The last couple of years has been great for revisiting classic martial arts movies as Eureka and 88 Films have been remastering and re-releasing a lot of movies from the 1980’s onto the Blu Ray Format. It’s a pleasure to watch these as they were meant to be seen as they have various versions of the films and are loaded with extras including behind the scenes footage and interviews.
Within these releases were three films starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao who all met in school and worked their way up through the Peking Opera together and went on to become legends of martial arts movie making. Although they have appeared in each others work with cameo roles, Project A, Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever are the only films they have done together as the leading actors.
Chan and Hung were the directors for these films as well with JC doing Project A and SH making the other two, although it might not be apparent as their styles are very similar. Throughout the trilogy there is a mixture of comedic influences ranging from silent cinema to slapstick humour in the vein of Norman Wisdom. We feel this works well as it is a visual way of getting the laughs and nothing has the chance to be lost in translation. Although these films were made 20 or 30 years ago they still feel quite fresh due to this. This is one of the reasons we love these movies, they blend together comedy and action in a way that is timeless.
The first of our trilogy, Project A, feels like Chan is trying to push himself. The action is the driving force of the movie taking us on a journey from one spectacular set piece to another. It feels almost like a show reel for Jackie and his costars talents, and could be the template for how future Chan directed projects would be. There are a lot of classic kung fu movie elements in this, it can be seen as a period piece but the vision of Chan and his enthusiasm for large stunt set pieces gives it a fresh feel and brought us into the era of the Jackie Chan Film.
We feel the second of the trilogy Wheels on Meals is the perfect action comedy movie, if not ever it certainly has to be at the top of the list. It is played as a two hander with Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao given equal share of the screen time as the first characters introduced. Up until act 3 of this piece they are always shown onscreen together and have a great chemistry. The reason for this is probably that they grew up working together and have that kind of rapport that close friends have and it translates to the well to the screen. This work stands out in the trilogy as it is not set in Hong Kong, filmed on location in modern Barcelona it lets the main characters stand out with a fish out of water quality.
Dragons Forever, the final film of the trilogy brings us back to Hong Kong. This film also has a modern setting and feels a lot more serious than the previous entry. There are still comedic moments but the story could perhaps be described as a courtroom drama. Not relying as heavily on fight scenes or elaborate stunt work it gives the actors more time to portray character traits other than their physical prowess or fighting ability. There is also a romance story-line which is not always portrayed by these actors and this gives us glimpses of the Peking Opera where the honed their craft. Throughout the trilogy there is almost a hierarchy within the roles which perhaps goes back to their schooldays. Jackie Chan playing the charismatic leading man, Sammo Hung as the shady sidekick although he is a leading man in his own right. Yuen Biao seems to be the glue that holds this trio together, he certainly has the more varied characters. Where you can see the similarities in JC and SH’s roles each of YB’s are completely different both in physical appearance and in personality. It felt like the way these films were made had an evolution, Project A has the classic studio feel to it whereas Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever made use of locations and brought the stories up to date putting them in the modern setting. It is obvious that the three stars have a close knit group of seasoned actors and stunt performers that they work with on a regular basis so when they bring in people like Benny Urquidez and Kieth Vitali is gives a fresh feel and also shows the filmmakers want to keep upping the game.
Looking at the stars film credits they have all been regular fixtures in the film industry since these films were released. Jackie Chan has gone on to become a household name, showing his range from family friendly fare up to recent more dramatic roles like The Shinjuku Incident and The Foreigner. Sammo Hung went on to become known to western audiences as the star of Tv’s Martial Law in the late 90’s and more recently opposite Donnie Yen in Ip Man 2. When it come to Yuen Biao we are both surprised that he is not as well known to international audiences. We feel he has a big dramatic acting range and as mentioned before he shows this over these three films. You could draw a comparison to George Harrison from The Beatles, the quiet unassuming member of the group whose talent shines through, but as Jackie Chan once said he is happier on a golf course than on a film set. We feel that as much as we like and respect what Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung do when it comes to being onscreen as a performer Yuen Biao’s all round talent and capabilities is head and shoulders above them.
At the moment there is no sign of them working together again but we can only hope that the opportunity comes along for one last hurrah of The 3 Dragons, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao.
Look out for the first review of Project A. Coming Soon
Thanks to very talented Mr Tony Stella for the use of his artwork you can see more of his work here https://www.tony-stella.com/
Also check out Tony's tribute to The Three Dragons here https://wrongreel.com/podcast/wr410-the-three-dragons/