Long Arm of the Law: Parts 1 & 2 Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by 88 Films

Long Arm of the Law
Directed by Johnny Mak
Written by Philip Chan
1984, 106 minutes, Not Rated
Released on December 12th, 2023

Starring:
Lam Wai as Big Tung
Wong Kin as Fat Gu
Chang Lung as Chung
Chan Ging as Rooster
Lee Ying Git as Blockhead

Review:

A group of criminals from mainland China plan a Christmas heist of a Hong Kong jewelry store. They cross into the city only to find their score has been the site of a failed robbery attempt earlier that day. Their leader, Big Tung, pushes the date a few days and pays a visit to their fence who tells him he will pay an advance if the gang agrees to kill a seemingly unimportant man. Tung agrees and the hit goes off successfully, but they soon learn their target was a cop. Doublecross and other betrayal follows and Tung and his crew must avoid the increasing heat while still planning to commit the robbery. What follows is a harrowing adventure of cops versus crooks through the streets and alleys of the bustling city.

Long Arm of the Law is a 1980s Hong Kong crime thriller directed by acclaimed producer Johnny Mak (Sex and Zen), written by former police detective Philip Chan (Edge of Darkness) and produced by the legendary Sammo Hung (Yes, Madam). The subgenre known as heroic bloodshed became popular with the films of John Woo (The Killer, Hard Boiled), but Mak helped map the terrain. Striving for gritty realism, the director shot in a documentary style with a cast of largely unknown actors in the city streets with hidden cameras and a lack of permits. Long Arm was inspired by an actual robbery that led to a city-wide manhunt to catch the crooks and stoked unease in the citizens of Hong Kong regarding mainlanders.

Johnny Mak is an interesting guy who directed this film, co-directed another and then never directed again. It was not entirely his choice to leave the position; rather his cavalier behavior on this project resulted in no other actors wanting to work with him. A prime example comes in the scene where our anti-heroes confront their fence for setting them up. Mak told the actor he was going to be tied up in a car, but neglected to share that the other actors would then pour gasoline on the car and set it ablaze with the bound actor inside! The sequence is harrowing and a stunning example of a reckless idiot getting lucky with no one getting hurt while doing something really stupid.

With the main characters being criminals from mainland China crossing into Hong Kong mirroring an actual recent crime, Long Arm of the Law plays on the city’s growing concerns of the upcoming return to Chinese rule in 1997. The majority of the picture is spent getting to know our core group of thieves, humanizing them as they are introduced to a capitalist society and all the trimmings. The cast is solid and the guys come off largely likeable even though they are not exactly good people. Equally impressive are the action sequences that are well-directed and fantastic shooting locations including the notorious Kowloon Walled City. The film was a box office hit and spawned three sequels with Mak serving as producer.

Long Arm of the Law: Saga 2
Directed by Michael Mak
Written by Philip Chan
1987, 90 minutes, Not Rated

Starring:
Alex Man as Biggie
Pauline Wong as Pauline
Elvis Tsui as Johnny
Ben Lam as David
Yuen Yat-Choh as Paul

Review:

Three men escape a labor camp in mainland China and are recruited by Hong Kong police to serve as undercover cops to capture organized crime members. Their contact, a policeman named Biggie, shows them the ropes of a capitalist society and introduces them into the criminal underworld they are working. They target jewel thieves, smugglers, blackmailers and an extremely dangerous gang of bank robbers. The trio are not completely unknown in the city and are under constant fear of being recognized by the criminal element. Brutal violence erupts frequently and unexpectedly and the guys are going to have to keep ahead of the chaos if they plan to survive their mission.

Long Arm of the Law was a phenomenal hit in Hong Kong but that film’s director, Johnny Mak, proved too unpredictable and was moved into the role of producer. His brother, Michael Mak (Butterfly and Sword) took over directing duties on all three subsequent films in the franchise. Long Arm of the Law: Saga 2 saw the return of screenwriter Philip Chan, a retired police detective whose experience lends an authenticity to the story. Like the original, these three protagonists are fish out of water introduced into a capitalist society, this time with a touch more levity. That being said, moments of violence are at times shockingly brutal and unexpected.

Where Part 1 stokes fears of criminals from the mainland entering the city for nefarious reasons, Part 2 focuses on a trio of former soldiers (possible cops) forced into Chinese labor camps, whereupon escaping into Hong Kong are immediately recruited to work for the police to protect the city. The original movie included themes of distrust of the government while this entry spotlights police corruption. Director Michael Mak delivers a more polished picture than his brother with stylized action sequences influenced by the work of John Woo (A Better Tomorrow).

The Long Arm of the Law franchise mined the territory of cops vs. crooks/citizens of Hong Kong vs. criminals from the mainland, across four films. Johnny Mak directed the original, produced the sequels and wrote the last two movies. His brother Michael directed all three sequels. 88 Films is releasing a double feature of only the first two films (written by Philip Chan), leaving viewers wanting more. The two included pictures are solid entertainment and the collection is definitely worth a purchase, but it would have been nice to have the whole series.

Video and Audio:

Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, both films receive a 2K restoration of the original camera negatives and the results are terrific. A healthy layer of grain is present throughout and colors are vibrant. Black levels are solid and flesh tones appear natural throughout.

Newly translated optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need while audio comes as either a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Cantonese mono track or DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono English dub. Dialogue, music and effects cues are well-balanced and free from any distortion.

Special Features:

Disc 1: Long Arm of the Law

The original Hong Kong version (106 minutes) and the English export cut (105 minutes) are included.

An audio commentary by Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng (HK Version) is a rapid-fire discussion filled with interesting trivia and behind-the-scenes stories. He talks about the language differences between Hong Kong and mainland China, tensions concerning the city’s return to Chinese rule, the numerous shooting locations and the inspiration of a real heist the year before filming. Other topics include the guerrilla filmmaking tactics of the director staging large action sequences on the city streets without permission. The best story is the aforementioned car fire stunt and reactions from the cast and crew.

An Interview with director Johnny Mak (10 minutes) covers a decent amount of territory as he stresses his determination to convey realism throughout the picture. He talks about casting amateur actors with similar history to their characters and providing an extended rehearsal period. Other topics include how people in Hong Kong felt about mainlanders. This interview is in Chinese with English subtitles.

Family Business (17 minutes) is an interview with Michael Mak, who talks about the wild success of the franchise (he directed all three sequels), his brother’s gutsy approach to directing and his thoughts on mainland China. This interview is in Chinese with English subtitles.

In the interview segment From Hong Kong Police to Big Circle Gangs (29 minutes), screenwriter Philip Chan discusses the origins of the script and his work on bringing an authenticity to the story. He also tells how he became a policeman and explains the term “Big Circle”. This interview is in English.

A Conversation with Action Director Billy Chan and Scriptwriter Philip Chan (37 minutes) is conducted in both Chinese and English. Topics of discussion include their memories of Johnny Mak and the script, also filming in the extremely dangerous Triad-ruled Kowloon Walled City. They also discuss the sequence involving a helicopter and the casting of authentic Big Circle actors.

The original Hong Kong trailer is included.

Disc 2: Long Arm of the Law: Saga 2

The original Hong Kong version (90 minutes) and the English export cut (87 minutes) are included, the latter missing some scenes of graphic violence.

Hong Kong film historian Frank Djeng returns for another insightful and entertaining audio commentary (HK version) filled with interesting production stories and a study not only of this film but the franchise as a whole. We learn about the cast and the director as well as the themes of the picture. Djeng is a fast talker who relays a wide range of information that is definitely worth a listen.

Director Michael Mak sits for the interview segment Bringing the Action (25 minutes) in which he gives a diplomatic answer as to why his brother didn’t return to the director’s chair. He goes on to discuss the casting of relatively unknown actors to continue the sense of realism and the decision to get filming permits this time. Also of note are the extensive rehearsal period and the elaborate stunt work. This interview is in Chinese with English subtitles.

Man of Action (16 minutes) is an interview with co-star Ben Lam who discusses his martial arts training and work as a stuntman as part of Jackie Chan’s team He continues with his memories of filming in the street, working with the director and co-stars. A particularly interesting story about shooting his death scene is worth checking out. This interview is in Chinese with English subtitles.

In An Offer You Can’t Refuse (8 minutes), screenwriter Philip Chan remembers being pressured into writing the sequel and his lack of interest and solid ideas. He says the piece works but lacks soul and he is not a fan. This interview is in English.

The Iron Fist of Crime (24 minutes) catches up with stuntman Stephen Chan who details his martial arts training and his memories from this film acting as chief villain. He also tells of working with the Mak brothers and his co-stars. This interview is in English.

Both a Hong Kong and English trailers are included.

Grades:

Long Arm of the Law:
Long Arm of the Law: Saga 2:

Cover
Cover
Video:
Audio:
Features:
Overall: 4 Star Rating

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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
Other articles by this writer

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