Millionaires' Express (1986)

Directed by
Sammo really went all-out on this one
Reviewed by Simon on 2021-09-19

The inaugural voyage of a luxury train draws the attention of several groups of thieves, and a remote backwater village becomes the focal point as prodigal son Sammo Hung plots to make the train stop there and relieve the passengers of some of their wealth.

Sammo Hung directs & leads with Yuen Biao taking second billing and just about every familiar face in Hong Kong cinema showing up at one point or another. One notable exception is Jackie Chan, who was unable to participate due to injury but receives a credible stand-in performance from Kenny Bee.

The film contains multiple subplots that criss-cross like spaghetti, with most never really reaching any particular conclusion if you analyse events too deeply. Most characters are just there to have their moment of comedy or action, with Sammo's story being the only one that has any real arc. It all kind of works, but you have to remember that it's a Chinese New Year film and not one that was intended as a profound meditation on the human condition.

What it does deliver is spectacle, with ambitious scale and elaborate production design that creates a sort of Eastern-Western vibe. Sammo keeps the plates spinning, never pausing to let the audience think too deeply, bouncing between plot threads and comedy and action set pieces. There's more of the former than the latter (perhaps depending on which version you watch, there are multiple cuts) until the final group, a gang of ruthless bandits, rides into town and everybody else has to put aside their differences for a while to defend it, leading to an action-packed final reel that features some of the best screen fighters in the business doing their thing.

With so many talented martial artists and stunt actors on set it's no surprise that the action is exceptional, and includes some classic face-offs such as Sammo vs Cynthia Rothrock, Yasuaki Kurata vs Richard Norton, Yuen Biao vs Dick Wei and Yukari Oshima vs anybody who gets in her way - seriously, you don't want to mess with her.

The Millionaire's Express 171

The film is rightly famous for some spectacular stunts, including a jaw-dropping single shot of Yuen Biao somersaulting off the top of a 3 storey building down to the dirt floor, amongst the most impressive (and dangerous) stunts anybody has ever performed.

This really was the Golden Age for Hong Kong action cinema, and MILLIONAIRES' EXPRESS is a perfect testament to that - where else could you see such an assemblage of talent on and behind the camera, executing breath-taking action with such consummate skill? Nobody else was even close in those days, even the best Hollywood had to offer looks embarrassing next to what Sammo Hung and crew were doing.

The film was recently released by Eureka Video in a 2 disc set with four different cuts of the film, including a brand new "Complete Version". It's 109 minutes long, 7 or 8 minutes longer than the "Extended Version", and includes every scene from both the Hong Kong and International versions. Although it was never released in this form previously none of the scenes feel out of place, and I would suggest this should be considered the definitive version now.

I was less keen on the subtitles on this release - the translation itself is excellent, but some of the dialogue is written with a kind of folksy Americana twang reflecting the film's Western influence but which set my teeth on edge. I've uploaded a de-colloquialised version of them to OpenSubtitles if you find yourself feeling the same way.