Highly explosive non-stop action
The history of cinema is filled with classic comedy combinations and teams: the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers (not forgetting their evil clones the Ritzes or their redolent residue, the fraternal Hudsons), Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis…and Clark and others to numerous to name. Using verbal wit or physical shtick coupled with an outrageous desire to entertain, they all created a wonderful amalgamation of chaos and craziness. Paramount to their success was this notion of "chemistry": a complicated alchemy of juvenilia with sophistication and of actor to action. Add to this long list of luminaries the names Sammy Kong, Arnold "Kodyjack" Au, and Nancy "Hot Tongue" Ho, AKA the Aces Go Places gang. Combining outrageous sight gags, droll puns, bizarre comic capering, and some of the best action and fight sequences that Hong Kong masters can create, the Mad Mission movies (as they are called here in the West) offer the best of both entertainment worlds: rollicking stunts and wickedly adolescent humor. Thanks to Anchor Bay, a collection of the first four Mad Mission movies is now available. Just like one's first taste of Jackie Chan, John Woo, or Jet Li, they are unbelievably exciting and remarkably addictive. While available to purchase as separate titles, you'll want to spring for the box set.
Facts of the Case
The Mad Mission box set is made up of four individually packaged DVDs in keep cases. They are all then housed in a cardboard collector's case. Of the films offered, only Mad Mission 4: You Never Die Twice is exclusive to the collection. A plot summary for each follows:
Mad Mission (1982): Sammy "King" Kong is an infamous, innovative jewel thief who pulls off the heist of his life when he steals a satchel of diamonds from the Mafia. Desperate to discover who committed this dastardly crime are several divergent factions: there's White Glove, a well-known international cat burglar who wants to protect his reputation (and recover the goods for himself). There's Superintendent Nancy "Hot Tongue" Ho, seemingly the sole female member of the Hong Kong police department (and with a raging case of anti-criminal PMS to prove it). Along for the justice ride is Albert "Kodyjack" Au, a bald, goateed imp known as one of New York City's finest short, Asian, lollipop sucking crime fighters. And then there's the Mafia itself. The walrus-like Don wants Sammy dead…or rapidly approaching rigor mortis. As Kodyjack and Hot Tongue befriend our five-finger discounter (hoping to trick him into revealing the whereabouts of the cut carbons), their lives all become endangered as elaborate plots and ambushes meet their every move.
Mad Mission II: Aces Go Places (1983): Picking up right after the last Mad Mission, the United States Government is angry with the seeming inability of anyone, anywhere, to capture Sammy, Kody, and Hot Tongue. So Henry Kissinger (!) hires "Filthy" Harry, a vaguely Eastwood-like hitman to take care of the problem. He is to kill the trio and regain possession of the gems. He sets out to accomplish this task with…transforming robots. They attack Sammy, who has fashioned his own automatons in disguise for protection. Meanwhile, Kodyjack, and Hot Tongue get married and things do not go well. Not only do they have to help Sammy, avoid Harry and his ingenious death devices and schemes, but Kody likes to flirt! Eventually it all boils down to a battle royale, Robotech style.
Mad Mission III: Our Man From Bond Street (1984): Sammy is kidnapped
by "James Bond," with the help of henchmen "Oddjob" and
"Jaws" (Richard Kiel makes a cameo), to aid the United Kingdom and Her
Majesty "The Queen" in recovering several of the missing crown jewels.
In reality, everyone's an imposter, from the pseudo-007 to the pantomime
Elizabeth. Peter Graves, playing an "impossible" mission man named Tom
Collins, arrives in Hong Kong. His job is to prevent Sammy from completing his
assignments. And Kodyjack and Nancy are along as well, still unhappily married
and with little Babyjack in tow. After Sammy succeeds, the bogus British want
all loose ends disposed of, and that includes all members of the Mad Mission
team (even our baldy infant).
The Mad Mission series is typical of many of the films made in Hong Kong: unknown to the majority of Western moviegoers, hugely successful worldwide and entertainment of the purest, highest order. It's a shame that films as fun and as irreverent as these are not more popular on US soil. They represent everything that is glorious, good, and spiritually rejuvenating about cinema. There is no major message (unless you count friendship and loyalty) and aside from Mad Mission IV, no reliance on gruesome violence. They offer stunts that are over the top and fights as choreographed as Broadway dance numbers. As movies, they are cartoon comedy and typical Asian style near animation action at its quirkiest and most endearing. But the main reason the Mad Mission movies work is the cast. Sammy Hui, the famous Hong Kong recording artist, is a perfect leading man, agile and fierce but not afraid to make fun of himself or look downright goofy (his "in love" faces are priceless). Sylvia Chang, better known by art house patrons for her work in Eat Drink Man Woman or The Red Violin creates a wonderfully complex (and occasionally outright comic) straight-woman to the marauding mania of her co-stars. She is the balance and glue that holds the trio of "Aces" together.
But it's Karl Maka, as the bumbling, bald buffoon known as Albert "Kodyjack" Au that makes Mad Mission work so consistently well. Chrome domed, with a devilish bit of facial hair and a gnome-like stature, his broad, vaguely mannered monkeyshines combine within the cinematic circumstances to create an instantly classic comic character. The minute he is off screen you want him back on, for when he leaves the void is massive. Kodyjack becomes an icon for the entire series, the giddy gregarious good-for-nothing that virtually stumbles into bad situations and the role of hero, only to grumble about his sad lot in life or squeal like a child. All bravado and bungling, he is invaluable and always leaves the audience wanting more. Maka is, in actuality, a famous Hong Kong filmmaker, wearing many of the hyphenated hats (writer/director/producer/actor) as his fellow Asian auteurs do. But his turn as Kodyjack is so defining and wonderful that it's impossible to imagine him in any other light. It's interesting that, when it comes to the voice work, at least three different American actors can be heard, from Lawrence Tierney in Mad Mission to a (fake) Paul Lynde on helium for Our Man From Bond Street. Yet because of the job Maka does in his physical presence and persona, it all gels together perfectly.
But it's not only comedy and acting that works well in the Mad Mission movies. As it's become so ingrained into standard Hollywood filmmaking, it's hard to imagine a time when Hong Kong style stunts, wire fighting, and outrageous personal endangerment were novel or unknown to the average action adventure film. Yet in the Mad Mission films, you can see this developing style taking form. There are Western influences, as many of the car chases and crashes copy the then famous work in The Road Warrior and The Blue Brothers. But by Episode IV: You Never Die Twice, Ringo Lam (soon to be worshipped among chop socky geeks) infuses the frame with a purely Asian action motif. The camera swirls around the battles instead of remaining static and many of the P.O.V. ground level tire shots have been replaced by rapid cutting, multiple passes and slow motion impacts. When it comes to these stunts and set pieces, it's guaranteed there will be at least one in each film that will move you to the edge of your sofa in nail biting anticipation (Mad Mission's final chase, the Robot war in the sequel, Bond Street's Eiffel Tower chase, and most everything about number four, including the hilarious hockey (!) game). The combination of wacky humor with heart stopping effects makes Mad Mission a complete, fun film package.
Known originally in the East as "Aces Go Places" (the actual Chinese translates literally as "Best Partners"), each film has its own positive attributes (along with some minor negative issues). Since three are available separately, it's important to address them individually.
Mad Mission: Imagine crossing the goofy charm of a Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker style spoof with the precision physical comedy of the Three Stooges and then mix in a little over-the-top Hong Kong style action for good measure and you've got the idea behind Mad Mission. This film has the most pop culture references and inside jokes of all the entire series. From comic names (Hot Tongue, King Kong) to outright parodies (The Godfather, The Pink Panther), this is a movie that throws gags and action at the viewer in a non-stop barrage aimed to please, or at least quickly replace something that doesn't work with another stunt or stupid situation. This is not just idiocy for the sake of a laugh, however. Every aside is a knowing one, each reference right on target. The filmmakers add interesting twists to the standard heist plot. While there are the usual high tech gadgets and improbable obstacles, they are only a small part of a concept that mixes physical humor with unique plot devices (the clues to the diamond's location are tattooed on women's backsides) and exhilarating eye candy to create an experience that is as fantastical as it is fun.
As for the DVD presentation, one needs to tread lightly. Fans will be furious by the lack of anything other than a dubbed English soundtrack. More or less acceptable since, these movies (and the DVD release) are geared toward a foreign, mostly Western market. But purists (and this reviewer) can occasionally find dubbing offensive and irritating. Fortunately, it is not too bad here (as mentioned before, Lawrence Tierney obviously voices the woefully inept Kodyjack), but for an extra, the original Cantonese (or other native tongue) would have been nice. As would some material referencing the origin of the series, the name(s), its creation and success. Regarding the sound and vision, there is much to rejoice and some to recoil over. The image is very good, with only a couple of wildly out of focus scenes, flaws that must have been inherent in the original source. But for a movie almost twenty years old, the anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 transfer looks fresh and bright. There is an excellent Dolby Digital Mono track. It can be a little busy at times, what with all the dubbed voices and singsong whistled theme music bouncing around. But overall, it's pristine.
Mad Mission II: Aces Go Places: Probably the best, most complete film of all four Mad Missions offered. Continuing the trend of comic asides, self-referential putdowns, and excruciatingly bad (but wildly hilarious) verbal and visual puns, this movie adds transforming robots and a really awful Clint Eastwood impersonator to the mix. It also expands the scope and setting of the action. It's nice to see the plot carry over from the previous issues from MMI instead of trying to reinvent the genre. Characters are allowed to grow and change. Even Kodyjack is taken out of his tough guy cop element and turned into a true comic sidekick, muttering and mincing around the border of every scene to provide entertaining escapades. The stunts are staged to increase the spectacle, so that when cars pile into each other or toy robots battle, there is an intricate detail and near artistic quality. But consistently through it all is a truly manic tone, discovering insane merriment in outrageousness and excess. And just when you thought you'd seen it all, along comes legendary action director/producer Tsui Hark (A Chinese Ghost Story, Once Upon a Time in China) camping it up as an escaped mental patient who thinks he's in the FBI.
You can tell that this film was greenlit after Mad Mission became a huge financial hit. Everything is bigger in Mad Mission II: Aces Go Places, and the anamorphic widescreen transfer from Anchor Bay brings it all to life in crystal clear clarity. The 2.35:1 aspect ratio is preserved, which helps to keep the unbelievable stunt work and chaotic comic book stylizing in frame. There are no visible defects like the bad focus in Mad Mission and, overall, the transfer is flawless. We are still stuck with that dumb dubbed into English soundtrack, but as long as you can tolerate it, the Dolby Digital Mono presents it perfectly well. As with all the other Mad Mission DVD titles, we get a trailer as the sole extra which sells the film under the Mad Mission title (not the Asian Aces version) and plays more like a greatest hits collection than a teaser.
Mad Mission III: Our Man From Bond Street: Most fans find this film in the series to be the weakest, and it's easy to understand why. Unless one has a passion for all things Bond and British, the setup can seem stupid and the satire forced. It's really more incomplete than irritating. The imposters are never given much to do except represent visual gags, weak references to the classic cinematic spy films, and nothing more. Even the various heists that make up the main portion of the film seem rushed, as if the filmmakers wanted to simply get these necessary plot points over with in order to move on to something else. Still, on the plus side, there is some wonderful location work (the Paris material is breathtaking, even if some of it is obviously faked) and ingenious, improbable spy machinery (the evildoers' Shark ship). And of course there is Kodyjack. Karl Maka here, as elsewhere, is simply the best thing about the Mad Mission movies. His acting may be overly hambone, but he is the character the audience identifies with the most. Lost in a world of psychotic bad men and near superhuman heroes, he can only do the best he can. And we love him for every comic moment of it.
Visually, opening up the vistas and moving between Europe, Asia and the deepest waters of the ocean underlines the age issues with this transfer of Mad Mission III. You can see the obvious matte work and the bad photographic effects used to achieve some of the stunts in this transfer. For all the inherent glitches in the print, Anchor Bay does attempt to provide a crisp digital version. And in most cases, they succeed (You can even see the massive wrinkles in Peter Graves' forehead). The anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen image is very effectively utilized, especially in the Eiffel tower and robbery scenes. By now, Sammy Hui's singing career had merged into the films and we are treated to several of his tuneful croonings as accompaniment. Unfortunately, we still have a Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack to hear it all in, and it varies wildly. Peter Graves is not dubbed, but recorded live and no attempt has been made to clean the track to remove the obvious "dump" in and out of the re-recorded character work. This does not happen frequently, but it would have been nice for Anchor Bay to address the issue in some manner of remaster.
Mad Mission IV: You Never Die Twice: Here is the film where the first major deviation from the Mad Mission formula takes place. Before this, in any given episode, the violence was cartoonish, never quite feeling "deadly." Under the direction of Ringo Lam, however, Mad Mission turns into a constant Gunfight at the Asian Corral. Bullets fly and blood flows. Death no longer seems inconsequential and a real element of danger hovers over all the characters. We fear when Sammy is shot and cringe as a character is stabbed, only to later have a gun thrust into the open wound. This is hard-edged action, and while a decided change from the lighthearted hijinks of the past, one can't help but feel a little bit of the innocence is lost forever as a result. Still, Lam does makes up for this with wonderful anarchic set pieces like the Hong Kong Cops vs. Interpol hockey match (in which there is far more fisticuffs than power plays) and the harrowing "Babyjack out the window" sequence. If you thought Michael Jackson got grief for dangling his son over a Berlin balcony, imagine the world's reaction when they see a precocious four-year-old hanging for dear life thirty stories up. And then falling! Mad Mission IV is a fine thriller, but a little of the magic is gone. Kodyjack is still the endearing comic clown, but there is less goofy overall and more gravity in this sequel.
As the newest film in the box set, Mad Mission IV is also the best-looking DVD film presentation. We are still stuck with dubbed English and a Dolby Digital Mono track, but the anamorphic widescreen image is magnificent. Lam knows how to use framing to emphasize danger or hide stunt secrets, and respecting this 2.35:1 aspect ratio aids the film tremendously. One trembles at the thought of what this, or any of the Mad Mission movies, would or could look like in crappy pan and scan VHS versions. As with every other disc in the box set, the only extra is a trailer, and in the case of Mad Mission IV, this is patently wrong. With a disc that you have to buy the box set to own, Anchor Bay should have added something more to it. Lam is a big time director; an interview or maybe a commentary could have been conceived, or what about a Blue Underground style essay/featurette. Instead it's the barest of bones for this and all the other titles in the Mad Mission Collection. While it's great to have the films in such pristine condition, context is always helpful. And it's also what DVD was made for.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Thank you Anchor Bay! Thank you for the wonderful transfers! Thank you for bringing these movies to a more mainstream audience! And thank you for not offering ONE SINGLE DECENT EXTRA. After all, what could people possibly want when they are met with a film series that is completely foreign to them that they know nothing about and offers an odd combination of silliness and stunts? So kudos to you for deciding that a bare bones, no bonus package was the only way to offer these titles to both neophyte and fan alike. And while we're at it, let's thank you for the "English only" soundtrack. Apparently you believe, as do most in the movie world, that a Region 1 audience cannot cotton to a balls-out fight and fire film festooned with its own native tongue. So instead of preserving the actors' performance and their own lyrical speaking voices, we are treated to all manner of washed out Anglo atrocities as liberties are taken with story and dialogue for the sake of a same sounding ugly Americanese. Oh yeah, and finally, a big bag of thanks for NOT releasing Mad Mission IV: You Never Die Twice outside the pricey box set. Seems that anyone picking up a solo disc or two will have to suffer until you decide to make this collection only version of the film available separately. Not like there are any Ringo Lam fans knocking down your door, huh?
Maybe Sammy Kong, Kodyjack, and Hot Tongue do not evenly match up to Moe, Larry, and Curly, Groucho, Harpo, and Chico or, heck, even Manny, Moe, and Jack. Perhaps the production values and cheesy effects in the Mad Mission movies make for less than perfect presentations of action and amusement. The acting is overblown and totally without subtlety, and there are plot holes and coincidences aplenty to be found. But the key word here is fun. F-U-N!!! Film is supposed to entertain, not bemuse. And in that capacity the Mad Mission movies, and the Anchor Bay Mad Mission Collection box set, functions as the perfect cinematic court jester. Located at the center of each one of these outrageous works of stunts and silliness is the near brilliant performances of Sammy Hui and Sylvia Chang, and the out and out bravura of Karl Maka's hyperactive Hong Kong hobbit, Kodyjack. Some say comedy is in the timing. Others will argue for smart scripts with witty turns of the phrase. But unless you have a real group of gifted actors/comedians to turn the material into magic, all you have are precise words. It takes talent to transform a joke into a jocular jewel and the cast (and crew) of the Mad Mission movies succeeds time and time again. For the uninitiated as well as the converted, the Mad Mission Collection from Anchor Bay is a wonderful discovery. Hopefully, the "aces" will continue to "go" to many richer, ridiculous "places" in the future.
As a box set, the Mad Mission Collection is found NOT GUILTY and is free to go. Individually, only Mad Mission III: Our Man From Bond Street is guilty of the movie misdemeanor of forgetting what the whole Mad Mission series is about. Anchor Bay is placed on six months probation for providing poor sound and bonus selections on each disc and for failing to make Mad Mission IV widely available to the DVD buying public.
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Scales of Justice, Mad Mission
Perp Profile, Mad Mission
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distinguishing Marks, Mad Mission
Scales of Justice, Mad Mission II: Aces Go Places
Perp Profile, Mad Mission II: Aces Go Places
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distinguishing Marks, Mad Mission II: Aces Go Places
Scales of Justice, Mad Mission III: Our Man From Bond Street
Perp Profile, Mad Mission III: Our Man From Bond Street
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distinguishing Marks, Mad Mission III: Our Man From Bond Street
Scales of Justice, Mad Mission IV: You Never Die Twice
Perp Profile, Mad Mission IV: You Never Die Twice
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distinguishing Marks, Mad Mission IV: You Never Die Twice
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