Friday 6 January 2023

The Iceman Cometh (1989)

AKA Time Warriors.

While it may seem tricky to discuss and review films like this one, a Hong Kong martial arts movie from the late 1980s that has the mix of impressive action and cringe-inducing humour you might expect, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be attempted. So brace yourself as I attempt it. And then head off to find more informed writing on the film by those who are much more well-versed in Hong Kong cinema than I am.

Yuen Biao stars as a royal guard in the Ming Dynasty who is tasked with hunting down a murderous rapist (Yuen Wah) he used to be close to. The two soon meet, and a fight ensues, ending with both of them falling off a cliff and landing on snowy ground that will leave them frozen for centuries. Skip forward a few hundred years, both fighters are discovered by scientists, and it's not long until they are thawed out and wandering around in the modern world. The environment may be hugely different, but the fighting will go one . . . whenever the two meet again. Meanwhile, Biao meets Maggie Cheung (playing a character named Polla) and ends up helping her out of a sticky situation. He begins helping her in her work life, unaware that she's a prostitute using him to scare men who have paid her for her services. It all leads to some inevitably insane stuntwork, and you just know that Cheung will be in grave danger, at least once.

Director Clarence Fok may not have a filmography crammed full of modern classics, although he's been involved, in one way or another, with some absolutely superb action movies, but that doesn't really matter when you're helming a film that can showcase the talents of people like Biao and Wah (Cheung, sadly, is there to be set up as a potential damsel in distress). The same goes for writers Johnny Mak and Stephen Shiu, who try to balance a few impressive set-pieces with the standard "fish out of water" aspect of the premise. 

Biao and Wah though, wow, this is a film that allows both of them to spend some time showing their skills (in impressive stunt sequences that they also helped to choreograph). If you are a fan of either - and anyone who loves action movies should love Biao - then there is enough here to keep you happy and entertained. I would like to see everything that Biao has ever done, one day, but I appear to have already seen quite a few movies that Wah appeared in, despite not necessarily being able to recall any of his other performances. That won’t be the case with this film, thanks largely to an amazing moment at the halfway point that has his character fleeing a robbery by jumping across a couple of moving car roofs. It is a shame that Cheung is mistreated by the script, but she at least gets plenty of screentime, and the way her character grows closer to our hero isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Helped by good pacing for most of the runtime (you’re never too far away from either a fight or a decent comedy beat, but there are one or two extra endings), The Iceman Cometh is an enjoyable martial arts movie that provides some fantastical spectacle alongside entertaining silliness. It isn’t quite there with the best of Hong Kong action cinema from this time, but it’s unlikely to disappoint anyone who deliberately seeks it out.


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