Review for The Lucky Stars 3-Film Collection
Fans of Hong Kong cinema are being spoiled these days, with the advent of so many classic films on Blu-ray. I would never have though that we’d get The Lucky Stars trilogy in high definition, but we are getting to the point where anything is possible, with boutique labels like 88 Films and Eureka giving loving attention and detailed curation to titles that even companies like the fabulous Hong Kong Legends just dumped on DVD with whatever transfer they could get their hands on, to make a quick penny back in the day.
I actually missed most of the Lucky Stars movies the first time around, as I came at them with the wrong attitude. There I was, lapping up every Jackie Chan movie I could find, and having discovered the Three Dragons, the combination of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao in films like Project A, Dragons Forever and Wheels on Meals, I was desperate for more. A quick search on IMDB revealed that they had also appeared together in the Lucky Stars films, which I read as co-starred. By the time I had found this out, the films were going out of print in the UK, and I only managed to get My Lucky Stars on DVD. And when it turned out to be not what I expected, I wasn’t compelled to find the other two films. I expected a Three Dragons movie, but instead got a movie where Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao had little more than cameos.
This time, I am approaching the trilogy of films forewarned and fully aware that they are Sammo Hung ensemble comedies, and Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao either are guest stars, or simply have cameos. With no expectations to be dashed, I hope to enjoy these films a lot more than when I first watched My Lucky Stars. For the purposes of this review, I watched the Hong Kong theatrical versions with the original Cantonese audio tracks.
The first release run of the Trilogy will also get a 28-page booklet with essays on all three films from James Oliver, along with the usual promotional imagery and stills.
Introduction: Winners and Sinners
Teapot’s a burglar, Exhaust Pipe steals car parts, Vaseline scams jewellery stores, and Curly Jack is a political activist and a thorn in the side of authorities. Along with Ranks, all five are petty criminals who are arrested and wind up doing time together, where they become friends. They come up with a plan to go straight, and with Curly Jack’s sister they start the Five Stars Cleaning Service. They’re released on the same day, which is convenient, but also on that day a mob boss is released from prison, and he has a scheme to counterfeit US currency. And it’s just a coincidence that an ambitious CID officer with a tendency to wreak havoc has just been rebuked for falsely accusing someone of passing off counterfeit bills.
The Disc: Winners and Sinners
Winners and Sinners gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer and with the choice of PCM 1.0 Mono Cantonese, Alternate Cantonese, and English dub, with translated subtitles as well as a dubtitle track to go with the English audio. The first film gets a 4k restoration and it has come up a treat on this disc. The image is clear and sharp, with excellent detail although the eighties pastel colours seem a tad subdued; perhaps down to the film stock. In playback it looks great, with rich film grain alive throughout, but with no signs of flicker or print damage. The dialogue was clear throughout and the action and film music (including unexpected Rod Stewart) comes across with no distortion or loss. A film that looks this good does wonders for the action sequences, and it really draws you into the experience. The subtitles are accurately timed, free of typos and really give a good sense of the wordplay and banter in the dialogue. I have to say that the art of dialogue translation for Hong Kong movies has really come of age with this current generation of HD releases.
Extras: Winners and Sinners
The disc boots swiftly to a static menu. As you might expect, most of the extras have been lifted from previous DVD releases of the film.
New to this release however is the audio commentary on the film, a detailed and informative piece from Frank Djeng.
Sammo Hung on Winners and Sinners (5:49)
Teapot Tango: Interview with Sammo Hung (13:50)
The Man Behind the Legend: Sammo Hung (20:00)
Lucky Stars Live Performance (8:02)
Alternate Japanese End Credits (2:09)
All are up-scaled from SD, with the Lucky Stars Live Performance, a stage song and dance number of VHS quality. The Outtakes get a Japanese voiceover, and the Alternate Japanese end credits make the most of Jackie Chan’s scenes.
Finally there are five trailers, two from Honk Kong, two from Japan, and the English trailer.
Conclusion: Winners and Sinners
In the commentary, Frank Djeng notes that Winners and Sinners is often considered by some as the lesser film of the trilogy. That certainly bodes well for my re-watch of My Lucky Stars and my introduction to Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars as I really enjoyed Winners and Sinners. I found it to be a delightful comedy with some amazing action sequences, and no few insane stunts. There is a multi-car pile-up that is just wholly outrageous. Naturally you’ll have to reset your sensibilities to the pre-PC early eighties as some of the jokes may not stand up to modern scrutiny. It’s a shame that I have to actually type that, but when films like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure come with a trigger warning, you have to make allowances for modern societal mores.
Winners and Sinners can feel like two films running in parallel. You have the five Lucky Stars, the petty criminals trying to go straight. After an introduction to them, showing us as they are caught, and a brief prison montage showing them agreeing to stick together, they are released and move in with Curly’s sister to start their new business. There’s a lot of comic byplay between them, especially as four of them all develop a romantic interest in her, and wind up competing for her affections. Unexpectedly, she falls for the dopey goofball of the group, Teapot played by Sammo Hung. He’s amiable and kind, if not too smart, although of the group he’s the one with the serious kung fu. And as they try and get their business going, they tend to tease and prank each other.
Then there is Jackie Chan’s CID officer, trying to climb up the career ladder, but who keeps being knocked down by his own destructive eagerness. And we follow his story as he keeps showing up to fight crime, and he crosses over with the Lucky Stars on more than one occasion, dealing with an attempted armed robbery in a fast food restaurant, or issuing a traffic ticket.
Ostensibly tying these two story arcs together is the mob boss and his counterfeit currency scheme, with a roller skating Jackie Chan chasing after a stolen briefcase, which somehow winds up in the Five Stars Cleaning Company van. The mob boss wants his goods back, and that winds up pulling the Lucky Stars back into the criminal world, although this time they are the good guys. I said ostensibly tying the stories together, as you’d expect the cops to show up at the end, and given that JC plays a cop, that he would be there kicking behind. But this time the finale showcases the Lucky Stars alone. And incidentally, if you’re looking for Yuen Biao in this film, this is one where he merely gets a cameo, along with several other Hong Kong entertainment luminaries, pointed out in the audio commentary.
Winners and Sinners is great fun, paced well, with some really entertaining comedy, even seen through the filter of almost forty years. The action sequences are amazing, with some great kung-fu and some breathtaking stunts, all looking amazing in this 4k restoration.
Introduction: My Lucky Stars
There’s a bent Hong Kong cop getting away with all sorts of shenanigans in Japan, but the Hong Kong police have sent two of their finest to clean up the mess. Muscles and his partner Ricky have tracked down the criminals to a theme park, but at the last minute, they are overwhelmed, and Ricky is captured. Muscles calls Hong Kong for back-up, but another policeman would be instantly spotted. This time he wants help from a criminal, someone who could get in undercover and find out where Ricky is being held. Back in Hong Kong, career criminal Francolin Greens (and Muscles’ childhood friend) is serving a light custodial sentence when the police give him an offer he can’t refuse. But he’s not going to do it alone, he’ll want his gang back together as well.
The Disc: My Lucky Stars
My Lucky Stars gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with the choice between Original Cantonese, and Cantonese Home Video mix. These share a translated English subtitle track. The Alternate Cantonese track has its own subtitle translation, while the English dub comes with an onscreen text translation track (and subtitles for Japanese dialogue). All these audio tracks are DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono format, which is odd when it comes to consistency with the first disc in the collection. The film gets a 2k restoration for this release, and once again it’s an impressive presentation, clear and sharp throughout, with rich consistent colours and excellent detail, while retaining enough in the way of grain to make for a warm, organic cinematic experience. There’s no sign of compression or the like, and despite the 4k and 2k differences, the quality of the presentation is on a par with the other two films. My Lucky Stars makes great use of Japanese locations, with plenty of Mount Fuji. The audio is clear and free of glitches, the dialogue is audible throughout, and the music and the action comes across without any distortion or harshness. It’s a fine mono track that presents the film to a modern standard, even if it is by necessity front-focussed. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, and apparently created anew for the film’s HD debut; certainly the character names have changed from the HKL DVD.
Extras: My Lucky Stars
The disc boots to a static menu, and on the disc you get the following extras.
There is an audio commentary from Frank Djeng.
My Lucky Stars: International Export Version presents the film in a shorter, 88:29 format with DTS-HD MA 1.0 English mono.
The interview with Michiko Nishiwaki lasts 20:44.
Clown Prince: Interview with Sammo Hung lasts 18:00.
The Alternate Japanese End Credits run to 2:16.
The Music Video lasts 2:02.
The Outtakes last 9:42.
You get the HK, JP, and EN trailers.
The interviews are familiar from the Hong Kong Legends DVD, while the alternate end credits, music video and outtakes (complete with enthusiastic voiceover) appear to be taken from the Japanese release.
Conclusion: My Lucky Stars
Now that I know what these films are about, I had a much better time with My Lucky Stars. Knowing ahead of time that it’s more of a Sammo Hung led ensemble comedy, guest starring Jackie Chan, and with Yuen Biao having more presence than the cameo in Winners and Sinners, meant that I didn’t have any expectations to dash. My Lucky Stars builds on the format established by Winners and Sinners, although that’s the only real continuity between the films. My Lucky Stars builds on it by bookending the comedy with more of a narrative, and more fighting action with Jackie Chan’s cop character. My Lucky Stars also remedies the main failing of Winners and Sinners, in that the Three Dragons reunite for its butt-kicking, action packed conclusion. But having said all of that, I still find My Lucky Stars to be the weaker film.
Incidentally, this is the first time that My Lucky Stars has been presented as uncut in the UK, with an imitable attempted car theft restored, along with a problematic piece of dialogue translation.
My Lucky Stars makes better use of the Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao characters, undercover cops in Japan who get into trouble while investigating a bent cop and organised crime. The start of the film, and the film’s conclusion deliver impressive and effective action set pieces set around a theme park near Mount Fuji, far more effectively than that in Beverly Hills Cop 3. The problem comes with the larger portion of the film, that covering Sammo Hung’s character and his Lucky Stars group, the team of five that are press-ganged into going to Japan, to help Muscles out in his efforts to rescue his partner Ricky from the clutches of the villains. While four out of the five actors may be the same, the characters are not, with Sammo now the smart leader of the group, instead of the simple buffoon with kung-fu skills that everyone pushes around. The back-story for the group is different too, now having grown up together (along with Muscles) in an orphanage, instead of having recently met in prison.
Francolin Greens (Sammo) gets blackmailed by the police into going to Japan, and he co-opts his friends Yankee Ginseng, Rhinohide, Monk Fruit, and Big Rehmmania into helping. They also get the cute police inspector Wu to babysit them and make sure they don’t get up to any mischief. Wu’s invested in helping her boyfriend Muscles, but once again, the presence of a beautiful woman has the other five competing for her attention, and this time she has no brother to protect her virtue. And this is where the problems with the film surface. The relationships between the five aren’t as good-natured as they were in Winners and Sinners. They’re a bit nastier to each other, especially to Monk Fruit, who’s taken Sammo’s place as the good natured simpleton of the group. The others don’t treat him too well. And while the attention paid to Curly’s sister in Winners and Sinners might have walked the line between comedy and misogyny, in My Lucky Stars, the way the five act towards Inspector Wu blatantly just crosses the line, amplified by that restored bit of dialogue. I’m not just talking with a 21st Century perspective, this stuff would have been pretty hard to condone back in 1985 when this film was made, and no doubt explains why James Ferman brought down the censorship hammer to begin with.
The bottom line then is that My Lucky Stars may really amp things up when it comes to the action sequences, and in having more of a narrative, but for a comedy it’s a comparative misfire compared to Winners and Sinners. I had a great time with that film, but with My Lucky Stars, I was only occasionally compelled to smirk, and felt that the comic antics were just marking time between the butt-kicking bookends. But those action sequences are good enough to make My Lucky Stars worthy of watching, and more importantly, re-watching.
Introduction: Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars
A direct sequel to My Lucky Stars, Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars catches up with Francolin Greens, Monk Fruit, Rhinohide, Big Rehmmania, and Yankee Ginseng a few months down the line, although Yankee Ginseng doesn’t stick around too long, letting his little brother Pagoda Cake partake of the comic antics. Inspector Wu shows up again, asking the Lucky Stars to accompany her to a Thai holiday resort, as she has a mission to contact an operative there. But he’s murdered before they can make contact, although as he dies, he tells them that he sent a letter back to Hong Kong. They need to find the recipient and protect them, as the assassins that killed the contact, have a mission to complete in Hong Kong, and they’ve been paid to clean up any loose ends. The recipient is a loose end, and she also happens to be an aspiring actress. She and her roommate need to move to a safe house, although how safe the home of the Lucky Stars is, is another question altogether. Meanwhile cops, Muscles and Ricky have a new rookie partner, and they’re going after the assassins.
The Disc: Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars
Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer and you have the choice of the following DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono tracks; Original Cantonese and Cantonese (Home Video Mix) with a translated English subtitle track, Alternate Cantonese with a second translated English subtitle track, and English with signs. The third film gets a 4k restoration, and it certainly looks the part. The image is clear, sharp, with excellent detail, and natural skin tones. The action comes across brilliantly, and you get a decent level of grain to enhance the cinematic experience, although there is no sign of print damage or dirt. The dialogue is clear, the action gets solid presentation, and the music drives the story well. This time, the mono audio is of its time, and higher frequencies can be a little harsh, but I would by far have the mono track than the overcooked 5.1 remixes that we used to get with the DVDs. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, and once again, do really bring across the sense of wordplay in the script.
Extras: Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars
The disc boots swiftly to a static menu.
Once again, there is an audio commentary from Frank Djeng.
The Extended Taiwanese Version apparently offers 12 minutes of more Lucky Stars comedy, extending the film to 107:09. The only audio track here is DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mandarin with English subtitles, although the image quality is on a par with the main feature on the disc, also taken from a 4k restoration. For the purposes of this review, I stuck with the Cantonese theatrical versions only, and can’t comment on this version of the film at this time.
A Life of Laughter: Interview with Richard Ng lasts 21:02.
Gentleman Warrior: Interview with Richard Norton lasts 32:48.
The Outtakes lasts 3:46, taken from a Japanese release again, although this time without an enthusiastic voiceover man.
There are four Trailers & TV Spots, for Hong Kong, English territories, and Japan.
Conclusion: Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars
Winners and Sinners did its own thing, but Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars is a direct continuation from My Lucky Stars, keeping the same characters and expanding on the story. But in effect it’s really more of a remake, with plenty of Lucky Stars comedy bookended by some more serious action with the cops played by Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao, joined in this third film by Andy Lau. And once again, five horny men will come up with ever more elaborate schemes to cop a feel of a beautiful girl, Rosamund Kwan playing Yi-Ching Wang, the actress who gets put into their dubious protective custody.
Actually, there’s a little more of the Lucky Stars, and less of Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao (according to IMDB, Chan was recuperating from an injury sustained on Police Story, and his role in the film had to be diminished as a result.) So, the meeting in Thailand with the secret agent is set in a holiday resort, with Francolin Greens getting a cold dose of reality from Inspector Wu, sending him into a depression, while the other four are desperately hitting on any girl that comes their way. Big Rehmmania goes as far as learning voodoo, to put the hex on any likely cutie.
The Lucky Stars trilogy is very much of its time, and you have to take the casual misogyny with a pinch of salt to get along with the films, but I think Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars floods the archaism detector when the Transsexual Assassins attack. It’s so off colour that by the time the Lucky Stars are leering at Rosamund Kwan and finding any excuse to get her lingerie wet and see through, you wind up okay with it, even it is contextually more blatant than the previous two films.
The film is also more obvious with its references, offering a 3 Stooges routine which is delightful, if unexpected, although a little more odd is a blatant lift from Police Academy of all films, putting an up and coming Michelle Yeoh in the Callaghan role, as she demonstrates a few judo moves.
The dramatic storyline comes with the cops investigating the assassins, a trio of foreign killers led by Richard Norton’s character, introduced in that Thailand interlude, before shifting to Hong Kong, where they have a contract on the villain of the previous film. Muscles and Ricky find themselves in the awkward position of having to protect someone that they’d rather arrest, and as per normal service, their path and the path of the Lucky Stars converge for a climactic action sequence at the end. Although with Jackie Chan not quite as prominent in the film, it’s Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao that do the heavy kung-fu lifting.
The comedy may be the most ill-judged of the trilogy, but the action is better than ever, really inventive and full of energy and excitement. You have to make more allowances with Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars when it comes to present day sensibilities, but its relentless pace and stunning fight sequences do keep you at the edge of your seat. Of the three, it’s probably closest to what I’d call a guilty pleasure.
The comedy gets worse as the series unfolds, but the action gets better and better. If you believe in convergence, then that should make My Lucky Stars the ideal film in the trilogy, but I’d rather watch Winners and Sinners for the laughs, and Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars for the action. These films are decidedly, politically incorrect, and I found them an education in just how much my sensibilities have changed over the last few decades. Discovering these films for the first time now has challenged me in a way that I wouldn’t have realised had I seen them in the eighties or nineties to begin with. The quality of the films in this Eureka release is peerless though; stunning visual quality and a large choice of audio options means all tastes are catered for, while the extra features with the collection will keep fans busy for ages.