When a drug smuggling Chinese national (Sammo Hung) gets caught by Australian authorities, itís up to Inspector Fang Sing-Leng (Jimmy Wang Yu) of the Special Branch of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force to bring him back for extradition. But when this low-level flunky gets permanently silenced, Fang decides to stick around a little longer. The manís got bigger fish to fry, namely Jack Wilton, the local gun-runner, dope peddler, and all-powerful kingpin behind it all - played by no less than the former James Bond, George Lazenby. What ensues in this Hong Kong/Australian co-production is yet another variation on your standard ďfish out of waterĒ tale with plenty of cross-cultural, occasionally un-PC hijinks along the way.
As is typical with these sorts of films, the filmmakers add a local buffer of sorts for Jimmy Wang Yuís character. Shadowing Inspector Fang around town are two white cops (Hugh Keays-Byrne and Roger Ward), who in many ways prefigure the various non-Asian pairings that Jet Li and Jackie Chan would be asked to endure in their own bids to cross over to the American market. Thankfully, the two Aussies take a backseat to Jimmy Wang Yu in terms of screen time.
Further differentiating The Man from Hong Kong from those later Asian/American starring vehicles is the degree to which Jimmy Wang Yu is allowed to have an active sex life. Unlike the monk-like behavior of Li and Chan in their respective American films, Wang Yu has no problem with the ladies, sexing it up with two Australian birds (Ros Spiers and Rebecca Gilling), who arenít afraid to bare a little skin for the camera. In essence, Inspector Fang is meant to be seen as a kind of Chinese James Bond, a filmmaking decision that seems all the more appropriate by the inclusion of an ex-007 in the cast.
Now, whether or not thereís actually any onscreen chemistry between Wang Yu and his leading ladies is another story. While itís debatable whether any of these pairings is actually able to generate any palpable onscreen heat, itís nonetheless refreshing to see an interracial relationship between a Chinese man and a white woman actually play out as if it were the most normal thing in the world, rather than something strange or unheard of.
Comically enough, one of Inspector Fengís romantic entanglements results in a fairly cheesy but well-shot love montage, which looks a lot like a similarly-themed scene in Lazenbyís On Her Majestyís Secret Service. However, thanks to its scenes of the couple riding horses, going on picnics, and quickly falling in love, the montage will likely remind more than a few viewers of the hilarious ďIím Into Something GoodĒ parody of such montages in The Naked Gun. Set to the tune of the filmís secondary theme song, ďA Man is a Man is a Man,Ē this is a love montage full of cheesy goodness.
But of course, Inspector Fang isnít just a lover - heís a fighter. While the filmís initial fight scenes feel somewhat perfunctory, the action picks up with a knife fight in a cramped restaurant kitchen. This scene has a rote quality to it at first, but suddenly becomes tension-filled as it plays out less like a staged battle and more like an on-the-spot encounter, as Wang Yu seems genuinely concerned that he might get stabbed by his attacker during close quarter combat. This brief scene sets the tone for later fights, although none can really top the climactic duel with George Lazenby.
Remarkably, the mustachioed former James Bond acquits himself well in the role of Wilton, an otherwise cookie cutter nemesis for the hero to vanquish. The character is distinguished by only two things, a handful of juicy lines (ďI never met a Chinese yet that didnít have a yellow streak!Ē) and his fighting ability. George Lazenby may have not been Laurence Olivier, but his willingness to throw himself into the stuntwork, a move which served him well in his sole outing as 007, makes him an immensely welcome and engaging presence here.
And when I say stuntwork, Iím not just talking about exchanging punches and kicks. While many remember Jackie Chan raking himself over the coals in Drunken Master 2, George Lazenby does something equally impressive in The Man From Hong Kong some twenty years earlier in what has to be one of the standout sequences of the film. And thatís only the beginning of his characterís troubles. Some climactic fights end with a whimper, but thankfully, The Man With Hong Kong is not one of those films. Letís just say that the lyrics to the filmís primary theme song, ďSky High,Ē isnít false advertising.
As fun as the finale is, the filmís piece de resistance has got to be the bravura car chase sequence that precedes Inspector Fangís final assault on Wiltonís headquarters. Filled with massive property destruction - giant billboards, other cars, even a house Ė as well as vehicular homicide on a grand scale, the car chase from The Man from Hong Kong is perhaps only a few car lengths away from classic chase scenes from films like Bullitt and Vanishing Point and even more recent fare like Death Proof (which resembles The Man from Hong Kong to a remarkable degree). The visual style of the film ramps up in this sequence to a degree previously unseen, as cameras get strapped to sides of motorcycles and cars, behind the dashboard, and down in the floorboard, all in an effort to create a dynamic visual sensibility that, even today, feels surprisingly modern.
While Iím not entirely convinced that Wang Yu really fits the role of a Chinese James Bond, the sheer tenacity that he emanates throughout the car chase/skyscraper finale is an undeniable joy to watch. Neither blessed with Bruce Leeís animal magnetism nor Jackie Chanís ineffable comic touch, Wang Yu can only present himself as a pure force of will. And the conceit works Ė at least during the climax. Ultimately, The Man from Hong Kong delivers some schlocky, goofy fun for a Saturday afternoon. Although saddled with a somewhat unremarkable first and second act, the film boasts a finale thatís must-see viewing for any fan of Hong Kong action cinema. It may not be a classic, but The Man from Hong Kong is one of those rare cinema gems dipped in plenty of grade-A quality cheese. (Calvin McMillin 2008)