Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Postman Strikes Back (1982)

In the early phase of the Chinese republic, when most of the country is controlled by warlords, a certain Mister Hu (Eddy Ko, who will not turn out to be an evil Japanese ninja, oh no) hires a small group of men to transport four chests containing something of utmost importance secretly to the warlord who controls the strategically valuable Laome Pass.

These men are the courier Ma (Leung Kar-Yan) whose profession is slowly becoming obsolete with the growing availability of the railroad, a young thief named Yao Jin (Yuen Yat-Choh), Ma's good friend, the alcoholic and slightly mad explosives expert Bu (Fan Mei-Sheng - and is this how you'd want your explosives expert?) and the professional gambler and cool scarf-wearer Fu Jun (a young and skinny Chow Yun-Fat - count those rips!).

As it goes in films like this, the men soon get some female company in the form of Guifa (Cherie Chung before she was too annoying), who has a crush on Ma, but nominally just wants his help to get to Shanghai and a Miss Li (Guk Ching-Suk), whom they save from bandits.

The small party will have to brave many dangers in the form of bandits, revolutionaries (which in this case means democrats), nature, and a violent past that will come to haunt Yao Jin and Fu Jun with even more people out to kill them. Would you believe there will be small buds of love growing? That the men will become friends despite all their differences? That there will be betrayal, blood, and tears?

Yes, it's one of those films, but it's a good one of its type, with a script that doesn't shy away from cruel, sometimes unfair consequences for characters' actions unlike a comparable Hollywood script would do.

Stylistically, Postman is quite different from the better known, frenetically paced supernatural wuxia that would come later in director Ronny Yu's career (or the films he has made in Hollywood, for that matter), mostly utilizing actual locations instead of beautifully artificial sets and running along at a leisurely pace instead of jumping screaming in your face. I think the film is influenced by the more historically minded Spaghetti Western of Leone and Corbucci, sharing some plot points I'm not going to spoil, certain parts of their visual style as well as a similar outlook on history, although it never gets as explicit about Yu's own politics as some of Corbucci's works do about their director.

The action is mock realistic and quite bloody, but fortunately not so realistic as not to throw things like pick-a-back fu, shawl fu, a magnetic ninja or rat grenades at the viewer when it is deemed necessary and most certainly not willing to give up on a spectacular set piece for stupid things like the laws of physics.

The actors are all game, with a young Chow Yun-Fat doing some neat cigarette acting and Eddy Ko being his typical evil and untrustworthy self, and the rest of the cast acquitting themselves with the dignified professionalism of people who simply know how to do their jobs.

Despite its stupid title, The Postman Strikes Back is a very fine film, not as spectacular and complex an historically minded martial arts adventure as Once Upon A Time In China perhaps, but still worth it.


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