301. FANTASY MISSION FORCE (1983)

Recommended

Mi ni te gong dui; AKA Dragon Attack

“If it sounds ridiculous, that’s only because it was.”– Jackie Chan on Fantasy Mission Force (quoted in Keith Bailey, “The Unknown Movies”)

DIRECTED BY: Yen-Ping Chu

FEATURING: Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin, Yu Wang (Jimmy Wang Yu), Yueh Sun, David Tao, Jin Fang, Shiu Bu Lia, Ling Chang

PLOT: Four Allied generals have been captured by the Japanese. Mercenary Don Wen is hired to liberate them, and recruits a team which includes “Old Sun,” escape artist “Greased Lightning,” two kilt-wearing soldiers, con man Billy, and Lilly, Billy’s bazooka-toting on-and-off girlfriend who tags along when she hears about the cash reward. Tailed by rogues Sammy and Emily, the team encounters Amazons and a haunted house on their way to a surprisingly bloody showdown with the kidnappers.

Still from Fantasy Mission Force (1983)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Yen-Ping Chu (sometimes credited as “Lawrence Full” or “Kevin Chu”) is the director of sixty-five (mostly kung fu and comedy) films; this is his only effort which is marginally well-known in the West.
  • According to persistent but unconfirmed rumors, a Triad-connected movie mogul ordered a hit on Jackie Chan when he decided to change studios. Jimmy Wang Yu intervened to settle the dispute, and as part of the deal Chan agreed to lend his growing star power to two of Wang’s movies (this being one).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: An ambush by ribbon-shooting ninjas? Bloody ghost hands waving wads of toilet paper? Assault of the Road Warrior-Japanese-punk Nazis? Your opinion on this one is as good as ours, and it’s likely to change many times during the movie as some new amazement pops up. We’ll just go with any shot of the assembled team: Old Sun in his top hat, Brigitte Lin in black leather with a bazooka, Billy in his white suit and Elvis sideburns, the kilt-wearing pair of misfits… as weird a group ever formed to fight an anachronistic battle against fascist kidnappers somewhere in Canada, Luxembourg, or Taiwan.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Scottish/Chinese mercenaries; toilet paper ghosts; Japanese Nazis in Chevys

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Packed with kung fu, shootouts, flying ninjas, hopping vampires, and slapstick comedy reminiscent of Benny Hill, Fantasy Mission Force is one of the only commercial entertainments ever released where you can honestly say you have no idea what will happen next. It’s a pulp surrealism masterpiece, set in a previously undiscovered movie universe at the conjunction of the Shaw Brothers, , and the Three Stooges.


Original Cantonese trailer for Fantasy Mission Force

COMMENTS: Although some reviewers are reluctant to discuss the plot details of Fantasy Mission Force, simply calling it “the craziest kung fu movie ever made” or somesuch and advising viewers to allow themselves to be blindsided by it, Fantasy Mission Force is so overstuffed with continuous weirdness and insanity that it’s nearly impossible to spoil. Verbal descriptions can’t do the wild action or improbably costuming justice, anyway. We usually prefer to steer away from “plot recap” reviews in favor of deeper analysis, but in this case we’re going to suspend that rule, at least temporarily, to discuss the opening scenes of Mission Force in some detail. We do this partly because VMI Worldwide’s streamable release, which is the most convenient way to currently see the film, is actually missing the memorably wacko opening scenes. Even if that were not the case, a synopsis of the opening will at least clue the prospective viewer in to this movie’s, um, unusual sense of humor. So strap yourself in.

Now, VMI would like you to believe that Fantasy Mission Force begins in medias res with a scene of Jimmy Wang Yu being ambushed by random commandos in blackface as he rides in his jeep mounted with a machine gun (but preferring to use his handy whip to capture the entire platoon of Chinese Amos n’ Andy guerillas). Actually, the story starts with four “Allied” generals (French, British and African, with “Abraham Lincoln,” representing the USA) loading crates of money onto jeeps when a series of explosions sends stuntmen flying. In the command and control tent, the generals argue over where the Japanese forces are located (pointing to a map of Canada and suggesting they might be amassing troops on Baffin Island). While bickering, they are all immediately captured by the Japanese, who are in fact standing in the tent. Back at Allied headquarters, the bigwigs (all Chinese) try to decide who will lead the assault group to rescue the kidnapped quartet. Rejected candidates include 007, “the bald detective,” “Snake King” ( from Escape from New York), Rocky Balboa, and Captain Black Fox, all of whom are either on another mission, retired, dead, or, in Rocky’s case, unsuitable for a military action. Only then does the name “Don Wen” (Jimmy Yu) come up, followed by the scene VMI chose to start the picture with. You can see how someone coming into this movie about might be totally confused without that crucial background information. Of course, those with that information will be totally confused anyway, because logic and historical accuracy is not a feature of Fantasy Mission Force‘s design.

The first act of the film involves rounding up the team. Here’s another place where VMI falls down on the job, since they chose to put the opening titles smack dab in the middle of the musical number that introduces our first contestant, Old Sun. This bit, which occurs in what looks like a German beer hall, features dancing waiters and a gluttonous Old Sun belting out a catchy tune, dressed like the bastard son of a hobo and ‘s Man with No Name. He stuffs his face, throws money into the air, and sings “ha ha ha!” in the chorus. This deranged number deserves to be savored uninterrupted. Old Sun gets into a spot of trouble, but extricates himself by buying the gun off the desperado who’s sticking him up. He’s clearly the type of fast-thinker Don Wen needs. Next up is “Greased Lightning,” who has just escaped from a chain gang only to be captured by Don Wen and given the chance to earn a universal pardon. The story then takes a couple of digressions—detours are the Force‘s preferred route—to watch crooked Jackie Chan try to fix a wrestling match, and Brigitte Lin engaging in a contest where each contestant takes a shot of liquor, then shoots an article of clothing off a woman tied to the barroom wall (!) After she’s accused of cheating and kung fus the entire place in a fit of pique, the sultry Lin is visited at home by suave (?) Billy. They resume a tempestuous erotic affair, until Don Wen comes to recruit Lin’s lover out from under her. She follows them and catches up with them as they are fetching a pair of kilt-wearing doofuses for the team (one with bizarre facial hair, and one who likes to wear medieval armor and wields a spiked ball on a chain). When Lin learns about the reward, she talks her way onto the squad, and the Fantasy Mission Force team is complete.

Of course, the movie’s only a third of the way through. There’s still time for another encounter with Jackie Chan, who’s now tailing the Force looking for a payday; a kidnapping by a band of Amazons, a detachment of whom Chan defeats while cradling a chicken under one arm; and a night spent in a haunted house, complete with hopping vampires, ghosts who cheat at mahjong, and spirits that haunt the toilet, scaring poopers. Halfway through, Don Wen disappears, leaving Chan and Lin as the only two competent fighters in the bunch. They continually rescue the others (Chan with his fists, Lin usually with her bazooka). Lin and Billy fight and flirt, while the chainmail-wearing Scottish soldier develops a shy crush on the leather-clad lady… and we begin to like this crazy bunch of misfits, and root for them to save the generals (or whatever it is they’re trying to do). So when they finally head into the final showdown with the gang of helmet-wearing Japanese Nazis in their fleet of Chevy Impalas, we know exactly what to expect. That’s right, this lovable group of clowns is brutally and tragically slaughtered, as the ground is soaked with blood and the tears of the bereaved, all scored to a dirge-like harmonica rendition of “Camptown Races.” What else would you expect from a Taiwanese action-comedy?

Given its odd sense of humor, Fantasy Mission Force has always had a tough time finding an audience in the West. (I have no idea how it was received in its original markets of Hong Kong and Taiwan, where the audience might have identified better with the slapstick comedy and the specific cultural references and tropes). Here, it’s usually marketed as a Jackie Chan movie, which might sell copies but is a recipe for disaster when it comes to audience reception. Although you could argue that Chan is the star—he certainly anchors the fight scenes in his usual spectacular fashion—this is truly an ensemble piece with no main character. Brigitte Lin and Yu Wang’s roles are at least as large as Chan’s. Chan fans typically complain that Jackie’s “hardly in it,” and often find the movie “terrible” or “dumb” because the outlandish, absurd comedy is so unexpected and reckless. Nonetheless, over the years the film has developed a small but vocal cult following among lovers of gonzo B-cinema. Jackie’s fans dog it, but to weirdophiles, it’s by far the greatest Chan vehicle ever made—even weirder than Cannonball Run. Forget mismatched buddy cop movies with a mugging American co-stars—this is Chan for lovers of misfit cinema, the must-see oddity in the global superstar’s massive canon.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If one can imagine a combination of the Marx Brothers’ HORSE FEATHERS (1932) and THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), directed in a style that’s half Sergio Leone/half Al Adamson, then one can begin to comprehend the messy hybrid action outing that is FANTASY MISSION FORCE. Gleefully ignoring any semblance of intelligence or craft, this is pure neanderthal cinema, pure visceral entertainment at its basest–and it’s a hoot.”–TV Guide

“One of the strangest kung-fu comedies ever…”–Michael J. Weldon, “The Psychotronic Video Guide”

“…one of the most insane movies ever made… a weird amalgam of things the writer and/or director apparently liked — things as diverse as The Dirty Dozen, Benny Hill, and haunted houses, for instance — and mashed them together into a single story, whether they made sense to combine or not.”–At-a-Glance Film Reviews

IMDB LINK: Dragon Attack (1983)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Shout Factory TV: Watch Fantasy Mission Force – The Alpha Films cut of the film, streaming free (with commercials) on Shout Factory TV

Fantasy Mission Force (1984) (part 1 of 7) – Part 1 of Agony Booth’s extensive humorous recap of the film

Brandon’s Cult Movie Reviews: Fantasy Mission Force – Another comedy video review, by YouTuber Brandon Tenold

DVD INFO: This is a tough one. A VHS copy from Quality Video release was used to compose this review, in combination with the streaming version. The VHS video quality is understandably poor, but the print seems more complete than most. When it comes to DVD, there are perhaps a dozen (sketchy) companies offering this title—probably assuming it is public domain, which it may be, although it’s more likely that the copyright holder is no longer in business and isn’t actively pursuing violators. Video copies vary widely in quality and sometimes even in content, and Mission Force is frequently found bundled with other kung fu or Jackie Chan movies. We can’t testify to the quality of any particular DVD release, so we’re just going to link to the Amazon search page and invite you to take your chances (and report back on what you find).

One release that probably is legitimate is the VMI Worldwide/Alpha Films/Aquarius Productions version licensed to Shout Factory (and a few other) streaming services. This cut of the film, however, while it looks decent (if not pristine), is incomplete, as the comments section above alludes.

If anyone has any information to give about particular releases that we can use to flesh out this section, please add them to the comments.

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