Review: Eastern Condors (1987)

Eastern Condors is a hell of a lot of fun, and an interesting film to boot. It’s a modern war film (set in post-war Vietnam) which is a quite a rarity in Hong Kong cinema. It’s also got a very strong cast of late-80’s action stars, including Sammo Hung (who also directs), Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Corey Yuen, Yuen Woo-ping (in an acting role), Lam Ching-Ying, Chin Kar Lok… the list goes on and on.

The story starts in America, where a troupe of Chinese-American criminals is recruited to assist a group of commandos heading in to Vietnam to destroy a large cache of weapons left there after the war. The operation doesn’t officially exist, and each of them gets their freedom and US$200,000 if they succeed. Fairly familiar movie territory. As they parachute into Vietnam, however, the man in charge (played by Lam Ching-ying, who looks unfamiliar to me not wearing his vampire-hunting Taoist robes!) gets a message — the mission is cancelled and the commandos aren’t coming.

Naturally, they decide to go ahead with the mission anyway, with the assistance of a trio of female Cambodian guerrillas (led by Joyce Godenzi, but I can’t identify the others). They also encounter Rat Chieh (Yuen Biao, who is thoroughly underrated), a young man with an odd haircut who trundles about on a huge bike, selling chocolate and cigarettes to the locals. Yuen Wah appears later in the film as a Vietnamese General, and absolutely steals every scene he’s in — the film is worth seeing just for his character.

Eastern Condors includes (absolutely free!) a great deal of violence, some of it quite serious and graphic — it’s a lot darker in tone than most of Sammo Hung’s other films of the time. His depiction of war (notwithstanding all the kung-fu and elaborate stuntwork) is quite sombre and his motley team gets whittled down quite quickly as the film progresses. Even his character is darker and more serious than I’m used to seeing from Sammo — it’s a very straight performance, with most of the comedy in the film left to Yuen Biao.

The Hong Kong Legends DVD of this film includes a couple of short interviews with Sammo Hung, where he talks in English about his background and also about the film. They’re quite good — he’s a personable guy, and the love he has for his work comes through very well. He talks about a couple of cringe-inducing accidents that occurred during filming in the Philippines, as well.

Eastern Condors is worth seeing for anyone who’d like to check out an action film that doesn’t fit into any of Hong Kong cinema’s usual pigeonholes, with an all-star cast and an awesome Yuen Wah. Especially Yuen Wah.

9 easily-captured machine-gun emplacements out of 10.
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