Where bawdy Carry On comedy meets The Dirty Dozen Hong Kong style, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and a gang of misfit jailbirds wreak havoc with the colony’s law enforcement.
Now fully restored as part of the Eureka Classics range, the first three Lucky Stars action comedy films directed by and starring Sammo Hung — Winners and Sinners (1983), My Lucky Stars (1985) and Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars (1985) — are out now on UK Blu-ray for the first time.
Eventually hitting a total of eight movies from the release of Winners and Sinners in 1983 to their final 1996 outing in How to Meet the Lucky Stars, the Lucky Stars films mixed martial arts action with bawdy Cantonese knockabout slapstick comedy. Director and leading man Sammo Hung was by the 1980s already well established as a skilled physical performer whose chubby build belied his agility and fighting skills thanks to films such as The Iron Fisted Monk (1977), The Magnificent Butcher (1979) and Zu Warriors From the Magic Mountain (1983). However, Hung was yearning to branch away from period action pictures, even with their odd comic interludes into more full on comedy material inspired by his love of Buster Keaton and the Three Stooges, but in a contemporary setting.
As fortune would have it Hong Kong’s film production powerhouse Golden Harvest, flushed with the success of their investment in The Cannonball Run (1981), were keen to repeat the winning formula with more comedy caper ensemble pieces, albeit on a more modest local scale and bought into Hung’s concept of a group of five ex-cons who decide to go straight and form the Lucky Stars office cleaning company. Aside from Hung who played the gang leader and former burglar Teapot, a cast of Hong Kong comedy players were recruited as the former cons: Richard Ng as incompetent and eccentric thief Exhaust Pipe, John Shum the loud-mouthed political activist Curly, Stanley Fung was comedy straight man Rank and Charlie Chin played the slimy, but good looking conman Vaseline. Aside from Hung none of them had any martial arts training so to the Hong Kong audience their fight scene posturing was highly comedic.
With an eye to the lucrative Japanese market Golden Harvest insisted on casting action stars Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao, both of whom were old friends of Hung’s from his Chinese Opera School days, as a pair of rival cops, while Cherie Chung completed the cast of series opener Winners and Sinners as Curly’s sister providing plenty of opportunity for both a touch of bittersweet romantic comedy with Hung and general perving over from the rest of the cast.
Winners and Sinners centres on a set of counterfeit currency plates that are due to be passed from one Triad gang to another at a roller skating tournament where Jackie Chan’s cop is one of the competitors. When opportunistic thieves snatch the courier’s bag and take off in an open top Triumph Spitfire, Chan gives chase on his skates in a spectacularly destructive, but thrilling stunt routine that kicks Michael Crawford’s Buster Keaton inspired skating adventure from the BBC sitcom Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave Em (1973) into the shade. Classic car fans will blanche as stacks of 1970s British and Japanese vehicles are wrecked in one of cinema’s biggest auto pile-ups that coincidentally sees the counterfeit plates dumped in a bucket belonging to the Lucky Stars cleaning company.
This misadventure leads to much martial arts mayhem as the rival Triads and the cops close in on our hapless heroes, however, the kung fu action is spaced out by a number of comedy sketches ranging from pretty basic physical slapstick to a marvelously silly episode where Exhaust Pipe is convinced by the gang that he has acquired the power of invisibility, but only when he is completely naked. Cue some strategically placed random objects.
While Winners and Sinners kicked off the series, My Lucky Stars was something of a reboot with all the gang renamed after items used in traditional Chinese medicine. Hung becomes Francoline Greens, Ng is Big Rehmannia, Fung Rhinohide and Chin Yankee Ginseng. Eric Tsang who takes John Shum’s place in the team as Monk Fruit assumes the role of group clown allowing Hung to take a more serious lead. This time around, sprung from various jails and lunatic asylums, the Lucky Stars are sent to Japan when Muscles (Jackie Chan) and Ricky’s (Yuen Biao) undercover police mission goes horribly wrong, delivering Ricky to the Yakuza. Arriving with their police handler, Empress Flower (Sibelle Hu), the way is open to much cross cultural misunderstanding (the restaurant scene where Ng, Fung, Chin and Tsang mime their menu choices is particularly funny) and some spectacular fight scenes, including a girl-on-girl battle when Hu faces off against Japanese champion body builder and martial artist Michiki Nishiwaki.
Big Rehmannia’s conviction that he has telekinetic powers gets his arse kicked and there are incredible acrobatic stunts dispensed in a pursuit through a Japanese amusement park and a totally batshit car chase. Less fun is some of the sexism directed at Hu in another inter punch up scene, which goes too far beyond the kind of stuff dished out by Sid James in a 1960s Carry On film to be comfortable with a modern audience’s sensibilities.
The Lucky Stars 3-Film Collection’s final offering is Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, the last of the series directed by Hung. Here, the team, now with Michael Miu’s Pagoda Cake replacing Yankee Ginseng are sent to Thailand with Empress Flower to apprehend a Triad boss. This provides the opportunity for much Benny Hill style beach beauty voyeurism and for Sammo to take on a gang of ladyboy assassins, while Big Rehmannia gets naked yet again trying to harness the power of a Thai shaman.
After the gangster is murdered the gang head back to Hong Kong to protect Wong Yi-Ching (Rosamund Kwan) the recipient of an incriminating letter from the dead man, from a trio of hitmen, that include Australian martial arts legend Richard Norton. Moving into Wong Yi-Ching’s flat reunites the Lucky Stars with John Shem this time playing Wong’s loud mouth flat mate Caterpillar Fungus. This results in more Three Stooges style bickering and sub Carry On attempts to catch Wong in a wet T-shirt. Prior to the final big brawl Jackie Chan injured his shoulder so Hung gets to square off against Norton after taking out the Sai dagger wielding assassin (Yashahi Kutata) with a pair of tennis racquets in an epic fight every bit as good as Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee’s final bout in The Way of the Dragon (1972).
With their winning formula of crude bawdy slapstick humour, frantic martial arts action and eye-wateringly dangerous epic stunts, the Lucky Stars films continued with a revolving cast and diminishing quality for five sequels and a number of spin offs. While much of the non-physical humour translates very badly for a contemporary western audience, the action in these first three films conceived by, directed, produced and starring Sammo Hung make The Lucky Stars 3-Film Collection an essential purchase for Hong Kong Chopsocky movie fans.
As ever the Eureka Classic edition comes with a host of extras including: O-Card Slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling (First print run of 2000 copies will feature a Limited-Edition unique variant) | All three films presented in 1080p on Blu-ray from brand new restorations | Winners and Sinners – new 4K restoration! | My Lucky Stars – new 2K restoration! | Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars – new 4K restoration, plus the alternate extended Taiwanese version also fully restored in 4K! | Cantonese audio tracks (original mono presentations) | Optional English dubbed audio tracks for all films | Newly translated English subtitles | Brand new feature length audio commentaries on all three films by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) | Winners and Sinners – Archival interview with director and star Sammo Hung (6 mins) | Winners and Sinners – Archival interview with director and star Sammo Hung (13 mins) | Winners and Sinners – Sammo Hung retrospective featuring interviews with friends of the legendary director, actor, and action choreographer (20 mins) | My Lucky Stars – Archival interview with Michiko Nishiwaki (20 mins) | My Lucky Stars – Archival interview with Sammo Hung (18 mins) | Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars – Archival interview with Richard Norton (33 mins) | Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars – Archival interview with Richard Ng (21 mins) | Behind-the-scenes featurettes on all three films originally produced for their Japanese releases | Outtakes, NG (“No Good!”) shots for all three films | Trailers for all three films | Limited-Edition Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver (First Print Run of 2000 Copies Only)