the story of Courier "Errand Horse" Ma (Leung Kar-Yan aka Bryan Leung), who delivers mail for a living. After returning home from a delivery run and discovering his village is too poor for mail services, he reluctantly accepts a high-paying mission to deliver a secret shipment to a local bandit named Jiao Long, who controls the Northern mountain territory with his vicious Pigtail Army. Together with his criminal friend Yao Jie (Yuen Yat-cho), underworld guide Fu Jun (Chow Yun-Fat) and demolitions expert Bu (Fan Mei-Sheng) -- as well as two tag-alongs, Ma's girlfriend Guifa (Cherie Chung Cho-Hung), and the mysterious Li Fu (Kook Jeong-Sook) -- Courier Ma sets out with the unidentified cargo. However, once Ma learns the significance of the cases and their mystery contents, it becomes clear that there is more at stake than completing his assignment.
The Postman Fights Back is a somewhat frustrating experience, kicking off as a somewhat dry drama with the occasional, brief fight scene peppered in, and then about halfway through it suddenly starts to come alive with more imaginative and even outrageous fight sequences, and an unexpected streak of brutal violence. The combination of low lows and high highs make it hard to recommend as a cohesive viewing experience, but there are no doubt martial arts fans who will have more of a fondness for this one than I did as a newcomer.
The most frustrating part is the first half of the film, which spends what feels like an unnecessarily long amount of time on setup. We are slowly introduced to Ma and his disreputable acquaintance Yao Jie, and the movie takes its time establishing the conditions of Ma's village (which we will never see again after he leaves it), as well as the impending construction of a train station that will render Ma's services as a courier obsolete. Then, separately, we are introduced to Fu Jun (Chow Yun-Fat) -- twice, once for us as the viewer and once for Ma's sake -- and Bu (Fan Mei-Sheng). The meeting where Ma finally accepts the job transporting the mystery packages to Jiao Long doesn't occur until almost exactly 30 minutes into the movie, which is only 90 minutes long. And even then, there is still another introductory scene, when the characters rescue Li Fu (Kook Jeong-Sook) and decide to let her tag along until they pass through her home town.
Once all of that is out of the way, however the film finally starts to pick up the pace. After a handful of martial arts sequences that are fine but not especially memorable and almost all of which are too short, we get the first of a few extremely memorable sequences, in which Fu Jun faces off with a pair of would-be assassins with one of the most unique fighting styles I've ever seen -- what appears to be one man is actually two, with the second crouching directly behind the first on a backpack that is essentially a small ledge, only leaning out from behind his partner when Fu Jun least expects it. Shortly thereafter, there is another fun sequence on a frozen lake, with enemies that storm the party like a killer hockey team. There is also a brief, well-staged torture scene to spice things up a bit, and one of those ninjas that can disappear in a puff of well-timed smoke.
As the film enters the home stretch, it arguably shifts again, remaining exciting but taking a surprisingly dark turn. To be fair, the Ponytail Army is established at the beginning as being dangerous, but the movie really leans into the idea of wartime violence in its last twenty minutes, including a scene with two giant bamboo walls with twenty or thirty prisoners tied to it. Someone ties explosives to mice and lets them loose in an enemy camp, and there are some unexpected, brutal deaths. The movie builds to a spectacular final showdown with the aforementioned ninja, who has various amusing weapons in his arsenal, including a magnetic panel in his sleeve to reroute metal projectiles, and the ability to fling gunpowder from his wrists and light it on fire, essentially giving him the ability to throw fireballs. When the showdown arrives at its over-the-top conclusion, it's hard not to wish the first half of The Postman Fights Back were as wild as the ending.
Although the packaging doesn't mention it, 88 Films' website identifies this as a new 2K restoration of The Postman Fights Back. This is a nicely filming presentation with a light sheen of film grain visible throughout and a satisfying amount of fine detail on display in skin and clothing texture. However, there are other areas where the transfer is a little less consistent, likely due to the source material. At their best, colors are pleasantly punchy, such as the red in the opening title cards, but the movie often has a hazy, dreamy look in brightly lit scenes that causes the image to look more washed out, and some dark scenes can suffer from crush. There are also various scenes or shots that look softer than others. All things considered, this is a solid example of the kind of new Blu-ray transfers being produced for Hong Kong action classics, and I'm sure those who suffered through years of trying to track down these films on horrible-looking VCDs with awful subtitle translations will have no complaints about this transfer regardless of any inconsistencies.
I viewed the film with the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Cantonese track on the original Hong Kong cut, and it sounded fine. As with may of these Hong Kong action films, there is a certain fuzziness or muffled quality to some of the dialogue and sound effects that feels inherent to the source -- nothing here is crisp, per se, but it's also just how these old films tend to sound. Two subtitle tracks are provided: English subtitles, and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing. As always, I am glad when both options are included on a martial arts film, as it can be quite frustrating to have to see all of the sound effects included in the subtitles (I'm looking at you, Warner Archive).
Export Cut (1:28:38) - The slightly shorter international version of the film is also included. As noted at the top of the review, this version of the film is offered with English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono.
Commentary by Director Ronny Yu and Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng (HK Cut) - The first of two commentaries on the disc brings on filmmaker Ronny Yu to discuss the making of the film. Between the two tracks, this one is more focused on the traditional making of the movie, with Djeng providing some context and asking questions of Yu, and then allowing Yu to tell whatever stories he remembers from the production. As with the video extras elsewhere on the disc, a major theme is the weather and shooting conditions in Korea, as well as some of the struggles by the Hong Kong filmmakers when it came to communicating with the Korean crew and actors, as well as some of the changes made on the fly during the making of the film. Yu is a very enthusiastic and colorful personality, and with the support of Djeng to keep finding new things to talk about, the dynamic makes for a fun track.
Commentary by Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng (HK Cut) - As Djeng explains in his introduction, he felt that having ceded most of the other commentary to Yu, he would record a second commentary to dive deeper into the cultural history that provided a backdrop for the movie. Djeng is a fast speaker and extremely well-read, and dives right into the political and and cultural history that the film was drawing on. He does also work in background about the cast and crew throughout, as well as simply his own observations on the filmmaking, and he does clearly expect the viewer to have watched the track with himself and Yu first, as he references their discussion on that track more than once. There are some gaps throughout the track, but those looking for more context surrounding the film's story will find it fascinating.
Commentary by martial arts expert Stephen Hammond (Export Cut) - This track was originally recorded for the 2001 Hong Kong Legends Special Collector's Edition DVD, released in the United Kingdom.
Archival Interviews with Chow Yun-Fat (7:16), Leung Kar-Yan (7:43, 9:19), and Ronny Yu (8:11, 12:38) - This is a mixed bag of clips from other sources, some of which have clearly been included simply because they're available. In particular, the Chow Yun-Fat interview is a general discussion about his career and has no real relevance to The Postman Fights Back. The same is true of the second Leung Kar-Yan interview, although the first appears to be an excerpt from a longer piece and is focused on the movie, with Kar-Yan primarily discussing what it was like filming in the snow and in Korea, including the food and his co-stars. Yu covers some of the same ground in his first interview, which is also focused on Postman, as well as some of the improvisation done based on the challenges they encountered during production, such as a horse that wasn't the right color, and an actor with a broken leg. The other Yu interview is from some sort of video channel called That Phat Samurai Guy, with the aforementioned Guy, Preston, Yu, and Djeng, where again they talk generally about Yu's inspirations and career. There's definitely overlap between these interviews and the commentaries, and I think the commentaries provide a more comprehensive look at the making of the film, but the inclusion of these video extras is still appreciated.
Stills Gallery - By my count, 21 images are included, but I have to say this is one of the weirdest approaches to a stills gallery I've ever seen. Instead of simply displaying the images in high resolution on screen, they have been given an artificial animation where they start out at a slight distance and move toward the screen while a piece of music from the film plays. If I were actually wanting to see the high-resolution stills preserved on the disc, this seems like kind of an annoying approach, but I guess I also have no idea what, if anything, people want out of stills galleries on discs.
Theatrical Trailer - The Hong Kong trailer for The Postman Fights Back is included.
I found The Postman Fights Back to be a bit of a mixed bag, but there are certainly some scenes in the second half I'll never forget. No doubt there are many martial arts fans out there who are already familiar with the movie and are more comfortable with the ways it ebbs and flows, or they will feel the good stuff is good enough to be worth it. In either case, 88 Films has done a fine job with this new disc, which features a satisfying new transfer and adequate audio, three dense commentaries, and an assortment of archival video extras.
The images on this page are taken from the Blu-ray and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images.