Above the Law (1986) (DVD)

Cross-dressing and butt-kicking.

From Corey Yuen, the director of The Transporter and Kiss of the Dragon, comes a tale of a prosecutor so fed up with the corrupt justice system he sets aside his powdered wig to beat criminals senseless.

Hong Kong action star Biao Yuen stars as Hsia, an idealistic prosecutor who is pushed too far. During a highly-publicized trial of a ruthless gangster, Hsia’s star witness is brutally murdered, along with his entire family. Even his kids are blown up! Incensed at this brazen act of murder, Hsia discards the rule of law and embark on a blood-spilling, vengeance spree. He mounts an attack on the criminal syndicate, leaving a pile of corpses in his wake.

Meanwhile, a hot-shot Caucasian female detective named Cindy (’80s action starlet Cynthia Rothrock, Rage and Honor) is tracking Hsia, determined to bring him in. But when the overall leader of the crime gang is actually Cindy’s boss, she’ll eventually have to team up with her quarry and bring the pain.

You want to know what will always stand out to me about this film, years from now after I’ve no doubt viewed dozens more imported kung-fu actioners? Was it the impressive fight sequences? Nope. How about that killer airplane stunt at the end of the film? Doubt it. The mass, family-of-eight execution? Disturbing, sure, but nuh uh. No, what will remain me for the duration is that some Chinese men put on a dress and wore makeup to be Cynthia Rothrock’s stunt double.

Though the film itself is fairly entertaining and a worthy HK action yarn, I’d submit that you’ll probably have more fun using the step button on your remote to pinpoint the ludicrous stunt double. And it’s not subtle. In one of the earlier sequences, Rothrock’s character is pummeling a mahjong hall’s worth of scumbags and while the actress can certainly hold her own in theatrical hand-to-hand combat, apparently there were a few moves that were a degree or two above her belt and that called for: dudes in mascara!

Yeah, it’s obvious, but the most egregious stunt doubling happened in a fight later on, when Hsia went toe-to-toe with a nameless assassin played by Peter Cunnigham, a black actor. Cunningham has skills, but, again they must have had a limit and that meant: dudes in black face! Yep, some Asian guy was transformed into a hulking black man and the results were both laughable and awkward. “Should I be offended by this,” I asked myself. “I guess I should. Must consult the Politically Correct Handbook.”

Lots of fun to be had with the pause button. Beyond that, Above the Law almost differentiates itself from the sea of similar Hong Kong actioners. Biao Yuen is likable enough and when he and his moves are unleashed, it’s an impressive sight. The final bad guy showdown is very entertaining and he and his opponent wail on each other impressively.

Rothrock is the appropriate choice for his counterpart, and she’s given plenty to do. Her action centerpiece is an extended one-on-one throwdown with Karen Shephard, another female action star that made her bones in the late ’80s and early ’90s (notably Cyborg 2). The fighting is fast-moving and vicious and, despite the continued presence of masculine stunt doubles for each woman, wholly enjoyable.

I’d say Rothrock and Yuen share equal time for the on-screen mayhem and the good news is each are impressive. Add in a handful of truly inspiring stunts, some grisly finishing moves and a refreshing downer of an ending and that’s an okay import. Not a blow-out dynamo like Ong Bak, but action fans should be easily satiated.

This Dragon Dynasty label from Genius Products deserves credit for these meaningful releases. The film looks very good in its 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and the 5.1 Chinese and English mixes (go Chinese and subtitles) serve the action well. A surprising amount of special extras accompany the groin kicks: three interviews with Biao Yuen, Cynthia Rothrock and Peter Cunningham and, the goofy alternate ending and a superb commentary track by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan.

Not Guilty! SOCKO!


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