In 1982, the traditional style of martial arts films was beginning to decline. The popularity of Kung Fu comedies was fading, while Jackie Chan’s career was just taking off with the release of “Project A” the following year, paving the way for modern action movies. “The Postman Strikes Back” falls somewhere in between these two eras and has recently been re-released on Blu-ray by 88 Films. It’s worth taking a moment to look back and appreciate this film, which may have been overlooked by a larger audience.
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Leung Kar-yan, also known as Errand Horse, is a postman who delivers mail to isolated villages. However, with the upcoming railway system, his job will soon become obsolete. One day, he crosses paths with a young thief named Yuen Yat Chor and meets an official named Hsu, who offers him a job to transport some cases for a warlord. Although he initially declines, Errand Horse eventually agrees and enlists the help of explosive expert Bu and gambler Fu Jun, who was assigned by Hsu. Along the way, a young woman from the village named Cherie Chung joins them, hoping to travel to the city with Errand Horse. The only condition given to them is to not open the cases. As they journey through dangerous territory, they begin to suspect that Hsu may not have good intentions. Tragedy and bravery ensue as the truth is revealed.
The director of this film was Ronny Yu, who would later become well-known for “The Bride of White Hair” and go on to have a successful career in Hollywood after the exodus of 1997. The movie has a level of polish that is often missing in similar genre productions. The film has a cinematic feel, with well-composed shots and unique set pieces. A standout moment is the mid-section, which takes place in snow-covered landscapes and includes a thrilling action sequence on a frozen river. The finale, set among rows of trees, is also impressive. It’s clear that Ronny Yu had full control over the production, resulting in one of the most visually stunning films of its time. The choreography was done by the renowned Yuen Woo-ping, and as expected, it does not disappoint.
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In the final part of the movie, Eddie Ko transforms into a ninja (for those who have watched “Duel to the Death”, this may sound familiar!). This aspect is what makes “The Postman Strikes Back” feel dated, but not necessarily in a negative way. During the early 1980s, there was a surge of ninja films in Hong Kong cinema, with “Ninja in the Dragons Den” also being released in the same year. Until this point, the action scenes had been relatively realistic, focusing on the skills of the fighters. However, any appearance of ninjas automatically adds a fantastical element, with characters creating fire from their hands, using body doubles, and having the ability to move underground. If we accept this and go along with it, the movie becomes quite enjoyable. However, it does take away from the overall sense of reality in the film. This is not meant as a criticism, but rather an observation of the popular action trend at the time.
Leung Kar-yan is a unique figure in the history of action movies. He was not a real martial artist, but rather a skilled imitator of various fighting styles, allowing him to easily take on different roles. In this film, his performance is understated as he portrays a strong and silent character, which stands in contrast to the other actors who try to steal the spotlight. The modern marketing for the film prominently features Chow Yun-fat, who was two years away from his role in “The Story of Wu Viet” and four years away from his breakthrough performance in “A Better Tomorrow.” He looks remarkably young in this film and gives glimpses of the charisma he would later become known for. Also making her feature debut is Cherie Chung, who would go on to frequently co-star with Chow Yun-fat. Although her role is smaller and she doesn’t have much to do until her sudden exit, she would go on to have better parts in the future. Fan Mei-sheng, known for playing loud and irritable characters, portrays the team’s demolition expert. Despite his bombastic tendencies, there are moments of quiet as he unexpectedly develops a friendship with Chow Yun-fat’s character, adding an extra layer of emotion to the climax of the film. Yuen Yat Chor, a frequent supporting actor in his brother Yuen Woo Ping’s films, plays the naive thief. Although he doesn’t have much to work with in this role, he still manages to deliver a solid performance.
Eddie Ko is one of those I recognize the face figures in the industry. Probably best known for starring in John Woo’s “Heroes shed no Tears”. He was a frequent figure during this time, often seen in a villainous role with moustache on display. Always a proficient performer rather than a show stealer, he gives a solid performance prior to his switch into the Ninja garb.
Upon reflection, it becomes evident that “The Postman Strikes Back” draws heavily from the western genre, even more so than the typical repackaging seen in this category. The arrival of the railroad, a classic trope symbolizing the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, serves as a clear sign of changing times. The central McGuffin, when revealed, further reinforces this theme of shifting eras. This is a concept that martial arts films often shy away from, but this movie boldly embraces it. It can be traced back to later westerns, such as those by Peckinpah and the Italian Spaghetti works, where displaced and out-of-touch characters are a common theme. This adds a sense of inevitability to the story that enhances the overall narrative. In fact, one of the final scenes, which utilizes slow-motion for dramatic effect, could easily fit into one of these aforementioned westerns. Overall, “The Postman Strikes Back” is a blend of action and adventure, with martial arts sequences sprinkled in, rather than a pure Kung Fu flick.
“The Postman Strikes Back” is an excellent and underrated action feature. What it lacks in depth it makes up in visual flare and action. It represents a transition into the more modern action genre whilst containing enough of the classic martial arts with enough to please fans of both. Check it out, enjoy and you’ll never argue with your postman about a late delivery again!