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As part of my continuing exploration of Asian cinema I was only too happy to receive a copy of Hong Kong Legends’ latest release, 1992’s Moon Warriors. The film, which brings together Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Maggie Cheung, Kenny Bee and Yi Chang, was directed by the great Sammo Hung (who is fast becoming one of my favourite action stars) and features action direction by the legendary Ching Siu-tung.

Moon Warriors
Film
At first glance it would appear that Moon Warriors is centred on one man’s struggle to reclaim his throne, but upon further inspection it becomes clear that it is really a tale of doomed romance. Fei (Andy Lau) is a humble fisherman whose tranquil existence is shattered when he becomes embroiled in a battle between an exiled prince and his would-be assassins. Using his considerable martial arts skills, Fei rescues prince Yen (Kenny Bee) and his party from the assassins and welcomes them into his village. Although from vastly different backgrounds, the two form a bond and Yen entrusts Fei with the task of retrieving his fiancée, Yuet (Anita Mui), from her distant homeland. The young fisherman readily agrees, but when Fei and Yuet come under attack from the armies of the prince’s evil brother (played by Kelvin Wong), they find themselves falling in love with one another. Meanwhile, back with the prince, events take a turn for the worse when a traitor is revealed in the royal camp…

Aside from Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon this is the first real Asian fantasy swordplay—or wuxia pian—movie I’ve watched, and I was most impressed by the action choreography. Wuxia pian (this is the Mandarin spelling) is the Chinese term for the sort of action film where people are imbued with extraordinary martial abilities that allow them to defy gravity, use magic, or fend off dozens of enemies with superhuman swordplay. What makes Moon Warriors’ action all the more remarkable is the fact that not one of the key players is a trained martial artist. Instead, clever camera angles and quick cuts are used to disguise the use of doubles, and the process is an extremely effective one. The disc’s commentary mentions that the action scenes were, in fact, choreographed by a number of people; however it is clear that the most exhilarating moments (which involve the use of extensive wirework) are pure Ching Sui-tung. Sammo Hung’s choreography is still in evidence during the more traditional martial arts moments, but these just can’t compete with the fantastical swordplay sequences.

Moon Warriors
Had the film remained an out and out action piece from start to finish I feel that I would have taken to Moon Warriors more readily. Unfortunately the film’s romantic elements often make for heavy going when all I wanted to see was more Ching Sui-tung swordplay sequences. That said, the film is well acted, features some truly wonderful cinematography, and contains the most ingenious use of a Killer Whale as a plot device that I’ve ever seen in a film!

Video
Hong Kong Legends are known for delivering high quality transfers, and of the half dozen or so that I’ve sampled thus far, Moon Warriors is undoubtedly the best. Presented in anamorphic widescreen at a slightly cropped ratio of 1.78:1, the transfer is blissfully free of film and digital artefacts considering its age and origins. Colour rendition is also outstanding, and black levels are perhaps the finest I’ve seen in a film originating from Hong Kong—certainly a film of this age at any rate. Moon Warriors is also a visually appealing film, with sensational cinematography by Arthur Wong perfectly showcasing the exquisite locations (Fei’s idyllic village and the royal tomb in particular). On the whole I was most impressed with the visual elements of the release.

Audio
As is customary with these releases, two tracks are on offer: Dolby Digital 5.1 in both the original Cantonese and dubbed English. Infuriatingly, the English dub receives the 448Kbps treatment, while the original language track is deemed worthy of only a 384Kbps effort. As ever, I chose the original language track for review purposes to spare myself the pain of yet another excruciating dub.

Moon Warriors
While this is advertised as a 5.1 track you could be forgiven for confusing it with a stereo presentation, so few and far between are the discrete effects, although the English dub has slightly more going on in this respect. This is even more frustrating than the bitrate issues, although the two are quite possibly related. The Chinese track features very little in the way of panning from the front to the rear of the soundstage, with left and right directional effects fairing little better. However, the film’s original mix wasn’t a multi-channel affair, and what’s on offer here does a perfectly acceptable job of conveying the on-screen action. Thankfully the most important element of the mix, the dialogue, is crystal clear throughout (although it still ‘suffers’ from the unnatural ADR effect associated with most Hong Kong releases). All in all this is an adequate, if somewhat bland, aural presentation.

Extras
What Hong Kong Legends release would be complete with the Bey Logan commentary? Thankfully the man with the encyclopaedic mind has returned, and this time he’s brought along producer Mabel Cheung and writer Alex Law for company. At first I was a little wary of the inclusion of Cheung and Law, primarily because Logan’s solo commentaries work so well, but thankfully this is actually a rather good effort. As one might expect, Logan drives the commentary, prompting the others to chime in with relevant information and interesting anecdotes. Cheung and Law discuss many facets of production, from the relationship between director Hung and action director Ching, to the tricks of the trade used fool the audience into believing they’re seeing something they’re not (such as Maggie Cheung’s presence in most of her scenes).

Moon Warriors
Next up we have Dynamic Duo, a nineteen-minute featurette with producer Mabel Cheung and writer Alex Law. The pair discuss how they were hired to write and produce Moon Warriors, the first Kung Fu movie that either had worked on. They also talk at length about Sammo Hung and Ching Siu-tung’s involvement, the choice of actors, and many other elements of the production. All in all this is an entertaining piece that I’ve watched a few times now, which is something of a rarity for this type of featurette.

The Colour of Truth is a twenty-four minute interview with acclaimed cinematographer, Arthur Wong. Speaking in English, Wong discusses how he got started in the business, his style of shooting, and in particular his participation in the production of Moon Warriors. This is perhaps a featurette that will appeal more to those interested in the technical side of movie making, but it does provide an interesting insight into the cinematographic process.

A Tribute to Anita Mui follows, and is an odd little affair in which Bey Logan, flanked by Canto-pop princess Helena Ma, reminisces about the late singer-actress. As usual, Logan does most of the talking, regaling the audience with stories while occasionally prompting his companion to chip in. It’s clear that both Logan and Helena have great affection for Mui, and it’s nice that HKL took the trouble to film something like this rather than deliver another boring text-based affair (such as Leslie Cheung’s tribute on A Chinese Ghost Story).

Rounding things off we have the usual Trailer Gallery, which features both the UK promotional effort and the original theatrical trailer. As with most trailers for Hong Kong films, it runs for an exceptionally long time and seems to give away most of the plot! Other trailers on the disc include five Hong Kong Legends and two Premier Asia titles. Oh, before I forget, the disc actually contains one unadvertised feature that appears immediately before the movie itself. Upon pressing play, Bey Logan pops up in a short introductory sequence to explain the wuxia pian genre to the uninitiated—most helpful.

Moon Warriors
Overall
I enjoyed Moon Warriors, although perhaps not as much as I expected. While there can be no doubting the greatness of the spectacular action sequences, I felt that more time could have been spent on the story itself—particularly the romantic elements—as things often seemed laboured. Putting the film’s shortcomings aside, Hong Kong Legends has once again delivered a strong package with admirable audio-visual presentation and an array of interesting and informative bonus material. Moon Warriors comes highly recommended to all fans of the genre, and those of you looking for an exciting introduction to wuxia pian could do a lot worse than pick this one up.


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