Wei Tung, also known as Stephen Tung, has worked alongside Sammo Hung (The Incredible Kung Fu Master), Jackie Chan (Twin Dragons), Chow Yun-fat (Hard Boiled), Vincent Zhao (Once Upon a Time in China V) as an actor, but also directed one of the more well-regarded fantasy crime comedies out of Hong Kong, Mr. Vampire 5 or, how it’s more widely known, Magic Cop, starring Lam Ching-Ying (A Touch of Zen/The Incredible Kung Fu Master). As part of its 88 Asia Collection, physical media boutique 88 Films is releasing Magic Cop in a brand-new high definition restoration that includes two versions of the film, various audio tracks, and a small bit of on/off-disc materials.
Living in Tung Ping Chau, former police officer Uncle Feng (Lam) tends to his family and neighbors. When a neighbor receives word that her daughter has died in Hong Kong, she entrusts Feng to bring the body home. However, when he arrives, he discovers that there’s sorcery at play, with a sorcerer reanimating corpses to smuggle drugs. Asked by his former partner/now captain to assist Detective Lam (Michael Lam) on the case, Feng finds himself back on the beat, using his experience with magic to track down and confront the sorcerer behind the murders and drugs.
The best way to describe this ‘90s comic fantasy horror procedural is a combination between Constantine (2005) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986) — there’s Daoist/Taoist magic, zombies, drugs, muscle men, and one of the weirdest bachelor pad bathrooms you’ve probably seen in cinema. Not to mention that Ching-Ying plays a character who’s known to get results and close cases quickly, but whose methods of doing so riled up the brass, therefore there’s immediately a clash in perspectives between Feng trying to track down the sorcerer and Michael’s detective who doesn’t believe in any of the “nonsense” he keeps witnessing. Thankfully for us, though the conflict follows the expected “odd couple” path as always, it often gives way to hilarious and outstanding results, whether it’s the enacting of a tracking spell, a fight against a muscular zombie, or trying to dispel a enchantment that makes the cursed both hot and cold. Each situation is treated with the kind of seriousness that ensures audiences then-as-now believe in the circumstances that befall the characters, even when things escalate past the point of absurdity that had this reviewer thinking of the prosthetics used in Evil Dead II (1987), but one shouldn’t be *too* surprised as these films are only three years apart in their original release. It certainly helps that the primary cast were willing to make themselves look like fools in order to sell the severity of the situation. When one reviews Ching-Ying’s filmography and sees the variance in work from drama to comedy, the slap-stick nature of Magic Cop not only makes sense, one can see why it sold so well. As a performer, Ching-Ying demonstrates a willingness to do what’s necessary for a story to be engaging, whether it’s performing a martial arts sequence, executing elaborate special-effects-heavy sequences, or selling the supernatural nature of the various opponents. The film’s effects may not hold up entirely, but there’s no arguing with the amount of fun someone will have while watching it all go down.
For the purposes of this review, MVD Entertainment provided a retail edition of Magic Cop and everything that follows is based on a viewing of the original theatrical release with the original 2.0 DTS-HD Master Cantonese mono mix. Please note that there is a 5.1 mix, but that’s English-only, and I prefer to consider a restoration based on the work done to the original release where appropriate. In this case, while the video does have heavy grain visible in darker sequences, overall the image is clean and the colors are natural in variance. There’s definitely age to what’s on-screen, but that has as much to do with the fact that the film was produced in the late ‘80s, so the limitations (compared to now) regarding prosthetics, visual effects, and makeup should be forgiven in terms of a restoration. These are time capsules that shouldn’t be made to look as new, but should improve over what originally may have hit shelves as a standard definition release. In that regard, fans of Magic Cop are going to be delighted by the look of the film. Similarly, though there’s no 5.1 Cantonese mix, the original 2.0 is not without its own value. The dialogue is clean, the scoring is clear, and the audio effects work is balanced. As it pertains to the audio, there’re minimal issues with the English subtitles denoting trouble with translation.
Unlike other recent special edition 88 Films releases, the keyword with Magic Cop is “minimal.” The first pressing, which is limited to 3,000 copies, does include a slipcover with art by Sean Longmore that is also on one side of the reversible liner sleeve (regardless of pressing). The first pressing also includes a double-sided foldout poster with one side being Longmore’s cover art and the reverse side presenting the Hong Kong poster from the original release. This same reverse-side design is on the reverse of the liner sleeve. This is all that is included with the physical materials of the release with the rest of the bonus materials restricted to the on-disc presentation. There are four different audio tracks to use ranging from the original Cantonese 2.0 mono mix, a 2.0 Cantonese home video mix, and two English language mixes with one being 5.1 and the other 2.0. There is an included alternate cut known as the “Taiwanese Cut” that’s only a few minutes longer in length and has a different score than the primary release. If you’re interested in going in-depth, there’s an interview with Tung and a feature-length commentary track with frequent 88 Films collaborator Frank Djeng and Marc Walkow, as well as the usual image gallery and trailer.
With the frequency in which martial arts-centric restoration focus on performers like Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, and Sammo Hung, it’s great to have the opportunity to experience something featuring talented performers who probably aren’t as well known outside of Hong Kong enthusiast circles. A film like Magic Cop, which admittedly didn’t give great trailer, does deliver the goods as a feature. It’s wild, wacky, hilarious, and action-packed, never reducing its characters or their circumstances in order to entertain. As someone with less knowledge of the fantasy section of martial arts cinema, this makes me far more curious and excited to see what else may be out there. What better reason could there be to support physical media than to incite curiosity and exploration?
Magic Cop Special Features:
- Double Walled Gloss Finish O-ring featuring new artwork by Sean Longmore (First Pressing Only) (3000)
- Double-sided foldout poster (First Pressing Only) (3000)
- High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ presentation in 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
- 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Original Cantonese Mono Mix
- 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Cantonese Home Video Mix
- 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio English Surround Dub
- 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio English Dub
- Audio commentary with Hong Kong Film Experts Frank Djeng and Marc Walkow
- Taiwanese Cut with Alternate Score (SD)
- Interview with Tung Wei (HD)
- Image Gallery
- Reversible cover with new artwork by Sean Longmore and original HK Poster Art
Available on Blu-ray from 88 Films July 25th, 2023.
To purchase in the U.S., head to MVD Entertainment Group.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.