Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Return Engagement

Return Engagement
Director:  Joe Cheung

Year: 1990

Ah, how nice it is to be back in the welcoming arms of Hong Kong guns and blood actioners in which machine guns never run out of bullets, gunshot wounds are treated like pesky mosquito bites and mercy is a human quality that has long been forsaken. Back in the late 1980’s Hong Kong began making a shift from martial arts action films to something that was much more real to Hong Kong audiences; cops and criminal operatic bloodbaths that played out on the mean streets of the city. This genre reached its apogee with John Woo and Chow Yun Fat taking it to high melodramatic art with The Killer, Hard Boiled and The Better Tomorrow films.  But there were plenty of others that fed off the cinematic bloodlust that these films created and though far from high art, they can be good fun as you watch incredulously as armies of men are mowed down unceremoniously like standing duck pins.

Director Joe Cheung had already gone down this path with Flaming Brothers in 1987 which starred Chow Yun Fat and Alan Tang and he was to make another terrific one after Return Engagement called Pom Pom and Hot Hot in 1992. It has perhaps one of the worst English titles ever for a bullet ballet film but it is filled with some of the most imaginative gunplay in any film. The action was choreographed by Stephen Tung Wai as he does in this film. The shootouts in this one are not as clever or as fancy as those in Pom Pom but there sure are a lot of them. I think within the first 10 minutes of the movie the filmmakers indulge us in three different bloody encounters. There is then admittedly a lengthy pause in the bloodletting but they are just saving their budget for a climax that litters the highway with a body count that could have filled the Super Bowl. Say what you want about Hong Kong but they come prepared to a funeral for anything.

It begins in Canada where Brother Lung (Alan Tang) is seeking revenge for his brother who has been killed and hung publicly from a tree by the Mafia who seem intent on making Chinese restaurants switch their fare from dim sum to pizza. They must really hate fortune cookies. Lung’s wife played by Carrie Ng, apparently on a coffee break from another film, wants to go to Hong Kong with their baby girl, Gaga, to keep her out of danger. Lung does a Lone Wolf and Cub selection process and Gaga picks the bullets and has to stay while Ng gets ready to leave. She doesn’t make it as the Mafia gun her down. Lung gets his revenge and has to go to jail while Gaga goes to Hong Kong with one of his men. But over the years he loses track of her and after being released he goes to HK to search for her.

This brings him into contact with a small hostess bar owner (Elizabeth Lee) and a friend of his daughter’s Little Lung (May Lo). As he searches for his daughter, he becomes close to both women but in this world getting close to anyone is a sure recipe for disappointment and tragedy. Young thug on the make Pang (Simon Yam in his grinning vicious acting days) takes a dislike to all three of them and this leads to a whole lot of mayhem and dying. Andy Lau shows up for a small but active role as a gunman from Canada who comes over to help Lung take care of what needs taking care of. Also popping in are David Wu as a Karaoke heartthrob, Dennis Chan as a hotel manager, Ku Feng as an old time Triad boss and Melvin Wong as a cop who has a few lines and then must have been off to another film.  One clearly senses that a few of these actors were in and out in a day or two. Those were the days when they were all doing multiple films at the same time. Nothing really special here but some solid action with a good melodramatic core makes it an easy enjoyable watch. And Elizabeth Lee is lovely though there isn’t enough of her but she must have considered this good training for her role a few years later in Love to Kill.


My Rating: 6.5

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