One of the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival’s archival presentations is the new restoration of Wong Jing’s 1982 film Mercenaries from Hong Kong. Already here at the beginning of his career, directing his third film after more than a dozen credits as screenwriter over the previous five years, Wong Jing is resolutely, purely, unapologetically himself, even if he’s credited as “Wang Tsing” (the Mandarin spelling of his name, following the conventions of the Shaw Brothers studio at the time). Mercenaries is an all-star action-comedy, a genre Wong would revel in for the rest of his (still going strong) career, making some of the grossest, rudest, clumsiest, least graceful, and most highly entertaining films of the past 40 years. Working for the Shaws in the last years before they completely gave up on filmmaking in the face of challenges from Golden Harvest and Cinema City, Wong has access to their deep bench of contract players, and he packs as many familiar faces into his film as he can grab.
Ti Lung plays a righteous professional killer who, as the film opens, murders a bunch of guys who have kidnapped and drugged a young woman. He doesn’t rescue the woman — he’s just out for revenge because these guys did the same thing to his 15-year-old sister. This sparks a Triad group led by Yuen Wah to go after him, but he’s quickly hired by a mysterious Mrs. Ho to go to Cambodia and bring back the assassin who killed her father. To this end, he assembles a team of the eponymous mercenaries, which include such Shaw stalwarts as Johnny Wang Lung-wei, Lo Lieh, and Wong Yue. A good twenty minutes or so are spent putting the team together, during which time our band of killers manages to get not one but two sets of matching tracksuits, which they model together at the local mall before Yuen Wah and his gang show up. But eventually he gets sorted out and the gang heads off to Southeast Asia, where nothing good ever happens to Hong Kongers in 1980s Shaw Brothers movies.
The rest of the film proceeds as a series of hyperbolic action sequences (explosions, stabbings, machine guns, crossbows, grenades, hidden pneumatic darts — the works) punctuated with new bits of breathless exposition reversing the loyalties of guys both good and bad. And that’s exactly what we’re here for with a Wong Jing film. He’s a director who promises nothing but more. More infantile jokes, more ridiculous outfits, more gratuitous blood and sex, more insane plot twists, more fights in shopping mall hallways, more, more, more. At one point, Ti Lung even exclaims in anguish to an opponent he considered a comrade, “I know you’re quick with a blade, but I never expected your character to change even faster!” And how could he, since he’d never seen a Wong Jing film before.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2022 — Dispatch 4.