Righting Wrongs: Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Vinegar Syndrome
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (12th August 2022).
The Film

When the Crown's key witness and his family including six children are brutally murdered, prosecutor Ha (Project A's Biao Yuen) is forced to withdraw his case against racketeer Chow (The Big Boss' James Tien), but not without expressing to the court including the judge (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom's Roy Chiao) who is also his mentor his disillusionment with the laws he is meant to uphold when they are corrupted to let the guilty walk free. That very night, Ha decides to take the law into his own hands and brutally murders Chow's right-hand man Brother Wai (Dragon Lord's Paul Chang Chung). Chow is too busy trying to decide how to double-cross his corrupt partner in law enforcement who gets a third of their takings with no assumed risk to suspect anyone other than one of his regular enemies behind the murder; however, he does want revenge on Ha for having the temerity to go after him in the first place and sends hired assassins after him.

In charge of the investigation of Wai's murder CID officer Cindy Si (Tiger Claws' Cynthia Rothrock) whose notices that a lot of traffic officers make their quotas by writing tickets for vehicles around Wai's building decides to check out those tickets and discovers that Ha got a ticket the night of the murder. They do the dance of detective and suspect, with both expressing their philosophy of administering justice, but Si must tread carefully under the advice of her superior Superintendent Wong (Eastern Condors' Melvin Wong) so she picks a new partner in bumbling officer Stink Egg (director Corey Yuen) to tail the prosecutor. Unfortunately for Ha, he evades Stink Egg only to discover that someone has murdered Chow before he could get to him, making him Si's prime suspect when she discovers him at the scene. When the only person who can prove his innocence seventeen-year-old delinquent Yu (The Story of Ricky's Siu-Wong Fan) tries to negotiate a bribe with the killer and discovers there is no honor among criminals, Ha turns himself in thinking to expose the real killer; but even he may have underestimated the lengths those who place themselves "above the law" will go.

A vehicle for Biao Yuen the Peking Opera "little brother" of Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan produced by Hung's company Bo Ho Film Company Ltd. but not directed by him, Righting Wrongs pays lip service to themes of vigilantism and corruption but is pretty much one action set-piece after another. While the villains are suitably nasty, Ha does not snap so much as just decide in the space of a few minutes to take the law into his own hands and execute the guilty parties with a maximum of acrobatics and a minimum of dramatics; then again, after the film has killed six children, do we need more examples of injustice for a more traditional narrative trajectory. The chemistry between Biao and Rothrock is refreshingly non-sexual, with the bare minimum of plot mechanics to keep them adversarial while the emotional poignancy is reserved for the familial relationships between Stink Egg and his old timer officer father Uncle Tsai (A Chinese Ghost Story's Wu Ma) an avuncular character to all of the junior officers and Yu and his mute grandfather (The Legend of Drunken Master's Siu-Ming Lau) whose relationships are calculated to be ruptured by death to further galvanize Ha and Si (Gei Ying Chan as Ha's girlfriend, on the other hand, is given little to do and not even afforded a name). The climax is rather shocking in its ruthless treatment of several principal characters, but it builds up to an exhilarating final set piece. If the ending is an unexpected downer, one could surmise that it was the position of the storytellers that crime does not pay, including vigilantism see the ending of Chan's Police Story and where the hero finds himself at the start of Police Story 2 and that Ha was damned from the moment he first placed himself "above the law" in the New Zealand action opener that would otherwise be superfluous. The original ending proved unpopular, leading to a reshoot in which two characters survived but even then, Biao's protagonist does not get away entirely unscathed.

Video

Unreleased theatrically in the United States, and in spite of Rothrock's popularity in the DTV market of the nineties, Righting Wrongs did not make it stateside until 1998 with Tai Seng's VHS, laserdisc, and DVD. While the VHS featured the Hong Kong version with English subtitles, and the laserdisc included a commentary by Rothrock, their DVD was a straight port of the two-sided Universe Laser and Video Co. Ltd. which did not carry over the commentary track but featured both the Hong Kong cut and the Mainland China cut with the "happier" ending (albeit in non-anamorphic, PAL-converted transfers). Dragon Dynasty rectified things with their 2007 DVD which featured an anamorphic transfer of the Hong Kong cut with Bey Logan commentary and new interviews as well as the alternate Mainland China/English export ending and an alternate version of the jail sequence in the Mainland China version.

CMS Media's Hong Kong Blu-ray from 2011 was an upscaled transfer as expected with the usual Cantonese and Mandarin upmixes, but Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray is a new "studio supplied master with additional color grading and restoration performed by VS" that improves upon the hazy earlier SD masters with colors that seem reasonably faithful to the look of Hong Kong films from the period rather than the revisionist orange-teal monstrosities that sometimes have marred newer HD masters of Hong Kong films. The three-disc set includes the Hong Kong cut (97:14) on the first disc while the Mainland China version (99:49) and the English export "Above the Law" version (92:04) on the second disc. The latter two are reconstructions using the Hong Kong cut master as its basis, and it has already been reported that there are some errors on the part of Fortune Star that Vinegar Syndrome did not catch, including shots that ran longer in the Hong Kong cut but had been tightened in the other versions (as such, the Mainland China version runs roughly a minute-and-a-half longer than it should).

Audio

Audio options for the original Hong Kong cut include Cantonese, Mandarin, and English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono tracks we know that the film's disastrous midnight showing was in Taiwan so it makes sense that there is a complete Mandarin track for the Hong Kong version and presumably the English track was created with the original cut in mind while the Chinese cut includes only a Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track and the export version includes an English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track. The Cantonese track includes a vocal by Biao Yuen over the end credits as do the English and Mandarin tracks while the export version features an instrumental version. While a stereo surround mix might have goosed the action sequences Hong Kong did not move up from mono until the early nineties we can be grateful that Vinegar Syndrome did not port over the 7.1 upmixes given Fortune Star's 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS tracks included on the US and UK releases of their earlier anamorphic remasters.

The Hong Kong version includes a full English subtitle track which replaces the earlier translation of the epithet directed at British CID officer Si "white bitch" with "devil woman" (although I'm told "ghost woman" is more accurate with "ghost" being historically a Chinese modifier for white people) as well as an SDH track that transcribes only the spoken English dialogue during the New Zealand sequence as well as a full SDH track for the English dub. The Chinese version includes an English subtitle track as well as an SDH track for the English dialogue, while the export version also includes a full SDH track.

Extras

The Hong Kong cut is accompanied by two commentary tracks. The first is an audio commentary by actress Cynthia Rothrock originally recorded for the 1998 Tai Seng laserdisc in which she discusses getting into competitions and touring before tagging along with other martial arts performers for an audition for a Hong Kong company's search for a new Bruce Lee. She impressed the producers who signed her to a three-picture deal that went nowhere. When Peter Jennings did a story on her for ABC news, Sammo Hung saw it and got her cast in Yes Madam. After the success of that film, she was supposed to have a larger role in Armour of God but Chan's head injury delayed production leading to her being cast in Righting Wrongs. She discusses adjusting to Hong Kong production schedules, wanting to speak dialogue even though it was all going to be dubbed, and not knowing what many of the films were actually about until the advance midnight screenings. She also speaks of working with Corey Yuen and Biao Yuen developing a non-verbal communication with the latter who did not speak English and seeing how his rappelling down the side of a skyscraper affected his balance for a time after the stunt. She recommended Karen Sheperd (America 3000) for the role of her primary fight opponent because she was an expert with the steel whip, and she also recalls having to switch to her left leg after blowing out her right and being concerned about how the moves would show up on film, as well as an anecdote about injuring another performer and feeling guilty only to be told that he was the actor who injured her during Yes Madam.

The second track is a new audio commentary by actress Cynthia Rothrock, moderated by Vinegar Syndrome's Brad Henderson which covers a lot of the same information from the commentary and other interviews she has done but the moderator provides prompts to fill in the lulls. Here, she recalls after the film being offered contracts by Cinema City and other companies but choosing to go with Golden Harvest because of her own nostalgia for the films from that company that she grew up with and inspired her own pursuit of martial arts. She sheds a bit more light on her relationship with competitor Sheperd which improved to a friendship during the film as well as her hope to work with Biao Yuen again, possibly on a sequel to this film going off the reshot ending in which they both survive.

The Chinese version is accompanied by an audio commentary by martial arts film historians Mike Leeder and Arne Venema who note that they saw it under the "Above the Law" title and that the like-titled Steven Seagal film had to be retitled "Nico: Above the Law" because of it. They compare the film to the later The Punisher but also note the very seventies Eurocrime film look of the New Zealand sequence. They point out several major and minor players of Hong Kong martial arts and action cinema that often appear in small roles here presumably not as "cameos" but just as working actors who had greater recognition for certain roles for overseas audiences than domestic ones including western ones like kickboxer Peter Cunningham (Rage and Honor) whose only other Hong Kong film was Corey Yuen's US co-production No Retreat, No Surrender which featured one of the first leads for Jean-Claude Van Damme. They also provide some cultural context including what the choice of certain Hong Kong locations says about the socioeconomic status of the characters (including a cheeky jab at the possibly corruption of hero Ha given his upscale apartment for a public prosecutor), as well as their own experiences with Hong Kong filming (including speaking Cantonese for film and TV roles only to be redubbed with what they call "stupid man voice" used in Hong Kong films for white actors).

While it is nice to see Rothrock looking well today, the interview "Fighting Wrongs" (24:58) does not provide much over the commentary but may work as a digest form for those who do not listen to commentaries. Here, she discusses the midnight showing in Taiwan, the reshot ending, and often not being familiar with some films for which fans recognize her because of the multiple alternate titles and the wildly different and sometimes misleading advertising used for them. "Unscripted Justice" (35:31) is an interview with Sheperd who recalls her first role in a Japanese film Shinobi Warriors and turning down Righting Wrongs twice because she was trying to jumpstart her Hollywood career, accepting the third time they called when they offered her a three-picture deal and she discovered that Rothrock was working on the film. She recalls being unused to the work schedule and the filming style in which she had to memorized thirty-five to forty moves per take, with her fight with Rothrock taking two weeks to shoot with plenty of bruising from the full contact hits.

In "Kung Fu was the Equalizer" (20:24), Melvin Wong discusses his varied work life, studying to be a pharmaceutical chemist, getting into acting, and then practicing law for twenty years before returning to acting. He discusses growing up in San Francisco, learning martial arts, doing a small role in a Bay Area-shot Lo Wei film The Chinese Enforcers, and then going to Hong Kong after graduating university and showing up at Golden Harvest. He recalls that Corey Yuen gave him two months to prepare for the film including leg work since his Southern style was more upper boddy, as well as working with Biao Yuen and the fight choreographers.

"Fighting for Success" (20:50) is an interview with Cunningham who reveals that he always had aspirations of being in the movies and that his smaller role in No Retreat, No Surrender lead to him being contacted by Yuen about a role in Righting Wrongs. He jumped at the chance to go to Hong Kong and recalls the long shooting schedules, working through translators, and his admiration for Biao Yuen while regretting that he did not see Rothrock or Richard Norton (Force: Five) either of the two times he had to travel to Hong Kong during the five month shoot. "Violence & Corruption (11:07) is a video essay by film historians Samm Deighan and Charles Perks in which they place the film in the context of the period in Hong Kong filmmaking, noting that it only superficially resembles "heroic bloodshed" films like A Better Tomorrow and seems to have more in common with the Category III films in its tonal shifts from comedy to violence, corrupt cops, abuse of authority, and the graphic nature of the killings (including the ruthless killing of children). It is not really groundbreaking but it does attempt to go some ways towards offering an explanation as to what feels so "off" about the film. Ported from the Dragon Dynasty DVD are the 2007 interviews "The Vigilante" (16:40) with Yuen Biao, "Action Overload" (12:52) with Rothrock, and "From the Ring to the Silver Screen" (18:56) with Cunningham. The first disc closes out with the Hong Kong theatrical trailer (3:57), the English export trailer (2:03), and a photo gallery (1:48).

The second disc only features the Chinese and English export versions of the film, but a third Blu-ray disc presumably also included in the standard edition of this set as Amazon's product listing says it is a three-disc set includes the 1990 documentary The Best of the Martial Arts Films (91:19) which Twentieth Century Fox released in 1990 to widescreen laserdisc and panned-and-scanned VHS as "The Deadliest Art: The Best of the Martial Arts Films" and also had heavy play on Cinemax pay-per-view. Directed by Sandra Weintraub daughter of former Warner Bros. head Fred Weintraub who jointly produced the Rothrock vehicles China O'Brien and its sequel it is essentially a Golden Harvest clip reel with interviews with then-current contract players and directors; however, this was the first exposure of many American fans including later filmmakers to some of the productions that were unreleased in the United States at the time (outside of metropolitan areas with Chinese-American populations or eclectic video stories like Tower Records or Scarecrow Video) before Tai Seng's imports and domestic releases, the Miramax/New Line exploitation of Hong Kong action in the nineties, and the likes of Dragon Dynasty. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen presentation includes 35mm interviews and clips that have mainly been restored from newer HD masters although for some reason Fortune Star used their older DNR-scrubbed masters for the Bruce Lee clips rather than the newer masters they prepared for Criterion with some upscaled clips as well as the scope framing of some 1.85:1 titles including Righting Wrongs. A commentary might have been nice to properly contextualize this documentary but the disc's only other feature is the theatrical trailer (3:57).

Packaging

The three-disc set comes with a reversible cover. Not provided for review were the hard slipcase and slipcover combo designed by Tony Stella & Earl Kessler Jr. or the forty-page perfect-bound book with essays by film programmer Pearl Chan, author and martial arts historian Grady Hendrix and filmmaker/fan Simon Barrett available directly from Vinegar Syndrome.

Overall

Righting Wrongs pays lip service to themes of vigilantism and corruption but is pretty much one action set-piece after another.

 


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