Stephen reviews: Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)

NightontheGalacticRailroad_1Night on the Galactic Railroad [銀河鉄道の夜, Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru] (1985)
AKA Kenji Miyazawa’s Night on the Galactic Express

Starring Mayumi Tanaka, Chika Sakamoto, Chikao Ohtsuka, Hidehiro Kikuchi, Junko Hori

Directed by Gisaburō Sugii


If you’ve been around this site for a few years, you may recall a film I reviewed a while back called Spring and Chaos. It was a biopic about Kenji Miyazawa, Japan’s foremost literary figure. This film is the adaptation of Miyazawa’s most famous book, Night on the Galactic Railroad. And these two films have more than a passing connection. Now that I’ve finally seen Night on the Galactic Railroad, I can see just how strongly it influenced Spring and Chaos. That later film is as much a tribute to this film as it is to Miyazawa himself.

Watching this film also drove home just how indebted the Galaxy Express 999 series is to Miyazawa’s original novel, though this film’s adaptation of the book came out quite some time after Galaxy Express. In fact, the two titles are nearly identical, with “galaxy express” and “galactic railroad” simply being alternate translations of “ginga tetsudō.” Any way you slice it, Miyazawa’s little fable has had a massive influence on anime and manga, to say nothing of what it did to Japanese literature.

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Police Story (1985)

PoliceStory_1Police Story [警察故事] (1985)
AKA Police Force, Jackie Chan’s Police Force, Jackie Chan’s Police Story

Starring Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Bill Tung, Chor Yuen, Charlie Cho Cha-Lee, Kent Tong Chun-Yip, Mars, Lam Gwok-Hung, David Lau Chi-Wing, Kam Hing-Yin, Wan Fat, Fung Hak-On, Tai Bo

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: It’s Police Story! It’s awesome!

fourstar


To make this review more exciting, listen to Jackie’s dope Police Story theme song while you read!

Police Story is one of the most influential and important Jackie Chan films, and it was always one of my favorites during my teenage obsession. But I hadn’t seen it in 15 or so years, and to be completely honest I found Police Story to be less thrilling than my memories of it. Part of my problem was that I incorrectly remembered that a bunch of stuff from Police Story 2 was in this one, but the root of my disappointment stemmed more from forgetting that Police Story, like most Jackie Chan films, contains a lot of humor. Those are my problems, though, and they shouldn’t sully the legacy of Police Story.

The film opens in amazing fashion, as Jackie and a team of cops are tasked with staking out a shantytown where a drug lord (played wonderfully by the great Shaw Brothers director Chor Yuen) is making a deal. The tone is immediately very serious and the film feels markedly different from all the Sammo Hung-directed films that Jackie had been in previously, even Heart of Dragon (which is actually a great bridge between the two tones). The feel is also distinct because Jackie is a very different style of director than Sammo, crafting films that are less visually exciting (from a framing/camera placement/editing standpoint), but yet, thanks to the incredulity of the stunt work, are also intensely more visually arresting. I think these days I prefer Sammo’s style, but Jackie is more of a visionary dreaming up insane stunts to consistently push himself and that is worthy of major respect. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Jackie — at least up to this point — was a director more focused on the planning and staging of elaborate spectacles, where Sammo was more down to Earth and traditional.

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Heart of Dragon (1985)

HeartoftheDragon_1Heart of Dragon [龍的心] (1985)
AKA Heart of the Dragon, The First Mission, Powerman III

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Emily Chu Bo-Yee, Melvin Wong, Lam Ching-Ying, Mang Hoi, Chin Ka-Lok, Yuen Wah, Corey Yuen Kwai, Peter Chan Lung, James Tin Jun, Chung Fat, Dick Wei, Phillip Ko Fei, Anthony Chan Yau, Lam Ying-Fat, Wu Ma

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: I remember not liking this one at all, but I’m sure I’ll be more open to it than I was as a teenager.

threestar


Heart of Dragon is one of the few Jackie Chan films that isn’t a traditional action film, and this makes it a hard sell to many fans. Director Sammo Hung wanted to stretch out the acting chops of both himself and Jackie, so the action was scaled back to allow the story’s drama to take the center stage. They even shot two fight scenes that were cut from the film, which should give you a pretty good indication of how dedicated Sammo was to making a more serious film that his previous work with Jackie. It also gave them the right to say, “We threw away better fight sequences than [insert movie title here] had!” 🙂

Heart of Dragon is actually more tonally mixed than all that makes it sound, and this really surprised me. I saw this film once before during my teenage obsession with Jackie, and the only thing I remember is Sammo in overalls and how bored I was. I honestly didn’t remember there being any action at all. This time I found Heart of Dragon to be a delicate mix of serious drama and lite comedy, with sprinkles of action and romance. Often the tones would mix together, too, which is always challenging for a movie to pull off. The scene when Sammo masquerades as his friend’s father to visit the school principal comes to mind. It’s funny as an isolated scene, but when you consider the entire situation it’s heartbreaking how vulnerable Sammo’s character is.

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The Protector (1985)

protector_6The Protector [威龍猛探] (1985)

Starring Jackie Chan, Danny Aiello, Roy Chiao, Bill Wallace, Moon Lee, Victor Arnold, Kim Bass, Richard Clarke, Saun Ellis, Ronan O’Casey, Patrick James Clarke, Sandy Alexander, David Ho, Peter Yang Kwan, Sally Yeh

Directed by James Glickenhaus

Expectations: Jackie Chan, American style.

twohalfstar


Like all of Jackie Chan’s American films, The Protector is a much watered-down version of the amazing action star. But in terms of his “first wave” of American films in the ’80s, The Protector is easily the best and most “Jackie” of the bunch, making it quite an entertaining film as long as you also like the general ’80s action genre. And who doesn’t?

The Protector opens in New York, as some Mad Max rejects re-wire a stop light in order to rob a semi-truck full of computers. Don’t worry about remembering this because none of it matters. It’s merely a setup to introduce us to New York cops Billy Wong (Jackie Chan) and Michael, who respond to the call. They chastise the Texan truck driver about stopping for a red light during the night in the Bronx. But the cops should’ve taken their own advice, because when they end their patrol shift by knocking back a couple of brews at the local bar, the place is robbed by a bunch of armed gunmen. Jackie’s partner is murdered, so he gives chase by land, sea and air (kinda), resulting in the murderer dying in a ball of fire and boat debris, and Jackie being given a more ho-hum job of working security at a party.

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Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars (1985)

l_90342_681fc4f9Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars [夏日福星] (1985)
AKA Seven Lucky Stars, The Target, My Lucky Stars 2: Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, Winners & Sinners 3, Powerman II

Starring Sammo Hung, Richard Ng, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, Michael Miu Kiu-Wai, Eric Tsang, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Sibelle Hu Hui-Zhong, John Shum Kin-Fun, Rosamund Kwan, Andy Lau, Yasuaki Kurata, Richard Norton, Chung Fat, Wu Ma, Melvin Wong

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: More fun.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

But the action is:
fourstar


Like the other Lucky Stars films, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars is more comedy than action film. So when a healthy amount of the comedy is rehashed from My Lucky Stars, it feels like a lesser film compared to its predecessors (even when the film’s action is some of the best that Hong Kong has ever cranked out). Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars does have its comedic moments, they’re just more sparse than I’ve come to expect from these films. My biggest laugh came right before the end credits, too, so instead of rollicking along it feels more like it ambles between action scenes and then rises sharply to the occasion at the end. And yes, I do mean that erection pun, because if we know anything about the Lucky Stars it’s that they’re always horny and looking for action.

This one starts off rather tamely, as the Lucky Stars are off to vacation in Thailand. Charlie Chin decides to stay home for some reason, so he sends his brother (Michael Miu Kiu-Wai) in his place, but he doesn’t really do much and just kinda blends into the crowd. Anyway, everyone else from My Lucky Stars is back, and even John Shum, one of the main cast in Winners and Sinners, gets a fairly large supporting role. But what are they doing? If you guessed, “Trying to score with women, and by score I mean, figure out a way to grope women where it seems nonchalant and perfectly normal” than you get the gold star! But this time they’re at a beach resort in Thailand, so the backdrop is bright, fun-filled and sunny.

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My Lucky Stars (1985)

MyLuckyStars+1985-118-bMy Lucky Stars [福星高照] (1985)
AKA Winners & Sinners 2, Winners & Sinners 2: My Lucky Stars, Tokyo Powerman

Starring Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Eric Tsang, Richard Ng, Charlie Chin Chiang-Lin, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, Sibelle Hu Hui-Zhong, Walter Tso Tat-Wah, James Tin Jun, Lam Ching-Ying, Bolo Yeung

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Fun.

threestar


Like Winners & Sinners before it, My Lucky Stars is much more of a Sammo Hung movie than it is a Jackie Chan movie. It’s also much more of a comedy than an action movie. There’s nothing wrong with either distinction, but it’s good to know what you’re in for, especially considering that I imagine the majority of people watching this (at least in the West) are watching for the action. You’ll get your action, and it will be glorious and accompanied by some truly fantastic stunts, but you’ll have to be patient.

Well — you’ll have to be patient after the first few minutes, where the film explodes into action by throwing both Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao into a car chase that leads to an amusement park. They are cops in hot pursuit of some devious criminals, but by the time they’ve jumped their car over a semi-truck and the traffic that impedes them, the criminals have already ditched their car and sought refuge in the crowds of a nearby amusement park. You or I might wander around the park, hoping to get lucky and spot the criminals, but Jackie makes a truly inspired move towards higher ground by nonchalantly scaling the structural supports of the Ferris wheel.

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Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

madmax3_1Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
AKA Mad Max 3

Starring Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Angelo Rossitto, Angry Anderson, Helen Buday, Tom Jennings, Robert Grubb, Paul Larsson, Bruce Spence, Adam Cockburn, Frank Thring, Edwin Hodgeman, Rod Zuanic

Directed by George Miller & George Ogilvie

Expectations: Vroom?

threehalfstar


Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the much-maligned entry of the Mad Max trilogy, and I had only seen it once in my teenage years prior to this re-watch. Back then, I expected it to be Road Warrior 2, and when it wasn’t I called it a shitty movie. I guess it’s fair to assume that a sequel would somewhat resemble the films that came before it, but in this particular case it’s the wrong way to come at Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome because there’s virtually no way to enjoy it if you do so. But when considered on its own, and as a continuation of the wasteland and the societal issues built up in the previous films, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a fantastic sequel.

This one is far more story-driven than the other films, making it a more traditional film in a very non-traditional franchise (and thus probably causing more people to be perturbed). Anyway, we open with Max making his way across the great desert via camel-drawn wagon. He gets robbed by a huckster pilot (who is totally not the Gyrocopter pilot from Road Warrior even though they’re both played by Bruce Spence), so Max continues on his way to Barter Town on foot. Once there Max attracts the attention of the town’s leader, Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), who decides to use his talents for her own purposes.

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