“Lethal Weapon” meets “Police Story” in this explosive kung-fu cops action comedy film starring Chow Yun Fat and Conan Lee, directed by Lau Kar-Leung.
One of Asia’s biggest stars, Chow Yun Fat takes a break from his cool, heroic-bloodshed persona, playing it for laughs as work-shy cop “Francis Li”. Chow Yun Fat is best known for his collaborations with acclaimed director John Woo in films such as “A Better Tomorrow”, “Hard Boiled” and “The Killer”. He found international success in “The Replacement Killers”, “The Corruptor” and the Oscar-winning “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“.
Touted at the time as the “next Jackie Chan”, Conan Lee stars as tough rookie cop “Michael Tso”. Born in Hong Kong but raised in Queens, New York he was trained in his father’s self-defence system, along with Boxing, Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, Taekwondo and Karate. He got his first big break as a leading martial arts actor in Corey Yuen’s classic “Ninja in the Dragon’s Den”.
Jet Li‘s wife Nina Li Chi stars as the voluptuous “Marydonna”. Known as the “Marilyn of the East”, Li is a former Miss Asia winner. During a long film career, she has appeared alongside Sammo Hung in “Pedicab Driver”, Jackie Chan in “Twin Dragons” and of course her husband Jet Li in “Dragon Fight”.
“The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” star Gordon Liu here takes on the role of the ruthless hitman, “Fai”. Gordon’s co-star from that movie, Shaw Brothers veteran Norman Chu plays Triad gangster “Mr Law”. He has featured in classics such as “Shaolin Mantis”, “Duel to the Death” and “Wing Chun”. Still active in the industry, he recently appeared in the 3D blockbuster “Sword Master“.
Prolific actor and director Phillip Ko-Fei plays heroin trafficker “Poison Snake Ping”. He had been a stuntman in Bruce Lee‘s “Enter the Dragon” and appeared in movies such as “Secret Rivals 2“, “Legend of a Fighter”, “Heart of the Dragon“, “Eastern Condors” and “Dragons Forever“. He sadly passed away on 30th March 2017. Another veteran of the Shaw Brothers golden era, star of “A Better Tomorrow” and Jackie Chan’s dad from “Drunken Master 2“, Ti Lung appears as “Loong”, a bar owner with his ear to the street.
There are cameo roles for 1970’s Hong Kong superstar David Chiang as the “Police Superintendent”, and “Once Upon a Time in China” song lyricist James Wong as “Police Inspector Jim Pak”. Comedienne Lydia Shum of “Drunken Tai Chi” and “Millionaires Express” fame makes an hilarious guest appearance as a Department Store Assistant. Texan Taekwondo exponent Joseph Bryan Baker plays “The Boss”, a vicious mobster and martial arts expert. Baker also appeared in Jackie Chan’s “Armour of God 2: Operation Condor“.
Two mismatched detectives, the lazy Francis Li and his enthusiastic rookie partner Michael Tso are assigned to investigate the murder of a heroin trafficker. The pair use glamorous aerobics instructor Marydonna, the sister of drug dealer “Poison Snake” Ping, to lead them to crime boss, Mr Law. Their investigation sees them chasing and fighting criminals across Hong Kong. However, the quest for the biggest bust of their careers puts their witnesses, their families and their own lives at serious risk as the gangsters seek revenge.
The leading characters are firmly established in the opening scenes as Conan Lee makes a muscular entrance as a tough no-nonsense cop. He runs across busy roads, hurdling barriers Jackie Chan-style, to race to the scene of an armed hold up. Taken hostage, action star Chow Yun Fat plays against type, literally peeing his pants for comic effect. Meanwhile, when a drug deal goes bad, the vicious gang of mobsters demonstrate they are just as quick to fire off their guns as well as their punches and kicks.
Shaws veteran Ti Lung has a challenge in a bar with Conan. Lung still has the old school moves while Conan performs the split-kicks and hard-hitting falls. Our heroes follow a lead resulting in a chase on foot with Philip Ko that could be lifted straight from one of Jackie Chan’s Police Story movies. The sequence tips its hat to a similar one in the Hollywood movie “Running Scared”, a film that also inspired Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon, with the two cops ending up losing their trousers!
Gordon Liu gets to flex his kung fu muscles against Conan in a brutal fist fight set in a gym. Even Nina Li gets knocked about, with a close up revealing that she performs her own hard fall to the floor. In fact poor old Nina has quite a rough time of it throughout the whole film.
The middle of the film features an impressive Hong Kong style shootout and car chase during a drug bust. Conan Lee spends much of it clinging onto the roof of a speeding vehicle trying not to get decapitated.
The finalé is a classic of the 80’s kung fu cops genre. Chow Yun Fat has his obligatory shootout but gets to show off his own hand-to-hand weapons skills. His innovative use of a pump action shotgun is especially cool. Conan Lee concentrates on pure martial arts fighting with plenty of acrobatics and stunt falls. It leads to an astonishing chainsaw duel with Gordon Liu in one of his best onscreen contemporary-set fights.
Director Lau Kar-Leung was better known for his period kung fu films prior to this one. Moving into a modern-day setting, perhaps taking a lead from the 1987 Hollywood smash hit “Lethal Weapon”, he strikes a precarious balance between light comedy and brutal violence. Much like “Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon”, the humour is very broad and the female characters are treated appallingly, but where it does score well is in the action scenes. Conan Lee is very capable at delivering the fights and stunts alongside some of the best action performers in the business. He’s not quite up there with Jackie Chan, but you can see why there were comparisons made. The high impact action in this film actually improves with each set piece, until we reach the stunning final fight.
Chow Yun Fat and Conan Lee don’t quite have the same chemistry as Skinny Tiger’s Sammo Hung and Karl Maka. Individually, the reliable Chow brings charm and humour to his character, and Conan Lee does a respectable job of playing a Police Story-type cop. It’s a shame Conan never fulfilled his potential of becoming a major Hong Kong action star, but this film, along with “Ninja in the Dragon’s Den”, probably gives you the best glimpse of what might’ve been.
As with “Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon”, if you look past the misogyny and dated 80’s soundtrack and fashions, there is a fun action film to be enjoyed here. It’s worth watching for the incredible chainsaw-swinging finalé alone!
- The chainsaws in the end duel were not running, but had incense inside them to make them look like they were smoking.
- Lau Kar Leung’s younger brother Lau Kar Wing cameos as a cab driver.
- “Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon” was originally announced as being “Tiger on the Beat 3”.
- At the Hong Kong Film Awards, “Tiger on the Beat” was nominated for Best Action Choreography but was beaten by Jackie Chan’s Police Story 2.