Distributors Eureka Entertainment thankfully recognise the talents of Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung. After releasing 2K restorations of beloved classics from Hung's filmography – such as Encounter of the Spooky Kind – Eureka are finally gracing UK audiences with the Blu Ray debut of Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son in a new double pack feature. These old school martial arts flicks depict the real-life sifu Leung Jan who popularised Wing Chun, and showcase the creative prowess of Hung as a filmmaker and fight choreographer.
One of Hung's early features as a director, Warriors Two is a fun but flawed entry in his filmography with standout fights that make this worth a watch.
An exposition dump played over a gorgeous training sequence by a waterfall introduces audiences to Leung Jan (played here by Bryan Leung), a master of Wing Chun who also acts as a doctor in the town of Foshan. The story, however, follows his two students Cashier Hua (Casanova Wong) and Fei Chun (Sammo Hung). Hua overhears a plot from a businessman to kill the mayor and run Foshan, and is nearly killed by his henchman. Whilst recovering and hiding in Jan's residence, Hua convinces the master to teach him Wing Chun and protect the town.
Warriors Two is a diamond in the rough. All of Hung's trademarks are here – the comedy, impressive fight choreography, surprisingly great performances – but they don't work as well compared to his later features. The biggest downfall with Warriors Two is the pacing. It takes too long to get to the real meat of the narrative – Jan training Hua in the ways of Wing Chan – thanks to an overstuffed first act. There's some fun to be had still with Hung showing off his physical comedy and some impressive fights (particularly those featuring master Jan himself), but a lot of it feels like filler.
The comedy too yields mixed results. Hung is simply magnetic whenever he is on screen and his comedic performance is guaranteed to put a smile on audiences faces – if not make them laugh out loud. There are some genuinely impactful moments, however, that are undermined thanks to some poorly-timed jokes. In particular a scene between Hua and Jan begins as a powerful examination of learning a martial art for the sake of revenge before turning it into a simple joke. Later on a surprisingly profound ending to a fight is once again undercut by cheap comedy.
Overall the action is great, as is expected. The entire cast deliver impressive martial art sequences and, for the most part, the camera lets them shine in wide, unbroken shots. Unfortunately the editing isn't great within some of the action beats, giving the sense that Hung is experimenting and getting to grips with cutting together kung fu set pieces. Warriors Two still features some of Hung's best work as a choreographer and performer, including Jan taking on overwhelming forces in a restaurant and Hung himself fending off armed henchmen with a pair of blades.
The first feature in this double pack is a mixed bag but serves as an intriguing prelude to Sammo Hung in his prime.
The Prodigal Son
Produced after the seminal feature Encounter of the Spooky Kind, The Prodigal Son is Hung at the height of his creative powers.
Whilst Warriors Two shows Leung Jan as a master, here (played by Yuen Biao) he is a young martial artist who has yet to learnt the ways of Wing Chun. Coming from a wealthy family, Jan believes himself to be a great kung fu master not realising that his father has been bribing his opponents to intentionally lose. After losing a fight against Wing Chun master Leung Yee-tai (Lam Ching-ying), Jan attempts to persuade Yee-tai to teach him how to become a martial arts master.
The craftmanship from Hung as a filmmaker compared to Warriors Two is like night and day. The camera movement is purposeful, the writing and direction is much more character-focused, and of course the action is top tier. Hung takes his time in introducing the characters and developing the core relationship between Jan and Yee-tai, making the first half a particular highlight as it masterfully blends comedy, action and drama through the cast of characters. Whilst there is some trademark physical comedy, a lot of the laughs come from clever dialogue – usually delivered by the witty Yee-tai – and light-hearted banter between the characters. It certainly feels like Hung at this point is maturing as a filmmaker by branching out from slapstick comedy, and it makes you care for Jan and Yee-tai more as a result.
Towards the end of this first half the action ramps up and leads to a genuinely tense midpoint climax. In terms of story Hung makes some surprising decisions that makes no character safe from a grisly fate, and the fights are simply exhilarating. The scale is bigger than ever for a Sammo Hung feature, with legions of henchman involved and fiery stuntwork, and the choreography is just as incredible as you'd expect. Heading into the film's second half, however, might cause whiplash for some audiences.
Whilst The Prodigal Son establishes a balance between comedy and action with high-stakes drama, the midpoint veers into a more light-hearted tone. Coincidentally this is when Hung himself appears as a wacky friend of Master Yee-tai. It comes dangerously close to making The Prodigal Son feel like the sum of two separate films but is saved by great performances from Biao and Ching-ying. In particular there is a standout moment between the two during an emotional climax that lets them prove that their acting is as strong as their fighting. The surprisingly stunning shot composition and lighting also helps sell the moment.
If the second half is a little dull, you'll be pleased to hear that the film's climatic fight is an all-timer. It's a simple one-on-one duel but that simplicity lets the focus be purely on the flying fists. Biao's performance during the fight shows how far his character has come and the choreography lets the fighters show how skilled and deadly there are. It's brutal, bloody, exciting – everything you want from kung fu action. The Prodigal Son remains as one of Sammo Hung's best not just for the set pieces but for the great character work too.
“The best fighter in all the land!”
This is a double feature worth picking up, whether you're a Sammo Hung fan or new to the world of Hong Kong cinema. Aside from featuring two great films, the Blu Ray transfer is wonderfully clear and full of colour, letting viewers enjoy the often gorgeous production design and of course the hard-hitting action. Each disc also feature brand new commentary tracks from the ever insightful Frank Djeng, and there's a couple of fascinating essays within the stunning limited edition booklet. Even without the gorgeous cover art and overall presentation, this package is worth picking up for two underrated gems that deserve more mainstream attention.
Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son is released in a limited edition set from Eureka Entertainment on the 24th of January