In the early days of the Republic of China ambitious General Yuan Shikai has amassed an alliance of Northern warlords against its founding father, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. Struggling, martial arts-skilled courier Ma (Leung Kar-Yan) receives an offer from military envoy Hsiu (Eddie Ko) to deliver a sealed package to bandit leader Zhao Long, who holds the northern mountain pass of Laoma that could prove a strategic advantage to Yuan. Caring little about politics, at first Ma refuses but has a change of heart when his troublemaking pickpocket friend Yao Jie (Yuen Yat Chor) joins the mission for his own mysterious ends. Our reluctant heroes rope in portly explosives expert Bu (Fan Mei-Sheng) and are subsequently joined by a fourth man...
And he happens to be kung fu fighting man of mystery Fu Jun played by a young, uber-charismatic Chow Yun-Fat. Newly-graduated from television soap operas and art-house roles, Chow was four years away from his breakout role in A Better Tomorrow (1986) but despite playing second fiddle, steals the film away from ostensible lead and fan favourite Leung Kar-Yan. As the rakish Fu, Chow practices a unique style of scarf-twirling kung fu, hides a cool spring-loaded dart-gun up his sleeve and affects a seemingly shifty, amoral demeanour even though he often proves the first to defend anyone in trouble. Think Han Solo. Interestingly, The Postman Fights Back also marks an early role for Cherie Chung. She and Chow went on to become one of the era’s most popular screen couples, paired repeatedly throughout the decade until her retirement following Once a Thief (1991). Here Chung plays Ma’s winsome sister who tags along on the mission hoping to buy back their younger sister from sex slavery. Along their journey the group also encounter the enigmatic Miss Li (Guk Jeong-Suk) who strikes romantic sparks with handsome Fu but mysteriously vanishes when a couple of bounty killers arrive on the scene. And then there is the matter of the sinister ninja shadowing the couriers’ every move.
Unfortunately Miss Li’s secret agenda, Fu Jun’s backstory and Cherie Chung’s quest are among several undeveloped subplots that consign The Postman Fights Back to the rank of fascinating failure. Produced and developed by Yuen Woo Ping - who directed Miracle Fighters (1982) the same year which also stars his brother Yuen Yat Chor, here proving himself a fine dramatic actor - but directed by New Wave maestro Ronny Yu, of The Bride with White Hair (1992) fame and Freddy vs. Jason (2002) infamy - this wastes its fascinating historical setting as little more than a picturesque backdrop. However, Yu takes care to establish an ailing China on the cusp of slipping Dr. Sun’s reformist grasp into the hands of the autocratic Yuan Shikai. He crafts vivid vignettes establishing each character carries a personal dream swept away by a social system that robs peasants of a brighter future. Outstanding cinematography by Cheung Yiu-Jo, Lee Yau-Tong and Lai Shui-Ming brings a pleasing naturalism to the often outlandish action, but once the plot slides into familiar chop-socky territory Yu’s storytelling grows sadly slapdash.
Lifting motifs from The Guns of Navarone (1961), Seven Samurai (1954) and The Wild Bunch (1969), The Postman Fights Back offers a more character-driven variant on the classic men-on-a-mission movie. It is an angry, uncompromising film featuring scenes wihere captive prisoners hang from a wall and even small children are riddled with machinegun fire. At times its arbitrary slaying of characters seems like calculated cynicism yet the nihilistic violence does serve an underlining point. That is to galvanize the hitherto noncommital Ma to strike a blow against tyranny. Although tellingly, even when Ma springs into action he does so for the sake of his friends, not for any revolutionary cause. A taut finale pits our hero against outlandish ninja trickery, although an earlier sequence with the heroes surrounded by ice-skating masked bandits is equally memorable.
Hong Kong-born director of action and fantasy. Began directing in the early 80s, and made films such as the historical actioner Postman Strikes Back (with Chow Yun-Fat), Chase Ghost Seven Powers and the heroic bloodshed flick China White. The two Bride with White Hair films – both released in 1993 – were hugely popular fantasy adventures, which helped Yu secure his first American film, the kids film Warriors of Virtue. Yu then helmed Bride of Chucky, the fourth and best Child's Play movie, the Brit action film The 51st State and the horror face-off Freddy Vs Jason. He later returned to Asia to helm the likes of Saving General Yang.