Michelle Yeoh’s 1986 historical actioner “Magnificent Warriors” gets a 2K restoration from 88 Films.

Before Oscar-nominee Michelle Yeoh (about damn time) traveled everywhere all at once, before she was a rich Asian, before she played a Chinese agent alongside 007, Yeoh was part of a heroic trio, a royal warrior, and, for the Hot Fuzz (2007) fans, a cop who cannot be stopped. She’s played serious characters, silly characters, deadly characters (literal and figurative), and Yeoh does not disappoint. Thanks to a 2K restoration from 88 Films, audiences can jump back to 1987 and director David Chung’s Zhong hua zhan shi, also known as Magnificent Warriors, in which Yeoh, then credited as Michelle Kheng in the on-screen credits, plays a skilled fighter and pilot tasked with helping a Chinese spy extract a source from Japanese-claimed territory. Balancing the seriousness of 1938 China (early Second Sino-Japanese War and pre-World War II) with heroic badassery and ample silliness, Magnificent Warriors is an adventure worth revisiting.

It’s 1938 and Japan as taken control of the Chinese city of Kayi, planning to build a gas factory there in order to better execute their slow invasion of China. Chosen for her special set of skills, Ming (Yeoh) is tasked with tracking down Special Agent 001 (Derek Yee Tung-Sing) in order to help liberate City Lord Youda (Lowell Lo) and shut down the Japanese forces’ plans. What should be a simple mission grows complicated when a conman (Richard Ng) intercepts 001’s identifying materials and Youda’s love interest, Chin (Lau Chin-Dai) wants to escape, too. With Japan’s forces growing by the day and the gas factory set for operation soon, can Ming and 001 complete their mission and get out or will they be forced to fight instead?

Magnificent Warriors is a damn good time and, for those who grew up on American action cinema in the ‘80s/’90s, a reminder of exactly what we were missing with all the machismo that dominated our film and television. To the shock of absolutely no one who’s seen Yeoh in action, she’s positively effortless. It certainly helps that Tsang Kan-cheong’s (Royal Warriors/Kung Fu Hustle) script allows Ming to just exist as a whole person, her gender never coming into question regarding her skills. Heck, one of the best moments is a character beat in which Ming and 001 are sneaking through the City Lord’s building to find him and 001 gently grabs Ming’s wrist as if to guide her. Yeoh looks down, smiles at the gesture (they have been slightly flirting but also has a look of “are you shitting me?”), and then pulls ahead of him. Ming does not need to be led and Yeoh brings forth a strength and self-assuredness that would never have been so easily sold in U.S. cinemas in the late ‘80s. For some reason, the marketing materials refer to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) as a comparative piece, though the only direct similarity between Yeoh’s Ming and Harrison Ford’s Indiana is that they both are skilled with a whip, both can throw a punch, and both go on adventures to distance places. The true similarity is that Yeoh presents Ming as a full character, not dependent or defined by a love interest or motive, merely an operative out to do a job and in possession of a skill-set that makes them fully capable of doing it. Especially where the stunts come in, each one playing to Yeoh’s strengths, there’s not a moment in which the audience doubts in Ming’s abilities, the confidence bolstered by her vocal and physical timing. If this is your first pre-U.S. film, you’ll understand exactly why those in support of Yeoh’s Everything Everywhere All At Once (EEAAO) performance are saying “about damn time” with her nom. It’s not that Magnificent Warriors is Oscar-worthy, it’s that Yeoh, even so early in her career as a leading actor, demonstrated incredible range.

As far as the on-disc materials, let’s talk restoration and special features.

The restoration is listed as a 2K restoration, meaning that this is high-definition, but not the standard 1080p of a Blu-ray. There’s no information as to from where the restoration was sourced or the process that went into making it, something which I often appreciate in order to better understand the completed product. It also helps when identifying if the restoration came from original materials, are restored from prior home video releases, or any combination thereof of both the video and audio elements. (The press materials from MVD Entertainment Group, who provided the review copy, does say that the restoration is from an original camera negative, but that’s as far as the information goes. Compared to other boutique physical media providers Arrow Video and Criterion, this isn’t very much.) Without that information, however, I can comfortably say that the 2K restoration impresses in the video presentation as there’s a natural look to everything on screen. The sky is a lovely blue, the browns in the costumes and the sets aren’t heavy (thereby overloading the screen with a muddy look), and generally the skin tones are natural and healthy. The film itself is presented in a fairly naturalistic manner as it’s set early in the second Sino-Japanese War, so there’s no need for embellished colors as one might find in a fantasy tale. Similarly, though the audio is a monotrack, once a nice volume was found on my 5.1 surround system, I didn’t need to touch the controls at all, and, even without a sense of envelopment from modern soundtracks, I still found myself getting sucked into the film (though that has more to do with the cast and execution of the narrative).

As far as on-disc features, there’re a brand-new feature-length commentary from Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng, who has contributed commentary for 88 Films as recently as their Dragons Forever (1988) restoration, two individual archived interviews featuring Yeoh and stunt coordinator Tung Wai, the English opening credits, two Hong Kong trailers, the English trailer, and a still gallery. All in all, there’s not a lot of new here that may entice a purchase, but the included materials may shift that. Along with a reversible liner, there’s a two-sided poster (one side is the same as the primary cover and the other is a promotional poster) and a booklet that includes both promotional materials for the film and a fantastic essay from critic/historian Matthew Edwards. His essay, “Indiana Yeoh and the Second Sino-Japanese War,” offers context to readers about the period in which the film takes place, the way in which that informs the internal conflict of Magnificent Warriors, and offers an interpretation of what the ending of the film signifies. It’s the kind of essay that reframes the film from merely a period action film into something deeper and more profound. (Art and politics go hand in hand and don’t listen to someone who tries to tell you otherwise.)

Be advised that Eureka Entertainment is releasing a 2K restoration of Magnificent Warriors and the included materials are different. For one, the slipcover is a different design, but the regular cover is also reversible with one side being the same as the 88 Films edition. The on-disc materials are identical, except for the Eureka edition including a second feature-length audio commentary from Mike Leeder and Arne Venema and a third archival interview that features Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh together. It’s unclear the reason for the difference in on-disc materials, but this is worth mentioning for those who want to get as much on-disc material as possible in their home video purchases.

In light of the attention Yeoh’s getting due to EEAAO, it’s not much of a surprise that films like Magnificent Warriors is getting a restoration. There’s heat on Yeoh from a larger percentage of the home viewing audience, so films like Yes, Madam! (1985), In the Line of Duty III and IV (1988/1989), Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992) and others getting restored is expected and fantastic for cinephiles. There’s no better time to go back through Yeoh’s catalogue to see what you might have missed and what certainly made Yeoh perfect for her role as Evelyn Wang, the woman who could a little bit of everything but not enough to be good. Unlike Evelyn, we’ve got restorations like Magnificent Warriors to demonstrate Yeoh herself has the skills to do everything and do it well.

Magnificent Warriors Special Features:

  • Brand New 2K Restoration from the Original Camera Negatives
  • 2.0 DTS-HD MA English Soundtrack
  • 2.0 DTS-HD MA Cantonese Soundtrack with newly translated English Subtitles
  • Audio commentary with Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng
  • Interview with Michelle Yeoh
  • Interview with Tung Wai

Available on Blu-ray February 21st, 2023.

For more information or to purchase, head to MVD Entertainment Group.

Magnificent Warriors art

Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Home Video, Recommendation, Reviews

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