Shanghai Express DVD: Review By Brian Gallagher

Simply astonishing fight scenes, some marvelous humor and drama all tied together with a great story and an East vs. West mentality.
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
Simply astonishing fight scenes, some marvelous humor and drama all tied together with a great story and an East vs. West mentality.
Some of the features were lame. They need to cut those interviews a little shorter in the future.
Hmm, I wonder where they got the idea for Shanghai Noon... Way back in 1986, legendary action star/director Sammo Hung directed and starred in a little flick called Shanghai Express, an "East meets West" tale with Yuen Biao and a much smaller performance than the DVD cover leads you to believe, by Cynthia Rothrock. While we don't have the white guy paired up with the Chinese guy, and it isn't a "buddy flick" by any means, this flick with it's masterful combination of humor, action and drama had to certainly, at the very least, be a very big influence on the Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson movie.

Hung stars as an outlaw named Cheng, on the run for... well, they don't really say, but he has a cache of cash and heads back to his hometown (after being gone for sometime after a crime he committed) to try to bring back prosperity to the town, in a shady sort of way. Before he gets there, though, the town had been robbed, by the chief security officer, mind you, and the town is in peril. They elect (sorta...) a new chief (Yuen Biao) and they set to clean the town up. At the same time, the Millionaires Express is taking off from Shanghai and will soon cross their sleepy town, and a band of bandits plan to rob it, mainly to steal back a map that some Japanese samurai have in their possession.

This is one of those movies that really has it all, folks. There isn't quite as much action throughout the movie as you might expect, but the scenes we do see are of outstanding quality and the big showdown finale is just masterful, pitting many a martial arts legends against each other. As great as the fighting is, we get a lot of cheeky humor here, most of it not laugh-out-loud funny, but more than enough to put a smile on your face, along with a great script from Alfred Cheung, Barry Wong and Wong Wang Kai (these are what the DVD package lists as the writers, although IMDB credits Sammo Hung as the sole writer... weird) with a great Western-ish storyline full of drama and everything else.

We get splendid performances all around here, highlighted by Sammo Hung as the bandit Cheng and Yuen Biao as the lawman Tsao Cheuk Kin. There is another smashing performance here... but I have not a clue who the actor is who plays it. The character is Taifu, a federal lawman who has been chasing Cheng, but the character name isn't listed on IMDB (or it's a different name) and it sucks because I'd love to give props to whoever this is because, even though it's a fairly small performance, he has some wonderful delivery and really has that aura of a Western-type lawman. Cynthia Rothrock plays a woman bandit and I don't even think she has a line in the whole movie, save maybe one. She's only on screen for possibly five minutes total and, even though she is the biggest female martial arts star ever, she shouldn't have made it on the cover.

Shanghai Express is just a trainload of entertainment. It's a popcorn flick with MSG, a spaghetti Western with some soy sauce. Mostly, it's a ton of fun for any fan of martial arts, westerns and those intrigued by that combination.
This next disc in the Dragon Dynasty series falls in line with the previous disc, offering an array of interviews for most of the special features. We start off with Express Delivery: An Interview with Sammo Hung and he gives us an interesting bi-lingual interview for about 13 minutes. Almost all of it is done in Chinese with subtitles but every now and then, inexplicably, he'll bust out some English on us. It's kind of weird. I mean, we know he knows how to speak English, but just the random times he decides to speak English might throw you for a loop. He doesn't give us really a ton of insight into the making of the film, it's more about how much he enjoyed making it and the people he made it with. Still, we get some interesting nuggets about the scene with him nearly naked in the snow and some good fight scene stuff, so it's worth checking out.

Trailblazer: An Interview With Cynthia Rothrock was obviously filmed at the same time as her interview in Above the Law. She feels necessary to illuminate us on her whole history in martial arts from the age of 13. We get all these little "transitions" with her demonstrating her skills for a few seconds and it's rather annoying. She goes on to talk about how she started in movies and blah blah blah. About seven minutes in she finally gets to this actual movie and talks about that for awhile and then rambles for a long long time more. The interview is 23 minutes long and she was probably on-screen for five minutes, tops. Ugh. This interview gets really annoying really quick.

Way Out West: An Interview With Yuen Biao is the last of the interviews and, like Cynthia's, it was taken the same day as his interview for Above the Law. We get a little more perspective here in the making of the movie... AND I found out what the federal lawman's name was, Kenny Bee. He's listed on IMDB for this movie as "Fook Loi." Weird. Anyway, he gives us some interesting details on the logistics of the movie with the train scenes and setting up the town and his famous leap from a four-story burning building which he did and then sprang up to run over and deliver some lines, all in one take. Amazing. The interview goes just over 20 minutes long and it's a great way to end the interview segments.

The last thing we get here are four Deleted Scenes and the first two are pretty damn funny. The last two are all right, but the first one especially was great. With all that Sammo was talking about cutting time from the movie in his interview, I'd have to imagine that was the reason these were cut.
The disc is presented in the widescreen format, enhanced for 16x9 televisions.
The sound here is handled through the Dolby Digital format. It's quite odd how the sound is astronomically better than the last Dragon Dynasty flick, Above the Law, especially since they came out in the same year. Weird.
A nice design here, although Rothrock really shouldn't be allowed on the cover, due to her minimal screen presence. The front has a shot of Sammo and Rothrock above the title card, with smaller shots of Biao and the female Japanese samurai, along with a critic quote. We get another quote on the back along with some smaller shots, a synopsis a special features box and a nice shot of Kenny Bee along with the billing block and tech specs. Real nice job here that draws you in and is a nice take-off from the Shanghai Noon style, which was a nice touch. I guess they're bringing Shanghai back... yeeeah.
This is just one hell of an entertaining movie. While some of the laughs might be somewhat cheap, it's campy as hell and the fights and the action are certainly not cheap in any way. This is a great addition to your collection, a classic martial arts Western that can't be duplicated... even though they've already tried.

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