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:: Hong Kong Legends - Iceman Cometh, The Master, The Odd Couple

Universal Pictures releases three martial arts films under its Hong Kong Legends banner. More accurately, the films are re-releases, utilising the digital format to freshen up what traditionally well-worn prints. But despite their crisp looking transfer, the films have lost none of their B-movie appeal, evoking a time before the multiplex, when a trip to a rundown theatre to catch a chop-socky double feature was a guilty pleasure.

Anyone expecting to see Felix or Oscar in this 1979 release, confusingly titled The Odd Couple, might be a little disappointed. Instead of Neil Simon’s witty banter being sent back and forth between Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, you get epic duels between Samo Hung and Lau Kar Wing. The oddness between the duo comes not from their difference of character but through their choice of weapon, the “short” sabre versus the “long” spear. As fierce rivals, they meet up once a year to pit their skills against each other, although the main motivation seems to be out of bragging rights rather than genuine malice. There is a nominal plot involving the two of them training with older sifus (played by themselves and with tongue firmly planted in cheek) but it is really just and excuse to show off their impressive weapons routines. This is kung fu played strictly for laughs, as evidenced by the horrendous make-up and less than subtle acting, but it is done with such abandon that it is hard to resist.

At the other end of the spectrum is Iceman Cometh, a violent and ambitious attempt to modernise the genre. The plot involves two brothers, played by Biao Yuen and Wah Yuen, an imperial guard and a thief respectively, who battle each other from the snowfields of China during the Ming Dynasty, to the streets of Hong Kong in the late ‘80s (the film itself was shot in 1989). If it all sounds a little familiar then it’s because the Sly Stallone film Demolition Man followed an identical plot five years later. There are some truly impressive fight sequences that demonstrate just how far ahead of Hollywood Hong Kong cinema was when it came to wire work and fight choreography in general. Although the special effects look a little dated, Biao makes an appealing hero and it also marks one of the earlier appearances of the luminous Maggie Cheung.

Tsui Harks’ The Master is the weakest of the releases, with some truly awful wardrobe and dubbing. Jet Li does his familiar “ass-kicking innocent” routine with tons of charisma, but it is not enough to account for the woeful stereotyping of blacks, Latinos and even middle-aged white cops who are constantly eating junk food. While Li’s athletic prowess is something to behold, it wouldn’t be until Once Upon A Time In China that he and Hark really found their cinematic groove.

DVD Extras

o Digitally remastered and restored 16:9 Anamorphic version enhanced for widescreen TVs
o DVD Transfer created from High Definition master
o Dual Language Format (English Dubbed and Cantonese with re-mastered English subtitles)
o SDH Subtitle Option
o Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks
o Original Cantonese mono audio track
o Exclusive feature-length audio-commentary with Hong Kong film expert, Bey Logan
o Warrior Prince: an interview with martial arts legend, Yuen Biao
o Nemesis: an exclusive interview with prolific co-star, Yuen Wah

Digitally Remastered and restored
* The Master: An exclusive interview with prolific Kung Fu Legend, Yeun Wah
* Crystal Clear: an exclusive interview with leading lady Crystal Kwok
* The Insider: an exclusive interview with stuntman and author, John Kreng
* Feature Length Audio Commentary with Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan.

• Exclusive feature length audio commentary with Hong Kong expert, Bey Logan
• Master and Student: an exclusive interview with director/star Lau Kar-wing
• Natural Born Killer, an exclusive interview with villainous co-star Leung Kar-yan