Eastern Condors Review

That whole cover just ozzes toughness.

That whole cover just oozes toughness.

While we all have favorites movies, any serious movie goer also has a small pantheon built in their minds that contain movies that are not only great, or even brilliant, but instead are transcendent and sublime.  They are the kind of films that make you feel at home inside the deepest darkest reaches of your movie-loving soul.  It pin-points and annihilates preconceived notions that can sometimes make  die hard film buffs wonder if they will ever see a movie that will nail all their personal cinematic desires and fantasies, in only within a certain style of film.

For me personally, I’ve always been extremely partial to a well made action film.  My first real true love in movies was the directing of John Woo.  I was getting to that age right before my teenage years were I had seen enough movies to start to identify what it is I truly like about them.  I found out that I liked furiously paced, relentless action flicks, that feature progressive gun play and/or martial arts alongside such themes as honor, chivalry, and an almost romantic relationship with fate and the violence itself.  Naturally, this lead to people like John Woo, Takashi Miike, Ryuhei Kitamura, Ringo Lam and others, but not until recently had I heard about Eastern Condors, which had a strong reputation for validating Sammo Hung as director, actor, and martial arts star.  Or, at least that is what I got out of the geyser of compliments this film receives online in the circles I travel.  Now having seen it, I can understand why so many people feel that way.

Eastern Condors, where oh where have you been all my life?

Eastern Condors, where oh where have you been all my life?

The plot, which is the first thing shown and explained in the film, is actually quite solid.  In fact, it’s downright interesting, since some online research by me after watching it shows that there is some fairly solid evidence that missions like this have a historical precedent, albeit a somewhat controversial one.

“A motley group of Asian prisoners held in the US are given one chance for freedom. They are to go deep into Vietnam and destroy a secret depot of missiles that the US left behind during the pull-out. The group, led by Lt. Lam and convict Tung, hook up with a trio of female freedom fighters and a happy go lucky martial artist named ‘Rat’. The entire group is captured by the VC because one of them is a double agent, but they escape, cross an un-crossable bridge, and get to the secret base just ahead of the VC. By this point nearly all of the original group is dead, and it’s up to Tung and Rat to fight the VC’s leader, a bizarre giggling man who’s lightning fast with martial arts. Written by Scott Hamilton {stomptokyo@aol.com}”

Needless to say Eastern Condors is a movie that has a lot going on, especially when you see how many characters this movie handles.  The story is very practical as well, because it allows history to be a base for credulity, while letting common knowledge about Vietnam and the atrocities committed there give the audience a good reason not to be too disgusted when Sammo Hung and company start dropping the hurt on the unsuspecting Vietcong soldiers in brutal, yet stylish, fashion.  There is also some slight heartstring pulling towards a few of the “convicts” that are featured, driven by their reasons why they would be willing to go on a suicide mission just for a shot at freedom.  Sammo Hungs’ directing allows the proper set up time for some of these characters and their sordid history and motivations, and then delivers the payoff for each, blending dark humor, fate, redemption and other qualities into almost all of his characters.  Some do get a little lost in the shuffle, but for the most part every plot and subplot is given ample time to become an integral part of the whole experience, instead of just being filler to pad time up to 90 minutes or so.

He kicked him so hard he knocked the sweat off that soldiers face.

He kicked him so hard he knocked the sweat off that soldiers face.

To go along with the sound plot, we are also treated to some above-average acting.  The main reason I can’t elaborate more on it was because much of the heavy duty acting stuff this cast did was being done during major action scenes or in small breaks between confrontations, meaning that I was of course biased to be enjoying the chit chat between members of the good guy team while they shot, kicked, ninja’d, and blew away anything in there path.  And really, the action is the main course, so lets move on to examining what makes this particular films combination of roundhouse ricks and bullets so damn exhiliarating.

While John Woo maybe the master of blissful bullet ballets, and Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa may have set the bar impossibly high for physical, hand to hand combat and evasion, Sammo Hung seems only interested in combining these elements seemlessly, while keeping both methods of combat wildly entertaining and fairly logical.  This is where the ever important job of pacing comes to the forefront.  Sammo’s directing shows great patience, as the movie doesn’t even start with an action scene, but instead builds almost all of the important plot points up, so we don’t have to deal with buzz-killing exposition later on when we should be watching high flying action.  His pacing rewards the viewer later on when scenes of great intensity are strung together beautifully, leaving little room for taking a breath before the next onslaught or obstacle.  The action is well choreographed, and has a particularly visceral feel, as stuntmen take devastating looking tumbles after being kicked or thrown, strikes land with almost disturbingly realistic results to the adversary, and our heroes take no prisoners and don’t show many signs of that disingenious “mercy” modern day action flicks seem to be overly obsessed with.  It shows great emotion when dealing with certain subjects, like the torture of prinsoners by the vietcong, but it stays true to the logic of “if someone has a gun and is ready to kill you, you should always try to kill them first.”  In other words, it lets the action be the action, and lets the messages be the messages.

Not only a great action flick, Eastern Condors show brief glimpes of the reality of military corruption in 'Nam.

Not only a great action flick, Eastern Condors show brief glimpes of the reality of military corruption in 'Nam.

Besides awesome action, solid acting and a sturdy plot, the last thing I noticed, and maybe the thing I was most impressed by, was that Eastern Condors has sprinkled in, very respectfully I might add, some messages about the deteriorating conditions by which not only Vietnam, but much of the world is succumbing too.  Humanity can be encapsulated by the picture above, a snapshot taken from Eastern Condors, of a small boy playing Russian Roulette with a prisoner.  What you can’t see is that there is another boy who is taking turns firing a revolver with one bullet in it at the prisoners head, while the men around are cheering them on and I think even taking bets on which child will be the “winner.”  I won’t prance around thinking I know what Sammo Hung was trying to say exactly with scenes like this, but I think he may be trying to show some humanity, but showing the direct opposite of it.  He may be trying to say that even from birth, children can be brought up to be desensitized hate machines, and that even our enemies may deserve a sliver of our compassion and understanding, considering their history and lack of options during their youth when they are most impressionable.  Never the less, it’s a tasteful and sobering few moments that make Eastern Condors all the more unique and relevant.

The big bad guy who just so happens to be insanely acrobatic.  Go ahead, call him a sissy.  He would kick you in the head 3 times before you even see his legs move.

The big bad guy who just so happens to be an insanely acrobatic martial artist. Go ahead, call him a sissy. He would kick you in the head 3 times before you even see his legs move.

All of this comes together to create a cozy, in not a little jarring, lost gem that has the substance and the style to stand up to even modern day action flicks, especially when you take into account there was no such thing as complex wire-work, rigging and cgi back in 1987.  Back then, chances were if something exploded on screen, it was also w blown up when they filmed it.  And that really is right in my wheelhouse.  It’s assuring to know movies like this exist, because they are like a warm blanket on a cold day.  There’s nothing quite like a damn fine action flick, and Eastern Condors delivers both the “damn” and the “fine” in spades.

Rating: ★★★★☆

P.S.  This movie is uploaded on youtube.  Here is part 1, but you can find the whole thing broken down into about 12, 10 minute parts.  Don’t forget to hit the “HQ” to get near dvd quality video!!!!

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About Alex Seda

"I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall - looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off. Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it." ~Dr. Loomis email alex
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