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Eastern Condors

Not rated, 97 min. Directed by Samo Hung Kam-Po. Starring Yasuaki Kurata, Billy Chow, Dick Wei, Yuen Woo-Ping, Hsaio Ho, Yuen Wah, Haing S. Ngor, Lam Ching-Ying, Joyce Godenzi, Yuen Biao, Samo Hung.

REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., Aug. 9, 1996

A world-class war movie that recalls everything from certified tough-guy classics like The Dirty Dozen to Sylvester Stallone's silly Rambo epics (with a dash of Michael Cimino's harrowing The Deer Hunter thrown in for good measure), Eastern Condors is an absurdly entertaining head rush of ultra-violent martial mayhem, campy humor, manly melodrama, and phenomenal stuntwork guaranteed to have Hong Kong action fanatics leaping out of their seats with excitement, but will, most likely, leave cynics rolling their eyes in disbelief. The story, set in 1976, follows the adventures of a motley group of imprisoned Chinese-American criminals who are sent into the jungles of Vietnam where they team up with a trio of female Cambodian guerrillas and an in-over-his-head local, to destroy a secret arms cache left behind by American GIs following the war. The reward? Full pardons, $200,000, and legal residency in America- if they can manage to survive, of course. Stars Samo Hung Kam-po and Yuen Biao are dazzling martial artists, and Eastern Condors gives the pair plenty of opportunities to display their impressive physical abilities, particularly in the incredible final battle, which finds them locked in a blistering kung fu match against a seemingly demure, fan-wielding Vietcong commander (veteran bad guy Yuen Wah in a screamingly funny performance) and a handful of his high-kicking henchmen. Although Hung, beyond the obvious acrobatics, delivers a deadpan, nearly comic, performance as one of the prisoners-turned-commandos, his direction is anything but restrained. Also, while the fight choreography perfectly blends grace and savagery in equal amounts and the editing itself has the force of a kick to the head, it's actually the frenzied camerawork that really gives this picture, and many of Hung's others, its relentless energy -- jam-packed as it is with quirky widescreen compositions (a memorable example finds a close-up of kick-ass co-star Joyce Godenzi framed through the spread legs of an enemy who's just had a knife run through his backside) and sweeping movements that glide around our heroes in all directions. Hung is one of the most stylish action filmmakers around, second only to John Woo. Excessively violent and excessively funny, Eastern Condors is over-the-top in the best sense, and while that might be a turn-off to some, those who enjoy this sort of thing won't want to miss this movie -- one of Hung's best -- on the big screen where it can be properly viewed in all its CinemaScope glory. Just be prepared for those charmingly incoherent subtitles.
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