In recent years, Hollywood cinema
has been borrowing heavily from Asian cinema and
animation for its story ideas and visual structures.
Take films like The Matrix
and The Transporter
and it is obvious that American filmmakers are
looking for new ways to tell their stories. A
few decades ago, Hong Kong cinema was doing the
same thing in reverse. Many Hong Kong directors
were looking to U.S. films for inspiration, and
Indiana Jones was one of the most influential.
Legendary actor and stuntman
Jackie Chan loved Dr. Jones so much, he made the
films, the second of which was theatrically released
in the United States only a few years later due
to its worldwide success. One of Jackie Chan's
good friends and co-star in Supercop,
Michelle Yeoh, also found herself in an Indiana
Jones-style film early in her career. In 1987,
well before James Bond and Crouching
Tiger Hidden Dragon,
she made a film titled Magnificent
The story was simple. The year
is 1938 and Japan is invading Yeoh’s home
of China. Yeoh plays a young soldier of fortune,
a two-fisted tomboy for hire who loves adventure.
When she is hired by the Chinese army to infiltrate
Japanese-occupied territory and rescue Chinese
Lord Youda, who has information about a deadly
new poison gas the Japanese are developing to
defeat China’s army, Yeoh jumps at the chance
to get in on the action. A series of wild chases
and fights ensues, culminating in Yeoh and her
friends defending a village that is under siege.
While there is no mythical
artifact to find, the movie reeks with the spirit
of Indiana Jones. Yeoh’s character wears
a leather jacket and boots and has that go-for-broke
spirit. In the opening scene, a mini-adventure
in the spirit of the Indy films, she is selling
arms to Chinese freedom fighters. During an altercation
with the buyers, Yeoh lets loose with a 10-foot
bullwhip in a crazy action sequence that involves
martial arts and a horse chase.
Sadly, the bullwhip does not make
another appearance in the film, but Yeoh continues
to entertain with her amazing stunts for the remainder
of the film. Her signature weapon, a weighted
rope, serves as her "whip" in many moments,
allowing her to climb and swing at her leisure.
Other Indy moments in the film include a scene
in which Yeoh pilots a biplane and finds herself
under attack from a Japanese fighter. This scene
is reminiscent of Indiana
Jones and the Last Crusade, which interestingly
was made two years after Yeoh’s film.
Just as Indy fights Nazis, Yeoh’s character
faces World War II-era
Japanese soldiers, including two ruthless commanding
officers who are echoes of Dietrich and Vogel.
in leather jacket.
On the recently-released U.S. DVD,
there are new interviews with Michelle Yeoh about
the making of the film, and she talks candidly
about how the film was inspired by Indiana Jones
and the challenges of using a bullwhip in the
opening combat sequence, which she refers to as
a "soft weapon" as opposed to swords
which are "hard weapons."
The film takes a forgiving eye
as Hong Kong cinema is much more frugal and melodramatic
than the Hollywood-styled Indy films, but with
the right attitude, Magnificent
Warriors still entertains, and it’s
worth seeing just for those bullwhip antics in
the introduction if nothing else. (MF)