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Patrick Schoenmaker

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Magnificent Warriors

Released by Fortune Star – 1987

Directed by: David Chung
Written by: Kan-Cheung Tsang
Produced by: Linda Kuk, Dickson Poon & John Sham

Michelle Yeoh .... Fok Ming-Ming
Richard Ng .... Paulina Wong
Tung-Shing Yee .... Wong
Lowell Lo .... Youda
Chindy Lau .... Chin-chin


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.

Michelle Yeoh.

Legendary actor and stuntman Jackie Chan loved Dr. Jones so much, he made the Operation Condor 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 Warriors.

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.

Freedom fighters.

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.

Yeoh 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)


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