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Hong Kong Legends’ second release of 2005 is unlike anything I’ve received from the studio before. Based on real-life Wing Chun master Leung Jan and his pupil Chan Wah-shun (although certain historical liberties have been taken for the benefit of the story),  Sammo Hung’s 1978 effort Warriors Two is a ‘proper’ martial arts film that stars some of the greatest talents of the day.

Warriors Two
Film
After stumbling upon a plot to assassinate the head of the village of Fo Shan, cashier Chan Wah (Casanova Wong) finds himself on the run from a vicious gang of thugs led by the corrupt businessman, Mok (Fong Hak-on). Wah is forced to hide out from the bandits at the residence of Leung Jan (Leung Kar-yan), local doctor and master of Wing Chun style martial arts. After the gang kill his mother, Wah begs Leung Jan to adopt him as a pupil so that he may avenge her death. At first Leung Jan refuses, but he eventually reconsiders his decision after the intervention of his student, Wah’s friend Fei Chun (Sammo Hung).

Wah trains hard to learn the techniques of Wing Chun, and before long he has become proficient in the use of the Six and a Half Point Pole. However, when their master is brutally murdered, Chan Wah, Fei Chun and Leung Jan’s niece, Kam Fung, must team up in order to defeat Mok’s henchmen, Tiger, Thunder and Iron Fist, before facing off against Mok himself in the final showdown.

I was initially very worried that Warriors Two was going to turn out to be yet another slapstick-ridden affair. As anyone who has read a few of my Hong Kong Legends reviews will know, I’m not the biggest fan of Asian humour. I was, therefore, initially panicked when the opening minutes of the film featured some very broad comedy courtesy of Sammo Hung. Thankfully this quickly gave way to some decent action, and by the thirty minute mark the film is in full flow depicting the transformation of our hero from Kung Fu novice to Wing Chun master.

The slapstick does rear its head again towards the end (courtesy of actor Dean Shek), but I was able to look past this and concentrate on some of the superb martial arts skills on display. As ever, Sammo Hung choreography is a joy to watch, but I found it hard to believe that Leung Kar-yan isn’t a ‘true’ martial artist (he merely trained in ‘movie’ Kung Fu). This may be something that a trained martial artist could spot, but it had me fooled. The rest of the cast are similarly impressive, especially the high kicking antics of Korean Tai Kwan Do champion Casanova Wong—the man really does earn his nickname of ‘Human Tornado’!

Warriors Two
While the premise of the film boils down to a simple tale of revenge, it is the scenes in which Leung Jan puts Chan Wah through an intensive training course that really help to elevate Warriors Two above the norm. Leung Kar-yan has tremendous screen presence, lending just the right air of authority to his character, while Casanova Wong makes for a likable and credible lead. It’s worth checking out this movie just to witness his leaping, spinning kick during his fight with Fong Hak-on—it has to be seen to be believed!

Video
When you consider that it was originally released way back in 1978, Warriors Two looks surprisingly good for its age. While it’s true that the film won’t win any awards for visual quality, I was still amazed by how clean the image looked considering the state of most Hong Kong cinema of this era. Before you ask, I’m basing this comment on all those late-night, dubbed martial arts movies I watched as a kid, not to mention some dreadfully poor quality Jackie Chan tapes I have lying around the house. I’m used to seeing nicks and scratches on my old Hong Kong movies, but physically there’s very little wrong with the print used here.

While it’s true that the colour palette isn’t the most naturalistic, it is in keeping with a Hong Kong film shot in the late 70s. The transfer does an excellent job of rendering those colours, although both contrast and black levels are what one would expect. That is to say things are consistent for the most part, but nowhere near as stable as any big-budget modern release. The variations are particularly noticeable during the scenes that take place at the tea house towards the beginning of the film and the darker scenes in the forest towards the end, but they never become distracting. All things considered this is an excellent transfer given the limitations of the source material.

Warriors Two
Audio
Warriors Two includes both Cantonese and English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, the latter of which is about as easy on the ear as a tortured cat. I concentrated my efforts on the original language track, and as is usual it’s heavily biased towards the front of the soundstage. However, to my complete astonishment, the track actually features some noticeable rear-channel action during the fight scenes! It’s pretty much limited to your standard martial arts ‘whoosh’ noises, but I was pleasantly surprised nonetheless. The only thing I’m used to finding its way into the rears on Hong Kong Legends releases is the soundtrack (although that happens here as well).

As for the soundtrack itself, well, things are fairly predictable, aside from one strange moment when rock ‘n’ roll guitars take over. Dialogue is also perfectly audible, if looped, throughout; in fact, the only real problems with this track stems from the limitations of the source material itself. By this I mean that bass is severely lacking when compared to just about any modern film, and the looping really does stick out like a sore thumb. Still, this is a reasonable track that manages to remain pretty faithful to the original material, while at the same time adding something for those of us who are used to more than monaural sound. Still, it would be nice for Hong Kong Legends to start including the original tracks on their discs.

Before moving on I’d just like to take moment to comment on the all-important subtitles, as once again they appear to be something of a mixed bag. On the whole the subs appear significantly different from the English dub track, which is a good thing, but there are one or two inconsistencies that got on my nerves. Chief among these was the translation of Sammo Hung’s character name as ‘Fatty’. The actors are clearly calling him Fei Chun, and indeed the press release for the title refers to him by that name, so why on Earth don’t the subtitles reflect this? I’ll be the first to admit that my Cantonese isn’t particularly advanced, but I’m fairly sure that Fei Chun doesn’t translate as ‘Fatty’ (cue the emails telling me I’m wrong). There are also a couple of other instances when the subtitles just scream ‘Westernisation’, but it’s certainly not as bad as some of the ‘dubtitles’ on other Hong Kong Legends releases.

Warriors Two
Extras
We start, as always, with the Bey Logan commentary. This is one of the best tracks Logan has done in a while, with a great deal of information packed into the ninety-odd minute running time. I’m consistently impressed by Bey’s ability to strike an even balance between the objective and the anecdotal, and I’m always amazed by just how much stuff he is able to cram into his tracks without them becoming chaotic. For me, the one thing that really makes Bay Logan commentary tracks stand out from the crowd is their ability to impart knowledge on an almost subconscious level. I always learn something new when listening to these tracks, and that’s something that can’t be said of many other commentaries. For example, the next time I’m in a Chinese tea house I’ll know to tap my fingers on the table when someone pours me a cup.

The only other significant extra on the disc is a forty-five minute documentary entitled ‘The Way of the Warrior: The Making of Warriors Two’. Introduced by Bey Logan (who spends a great deal of his on-screen time demonstrating various martial arts techniques), the documentary includes interviews with most of the principal cast, including Sammo Hung, Leung Kar-yan, Casanova Wong and Fong Hak-on, as well as Wing Chun specialist Guy Lai. The documentary goes into a great deal of depth concerning the origins of Wing Chun, adapting the style for the screen, the training of the actors, the shooting schedule and much more. The interview footage also has the advantage of being broken up by a number of clips from the film and various martial arts demonstrations. All in all I’d have to say this is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen from the label.

Rounding things off we have the usual trailer gallery, which includes both the original and UK promotional trailer, and a series of promos for other Hong Kong Legends and Premier Asia releases. These are fine for what they are, but if you’re anything like me you probably won’t look at them twice.

Warriors Two
Overall
In spite of the slapstick elements at the beginning and end of the movie, I really warmed to Warriors Two after repeated viewings. The martial arts techniques displayed in the film are a cut above most Hong Kong flicks that pass my way, and I found the central thrust of the story compelling. Obviously fans of the film will be in no doubt as to whether they should pick this one up, but even those relatively new to Asian cinema should get a kick out of this one (if you’ll excuse the pun).
 
As for the technical side of things, well I was genuinely surprised by the quality of the visual presentation, which really does impress when you consider the period from which this film came. The aural elements of the disc, while less impressive, are still perfectly serviceable, although purists may baulk at the omission of the original soundtrack. However, it is the bonus material that really helps to seal the deal with this one. While it’s not as jam-packed as other Hong Kong Legends releases, it’s a definite case of quality over quantity where this one is concerned. Once again, this Hong Kong Legends release comes recommended.


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