THE MILLIONAIRES’ EXPRESS (also called SHANGHAI EXPRESS, originally 富貴列車, or FORTUNE TRAIN according to Google Translate) is a 1986 Sammo Hung directing and starring joint all-star period comedy.
In the tradition of LICENCE TO KILL it opens with a fight in snowy Russia, as Sammo’s character Ching Fong-Tin is caught trying to steal from Russian soldiers and they force him to wear women’s underwear and do a sexy dance for them. He kind of pulls a Bugs Bunny, leaning into it, and manages to escape with an impressive window leap while the cabin explodes, but is then captured by a mountain-trapper-looking CIA agent called Fook Loi (Kenny Bee, THE SPOOKY BUNCH), so there’s more fighting. They end up rolling down the hill and making giant snowballs.
I didn’t really follow what was going on there, but it establishes that boy, that Ching sure is a rascal. He returns to his home town of Hanshui with a group of women, pretends not to be that guy that was up to all that trouble, and starts a hotel/brothel. In a brilliant entrepreneurial strategy he blows up the train tracks, stranding a train full of rich people outside of town and leading them to his place. Seems unethical to me, but that’s why I’m not a good businessman.
Recently the town had some other trouble when thieves dressed as cops started a fire as a distraction for a bank robbery. Afterwards the mayor (Woo Fung, POLICE STORY) gives a speech that’s basically, “Well, it’s okay, we can all just pack up and go find a new town to live in,” and the fire chief Tsao Cheuk Kin (Yuen Biao) gives a more inspirational speech, so he becomes the new chief of security or whatever. And then he keeps chasing Ching around trying to prove he’s up to no good.
Ching’s clever businessman terrorist attack on the transportation system is successful – the various dignitaries and idle rich who were on the train come stay in town. But a gang of mountain bandits were planning to rob the train, so pretty soon everybody has to work together to fight them off and protect the town and their guests.
It’s not one of those ones that’s too broad to be watchable, but it definitely has that IT’S A MAD MAD MAD WORLD madcap comedy feel, with its huge cast of characters all up to different wacky things, some of which I had a hard time keeping track of. Some of that may be cultural, like there’s a thing about Wong Fei Hung and Kin Sek as little kids always fighting that I probly lack some context on. Jimmy Wang Yu (THE MAN FROM HONG KONG, MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE) plays Master Wong Kei Ying.
There’s a whole thing I thought was pretty funny about a guy on the train who keeps pretending he has to take a shit in order to sneak off to his mistress, and then when he gets caught he tries to tell her he’s a a secret agent on a mission, at which point a bunch of thieves pop out of the cupboards and closets claiming they too are part of the mission.
(Or at least that’s what I gather after doing some reading. At the time I thought the joke was that he really was a secret agent using shitting/having an affair as his cover.)
Though the other guys are not doing it for national security, their mission is real: they’re trying to steal the ancient Chinese map that a Japanese trio on the train are trying to spirit away to their country. I’ve seen them described as ninjas, but their outfits are more like what we associate with samurai, or maybe a fighting video game’s idea of ninjas. They get the coolest and most acrobatic moves. I especially like when the woman (Yukari Oshima, RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY, SUPERCOP 2) jumps off a roof, grabs onto a bamboo pole facing down, it tips up and then she slides down it to get to the ground.
Hong Kong cinema gwailo greats Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton are among the mountain bandits, making it their first movie together (followed by MAGIC CRYSTAL, FIGHT TO WIN, JUNGLE HEAT, CHINA O’BRIEN, CHINA O’BRIEN II, LADY DRAGON, RAGE AND HONOR, HONOR AND GLORY, RAGE AND HONOR II, GUARDIAN ANGEL and REDEMPTION). Unfortunately Rothrock’s role is more what you would expect if it had been made before being the co-lead in the classic YES, MADAM! Near the beginning she’s in a huge line of bandits on horses and even though she’s tiny your eye goes right to the little blond lady with the red headband. But she’s just an extra there and you don’t see her again until late in the movie.
Thankfully she does get a really good one-on-one with Sammo, pretty much the showcase fight of the movie. When she puts her fists up he tries to wave her off, so she gets some kicks in to make him take her seriously, and then gets to be cocky with him. Of course he eventually figures out how to beat her, but seems to have some sympathy for her and instead of a coupe de grace he gives her a little slap and basically tells her she’s been bad. From her reaction, I was half convinced she’d pull a Catherine-Zeta-Jones-in-THE-PHANTOM and see the light. (Instead we don’t see her again.)
There are some other fights, all of them well done, and of course some running on and hanging off the side of the train. But to me the whole thing is underwhelming compared to Sammo’s next movie, EASTERN CONDORS. And I guess I didn’t really understand Sammo’s character, or why he kept refusing the advances of Siu Hung (Olivia Cheng, THE SPOOKY BUNCH). I think my favorite Sammo thing in it is a weird little part where the camera reveals him above a foe, high up in a tree, in the same shot where he jumps on him. The simplicity of the stunt makes it seem more crazy, somehow.