Wednesday, 15 July 2015
Sammo Hung gathers a who's who of Hong Kong action cinema to play second fiddle to himself and his talented wife-to-be Joyce Godenzi. Set at the tail end of the Vietnam War, Eastern Condors is Hung's abbreviated take on men-on-a-mission movies like The Dirty Dozen or The Wild Geese, with the actor-director playing a taciturn ex-convict so macho that he ends up subordinating Lam Ching-ying's worried looked Lieutenant Colonel.
Long on characters but light on story, Condors tracks a group of ethnically Chinese soldiers who have each been promised $20,000 and American citizenship if they can blow up an abandoned missile stockpile. Avowed genre hopper Hung uses the modern setting to augment his kung-fu repertoire with hand grenades and a machete. Hung has his extended cast thrash about in danger while he quietly sneaks up behind machine-gun posts and carves everybody up.
Yuen Biao comes along for the ride as Weasel, a local black market trader looking for a pay day. There's something refreshing about the use of money as a consistent motivating factor in Hong Kong films. Morals and ideals are all well and good, but why shouldn't our heroes be getting paid? Biao is on typically sublime form, hurling his legs out in perfect, graceful arcs, delivering kicks that look like they could take heads off.
Condors reveals a director obsessed with impact. Sammo Hung can't even shoot a routine climbing insert without dwelling on leather boots clanging down on steel rungs. The pace is relentless, with very few of Hung's trademark digressions. Away from the urban sprawl of Hong Kong, Hung has keyed into the inherent excitement of explosions and assault rifles then focused, taking up the challenge of matching that kineticism with his martial arts.
Hung shoots full-contact, an approach that pays double dividends. First, when the Condors strike their enemies there's a clear moment of collision. Hung employs slow-motion and a tight frame to linger on the details, so when Yuen Biao drive his heel into an opponent's throat it fills up a significant amount of the screen.
Secondly, the Condors tend to travel with their movements. Since they aren't pulling their punches (or kicks) the energy needed to power the attack expires a foot or so behind a skull rather than in front of it. It's a small amendment but it helps give Condors a sense of verisimilitude. Hung's film doesn't look drilled and theatrical, it looks real. There's a palpable, consistent sense of hurt on display.
Yuen Wah's giggling final foe doesn't use his Eagle Claw technique to cover the Condors in photogenic slashes, instead the VC General digs his fingers into Biao's back and attempts to tear the unfortunate merc's shoulder blades off his ribcage. Hung lingers on bodies in distress. Team mates are shredded by heavy artillery and even duplicitous love interests aren't safe from Hung's gleaming cleaver. At rest everyone looks exhausted, sweat pissing out of every pore.