Review for Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son (Limited Edition Set)
I started off watching “the wrong movie”, or at least the movie that I wasn’t expecting. It’s not my fault really, two kung-fu movies starring Sammo Hung, made a year apart, one called Warriors Two, the other called Odd Couple. Pretty similar names, and made all the more confusing as Eureka Entertainment is also releasing Odd Couple a couple of months after they release this twin-pack (note: HKL released Warriors Two in January 2005, and Odd Couple in March 2005 so retail history repeats itself). I sat down in front of the TV, fully expecting some double role silliness, and instead got a slightly more serious period kung-fu action comedy drama. Fortunately, I’ll be watching The Prodigal Son for the first time, so no prospect for confused expectations there.
The first run release will come with a 36 page booklet with essays on both films from film critic and historian James Oliver, as well as the Laserdisc liner notes for The Prodigal Son by Frank Djeng. There are plenty of promo art and film stills as well.
Introduction: Warriors Two
Wah is a bank cashier in the small town of Foshan, who overhears a gang planning to murder the town mayor and take over. When he goes to warn the mayor, he’s betrayed and ambushed by the gang. He barely escapes, and with the aid of Fat Chun, he takes refuge with Master Leung Tsan, the town’s pharmacist. Tsan helps him heal, but refuses to teach Wah the art of Wing Chun, of which he is the exponent. Citing his pacifistic beliefs, he sees Wah’s desire for vengeance to be mistaken. Meanwhile things go from bad to worse in the town, the gang takes over and chaos ensues. Fat Chun helps Wah to eventually convince Master Tsan to teach him Wing Chun, but it may be too late as the gang embarks on a reign of terror.
You get two versions of the film to watch on this disc.
The Hong Kong Version (95:38)
The Export Version (90:07)
The Disc: Warriors Two
Warriors Two gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, taken from a new 2k restoration. I might have been impressed with the old HKL DVD 17 years ago, but we’re in a completely different paradigm when it comes to HD. The film looks astounding, clear and sharp with rich consistent colours, making the most of the production design and the costumes, and even going as far as showing the seam in the old age make-up. The action comes across stunningly well, and there’s no visible compression or the like. The biggest problem with that DVD was the old 5.1 Cantonese up-mix, which just sounded terrible. Thankfully, authentic original audio is the way to go here on this Blu-ray. The Hong Kong Version offers PCM 1.0 Mono Cantonese and English, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. The Export Version offers PCM 1.0 Mono English with signs. Note that the English track on the Hong Kong Version is taken from the Export Version, with subtitled Cantonese filling the gaps. The subtitles are timed accurately and free of typos, while the audio experience is clear and rich, and free of signs of age or tape distortion.
Extras: Warriors Two
The disc boots to a static menu, and you get the two versions and the extras listed on the main screen. Choosing a version will reveal the audio/subtitle options for that version, and the audio commentaries.
The Hong Kong Version gets an audio commentary from Frank Djeng and Bobby Samuels.
The Export Version audio commentary comes from Mike Leeder and Arne Venema.
Somewhat surprising, and perhaps an indication of the paucity of extra material available for this film, is the presence of the Making of Warriors Two Archival Featurette. This 47:31 piece is taken from that vintage Hong Kong Legends disc, and heavily features Bey Logan, who has been persona non grata on Hong Kong home cinema releases in the Blu-ray age. Unlike other similarly recycled featurettes, editing around him just wouldn’t be possible with this extra.
There is a Stills Gallery for the film, and finally there is the Hong Kong trailer (4:00), and the International Trailer (3:29).
Conclusion: Warriors Two
Warriors Two is certainly a decent amount of fun, a nice blend of action and comedy, with some exciting fight sequences and interesting characters. Being the sedentary chap that I am, I’m not in a position to appreciate the Martial Arts skills in the film as some would, and simply take the film at face value. No doubt someone with a more specific interest in Wing Chun would see this film on another level.
The story couldn’t be simpler; a character tries to do the right thing, and is betrayed and beaten for his troubles. He then learns the ancient art of Wing Chun, and emerges a formidable warrior. It would be a letdown if he didn’t use his newfound skills to teach the bad guys a lesson they won’t forget. The film really rests on how well the story is told, and some sharp direction and nice characterisations really help to make the film enjoyable. The fact that Leung Tsan and Chan Wah were actually characters from the history of Wing Chun adds another dimension to the film.
The film also explores Wing Chun in some depth, without taking us out of the story. A good third of the film is devoted to Wah’s training as Tsan imparts the skills, wisdom and philosophy required to master the art. It’s to Sammo Hung’s credit as director that we are never distracted or feel removed from the story in this second act. In fact the training sequence never feels less than essential to the film and is a joy to watch, snappily directed and perfectly paced.
The final act of the film is action packed, as Wah and his friends confront the villains. The fights are well choreographed and keep the pulse pounding. But this is where the film’s major flaw lies. Sammo Hung has a talent for comedy, and intersperses the drama with lightness to provide a balance through much of the film. It is what I personally look forward to most from Hong Kong cinema. The denouement on the other hand is a moment of tension, when the betrayal and loss that has been building up through the story is resolved. Yet there are still moments of humour in the minutes leading up to the final frame that I found quite misplaced given the drama.
Watching Warriors Two in high definition is just the revelation that you’d hope for. The 2k restoration is such an improvement over the old DVD release that it may as well just be a different film, and the action really does shine on this Blu-ray. But those problems I found with the film the first time around aren’t going to vanish. The comedy seems more and more out of place, the more serious the story gets towards the end. The image boost is obvious, but for me the real improvement is in having the authentic original audio; no overcooked up-mix.
Introduction: The Prodigal Son
The Prodigal Son takes us back to the town of Foshan. While Warriors Two introduced us to Leung Tsan as a venerable Wing Chun master, The Prodigal Son takes us back to his youth when he was anything but. Instead, he was a pampered young man, proud of his kung fu, thinking himself invincible, but only thanks to his family bribing all opponents to take a dive in any fight. His pride takes an almost fatal knock when he encounters opera performer Leung Yee-tai, who refuses to be bribed.
Leung Tsan dusts himself off, and with his father’s money, inveigles his way into the opera troupe, ostensibly as a servant to Leung Yee-tai, but with a hope of eventually becoming his disciple. But this Wing Chun master is unwilling to pass on his skills. And there is another rich scion looking for a kung fu challenge. And just like Leung Tsan, Nifei’s family spend serious money to keep their son safe. There’s one difference however, they don’t bother bribing potential opponents, they just pay assassins to get rid of them.
The Disc: The Prodigal Son
The Prodigal Son gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with the choice between PCM 1.0 Mono Cantonese and English, and the choice of translated subtitles and a signs only track. I stuck with the Cantonese for this viewing. The Prodigal Son gets an impeccable presentation on this disc, taken from a 2k restoration. The image is clear and sharp with excellent colour and magnificent detail. It makes the most of the sets, locations and costumes, while showcasing the action to tremendous effect. The mono audio is authentic, the dialogue is clear, the action comes across well, and there are no issues with glitches or the like. It’s a nice, resonant soundtrack that has no problems with the source. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos.
Extras: The Prodigal Son
The disc boots to a static menu, and you’ll find the following extras.
Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng and Bobby Samuels
Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
Wing Chun 101 with Sifu Alex Richter and Frank Djeng (29:59)
The Heroic Trio – Archival Interview with Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao and Frankie Chan (28:01)
Interview with Gau Lai – Archival Interview with the Wing Chun Master (28:40)
Alternate English Credits (1:44)
Original Theatrical Trailer (4:27)
International Trailer (2:13)
US Trailer Tai Seng (1:46)
It’s nice to see new video extras being made again for releases, after a couple of years of Zoom and remote featurettes thanks to the pandemic.
Conclusion: The Prodigal Son
I can’t believe that I left The Prodigal Son this long before watching it. It stars Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung after all, two of the three of the golden trinity of Golden Harvest. It’s a film made when they were in their prime, and it’s the kind of kung-fu comedy that I cut my teeth on. The advantage of missing out means that you will have something special to discover, even after all this time, and I had a blast with The Prodigal Son last night, an entertaining kung-fu comedy with an engaging story as well.
The common thread here is one of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, with first Leung Tsan made to think that he’s God’s gift to kung fu, thanks to his family bribing everyone he encounters to throw the fights. Everyone is properly deferential and respectful to his face, but behind his back they find him a laughing stock. So it comes as a rude awakening when he encounters someone who won’t accept any bribes, and he’s roundly and soundly defeated.
The serious edge to the story comes from his mirror image in Nifei. The difference being that Nifei isn’t a son of a merchant, rather a son of an Imperial official, and his family cannot allow him to lose face. He has sufficient martial arts skills to face most opponents, but those that are better are deemed as threats by his family, and his bodyguards have standing orders to deal with them terminally.
The Prodigal Son is rich with comedy, especially when the titular character and his situation are introduced. Leung Yee-tai offers the wake-up call, skilled in Wing Chun which quickly deals with Leung Tsan’s flamboyant, but useless kung-fu. Thereafter Tsan wants Yee-tai to be his sifu, but the opera actor is having none of that. It’s only when things get serious that he finally relents, and makes space for a training montage. By this point, the two of them are sheltering with Wong Wah-bo (Sammo Hung), contemporary of Yee-tai, and even more skilled in Wing Chun, but coming at it from a slapstick perspective.
The film is as funny as you would expect, but with Sammo Hung’s direction, the fights are gripping, and the stunts and action are breathtaking. But like Warriors Two, the one sticking point in the film for me is the wayward tone. There are brutal aspects to the film that seem out of touch with the comedy, especially after Nifei’s assassins catch up with the opera troupe. But it’s less of an atonality than with Warriors Two; either that or the comedy is so much better that you can forgive the nastier aspects.
Kung fu comedies with edge; if you’re coming from the cuddlier Jackie Chan movies, these film may come as a bit of a shock, but the humour hits the spot, and the action is peerless. The Prodigal Son has the edge over Warriors Two, and it’s great to see a Yuen Biao movie on Blu-ray in the UK. Hopefully companies like Eureka and 88 Films will take this chance to redress that imbalance, as we’ve been getting loads of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung classic kung-fu the last few years.