Fantasy Mission Force (1983)

Directed by: Chu Yen-Ping
Written by: Wai San
Producers: Chian Wen-Hsiung & Shen Hsiao-Yin
Starring: Jimmy Wang Yu, Brigitte Lin, Hui Bat-Liu, Fong Ching, Sun Yueh, David Tao, Pearl Cheung & Jackie Chan

Let's do the time waaaaarp again! At least from the perspective of the English title, this gives director Chu Yen-Ping (Golden Queen's Commando, Island Of Fire) freedom to punch in and say "I can do whatever I want and I'm going to!" But he's not a dull filmmaker, that's the key to this Dirty Dozen-style, fun and silly adventure that rarely stands still, has highlights galore that even involves otherworldly elements (there's hopping vampires here, folks) and a Jackie Chan that seems shoehorned into the picture. He kind of HAD to show up but that's one of the delights, how out of place he feels. As for how Fantasy Mission Force got its high profile inclusion on board, it is said that star Jimmy Wang Yu helped organize a negotiating session between the producer and filmmaker Jackie Chan was under contract with: Lo Wei (director of Fist Of Fury and several of Jackie's movies in the 70s). Advised to seek a way out and pursue his creative path elsewhere, Lo Wei reportedly threatened Jackie with triads "interference" for breaking contract. Jimmy assisted in resolving the dispute through a bit of a triad style negotiation/hostage situation that ended up favorably for Jackie as he got to move on to Golden Harvest intact. Returning the favour to Wang Yu in films, Jackie appeared here and was subsequently part of the Hong Kong and Taiwan ensemble cast in Chu Yen-Ping's Island of Fire.

Possibly set during World War II, the nations involved intends to put together a crack team to clamp down on the advancing Japanese army and after realizing that neither James Bond, Snake Plissken or Rocky are available (or suitable), Jimmy Wang Yu's Captain Don Wen is assigned to assemble his group of rogue fighters. Including a hobo and master thief (Sun Yueh), a couple of goofy members out of the Scottish guard and the immaculate looking, fashion icon that's good with a gun and bazooka in the form of Brigitte Lin. Sporadically bumping into an American fighter (dubbed The Chinatown Strong Man, played by Jackie Chan) and his manager Emily (Pearl Cheung), they run alongside the plot until it becomes inevitable that they need to step up and fight the Japanese as well. Or was it Chinese nazis?

If you can't accept a floating timeline and that the elements within doesn't need to be coherent or logical in a piece of action-comedy entertainment, it's better to stay away from Fantasy Mission Force as Chu Yen-Ping once again demonstrates his eye for energetic, absurd details and that worlds should be merged. Hence said slideshow of potential participants from films but it also boils down to a very simple argument and one he skillfully argues: “It's a comedy. I can do what I want. You're going to ask yourself what movie am I going to settle into and it’s going to consist of a couple of ones. Including one I'll deliver once the supernatural stuff starts happening. Sing the theme song with me!” I'm imagining a verbal director clearly. Teaming up the singing thief, past lovers with bazookas and eventually bumping into Jackie Chan, he feels delightfully like the odd man out as this is Taiwanese comedy in feel (somehow, there is a difference compared to Hong Kong) and he's never really putting forth his best in the action department either. Because he clearly honors the favour he owes but is not after getting hurt.

Working with familiar visual and aural cues from the war- and ghost-movie and even the Western, Chu Yen-Ping also has a good grasp of the notion of creating energy. Especially needed within the color his assembled gang represents and while there's no classic back and forth or even that many laughs, it's the amusing energy and the wild mish mash of genre that carry you through Fantasy Mission Force. Chu Yen-Ping believes he can pull this off, placing events in the so called real world, the martial world seemingly and also on the other side.

The bigger ending warfare works better in close quarters than when shooting it as a battlefield sequence and it gets increasingly violent and melodramatic (something he possibly isn't sincerely asking us to invest emotionally in). But after the hour mark assault of mahjong playing vampires, floating heads lit in green, a Mad Max convoy style of cars and Chinese nazis, the slight technical flaws and darker beats are arguably part of the bizarre tapestry. It's lobbied for well and occasionally you're reminded of just how weird it feels to have the biggest, shining star of the production be the misplaced element. That Jackie Chan can't fit aside the genre-love Chu Yen-Ping is creating via his own art is entirely amusing and we all win. Chu made his hybrid come to life and Chan did the right thing by answering the call.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson