Postman Strikes Back (1982)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-08-27
Summary: Could have been a contender
A disparate and mismatched group of men and women, each with different motives, undertake a journey to deliver the contents of four locked boxes to a warlord/bandit who controls a strategic mountain pass coveted by both sides in a raging civil war. The group is lead by a professional courier, a strong, silent type who is quick and effective with his fists and feet. The courier was recruited by a thief with a strong connection to him. The third member of the team is a miner—an explosives expert who carries sticks of dynamite in is waistband and who drinks a lot. They are paid in bars of gold, part when they take the packages, part when they deliver. Their employer is a mysterious type who forces them to take on an unneeded fourth person, an urban and urbane individual who does not fit in with the rest of them. Two women make up the rest of the team. One simply shows up and won’t leave, hoping to convince the courier to help her get to Shanghai to rescue her sister. The other is saved from the clutches of bandits on horseback who want to kidnap her and steal the precious boxes.

The group is under surveillance from the moment they leave the city walls. Mounted cavalry, companies of spear wielding infantry, black-hooded ninjas and even soldiers on ice skates attack them—they have to fight their way to their objective, trudging across snow and ice while fending off assaults from implacable enemies. There are some casualties along the way and some odd alliances form—the “brutal” miner Bu and the “effete” cosmopolitan Fu Jun (Fan Mei Sheng and Chow Yun Fat) grow to respect each other and even make plans to head south together after they get paid. Additionally Fu Jun and Guifa (Cherie Chung) are becoming more than just friends.

But not everything is as it seems, of course. While the goods in the locked boxes are important and must be delivered, the group is also a target for forces allied with Sun Yat Sen. They are badly outnumbered in the north, so the attacks on the courier leave them open for ambush by the armies allied with President Yaun whose ambition has no bounds. Danger increases as they get closer to their goal and the steady attacks begin to take a toll on the group. When everything is finally delivered the courier and Bu are horrified—they have placed a 1910 version of a Weapon of Mass Destruction in the hands of a vicious murderer.

This could have been an exciting movie. It has a terrific cast and was produced by Yuen Woo Ping. Some of the fights are realistic and brutal, while others showcase some of the shortcomings of, among others, Chow as a martial artist. However it drags very badly. It runs a bit less than ninety minutes but feels much longer. Ronny Yu and his cinematographers (THREE are credited!) frame a lot of lovely shots, using both close-ups and panoramic views of the winter countryside. So lovely, apparently, that the editor wasn’t able to trim them. There are a lot of lingering glances and slow pans. The preparations for the journey are so deliberate and are shown is such detail that they might as well be happening in real time. We find out too much about some characters, including a lot of information that is never referred to again and not enough about others.

We get to see Chow Yun Fat and Cherie Chung in supporting roles early in their careers, which is one of the reasons to see this movie. Another is the superb Fan Mei Sheng doing what he does best—stealing scenes. Eddy Ko is a terrific villain—he rings all the changes in the bad guy repertoire. He skulks, sneers, lies, betrays and murders with the panache of someone who enjoys his work. But given the star power assembled and (apparently) the large budget, some good performances are not enough.

Not recommended, other than for stone fans of the actors.
Reviewer Score: 3