Film Reviews

Magnificent Warriors (1987) – Blu-ray Review

Michelle Yeoh is a name that more people will be familiar with now than any other time in her career. Whilst Yeoh has been making films since 1984, with her small role in the Sammo Hung movie The Owl vs. Dumbo, it was her appearance in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, which saw her starring alongside then James Bond Pierce Brosnan as an equally capable (if not more so) Chinese secret agent, that pushed her into the mainstream eye.

Since then her career in Hollywood has continued to grow, with her appearing in numerous projects such as Star Trek: DiscoveryThe Witcher: Blood Origins, and Everything Everywhere All At Once. Whilst she’s receiving much deserved acclaim in the west today, there was a point where she was barely known outside of Hong Kong cinema. But even then she was a stand-out star, leading her own movies with hugely impressive displays of martial arts abilities. Eureka Entertainment is giving audiences a chance to catch one of Yeoh’s earlier films, Magnificent Warriors, in a newly restored and beautifully presented set.

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Set during the Second Sino-Japanese Ware of the 1930s, the film introduces Yeoh in pretty spectacular fashion. Flying onto screen in a bi-plane, sporting a leather jacket, she’s first presented as a gunrunner, bringing a shipment of rifles and ammunition to a small encampment in the mountains. However, when her contact is killed by bandits, she pulls out her trusty whip and tears through the dozens of fighters, setting fire to the place and destroying the only bridge in or out with a Gatling gun. Despite this bold opening, this is actually the least impressive moment that Magnificent Warriors has to offer the audience, with things only getting bigger and better from there on out. And yes, before you ask, Indiana Jones was hugely popular in Hong Kong at the time, hence the 1930s action hero with a whip and leather jacket. At least they didn’t give her the hat too!

From here we learn that Yeoh’s character, Fok Ming-Ming, is actually an undercover agent, and after beating some guys up to impress a Chinese general, she’s given a mission to head to the small town of Kaa Yi near Tibet, where Japanese forces are trying to turn the settlement into a chemical treatment facility that will secretly develop chemical weapons. Ming-Ming is sent to meet up with Secret Agent 001 (Derek Yee Tung-Sing), but accidentally ends up teaming up with a tricky vagrant named Paulina Wong (Richard Ng). Soon the three of them end up trying to help the local lord, Youda (Lowell Lo) and his girlfriend , Chin Chin (Cindy Lau Chin-Dai) escape the city. But when the Japanese forces arrive in full force, the five of them will have to try and rally everyone in town to fight back.

Magnificent Warriors feels like a film of two halves. At first it’s an espionage adventure story, where Yeoh and her team are trying to work in secret to disrupt the Japanese’s ability to turn the town into a weapons facility. They’re sneaking around, breaking into buildings, and try to make as little impact as possible. Obviously, there are moments where this doesn’t go to plan and the team need to resort to violence, but for the most part it feels like the kind of story where the underdogs are trying their best to not engage because they know they can’t win via force.

However, the latter half of the film makes them have to win via force, as a small army comes to invade Kaa Yi. The townspeople are quickly armed and turned into an army of their own, and the fight becomes a small war, with mortars going off, traps being sprung, and people being shot, slashed with swords, blown up, and set on fire all over the place. Whilst the first part of the film was entertaining enough in itself, it’s this third act that really makes the film stand out. The shift from smaller scale action to huge set pieces that see buildings being blow apart and squads of soldiers being mowed down in seconds makes it feel like two different types of films have been spliced together. Despite this, it works incredibly well. It makes sense in the story, it’s choreographed wonderfully, and it makes for some truly delightful moments of both intense action and ridiculous comedy.

Speaking of the action, I have to take a moment to talk about how amazing Yeoh is in this film. There are a number of fights she has throughout that feature things that audiences will be familiar with to a certain degree, such as her using her whip. Whilst we’re used to seeing characters like Indiana Jones slap his whip about and occasionally use it to grab people, I’ve never seen one used the way that Yeoh utilises it here. She’s throwing things around the set, smacking weapons out of hands, and wrapping it around people’s necks with a flick of her wrist. Why is that impressive? Well, because there’s no trickery involved, no sneaky cuts or reverse photography used here; when Yeoh flicks the whip out and it wraps around someone’s throat she’s doing that for real. And this is one of the things that will always set Hong Kong action apart from that of Hollywood movies.

The action in Magnificent Warriors feels more visceral, more brutal, and hugely more impressive, not just because it’s doing set pieces and showing off moves you’ve not seen before, but because the people involved in the fights are so close to getting hurt. Their skills as fighters are displayed on screen to their fullest, and it’s impossible to not come away impressed even by the simplest of moments. There’s one scene where you see someone falling backwards down the stairs, their outfit preventing them from hiding pads to cushion the fall. It’s actors and performers at the peak of their craft doing their job to a degree that’s impossible to complain about.

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The new Blu-ray offers a restored 1080p HD presentation of the movie that looks fantastic throughout. If you’re a long time fan of Hong Kong movies from the period and have been used to watching old VHS versions of films such as Magnificent Warriors you’ll be impressed with how the movie looks here. There’s the option to watch it with the original Cantonese audio, as well as the English dub from the first release. Alongside the movie are two full length audio commentaries: one by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (a staple contributor to these releases), and the other featuring action cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. There are also a couple of archival interviews with Michelle Yeoh, and cinematographer Tung Wai, alongside a couple of trailers.

For those who are long time fans of martial arts movies, and new fans looking to check out more of Michelle Yeoh’s work, Magnificent Warriors is a fun movie that might be a bit ridiculous and over-the-top at times, but never fails to delight viewers.

Magnificent Warriors is out on Blu-ray on 20th February from Eureka Entertainment.


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