The Postman Fights Back (1982)

Directed by
Some good moments but they don't cohere into a strong film
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-07-02

In the early years of the new republic large swathes of the country are ruled by bandits and warlords. A postman (Leung Kar-Yan) delivering mail from the city to rural villages is recruited to deliver a package to a local warlord to buy his support. Since it will mean crossing bandit country a small group of capable fighters is assembled for the mission.

THE POSTMAN FIGHTS BACK cheerfully ignores most of the trends of its day, when comedy, fantasy and modern day action were the rule, to produce a film that feels like it could have come from 10 or 15 years earlier. It would have fit in fairly well with the late 60's and early 70's films produced by Shaw Brothers - apart, perhaps, from the Yuen Clan action. It's not a particularly action heavy film though, so for most of the running time that's not really a factor.

Unfortunately the film doesn't do a very good job of building narrative tension or making its characters either likeable or interesting. I'm not even sure why... on paper they're an interesting ragtag group and the events that happen have all the hallmarks of a plot, but somehow the pieces fail to cohere. Perhaps having five credited script writers was the problem, there's no unified voice to be heard.

The film looks nice at least, it was filmed in South Korea and makes full use of the wide open vistas and snowy landscapes that Hong Kong could never provide. The cast includes a few Koreans but they're in minor roles, with only Guk Jeong-Suk having a significant presence.

The most interesting casting choice is Chow Yun-Fat, a rare period martial arts film for him - this was well before John Woo had put dual pistols in his hands so he wasn't yet the megastar he would become, and the studios were still trying to work out how to use him. It's quite fun seeing him presented as a martial artist - obviously he wasn't, but he was in good enough shape to pull off the moves required here, and his nascent charisma is already starting to shine.

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The action scenes are the only place where the movie does come to life, however occasionally and briefly. Leung Kar-Yan, Yuen Shun-Yi and Yuen Yat-Choh are all credible fighters so it's a bit of a surprise that Chow gets two of the main fight scenes. The first is when a pair of assassins who have tracked him across the country finally catch up with them. They have a very cool and unusual style, but the fight is over too quickly and seems like an anticlimax after the build up these characters had as they tracked the group.

The action clicks up a notch after the surprise appearance of a ninja on the group's tail, or at least once he comes out of the shadows. The ninja tricks on display are tame in comparison to the inspired madness of Duel To The Death, but it was at least 6 months before that would hit Hong Kong screens to be fair, and they do elevate this film's action credentials to a more interesting level than had hitherto been demonstrated.

The ninja action and other miscellaneous explosions make for quite an exciting final reel, but since the film has done so little to make us invested in the characters and their situation it's only really engaging on a sort of primal level - Good Guys vs Bad Guys doesn't really need explaining.