Ounce for ounce Millionaires’ Express is one of the best Sammo Hung-directed films. Arrow Video has given us not one or two or even three but FOUR versions of the film!
I’m not sure what I was expecting from Sammo Hung’s Millionaires’ Express. I was not expecting one of the best action comedies of the 1980s. Part homage to Sergio Leone and Westerns. Part homage to those epic comedies of the 1960s like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World with about everyone working in HK Cinema circa 1985 (with one giant exception, you know who).
The setup in this film is lean, a rare exception for this kind of Epic Adventure Comedy. Hung plays Ching Fong-tin who’s a con artist that may have found a way to strike it rich. Fong-tin’s concocted a plan to have the Millionaires’/Shanghai (depending on the version) Express to be forced to stop at his town, thus forcing the Millionaires aboard to stop and spend their fortunes, revitalizing the town. The only problem is that Fong-tin has done so much criminality that he’s no longer wanted and is outright hated by Tsao Cheuk-kin (Yuen Biao) the local fire chief and the defacto town sheriff. Add in a group of Village Raiding Thugs, a trio of Samurai in search of a forgotten treasure, and a group of dimwitted criminals and you’ve got a Molotov cocktail of a good time.
Millionaires’ Express running at a lean 98 minutes – 108 minutes (in the hybrid cut) does what the aforementioned epics do in half the time. There’s a spontaneity and eagerness to entertain that overstuffs the film. Be it wild action set pieces, character development, the comedy that varies from slapstick to screwball to wordplay, the positive outlook on sex workers, to how the cameos are handled expertly aided greatly by ace screenwriter Barry Wong’s work here.
There’s a nimbleness to the tone and style here that Wong as writer and Hung as director imbues everything with that even surpasses the exemplary work done by Hung during this era on Heart of Dragon (also written by Wong) and Dragons Forever. Hung’s directorial style feels as though it’s freed up without having the huge shadow of stardom that Jackie Chan brings to any movie (who was in both Heart and Forever – though they are not sequels). The result is an anything goes but everyone’s a star – for a time – in the film that you do not get when Chan is your lead.
No worry though. If your worry is that the lack of Jackie Chan will be a void, fear not, as anyone who had seen a film starring/directed/produced by Sammo Hung will attest, the man they call Big Brother delivers the goods. With Millionaires’ Express, it’s doubly so. In fact, the film may be Sammo’s finest moment as a director.
The all-new 2K restorations by Fortune Star for this Arrow Video Release are stunners. The image has been beautifully restored, the result being a sharp handsome Blu-ray that’s lightyears ahead of the previous home video iterations of the title. There isn’t a fault or issue with the image, not a scratch or defect, not any digital issues like artifacting or ghosting. It should be noted that each of the four cuts are of the same reference level quality. No matter which version you choose to watch – my suggestion is ALL OF THEM – you really can’t lose.
They include the following:
- Four different versions of the film, including a recently assembled ‘hybrid’ edit
- Commentary on the Theatrical Cut by Frank Djeng
- Commentary on the Extended Cut by Mike Leeder & Arne Venema
- Select scene commentary by star Cynthia Rothrock, moderated by Frank Djeng
- Cynthia Rothrock on Millionaires’ Express
- Shanghai Express: Behind the Express
- Trailblazer with Cynthia Rothrock
- A New Frontier, an interview with Sammo Hung
- Express Delivery, an interview with Sammo Hung
- Way Out West, an interview with Yuen Biao
- On the Cutting Edge, an interview with star Yukari Oshima
- Alternate English opening and closing credits
- Trailer Gallery
DISC TWO (LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE)
- High Definition (1080p) presentations of the English Export Cut and the recent Hybrid Cut (combining footage from the Theatrical and Extended Cuts for the longest possible version)
The first commentary is on the Theatrical Cut by Frank Djeng opens with his bonafides and gets into the titles and the various versions housed in the disc. Some of the details include the release, the success of the film, the multiple titles the film goes by, the reason why so many HK Actors and productions moved and setup in Canada in the late ‘80s into the early’90s, a conversation about how modern FX work came to HK – thanks to Tsui Hark, actor Kenny B and his ultra-successful band The Thankful, a discussion of Corey Yuen as a director (who shows up as an actor here), how HK does not have any railroads forcing the production to film in Thailand, the positive outlook that the film in its HK Theatrical cut towards Sex Workers – and how this was all but removed in other versions, why many romances in HK films did not feature kissing, a discussion of the differences of voice actors and actors themselves, a larger discussion about star Yuen Biao in this film and his career as a whole, a discussion of Sammo Hung – his career, his personal life, his varied work beyond comedy and more, the comedic set pieces and the wordplay comedy, the production design and the sets that were built at great expense and great detail, discussion of the various action set pieces and stunt work – how it was all achieved, the plethora of HK actors that show up in the film, the differences between the Theatrical Cut and the Extended cut – and a larger conversation of what the four versions include, and much more. Djeng supplies another winning commentary track.
The second commentary on the Extended Cut by Mike Leeder & Arne Venema begins with the multiple titles the film goes by and HK’s weather. Some of the detail include a discussion about Sammo Hung and his place in HK Cinema and his ability to traverse different genres, the various cuts of the film – a larger discussion of this not just this film but others and why there are different cuts, the Kenny B role intended for Jackie Chan – this leads to a bigger conversation of the falling out between Sammo and Jackie, a side conversation about the notorious Kung Fu vs Yoga, the shooting locations – Canada, Thailand, Hong Kong, a side discussion about a film called Paper Marriage – a Jackie Chan Mud Wrestling movie, discussion of Eric Chang who is not just a character actor but a director and much more, director Andrew Lau did work as 2nd Unit Cinematographer, the appearance of Bolo Yuen – and a mention of course to Bloodsport, a larger discussion about the literal nature of the Cantonese Language, a rumor about Cynthia Rothrock and Hoi Mang, the appearance Jimmy Wang Wu and who he plays – a larger discussion about Wu including a wild anecdote about living in a vault, some interesting colloquiums involving the Cantonese word for chicken, an interesting discussion about romances in Sammo Hung starring films, a discussion about Yuen Biao and his career, a discussion about Richard Norton, the fight between Yuen Biao version Sammo Hung – and the injuries that both took, a discussion about actor Richard Ng, a discussion about the great actor Lam Ching-ying – including his films Mr. Vampire and Magic Cop, a great conversation about Stephen Chow and Sammo Hung working on Kung Fu Hustle – also another mention by them about Space Station with Stephen Chow (this review needs to see), a larger discussion about the differences between the Theatrical and Extended cuts, a larger discussion throughout of the various actors that cameo and appear before they were stars, and much more. Leeder and Venema continue their streak of entertaining, and deeply informative commentary tracks. You’ll have as much fun listening to the duo as you will watching the film. Also, keep your notes app open because they’ll mention some truly wild titles that you’ll want to search out.
The third and final track is a select scene commentary by star Cynthia Rothrock, moderated by Frank Djeng begins with setting the scene as the commentary starts towards the very end of the film. Some of the details include who spoke English as she did not speak Cantonese yet, the timeframe of this film, how she was onset during the entire production because of Sammo’s improvisational directorial style, a discussion of who she worked with besides Sammo with Fight Choreography, working with Dick Wei, a discussion about the various fight scenes and how she did not watch because of how quickly the production needed to complete the film for Chinese New Year, working with Sammo during the fight and much more.
Cynthia Rothrock on Millionaires’ Express (16:35) – in this all-new interview Cynthia Rothrock discusses Millionaires’ Express. It begins with her attraction to martial arts, how she trained, and the other disciplines. Some of the other details include how she got into HK Action films, the culture shock upon arriving in HK and how she reacted to the production, working with Corey Yuen on her first shoot, the difficulty of shooting an HK Action film, how Millionaires’ Express came about after her first film, the fight scene with Sammo Hung, the rushed nature of the production to make Chinese New Year, the improvisational nature of how the action scenes were put together at the time, the success of her first film and the continued success in HK, her favorite films – for the fight scenes and just in general, and much more.
Shanghai Express: Behind the Express (14:25) – is an archival interview from Rothrock’s website talking about Millionaires’ Express. Some of the details include how she was cast in the film after Yes, Madam, how she hurt herself training for the film, her relationship with Richard Norton, a great tidbit of how Stallone showed his stunt crew a move she did in the film, a great anecdote about a cavalry charge – which was cut from the film,
Trailblazer with Cynthia Rothrock (23:59) – is an archival interview with Rothrock. It begins with how she began with martial arts and the various disciplines. Some of the other details include how her undefeated record in competition for five years shifted to her to films, working with Sammo Hung and how he initially found her, working with Corey Yuen – via Sammo’s Production Company, working with Yuen Biao – and her complimentary fighting style, how the styles differ between American Stunt work and HK Stunt work, and much more.
A New Frontier, an interview with Sammo Hung (10:58) – is the first of two archival interviews with the Star and Director Sammo Hung. It begins with his love of John Wayne and westerns in general and what they represent to him. Some of the other details include the costuming and historical accuracy of the western/cowboy flavor of the piece – with the exception of the Clint Eastwood style poncho, the difficulty of filming in the Bangkok train station – and generally trains during the shoot, how they worked on the action before storyboards – it was all in their heads, the creation of the giant set including the town the film takes plays, the difficulty of having an international cast, and much more. In Cantonese with English Subtitles.
Express Delivery, an interview with Sammo Hung (14:46) – is the second of two archival interviews with the Star and Director Sammo Hung. It begins with how they approached developing the script – a combination of historical accounts, his own wants as a director and as a character, shooting in the snow – and a crazy story about almost losing his feet to frostbite, building the entire town, his working relationship with Yuen Biao, and much more. In English and Cantonese with English Subtitles.
Way Out West, An Interview with Yuen Biao (20:51) – is an archival interview with Biao that begins with how he got involved and how it’s emblematic of Hung’s work as a director – the large ensemble cast, the humor, and the action. Some of the other details include how Hung designed the film to be his own Star Vehicle but made sure there were roles for all of his friends, the happiness and fun on the set because it was such a “family affair”, the script by Wong Bing Yew – how it was a collaboration between Richard Ng, Hung, and Yew, shooting in Thailand because of the railways, the bigger budget nature of the film – including some great anecdotes, a great discussion about a wild stunt he did (the flying cartwheel off the burning building was done by himself), working with Hung as a director and actor, and much more. In Cantonese with English Subtitles.
On the Cutting Edge: An Interview with star Yukari Oshima (30:16) – is an archival interview with Yukari Oshima – who plays the female Samurai in the film – begins with where she got her start first in Japan and eventually moving to HK. Some of the other details include learning martial arts, her beginnings as a stuntwoman in Japan, her eventual transition to HK, her work in Millionaire’s Express, working with Kurata Yasuaki who became a sensei of sorts to her on the set during production, working with Wong-Jin Lee the other of the Japanese Samurai in the film, working with Sammo Hung as a director, and much more. The interview may be a bit older but it’s a deep dive into the work on an HK Action Film set. In Japanese with English Subtitles.
Alternate English opening and closing credits (4:16) – the much-much-much shorter English Language opening sequence and the same end credits (with Sammo Hung song) with behind-the-scenes footage just with English language credits.
- Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer (3:55) – Cantonese with English Subtitles
- Shanghai Express Export Trailer (2:11) – an English Language version of the trailer.
- Tai Seng Video Promo Trailer (1:45) – a wild trailer that has a voice-over from the narrator of the Big Thunder Mountain ride at Disneyland.
The Final Thought
Millionaires’ Express is epic action adventure comedy filmmaking at its finest. Arrow Video has outdone themselves with this release. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS!!!