Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Delivery (1975) review

Chen Hui Min (Kung Chun San Lang), Charles Heung Wah Keung (Tu Shao Hsiang), Susanna Au Yeung (Li Hsiang Yun), Cheng Kei Ying (Lin Ba), Chao Lei (Police Captain), Samson Hsieh Yuan (Policeman), Chang Chuan (Gangster with Eyepatch), Nana (Tina), Wu Chia Hsiang (Tu's Wheelchair-bound Father)
Directed by Herman Tsu

The Short Version: You'd expect a crime picture starring two of Hong Kong's biggest Triad figureheads to be an incredible example of modern-day action cinema. Going against convention, the filmmakers decided against finding ways to get these two Kung Fu powerhouses to fight multiple times--figuring subverting expectations was the way to go instead. Completed in 1975 but not released till 1978, it's equal parts action and romance peppered with an improbable plot turn or two. Fans of Chen Hui Min (Michael Chan Wai Man) will enjoy seeing him in a very different kind of role but for those expecting wall-to-wall action, this isn't THE DELIVERY you've been waiting for.

The criminal organizations in Hong Kong and Japan come together for $5 million in heroin. The HK police learn the Yakuza is sending one of their traffickers to Hong Kong for the sale and have him tailed upon his arrival at the airport. Kung Chun San Lang quickly realizes he's being followed and literally runs into a girl on a motorcycle after evading police. They strike up a quick relationship and soon meet up with a group of local gangsters for a night of gambling. Kung is caught cheating and fights the big boss, Tu Shao Hsiang. During the fight, Tu discovers Kung is his buyer from Japan. Kung's new girlfriend, Li Hsiang Yun, is unaware of the nature of his profession but she has a secret of her own. 

In 1970s Hong Kong cinema, the independent scene was a roller-coaster of excitement and disappointment. The productions coming out of these smaller outfits were frequently chaotic and rife with issues behind the scenes. On many occasions, a movie like this is a failure not necessarily due to a bad director, but problems that occurred during filming that caused the finished product to be wildly uneven. 
THE DELIVERY has minor issues due to changing hairstyles and one sequence where a new actor plays the part of another. Made in Hong Kong in 1975, the movie wasn't delivered to theaters till 1978. Completed in December of 1975, a two-page ad in Cinemart Magazine hyped the pairing of Chen and Heung as well as the inclusion of headline grabber, Nana, a new face in the burgeoning sex film genre in Hong Kong. The vague, two-word title was also being promoted as indicative of a new style of action drama with artistic merit.
Director Herman Hsu was an actor who became a director, and guided only a handful of movies. He shows a fleeting expressive side in THE DELIVERY, such as a penchant for paintings and having them correlate in some way to what's transpiring on-screen. He was friends with his leading actor and directed him in THE OWL (1974) and again in MARTIAL ARTS (1974), aka THE CHINESE MACK. Some of the same cast members from those two pictures came aboard the DELIVERY production, too.
Unfortunately, the biggest failing of the movie is Hoi Yan's script disregarding the potential box office attraction of pitting these two Triad Titans against each other. They have a good fight early on, but they remain on the same side afterward. The opportunity for a grand, if conventional, Kung Fu-Crime epic was there, but the filmmakers took a chance on something with the potential of wider appeal by reaching out to the female demographic.

In 1974, the love story WHERE THE SEAGULL FLIES made HK$1.5 million at the box office. It was rare that a romance picture made that kind of money in Hong Kong, but this one did. Stars Chen Chen and Alan Tang (the son of Triad royalty) were the two highest paid stars in Taiwan at the time; and director Li Hsing was a famous and highly respected director of dramas. With this film's success, a wave of love stories with ocean-style titles landed in movie theaters. So the makers of THE DELIVERY may have been influenced by that success, and made a movie with gangster action for the men and a love story for the women.
This type of romantic role was the first of its kind for Chen Hui Min at that stage in his career. He most often played gangsters and assorted villains, and was most famous for those roles. Early in his career he played the occasional hero, and sometimes a not so clear cut heroic figure as he is in this movie. THE DELIVERY is at least of great interest in that regard alone.
Chen's on-screen love interest is played Susanna Au Yeung (real name Chen Jie Ying). She fluctuated between the film and television mediums in addition to being a songstress as so many were back then and even today. Her biggest fame came in 1983 playing Huang Rong on the smash hit TV adaptation of LEGEND OF THE CONDOR HEROES, the wildly popular Jin Yong novel adapted into a series of movies by director Chang Cheh as THE BRAVE ARCHER.
A beautiful lady, she would retire from the entertainment industry in the mid-1990s. From there, she became a doctor specializing in Qigong and acupuncture. On July 9th, 2017 Susanna Au Yeung passed away in hospital from lung cancer at the age of 63. 
In addition to being a Triad boss, frequently paying fines for drunk and or disorderly conduct, and making headlines for attempts on his life, Chen was a ladies man off-screen. He preferred Western women due to their carefree attitudes and comfortability to being approached on the street. Chen had apparently soured on marriage and was separated at the time. He'd stated in 1976 that living together was preferable so as to avoid legal entanglements. Chen was a tough customer and essentially playing himself in the films he made; but he was also an affable man and very approachable and friendly to those outside the Triad circles. 

When filming wrapped on THE DELIVERY, Chen was off to Indonesia to shoot THE DOUBLE CROSSERS (1976) with Chen Sing for Golden Harvest; and then onto THE KUNG FU KID (1977) for director Lo Wei. Also in 1976, Chen was going to do a movie for Director Li Han Hsiang at Shaw Brothers titled 'Gambling For Heads'  to be shot in Europe. Due to Chen's Triad affiliations, the production caused potentially life-threatening problems with opposing gangs in the Netherlands when the cast and crew arrived there. Things became so dicey that Run Run Shaw canceled the production. Since he'd already been paid, Chen Hui Min returned the favor by co-starring in Sun Chung's JUDGEMENT OF AN ASSASSIN in 1977.

There had been modern day crime movies since Chang Cheh paved the way for them with his Early Republic Era pictures like VENGEANCE! (1970), THE DUEL (1971) and BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972). The Chinese Cops and Robbers style took off in 1976 when JUMPING ASH seized the top spot on the list of top ten hits of the year, making nearly HK$4 million. 
That film, a new approach that foreshadowed the HK New Wave of the early 1980s, was the next step in the evolution of the HK crime picture that would move away from Kung Fu fighting lawmen and mobsters, to a more police procedural style, that was then supplanted by car chases and spectacular gun action. JUMPING ASH also starred Chen Hui Min; or Michael Chan Wai Man in Cantonese; or Raymond Chen Hui Min as he was advertised in periodicals of the day. To further confound the spelling and pronunciation of Chinese film stars back then, he's billed as Chan Wei Min in the credits. 

This is largely Chen Hui Min's movie although Charles Heung is his co-star. Heung pops in and out of the narrative to bed down prostitutes and to give Chen orders as to his next pickup. It's not sufficiently explained but the sale of $5 million in heroin is broken up into multiple meeting places instead of making the exchange all at once; so now the police, who turn up everywhere Chen happens to be, have additional chances to make a bust.

It's also not adequately laid out that there's multiple factions within the organization run by Tu Shao Hsiang (played by Charles Heung); at least we think he's the syndicate head. Late in the picture, we discover that his wheelchair-bound father is the real Big Boss. Perplexingly, his character is never seen again. His brief screentime at least offers some dialog that ends up as foreshadowing for something that occurs in the closing moments of the film.
Probably the best sequence is a comedic fight scene in a nightclub where the police pretend to be patrons and goad Kung into a fight. The band wisely move back and decide to enhance the mood by playing an Hispanic matador tune. Kung cleans everyone's clocks, then exits with his girlfriend.

Cheng Kei Ying is both the film's martial arts director and one of the supporting players, a gangster leader named Lin Pa. Cheng has one of the most interesting faces in all of Hong Kong cinema. He always had those long sideburns and sometimes sported a bald head so it was an unforgettable look. Suited best for villainy, he frequently displayed as much in many crime pictures and several Kung Fu flicks. His off-screen persona was even more fascinating. 

Before getting into the film industry, Cheng graduated from the Department of Physics in 1967 and became a teacher of the subject to middle school students. He studied a variety of martial arts styles of Chinese, Thai, and Japanese origin, in addition to Western boxing. He had been a boxing champion, a tournament judge, and a martial arts instructor for the University of Hong Kong, In 1974, the Shochiku film company invited him to Japan to perform Kung fu; and an invitation from Europe for demonstrations came afterward.

He met Chen Hui Min around 1972 after the two discovered their like-minded interest in Western Boxing. Chen encouraged him to give the acting business a chance. Reluctantly, Cheng Kei Ying obliged and made his first appearance in 1973s ONLY THE BRAVE STANDS, aka CHALLENGE OF THE DRAGON (not to be confused with 1973s THE WAY OF THE TIGER, a Taiwanese KF flick that was also titled CHALLENGE OF THE DRAGON in the US).

Cheng found making movies addicting and eventually moved into writing and producing. In 1978 he would co-found Overseas Pictures Company, Limited with actor-producer Chung Kuo Jen (who had mob ties). An independent company that made movies very quickly, their style attracted the attention of the Shaw Brothers who signed them up to make movies for them. Specializing in films about cops and gangsters, some of the titles they made for release through the Shaw company are GANG OF FOUR, ISLAND OF VIRGINS and GODFATHER'S FURY (all 1978).

In the 1970s, he was often appearing in movies starring Chen Hui Min, as well as choreographing the action in them. The aforementioned, and trendsetting indy picture JUMPING ASH (1976) being one such production. Some other films you'll know Cheng Kei Ying from in roles of varying size are REVENGE OF THE CORPSE (1981), KUNG FU ZOMBIE (1982), A FISTFUL OF TALONS (1983), and SECRET SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL COURT (1984).

In THE DELIVERY, there's a second guy with an eyepatch that is supposed to be Cheng Kei Ying's Lin Pa character only it's not played by him (see insert). This scene could've been shot later, or possibly Cheng was unavailable due to commitments on other projects. One of the things that complicated indy pictures was films would routinely shut down because an actor would be contractually obligated elsewhere. Lead star Chen Hui Min, for example, he was a real fighter; so if he was filming one or more movies prior to a kickboxing bout, one or more of those productions may be temporarily placed on hiatus. 

This happened regularly since actors were appearing in 3-5 movies all at one time. This occurred at the majors too, but the smaller outfits had less capital to shield them. Other problems that would arise were actor injuries or becoming ill.

For this sequence shot in Hong Kong's beautiful Repulse Bay, Lin Pa is played by Richard Cheung, alias Chang Chuan. If you're a devout Shaw Brothers fan, you'll know him from one of their most beloved gangster movies, HONG KONG GODFATHER (1985) directed by actor Wang Lung Wei. In that film, Cheung was on the right side of the law.
Another actor in the film playing one of the cops is Samson Chieh Yuen (Hsieh Yuan). He wasn't a major player in the industry, but like Cheng Kei Ying, he had an interesting background. He was 21 years old when he signed with Shaw Brothers in 1966. His family heritage is Kwang Tung, although Chieh was born in Malaysia and grew up there. He had a passion for sports and particularly weightlifting. He won a few Malay competitions before the Shaw Organization recruited him via the company's Malaysian branch. 

His first appearance was in Chang Cheh's THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967). From there he had minor roles with nothing of significance. In 1970 he won the Mr. Hong Kong Weightlifting Title. Sadly, this didn't give him a career boost. Probably the role he's most recognizable for is the wrestler who gets tossed around by David Chiang in THE WATER MARGIN (1972).
He left Shaw Brothers with Chen Sing in 1972 and tried his luck on the independent circuit and his situation didn't improve. He became friends with Bruce Lee and appeared with him in the original footage Lee shot for GAME OF DEATH in 1972, but his scenes were not used when the movie was completed in 1978. 
Proficient in various forms of martial arts like Karate and Thai boxing, it was the latter that got him his sole gig as a Martial Arts Director on 1974s THE GREATEST THAI BOXING. On that picture he played a Japanese fighter and shared choreography duties with actors Fong Yeh (who brought Thai boxing to HK), San Kuei and Bolo Yeung, who'd been Mr. Hong Kong in 1969 before he too signed with Shaw Brothers. 

After working in Taiwan on films like THE BLAZING TEMPLE (1976), THE HOT, COOL AND THE VICIOUS (1976), THE REBEL OF SHAOLIN (1977) and INVINCIBLE ARMOR (1977), Chieh Yuen died from a cerebral edema on November 16th, 1977 at the age of 32. Bizarrely, this was the same cause of death attributed to Bruce Lee and the same age of death as well.

Despite being shot and completed in 1975, THE DELIVERY, which wasn't released till 1978, was Samson Chieh's last released motion picture, posthumously.

THE DELIVERY doesn't make clear sense; you have to put it together much like Chen does during the scene where he makes a pickup and the parcel contains a Bible with coded language inside revealing where the drugs are. The running time is 100 minutes which is plenty to tell a story cohesively; this one though, could do with losing ten of them, especially during the overlong finale. If you go into this one expecting non-stop action you'll be disappointed. If you order knowing this is not the typical Kung Fu picture, you may find THE DELIVERY a mildly enjoyable purchase.

***NOTE: This restored, widescreen release of THE DELIVERY, aka DEADLY KUNG FU FACTOR, has no main title present. Possibly this version was a print intended for a foreign release where the title would likely be changed.***

This review is representative of the Dark Force Entertainment blu-ray. Specs and extras: new 4K restoration from 35mm negative; Mandarin Chinese with or without English subtitles; running time: 01:39:12.
Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of coolasscinema.com and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.