SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1986), one of the greatest action comedies of Hong Kong cinema, is better known as MILLIONAIRES' EXPRESS and is finally out in a beautifully mastered DVD edition for U.S. fans under this alternate title (not to be confused with the Marlene Dietrich classic of the same name). Sammo Hung (EASTERN CONDORS) both stars and directs and his frequent partner, Yuen Biao (PRODIGAL SON), co-stars. (Their other frequent partner at the time, Jackie Chan, is nowhere to be found.) The plot involves a trainload of rich passengers forced to stay overnight in a remote Chinese town, all part of a scheme by the town's black sheep, Cheng (Hung), a fugitive from the law, to bring prosperity to the town. Meanwhile, a gang of armed bandits on horseback, having made plans to rob the train, now sets its sights on taking over the town and plundering it. Only Cheng, along with the town's provincial police force and a trio of Japanese martial artists who were on the train, can take the town back in a rousing 20-minute fight finale.
There are multiple characters and numerous plot threads established early on. Classic farce comedy elements abound, including a philandering train passenger who must divide his time between his oversized wife and his mistress, leading to a hilarious scene at the hotel in town where numerous parties, including some bumbling gangsters, converge on the wrong room and keep having to hide under beds and in closets as different characters come in and out. Among the great Hong Kong comic performers on hand are Richard Ng, Lydia Shum, Fan Mei-sheng and Eric Tsang.
The real draw for martial arts fans is the large cast of international stars in the cast: American karate champ Cynthia Rothrock, in only her second film; Australian Richard Norton; Korean Hwang Jang Li (as one of the Japanese); and two Japanese stars who made their names in HK films, Yasuaki Kurata (FIST OF LEGEND) and Yukari Oshima (IRON ANGELS). In addition, there is a dazzling array of old-school kung fu talent on hand, including Jimmy Wang Yu, Phillip Ko, Wang Lung Wei, Lau Kar Wing, Bolo Yeung, Hsiao Hou, Corey Yuen, Dick Wei and Shih Kien (Han from ENTER THE DRAGON), in addition, of course, to two of the greatest, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao.
The film was shot in Thailand, Canada, and Hong Kong (where the town set was built). If I have any complaint it's that the film is too short. The final action could easily have been extended and we learn from one of the disc's extras that many scenes were shot with numerous other Hong Kong stars but weren't used in the final cut. I'd love to see those.
The disc offers an English dub, as well as the preferred original Cantonese language track with subtitles. It comes with three new and informative interviews with Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao and Cynthia Rothrock, as well as audio commentary by Hong Kong film expert Bey Logan. Also, there are four deleted scenes provided as an extra, one about 5 minutes long and the other three adding up to about a minute and forty seconds total. I have an earlier Hong Kong import disc of the film that includes all four of the "deleted" scenes but in an otherwise shorter (96 minute) version of the film, meaning that the 102-minute cut on this disc has 12 minutes of footage missing from my earlier disc.