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review added: 1/8/03



The Mad Mission Collection

reviews by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Mad Mission

Mad Mission
1981 (2002) - Atlas Entertainment (Anchor Bay)

Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/D-

Specs and Features:

83 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, single-layered, original theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (23 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: none



Mad Mission Part 2: Aces Go Places

Mad Mission Part 2: Aces Go Places
1983 (2002) - Atlas Entertainment (Anchor Bay)

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/C-/D-

Specs and Features:

86 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, single-layered, original theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (22 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: none



Mad Mission Part 3: Our Man From Bond Street

Mad Mission Part 3: Our Man From Bond Street
1984 (2002) - Atlas Entertainment (Anchor Bay)

Film Rating: C

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/C+/D-

Specs and Features:

81 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, single-layered, original theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: none



Mad Mission Part 4: You Never Die Twice

Mad Mission Part 4: You Never Die Twice
1986 (2002) - Atlas Entertainment (Anchor Bay)

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/D-

Specs and Features:

86 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, single-layered, original theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: none


The Mad Mission Collection Box Set
The Mad Mission Collection Box Set

There are a lot of theories as to why it took so long for action superstar Jackie Chan to make any kind of impression here in the States. One of the most common, states that the Asian sense of humor is a lot different from our own. These folks like their action big and their comedy bigger. And while Jackie doesn't appear in the Mad Mission series, that theory certainly applies to these movies as well.

Each of the movies in the series follows the same basic template, which isn't so much a plot as an excuse for elaborate stunts and wacky humor. At the beginning of each movie, something valuable is stolen. Usually jewels, although in Part 4 it's a crystal prism. There are two competing factions who want the stolen item back. Stuck smack dab in the middle are two of the unlikeliest friends in Hong Kong: master thief Sam (Sam Hui) and bald New York detective Kodyjak (Karl Maka). And guess whose shoulders the task of retrieving the diamonds/Crown Jewels/super powered prism invariably lands on?

The first thing you need to know about the Mad Mission movies is that they literally make no sense. The sooner you get used to that, the more you're likely to enjoy them. At less than 90 minutes apiece, the movies breeze by on a cloud of broad comedic overacting, cartoonish stunts, and some of the jauntiest spy music to ever grace an action movie. As I said, the plots are basically interchangeable, so the easiest way to tell the movies apart is through their references and parodies. The first movie takes a shot at The Godfather, as well as a sly reference to Peter Sellers' Pink Panther series (probably the closest Western equivalent to these movies). Mad Mission 2: Aces Go Places is an improvement over the first, as it can dispense with having to introduce Sam and Kody to each other, and adds a funny parody of Dirty Harry and some totally inexplicable transformer robots to the mix. The highlight of Mad Mission 2 is a hilarious appearance by Hong Kong director Tsui Hark as "the man from the F.B.I." Eric Tsang directs both of the first two films and he stages both comedy and action quite well. There's an extended car chase in Mad Mission 2 which ranks among the funniest and most thrilling chase sequences I've seen, with Sam and Kody eluding their pursuers for a long stretch totally in reverse.

The most overt references can be found in Mad Mission 3: Our Man From Bond Street. Crossing the line from homage to outright theft, Mad Mission 3 features Richard Kiel basically reprising his role as Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, as well as doppelgangers of Goldfinger's Oddjob and 007 himself. Peter Graves also turns up here in a nod to Mission: Impossible. Directed by Hark, the third Mission is also the weakest, emphasizing comedy over action and featuring some of the worst special effects in the entire series. And considering the Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots of Mad Mission 2, that's really saying something.

One of Hong Kong's best action directors, Ringo Lam, takes over for what is possibly the best of the bunch, Mad Mission 4: You Never Die Twice. This one is a little less jokey than its predecessors... but you've gotta understand, the Ace Ventura movies are a little less jokey than the first three Missions. The primary touchstone for this entry is Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Ronald Lacey essentially playing Toht, his character in Raiders. The violence here is a little more realistic than in earlier films and some of the stunt work is pretty remarkable. If you have a problem with movies depicting children in jeopardy, steer clear of some of the amazingly dangerous situations Kodyjak's son Junior finds himself in here. But just because the characters bleed for a change when they get hurt, don't think Ringo's transformed the Mad Mission series into Bullet in the Head. There are still enough crossed eyes and flailing limbs here to make Jerry Lewis think it's a little over-the-top.

Anchor Bay, would-be saviors of cult cinema, has released the Mad Mission series in a couple of ways on disc. The first three films are all available separately or as part of the Mad Mission Collection boxed set. In a move that is either shrewd or shifty, depending on your point of view, Mad Mission 4, one of the better entries, is available only as part of the box. As Hong Kong aficionados will immediately realize by the title, these are the dubbed, European cuts of these films. In Asia, the series is collectively known as Aces Go Places. While I've never had the opportunity to see the original versions, I do know there are some significant differences between the Asian and European cuts. For starters, in Aces Go Places, Sam's character is known as "King" Kong. He's only Sam in Mad Mission, no matter what it says on the back of the case. The Asian versions also contain some longer comedic and musical scenes and are apparently heavier on the puns than the European cuts. Whether or not these additions make for better movies is probably dependent on your tolerance for Hong Kong style humor. Personally, I think a little of it goes a long way, so I doubt I'd prefer the Asian cuts. Regardless, it's curious that Anchor Bay, who has done a pretty good job presenting their Italian horror movies in their original forms, would release the Mad Mission series in a compromised fashion.

The other oddity to these edits is a complete lack of closing credits, except on Mad Mission 4. The fourth movie does have a credit crawl, complete with the kind of outtakes familiar to anyone who's ever seen a Jackie Chan (or a Burt Reynolds) movie. But the first three simply stop on a freeze-frame and play the end titles song over this static image. This may well be how these versions of the movies have always been, but it doesn't make it any less bizarre.

Video and audio quality on all four discs are fairly consistent. The prints used are all clean and in good physical shape, with only the occasional "cigarette burn" marking a reel change in evidence. The image is soft and grainy, but doesn't suffer too badly from digital artifacts (although there are some). Particularly troubling are any nighttime shots, in which details simply vanish and the screen becomes a black soup. All discs are given 2.0 mono mixes that vary a bit in quality. Parts 1 and 4 fare the best, while 2 and 3 are both somewhat garbled and plagued with leveling issues. Of course, all of the movies are dubbed in English and not very expertly at that; so don't expect the world even from the better discs.

Anchor Bay is nothing if not consistent, providing the original trailer to each film as the only supplement on each disc. The trailers are all very long (nearly 5 minutes) and show each and every cool thing the movie has to offer. So you should either not watch the trailer until after you've seen the movie or, if you'd rather just catch the good parts, watch the trailer and spend the other 80 minutes reading a book or something.

The first place I ever saw any of the Mad Mission series was on an episode of the late, lamented Incredibly Strange Film Show and they certainly warrant inclusion there. These are fun, goofy movies and I'm definitely glad I watched them. However, if your only exposure to Hong Kong action cinema is the work of John Woo and maybe a few of the Jackie Chan movies to be recycled in the U.S. by Dimension, you may be in for a surprise. And if you're a true Hong Kong buff and you pony up for Anchor Bay's Mad Mission box set expecting to see Aces Go Places, you're definitely in for a surprise... and it's not gonna be a pleasant one.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


The Mad Mission Collection Box Set


Mad Mission


Mad Mission Part 2: Aces Go Places


Mad Mission Part 3: Our Man From Bond Street


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