Ma Bangde (Ge You) thought he had his whole life worked out. He was happily riding along on a train headed toward his new position as governor of a town with his ex-prostitute, gold digging wife who bought him the position, his counselor, and a train car full of guards. Everything was looking great for him, and he had plans on how to work the system for all the money he could get out of it. However, a local bandit named Pocky Zhang (Jiang Wen) had other plans. He and his group of bandits, derailed the train in an attempt to rob it, knocking it completely off the tracks and into the water. Only Ma Bangde and his wife survived, and when confronted by the bandits for the money they were carrying, he denied their was any and claimed to be Counselor Tang, saying that the new governor had died in the derailment in an effort to save his own skin. This gave the bandit leader an idea. He would spare the counselor and take over the governorship himself, pretending to be Ma Bangde, and the "counselor" would be his adviser, so they could milk the position for all the money they could get out of it. He would also take the "deceased" governor’s wife as his own, which she didn’t mind because all she cared about was being a governor’s wife, no matter who the governor was.
Their plans however were not exactly popular with the local organized crime boss named Master Huang (Chow Yun-Fat), who made his money in opium and human trafficking. He was used to having an 80/20 deal with the previous governors, and he wasn’t happy about how cocky this new guy was and the fact that he wasn’t intimidated by him in the least. What transpires is not only a desperate struggle over just who controls the town. Right away, Pocky and his gang take control and establish a system of justice for the people to win them over, while Master Huang plots and schemes to stop them any way possible.
This film is a fun and stylish romp from start to finish. Not only is the story full of amusing twists and turns, but the bandits actually end up being the good guys, fighting against the evil crime boss. Jiang Wen is incredibly likeable as the bandit leader, and his whole gang seems like a bunch of good and honorable guys. He wants more out of life for them all than just being bandits, and basically acts as a father to them.
Chow Yun-Fat as Huang made for a very conniving and sinister villain, with touches of humor thrown in just to keep him from being too much of a heavy. With the real Ma Bangde advising the "governor" at every turn as a result of feeling indebted to him for sparing his life, Pocky and Huang become locked in a dance of trying to outsmart each other. The twists and turns of the plot and the constant one upsmanship keep things entertaining throughout the over two hour run time.
The action was typical of these highly styled action adventures. There are a lot of these types of films coming out of Hong Kong all the time, with great production values, fun stories and some excellent action. This particular story takes place in 1910, and as such features the look and feel of the time, including the old style guns that are so frequently made use of during the film.
The cinematography was wonderfully impressive and panoramic, as is once again, typical of these types of films coming out of Hong Kong. These Chinese actions films like this are almost always beautifully shot, which makes them feel very large and epic. Hollywood used to be the big kid on the block, and while they still put out the most expensive films, quality-wise, the films coming out of Hong Kong, South Korea and even Bollywood are right there with them. This one is no exception.
I could go on and on about all the great stuff in this film, but there’s really nothing I can tell you that you can’t see yourself. This is an awesome film, and another fabulous release from Well Go USA, who, in my opinion, is basically the top distributor of Asian films in the U.S.. They consistently put out great films and a quality product. There aren’t any bonus features on this release except for the trailers, but the visual quality is stunning, and the audio is right there with it in quality.
The edition I was sent was the standard blu-ray + DVD edition. It looks like there’s a collectors edition as well with a different cover and a couple of special features added. From what I could see on the back of the label in the small picture I saw, it looks like it has a making of featurette and something else thta I couldn’t make out along with the trailers. It also has the blu-ray and DVD discs, so really the only difference is a couple of special features and the cover.
This one is a no brainer. If you love awesome Chinese action films with a great story and a whole lot of fun, then don’t even think twice about adding this one to your collection. It’s an absolutely fabulous film.
If you’d like to find out more about this release, you can check out its page on the Well Go USA website here, and if you’d like to grab yourself a copy, you can order it from Amazon on blu-ray + DVD here, or the regular DVD release here, or you can pick it up from any of the other usual outlets.