Above the Law
May 30, 2007
Above the Law (1986) aka Righting Wrongs is a classic example of Hong Kong action cinema from the 1980s, complete with a soundtrack that evokes Harold Faltermeyer’s early 1980s work (Fletch and Beverly Hills Cop) with cheesy synthesizer music. Regardless, the film’s exciting prologue sees a young prosecutor quickly dispatch a team of assassins that kill his professor via a fast-paced car chase climaxing in a fiery explosion. This is subsequently followed up by a lone hitman (Cunningham) efficiently killing an entire family – eight members in total. It turns out that one of them was going to testify against several big-time drug traffickers. With no more witnesses to testify, it looks like the bad guys are going to get away with it. However, Mr. Hsia (Biao), the prosecutor in the case, had befriended the witness and his family and is understandably upset by what’s happened. He decides to take the law into his own hands and you can pretty much figure out what’s going to happen next.
We’re soon introduced to Cindy (Rothrock), a pretty, undercover cop who manages to arrest four criminals with only a wooden chair and a pair of handcuffs. She’s ordered to investigate the murder of one of the drug-traffickers on trial that Hsia killed in his spare time. Naturally, Hsia and Cindy cross paths and there is a definite clash of methods and ideals – she believes in the system and working within it, while he’s seen how corrupt it is and chooses to work outside of it. This leads to an inevitable conflict between the two protagonists.
American export and martial arts movie star in her own right, Cynthia Rothrock shows up as a no-nonsense police officer and is given several scenes to show what she can do, most notably a frenetic confrontation with a female assassin that was not equaled in technique until Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
There are some nicely choreographed action sequences, including one where Hsia, on foot, takes on the bad guys in four cars in a parking garage. Corey Yuen, who would go on to direct the first Transporter movie (2002), demonstrates an excellent skill of orchestrating fight and chase sequences and the ability to keep the film moving at a decent pace. Too much down time between action sequences is the kiss of death for these kinds of movies and Yuen understands this very well.
In between the bone-crunching violence, Above the Law does address the serious problem of corruption within the Hong Kong legal system with judges lying to protect prosecutors and police officers killing witnesses and destroying evidence that could expose them. Of course, this being an action film, the solution is violence because the bad guys don’t seem to understand or respond to anything else.
There is an audio commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan. He points out that Yuen Biao’s kung fu lawyer actually predates Jackie Chan’s take on a similar character a few years later. In keeping with the tradition of HK cinema, everyone in front of the camera also worked behind the scenes as well. Logan talks about the different version of the film (this is the director’s cut) and what was cut out in other countries. He delivers another factoid-packed commentary that is well worth a listen.
“The Vigilante: An Interview with Yuen Biao.” Early on, he says that he wanted to be a director and wasn’t interested in acting but was persuaded to form his own production company. He didn’t like the role in this film because he couldn’t be easy-going or was given much opportunity to act. He speaks very highly of Cynthia Rothrock and her martial arts prowess.
“Action Overload: An Interview with Cynthia Rothrock.” She talks about being the first American woman in an HK action film. Even though she was an outsider, she gained the cast and crew’s respect through her ability and work ethic. People didn’t like the original ending and she mentions that they actually re-shot another one for some territories. Rothrock tells several anecdotes about making Above the Law including a stunt where Yuen Biao hurt himself.
“From the Ring to the Silver Screen: An Interview with Peter Cunningham.” He talks about his influences and where he was trained in Canada. He also recounts how he got into kickboxing and his first match in this engaging interview.
There are two “Alternate Endings” that are quite different in tone from the final cut.
Finally, there is a Hong Kong and American trailer.