Above the Law – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Directed by
Corey Yuen

Cast:
Biao Yuen … Hsia Ling-Cheng
Cynthia Rothrock … Cindy Si
Roy Chiao … Magistrate
Siu-Wong Fan … Yu Chi-Wen
Melvin Wong … Sergeant Wong Jing-Wai
Corey Yuen … Bad Egg


The Movie:

Vigilantism is a subject that has been a cornerstone of American Action cinema since the 1970’s. This was the period that Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson gave audiences a release by showing that their justice would stretch beyond the rule of law if it had to in order to bring criminals down. For Hong Kong cinema, it would take some years to emulate this subject matter properly, as while their theaters were filled with Kung fu masters and Hong Kong Triads, this issue was really just skirted, and not tackled head on in the same way that Death Wish was able to do. With one of his first performances as an Action lead, Yuen Biao was able to finally change that; kicking his way through his vigilante epic, Above the Law.

Mostly known for significant supporting roles in Hong Kong classics such as Jackie Chan’s Project A, and Wheels on Meals, Yuen Biao makes a strong case for rediscovery as Hsia Ling-Cheng, a district attorney fed up with watching corrupt criminals get off Scott-free when women and children are being murdered in the streets. Hsia Ling-Cheng takes it so personally that he decides to take the law into his own hands, dropping in on heavily armed scumbags with only his fists and his feet, but getting the jobs done that the courts won’t do. Unfortunately, when a corrupt cop begins with his own similar crusade for evil reasons, our hero has to both be able avoid the cops and come to grips with his own agenda.

Director Corey Yuen (The Transporter) knows exactly how to utilize his star’s talents as Biao is showcased in virtually one insane fight after another. We’re thrown in almost immediately, and the movie doesn’t really let up for more than five minutes for the rest of its running time. The movie’s best sequence deals with a bevy of villains trying to take out Hsia Ling-Cheng in a parking garage, using cars and other weapons to in order to stop our hero’s personal crusade. In an incredible stunt, two cars go to ram the vigilante, and just when you would expect him to jump out of the way, he falls flat to the ground, the cars pinning themselves together on top of him. Even more stunning is that the cars then start moving in tandem, with Biao still pinned underneath trying to avoid the speeding tires.

If Biao wasn’t enough to sell you on this film, then the work of Cynthia Rothrock as Police Detective Cindy Si, the cop assigned to bring Hsia Ling-Cheng in, should do the trick. The five time undefeated World Karate Champion and black belt in five different forms of Korean and Chinese Martial Arts, gets an amazing showcase from Corey Yuen, as she is pitted against scores of villains as well as having unforgettable beat-downs against Biao’s hero. Amazingly athletic, Rothrock is a dazzling Action heroine that is able to go toe to toe with any performer she’s put up against, displaying a grace and strength that was actually quite rare for female performers in Hong Kong at the time.

With all this tremendous action making it easy to recommend this film, its unfortunate that the movie has some pretty glaring flaws. The worst is the movie’s horribly 80’s score by Romeo Díaz, which undercuts some of the film’s more dramatic moments with sappy music or even worse, inappropriately comic beats. The score manages to also keep the film from really feeling timeless, which is not a problem for the great Hong Kong films of the era, including The Killer or Police Story.

To be honest, the film has a problem with tone over all, trying to be all things to all people, from jaunty action extravaganza to comedic romp. While this would have worked in the hands of Jackie Chan or his ilk, the film then comes with a very dark conclusion that feels forced and out of balance with the rest of the film. While Above the Law is filled with tremendous displays of martial arts prowess the movie ignores crucial, but basic elements within the storytelling that keep the movie a good one instead of a great one.

Above the Law is a feast for the senses, but feels a little hollow when all is said and done. Yuen Biao and Cynthia Rothrock give the best performances of their careers, but their efforts are nearly undone by lopsided film making and terrible score music. Still the movie does bring the Action goods and on those terms the movie is an easy recommendation, it just could have been so much more.


The DVD:

The Video
This new Dragon Dynasty release is the best possible version of this movie available. The picture on this disc is clear, with very little debris to distract you throughout. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

The Audio
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds the best this movie has ever sounded. The Cantonese track on this movie is spectacular, and makes the film sound like new. Too bad it also brings out the film’s dreadful score.


SPECIAL FEATURES:

Feature-length Audio Commentary with Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan – It is amazing just how much information Bey Logan is able to pack into these commentary tracks. You barely get to catch your breath as Logan just keeps going on and on about the careers of each of the film’s stars as well as locations and different tidbits about how scenes were filmed. There’s a moment later on in the movie when Cynthia Rothrock has a knock down, drag out scrap with a bunch of goons and Logan hypothesizes that the scene was not even filmed by Director Corey Yuen, saying that he believes Sammo Hung was actually responsible for the scene, despite being uncredited. Logan comes to this conclusion stating that no one was able to make Rothrock look better than Hung was able to and that this was probably the best fight she ever had on screen, and then he goes on with several factors that lead him to this conclusion.

The Vigilante: An Interview with Producer and Star Yuen Biao – This is a terrific interview with Biao as he talks about how he was cast in the movie and how he got into the position to be able to star in the film. The interview goes about 12 minutes.

Action Overload: An Interview with Leading Lady Cynthia Rothrock – Rothrock loved working on this picture and is very complimentary of Yuen Biao, calling him the best performer she ever worked with. Rothrock goes into detail about the film’s stunts and how one particular fight involving a chain was very difficult to accomplish. The actress is very complimentary of Director Corey Yuen and seemed to love working with him.

From the Ring to the Silver Screen: An Interview with Co-star and Kickboxing Champion Peter Cunningham This interview with Cunningham, who plays a henchman who has an awesome battle with Yuen Biao in the movie, goes through his entire Martial Arts career,even how he got his nickname “Sugarfoot”. This was the only major Hong Kong film Cunningham worked on, but he definitely made his mark. This interview goes about 23 minutes.

Alternate Ending – This alternate ending is over 20 minutes long and varies a lot from the one that is in the film. This ending is much more upbeat and really may actually improve the film, especially considering the movie’s shortcomings in terms of tone.

Trailers – You get a bunch of trailers on this disc for other Dragon Dynasty titles as well as the Hong Kong and American trailers for this film.