Eastern Condors is the Hong Kong Dirty Dozen with a smattering of Kelly's Heroes, rounding up the country's greatest action heroes for an all-star trip to Vietnam, where our rag-tag unit of military prisoners are charged with destroying an abandoned, and dangerously extensive, cache of American munitions in exchange for a full governmental pardon. Filmed in response to the popular U.S. action films of the Reagan era obsessed with fighting the Vietnam War all over again e.g. Uncommon Valor, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Missing in Action Sammo Hung's film at least has the good sense to not take itself too seriously. Hung stars as the group's default leader, receiving support from the likes of Lam Ching-Ying, Cory Yuen, Chan Lung, the beautiful Mina Joyce Godenzi (who plays one of the Cambodian rebels serving as their guide through the treacherous, war-torn country), and legendary fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping. Hung's unit is initially positioned as the diversion for a more polished, better-trained assault force, but when their plane is downed, the quarreling prisoners are forced to carry out the mission on their own. Along the way, they run into a happy-go-lucky black marketer played by Yuen Biao, who, with his insane uncle (the late Academy Award winner Dr. Haing S. Ngor), is searching for a lost treasure. Though there are attempts at political statements, particularly at the beginning where Ching-Ying untangles an American flag and raises it to full mast, Hung knows well enough to let the action do the talking, and, on that count, Eastern Condors is a rousing success. As usual, the rotund Hung is a marvel to behold, leaping about with a casual grace that seems physically impossible for a man of his generous girth. His climactic battle with Yuen Wah, who plays a fiendishly giggling Vietnamese general, is a sensationally fluid piece of fight choreography, while his springing about to take out a nest of 70mm machine guns comments amusingly on his carriage. In a way, the film plays as a parody of its American counterparts, especially in the Deer Hunter-inspired sequence where the game of Russian roulette is played by a group of children, who shoot at the P.O.W.'s rather than have them shoot themselves. Also, many of the deaths are so overwrought as to invite laughter, though the execution of a traitorous Cambodian girl is needlessly bloody and realistic. Happily, the tones clash infrequently enough that we're allowed to sit back and enjoy the brilliantly staged mayhem. As is often the case in these mid-'80s Hong Kong action extravaganzas, Biao steals nearly every scene he's in, which makes one wonder why he was never lured stateside like his mentors, Hung and Jackie Chan. Speaking of Jackie, while he fails to put in an appearance in this Who's Who assemblage, the trio would be united the following year in the enjoyable Dragons Forever. Fox presents Eastern Condors in a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with very good Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include the original theatrical trailer and a new trailer cut for the DVD release. Keep-case.
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