How to describe these films for anyone who’s not familiar with them? In many ways the Lucky Stars trilogy resemble the Carry On… films. Each one an ensemble comedy piece using many of the same actors cast to character and employing broad humour to get laughs. But there are two very important differences. Firstly, though the men in these films may be lascivious, the women are always chaste. Secondly, Sid James never risked multiple crushed vertebrae during a 15 hour shooting day of hard and fast fight scenes.
A slightly regrettable similarity these films have to the Carry On… series that should be addressed is that much of the humour in these films is of its time. A modern viewer might understandably be uncomfortable with some of the attitudes displayed in these films, especially the ‘pranks’ played by the Lucky Stars on the various women unlucky enough to stay with them.
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Despite the fact both Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan went on to have international success, it’s important to remember that these aren’t Hollywood action movies. The language is very different, and that is not a reference to the Cantonese dub. These movies will go from light-hearted whimsy in one scene to a bloody fight in the next and then straight back again without a pause.
Something else that might be seen as another quirk with these films, possibly confusing an audience unfamiliar with it, is the philosophy of moment over reality. The emphasis will always be on creating a moment of cinematic spectacle rather than a fully immersive experience. Too dangerous to have people in the cars during a massive road pile up? Then don’t put anyone in there. You want a series of gardens to create an obstacle during a chase? Just lay down some cheap private fences and you’re done. It doesn’t matter that it’s obvious that there’s no one driving any of the cars as they smash into each other, or that it’s clear the ‘gardens’ are just a series of fences laid out in the middle of the road. In order to get the most from these films the audience are entering a contract with the director: you promise to give us crazy stunts and exciting fight scenes, and we will suspend our disbelief like a four year old playing pirates in the park.
Enter into that contract and you will not be disappointed, as the director and his team never under-deliver on that promise. With these films, Hung was showing the public his vision of what an action sequence could be. Though the camera angles and cuts of Winners and Sinners might look almost crude to a modern audience, at the time Hung was trying something very new, bringing an intimacy to his fight scenes that hadn’t been seen before. Part of the Hong Kong Cinema New Wave movement as it came to be known, Hung’s pioneering work here ended up helping to define the look and feel of martial art fight scenes throughout the 80s. Just two years after, when viewing My Lucky Stars and Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, both released in 1985, you can see how much his technique has developed.
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Over the course of the movies, it’s not just Hung’s fight direction which matures. While Winners and Sinners feels more like a collection of vignettes loosely assembled around the plot, the later films do focus more on the story. Yet this can further heighten the contrast between humour and action, leading to an odd, almost schizophrenic feel. Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars starts and finishes with two jokes worthy of The Goons, yet here we find them sandwiching frenetic action sequences.
These movies offer some truly mind boggling moments. Winners and Sinners, with its blatant disregard for any kind of reality, is able to offer some spectacular scenes. Chan’s character, who never gets a name, enters a roller-skate competition (obviously). Not content to use this as simply an opportunity to show off Chan’s athleticism and skill with the usual skating stunts, the man is then made to jump through hoops for our entertainment. Literally. One of them is on fire. Next he’s part of a full on car chase, except still on the skates. At one point he skates under a fast-moving articulated lorry, a moment of ludicrous bravery that could never be topped by Hollywood, simply because of their odd notions of ‘safety’. There is far less emphasis on crazy stunts in the two follow up films, with the combat taking a much more central role.
And here, Hung shines. Though Chan is far more familiar to a western audience, and Yuen Biao brings an unsurpassed level of athleticism, Hung is riveting to watch in any fight scene he is in. The man’s power, speed, and physical prowess is simply boggling. He blends the feel of a street tough with the grace of a dancer. As a director his understanding of the rhythm and music of these stylised fights carries the audience along with every punch, kick, and bone-shattering block.
The transfer is good, giving a cleanness that make the films look as they were shot recently without them seeming overly digitised. If your memories of these films is from a rented VHS copy, you’ll barely recognise them. The first 2,000 Blu-rays also come with an O-card slip case and collector’s booklet. The art on the slip case is fine but nothing hugely special, however the booklet itself is clearly a labour of love, giving accessible insight into Hong Kong cinema and the movies themselves.
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Many special features are also included. These are mostly made up of archival interviews giving the usual kind of insights and personal anecdotes we’ve come to expect, plus interviews that were previously seen on the 2002 R2 DVD releases. There are some other clips, with a notable bit of fun coming from a song and dance number starring the line up from My Lucky Stars. Though the quality of this is incredibly low, especially when viewed in contrast to the films themselves, it’s still enjoyable. There is an all new English subtitle translation, which brings a colloquial familiarity to the films. Of most interest to many will be the full audio commentaries by Frank Djeng. This kind of feature rarely appeals to anyone other than the most avid fan of a film, yet it’s safe to say that here, Eureka! know their market.
For those who already own the DVDs the choice comes down to how much you value a newly remastered version or want another commentary. For non-fans, as an introduction to Hong Kong cinema of the 80s this collection might not be the most accessible choice. However, if you enjoy world cinema, or are a Hong Kong action fan and don’t already own these films, the quality of the restoration, bundle of special features, and the fact that all three movies are stone cold classics means that this set is a must own.
The Lucky Stars Collection is out now on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment as part of their Eureka Classics range.