Touted as Australia’s first ever martial arts movie (not sure if it was the last), The Man From Hong Kong was also George Lazenby’s first movie in a three picture deal with Chinese power house, Golden Harvest.
At first, it seems strange that Lazenby might be slumming it in a string of martial arts movies, considering the reasons he left the role of James Bond after just one outing. He was persuaded by his agent that the likes of Bond, and I’m guessing by association action movies in general, were now or soon to be out of fashion.
Naturally, that never happened. Thus Lazenby found himself cast out of one of the most successful movie franchises ever, and his career somewhat in the doldrums. Maybe then, a few martial arts movies didn’t seem like such a bad idea. His time as Bond proved that he could certainly throw a decent punch. And in a way, is it really possible to slum it in a martial arts movie? A martial arts movie has people getting punched in the face, and when that’s not happening, they’re getting kicked in the face. These are the two guiding principles of this ancient and much revered genre.
Picnics by sparkling waterfalls
Now imagine applying these ancient principles to a romantic comedy. Picture in your mind, the two leads (maybe Sarah Jessica Parker, or a pay cheque hunting Gerard Butler, or Jennifer Lopez and whatever co-star has been plucked from TV obscurity to suckle at her Hollywood teat) getting repeatedly punched and kicked in the face. See? It’s already a better movie.
Mind you, there is romance in The Man From Hong Kong. But it usually starts with a Bond-esque line from the film’s star, Yu Wang, and ends with a game of tonsil tennis in the chick’s apartment. Later on in the film, there’s real, proper, deep, meaningful love, of the kind that all honeymooning couples experienced back in the seventies: a montage of horse riding, long walks through fields, and picnics by sparkling waterfalls.
When Yu Wang (or Jimmy Wang Yu, the “Asian Steve McQueen” to give him his full international moniker) isn’t busy bedding Australia’s women, he’s trying to bring the film’s villain, George Lazenby, to justice. Having flown in from Hong Kong to extradite a Chinese prisoner who drops dead on the wrong end of a bullet, he’s informed that Lazenby is the man who ordered the hit.
The dead prisoner is largely unimportant, and basically just a springboard for a slew of action set pieces. And as action set pieces go, they’re pretty damn good. Yu Wang, supposedly a detective, actually does very little detective work. The local cops point him in the right direction, and then he mostly ignores them. He scales buildings, smashes up cars, and in one particularly memorable scene, destroys a whole restaurant.
The action is rough around the edges and energetic, and is indicative of a gung-ho attitude on set. It’s openly admitted by cast and crew that they shot first, and asked permission later. And it’s refreshing to see the stars just throw themselves into the action, with no CGI or overly fast edits to help them out. Lazenby even sets himself on fire at one point. The fear in his eyes is genuine.
It would appear that in the Australian movies of 1975, the world of health and safety was a lawless place, governed by a man who rode to work on a motorbike. At a hundred miles per hour. Off the end of a cliff. Whilst on fire. With George Lazenby punching him in the face. An attitude that makes for a great film.