FANTASY MISSION FORCE [1983]

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

AKA MI NI TE GONG DUI

Taiwan/Hong Kong

AVAILABLE ON DVD

RUNNING TIME: 90 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

It’s World War 2 and the Japanese attack an Allied camp in Canada, kidnapping four generals along with some money. Lieutenant Don Wen is called in to organise a rescue attempt and, with promises of a huge reward and pardons for their crimes, rounds up a motley crew of misfits comprising of escape artist Greased Lightning, hobo Old Sun, con artist Billy, and two kilt-wearing soldiers Stone and Stone’s Superior. Just before they set off, Billy’s girlfriend Lily, who’s always being abandoned by Billy, joins the group, while they’re followed by Sammy and Emily, two small-time crooks after the money….

It’s hard not to be fooled by words on the back of a DVD cover. The description of Fantasy Mission Force mentions that it’s a comedy kung fu flick, therefore making it out to be much like much of Jackie Chan’s other stuff, but in no way suggests the sheer insanity of the film at hand. I remember when reviewing City Hunter thinking that that movie was probably Chan’s craziest, with Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu possibly his second. For some reason, Fantasy Mission Force only came to mind a few days later, whereupon I decided to re-watch and review it for this website, Maybe I’d thought I’d dreamed or just imagined it? Granted, those experienced with the mo lei tau [translation: “nonsensical”] school of Hong Kong movie comedy where literally anything goes, and whose most famous exponent is probably Steven Chow, may not find it that bonkers. But I do now distinctly recall my first viewing of this movie many years ago and wondering what hallucinogenic substance I’d taken. It is literally off the wall. Whether it’s actually a good movie is another matter. It’s rather poorly put together, and doesn’t feature much martial arts either. Nor does it actually star Chan, despite what home media releases might lead you to believe – he’s just a supporting player, and while he does goof around he’s actually one of the more sensible things in a sea of lunacy.

Chan made this film because of a debt he owed to its star, Jimmy Wang Yu. This story might sound incredible now, but it’s true. Chan was desperate to leave producer Lo Wei, for whom he’d made a series of commercially unsuccessful films. Wei had loaned him out to another producer Ng See-Yuen for Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master which were Chan’s big breakthrough hits, but Ng made little attempt to keep Chan. With Raymond Chow’s company Golden Harvest though, it was another matter, and when Chow offered him a new home, Chan needed little convincing to jump ship for good. However, Wei was a Triad member, and promptly put out a contract on Chan’s life. Chan left Hong Kong for a while and Chow got Wang Yu, who had Triad connections, to help out. Wang Yu went to meet with a Triad boss in a Hong Kong restaurant and was confronted by a gang of hit men with knives who trapped him in the building until an English police sergeant walked by and arrested the lot of them. Chow then stumped up so much cash that Wei could hardly say no, but Chan had to agree to make all his Hong Kong films for Chow, while he also owed Wang Yu a debt. Wang Yu said he had to appear in two of his films, the other one being 1994’s Island Of Fire. Fantasy Mission Force was made in Taiwan, after which Chan, unhappy with the film, stopped it being released in Hong Kong cinemas, though it came out on video two years later. This may have been why Chester Wong shot new footage featuring two extra characters and a Chan double, cut some of the comedy, and released the result as Fire Dragon.

So we begin with our four generals, one of which calls himself Abraham Lincoln, arguing over where the Japanese are on a map is of Canada. The third one to speak says that the Japanese are nowhere, only to be corrected by a Japanese voice telling him: “I’ve got some bad news for you, the Japanese are right here”. It seems that 007 [we the Roger Moore version] is busy, somebody called the Bald Detective [the photo is of Karl Maka of the Aces Go Places comedies] defected, the Snake King [the picture is of Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken from Escape From New York] died three years ago, Rocky is unsuitable for a military mission and somebody called Captain Black Fox [could be a reference which I’m not knowledgeable about] is retired – so the Chinese have no choice but to use Lieutenant Don Wen. You’ll probably know by now if you’re like this film, and whether you’ll find it funny. I tend to love absurd humour so I was already cracking up by this point, but it’s a fact that Hong Kong comedy doesn’t always travel well for many so it’s best to just try to enjoy the daftness of the whole thing and if you sometimes laugh as well – it’s a bonus. Wen is introduced mowing down loads of soldiers with a machine gun while driving his jeep, soldiers who in fact seem to be Chinese and therefore on his own side, not that this stops them from hiring him. In any case, that’s nothing compared to the lengthy introduction to Old Sun, who sings a [sadly un-dubbed] song in a restaurant along with loads of others until a man robs him of his money at gunpoint. Asked to return it,the thief says he will only do so if he calls him”papa”, after which event he gives Old Sun his gun instead and Old Sun seems content with this. Greased Lightning does an absurd prison escape, Lily takes part in a competition to shoot clothes off a tied up woman while drinking [it’s kind of a combination of a scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark and another one in The Vikings] before being abandoned by boyfriend Billy which seems to be a habit of his, and our two Tartan-wearing troopers are first seen in a sped-up Benny Hill-style skit.

Where’s our Jackie, you’re probably no doubt asking? He’s first seen about to fight for money, competing with his first opponent on who can use the largest smoking device. Along with his character interested in nothing else but cash, this is certainly not the archetypal Chan character and he probably wouldn’t have allowed this stuff afterwards. Now don’t get too excited, he only does basic wrestling moves on the first guy, then, when the second guy [who comes on when the first guy collapses, saying “he drugged me, then disguised the killer as me” – huh?!!!], doesn’t even seem to try to inflict much damage before whacking him several times with a gong and finally doing a drop-kick. He and his partner Emily soon join the group in their encounters with Amazons, the Japanese who surf on cars sporting Nazi swastikas, and spooks in a haunted house, while everybody seem to change into whatever random costume they found. The haunted house section has some of my favourite moments, like a card game where – via mostly shoddy special effects but does it really matter? – heads detach and spin and arms grow, and somebody is on the toilet and has the toilet role handed to him. While I couldn’t see the point in having Amazons being lorded over by a man, there’s only a small amount of sexist humour, though I guess some sensitive types today might get offended by the stereotypically camp and weak [even though he wields a morning star, the medieval weapon consisting of a handle, a chain and a spiked ball] homosexual Stone. I just find myself chuckling at the ridiculously exaggerated character though obviously many would feel different these days. But the film is probably epitomised by when the group fight each other and don’t do much more than pinch bottoms. You’re rarely far away from silent movie-style slapstick and, even if it’s not generally done as well, it’s still rather joyful as this style is rarely seen today, sadly seen as outdated I guess.

The plot consists of little more than a series of extended skits, and its supposed star Wang Yu is absent for much of the time. Even considering that he wasn’t actually a martial artist, it’s odd that the guy who played The One-Armed Boxer and the Master Of The Flying Guillotine didn’t give himself any fight action until the climactic showdown with Chan. The two previously duked it out in The Killer Meteors but this rematch is even more disappointing, consisting mostly of Chan avoiding Wang Yu’s sword swings until he climbs a flagpole. Chan gets in some better moves earlier, scurrying up trellises and over balconies, but it’s fair to say that this isn’t a good movie to get an idea of his abilities, and, while I usually enjoy his mugging, he seems to be straining for effect in a few places. I’ve read that he was doubled extensively, but I only noticed two obvious edits where somebody else seems to have completed a move. Brigitte Lin gets in some good acrobatics too, and she looks great too even though I generally prefer her in her period, more fantastical roles such as The Bride With White Hair. Everybody else just goons around, which is appropriate until the surprisingly downbeat final act which I’d forgotten about, where people begin to die bloodily. It’s rather jarring compared with all that’s come before, but then I remember that, when I was first seriously getting into Hong Kong movies [can you believe it there used to be a shop in Soho, London that openly sold bootlegs of the latest Hong Kong hits?], it wasn’t just their incredible action that appealed to me so much, it was the sheer unpredictability [some would say randomness, especially as scripts were often written on the spot] of many of the films.

The word “random” can certainly be used to describe the music score. I don’t know if any of it is original music, but certain tracks like a laid back harmonica-led cue do get repeated. But then there’s an orchestral variant on the folk song Camptown Races heard several times, a lengthy Tangerine Dream-style electronic track [though I don’t think it’s actually by them], two suspense cues from John Carpenter’s Halloween 2 score, and tiny snippets from the scores to Planet Of The Apes ‘68 [Jerry Goldsmith] and It’s Alive ‘73 [Bernard Herrmann], along with a whole load of other stuff I shamefully failed to recognise. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Quentin Tarantino likes this movie. I do, too, though I’m cautious about actually recommending something that seems to have originated from somebody’s lucid dream. You’ll know by now if this bonkers film will appeal or not. As for me, right now I want to explore director Yen-Ping Chu’s resume. Apparently much of his work of the same time is similar.

I have no idea what to rate this film. If I go for 9/10 for entertainment and 5/10 for quality, that results in a

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Dr Lenera
About Dr Lenera 2812 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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