The Lucky Stars 3-Film Collection (Limited Edition) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (30th March 2021).
The Film

Although they had each already had some international exposure on earlier films, the films in the The Lucky Stars 3-Film Collection truly catapulted "The Three Brothers" Jackie Chan (Wheels on Meals), Sammo Hung (Mr. Vampire), and Yuen Biao (Project A) to international attention via Japan and a large local fanbase.

In Winners and Sinners, five unlucky men are busted on the same day – burglar Francolin Greens (Hung) inadvertently crashes a surprise party for "Sammo Hung", social activist for prostitutes Curly (Yes, Madam's John Sham) is framed by a local crime boss for inciting a riot, car thief Exhaust Pipe (Millionaire's Express' Richard Ng) gets caught red-handed stealing a chief inspector's (Hard Boiled's Philip Chan) car, jewel thief Vaseline (Eastern Condors' Charlie Chin) gets caught up in the middle of a holdup, and seasoned Ranks (The Iceman Cometh's Stanley Sui-Fan Fung) is arrested for reasons undisclosed – and serve a prison sentence of the same length. When they get out on the same day, they bunk at the house of Curly and his pretty young sister Shirley (Once a Thief's Cherie Chung) and decide to go straight by starting the "Five Star Cleaning Company". In between competing for Shirley's affections, the group find work all over Hong Kong, putting them in the path of CID officer 07 (Chan) and his pursuit of a suitcase of counterfeit money that winds up tossed into their supply truck by the thieves who disrupted an exchange between agents of Jack Tar (Fist of Fury's James Tien) and Master Hope (Police Story's Paul Chang Chung), and the resulting mass property destruction of the chase has 07 busted down to park detail. While Tar's men are scrambling to find the "Five Star Cleaning Company" truck, the sextet have been hired under their noses by Tar's butler Chan (Way of the Dragon's Ching-Ying Lam) to ready his mansion for a grand party. When Curly decides it would be best to crash the party to network for higher profile clients, however, Tar mistakes the group for a rival gang deliberately holding the counterfeit bills (and the reproduction plates) hostage and takes Shirley hostage to get it back. Master Chiu, however, discovers the truth and tries to arrange a counteroffer to tempt the Lucky Stars.

One in a long line of traditional Lunar New Year comedies, Winners and Sinners is more of an ensemble piece with a Chan guest appearance rather than a Jackie Chan vehicle directed by Sammo Hung. Although immensely popular upon release, the lengthy ensemble comedy bits in between the Jackie Chan action sequences – with Hung demonstrating some of his athleticisim early on but holding back until the climax in keeping with his schlubby character (nicknamed "Teapot" in the English version and "Fatso" in some versions) – are downright tiresome, with the multiple cameos by TV and music personalities liable to be lost on Western viewers. In spite of a large action set piece early on, Winners and Sinners really does not get interesting or compelling until the eighty-minute mark when the five lucky stars and Shirley are threatened and Agent 07 and his rookie partner (Biao Yuen) join in on the warehouse martial arts action. The film was a surprise hit in Hong Kong and Japan, leading to a somewhat rejiggered follow-up.
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In My Lucky Stars, Hong Kong cop Muscles (Chan) and his partner Ricky (Biao Yuen) travel to Tokyo on the trail of a rogue cop (Ching-Ying Lam) who has fallen in with Japanese gangsters. The chase leads them to a haunted house attraction of an amusement park where the cops are ambushed by ninjas who abduct Ricky; whereupon Muscles goes into hiding. Aware that the gang will be able to spot any Hong Kong cop with the help of the traitor, Commissioner Walter Tsao (Aces Go Places' Tat-Wah Tso) assembles a team made up of Muscle's resentful orphanage buddies – Francolin Greens (Hung) currently serving a sentence at a work camp, duck-crazy (or just plain crazy) Big Rehmannia (Ng), slick thief Yankee Ginseng (Chin), gruff Rawhide (Fung), and clumsy manchild Monk Fruit (Infernal Affairs' Eric Tsang) – who balk at helping gone-straight Muscles until Tsao appoints Inspector Wu (The Seventh Curse's Sibelle Hu) – codename: Empress Flower – to supervise the team as they head to Tokyo under the cover story of fleeing Hong Kong after a major bank heist and tour the casinos with money to burn in order to attract the attention of the gangsters holding Ricky hostage. Francolin Green is reluctant to help Muscles until he needs money to pay a ransom to the gang in exchange for the "hospitality" afforded them while they are supposedly evading the cops. Unfortunately, the rogue cop knows of the previous association between Muscles and Francolin Greens, threatening the cover and the lives of the Lucky Stars.

A definite improvement over the first film with better production values courtesy of the Japanese location work – if the first film's overall look could be compared to a Golden Harvest production of the late seventies or early eighties, this one has the slick look of a late eighties Hong Kong action film – My Lucky Stars meanders less in the fitfully amusing antics of the Five Lucky Stars falling over each other to win Wu's affections, and picked up a bit earlier at the hour mark and gets better once Chan infiltrates the haunted house (the dazzling visuals of which look like something out of a Japanese horror film of the period). The final showdown involves the athletic prowess of Chan, Hung, Hu, Biao, a double for Lam, and most impressively female bodybuilder/martial artist Michiko Nishiwaki (City on Fire). While Fung and Chin recede into the background during action scenes, Ng at least comes across humorously but Tsang – taking Hung's place as the butt of jokes and abuse – is a far more annoying character. The structure of the film indeed reveals just skeletal the plot is for these Lunar New Year action comedies, and celebrity cameos if there are any might be lost on the Western viewer. On the other hand, some recognizable faces from Chan and Hung films as well as the Hong Kong action genre as a whole include James Tien returning in a brief role as a parole officer along with Killer Constable's Dick Wei and Fist of Fury's Wah Yuen among the Japanese gang members.
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In Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars, Inspector Wu takes the five Lucky Stars – well, four, since Ginseng bows out early for a fishing trip and leaves cousin Pagoda (Centipede Horror's Kiu Wai Miu) on the receiving end of the gang's abuse – with her on a mission to a resort in Pattaya where she is to make contact with sportsman Melvin Ma (Miracles' Melvin Wong) who has information on criminal dealings. Wu and Francolin Greens are too late, however, as their meeting with him in the middle of the ocean is cut short when the parachuting Ma is assassinated by a trio of parasailing assassins (Encounters of the Spooky Kind's Fat Chung, Bloodfight's Yasuaki Kurata, and Force: Five's Richard Norton). With his dying breath he tells Wu that he mailed a letter to Hong Kong. The Thai boss (The Dead and the Deadly's Ching Po Chang) who hired the assassins is aware of this, however, and sends them to Hong Kong to retrieve the letter and kill the recipient. After fighting off a troupe of transvestite assassins, Wu and the five Lucky Stars return to Hong Kong to assist Muscles in the Hong Kong side of the investigation. The recipient they discover is actress Wang Yi-Ching (Project A: Part 2's Rosamund Kwan) who lives with her director roommate Wormgrass (John Sham). While Wang and Wormgrass room with the Lucky Stars – Francolin Greens joining in on wildly offensive attempts to seduce Wang since Wu revealed that she is not in love with him – Wu takes her place at her apartment hoping to intercept the letter and the killers. The failed attempts of the assassins to kill her, however, lead to a showdown in the theater, with Francolin Greens getting to prove his mettle to Wu.

The best of the three films in the series, Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars is a direct sequel to the second film, retaining the relationships established in the second film while introducing Miu and recasting Sham in a different but similar role. The action sequences are better spread out through the film, the seduction antics of the Lucky Stars less drawn out and more comical, and the final third manages to be funny, suspenseful, and exciting. The supporting cast also includes some interesting early appearances by future Hong Kong action stars. Biao Yuen appears in the opening action set piece with Chan (and much Pepsi product placement), but he is later assisted in his investigation by an unnamed colleague played by Andy Lau (As Tears Go By), Michelle Yeoh (Supercop) appears as a Judo instructor pawed by the guys, Wu Ma (A Chinese Ghost Story) plays a Thai magic expert who sells Big Rehmannia Black Magic, director Fruit Chan (Dumplings) – who had just directed second unit on Hung's and Chan's Heart of Dragon cameos as a fruit vendor, James Tien returns as a soon-to-be-assassinated Chinese mob boss, Dick Wei and Philip Ko (Dreadnaught) are among the thugs in the opening warehouse fight while Moon Lee (Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain) – who cameoed in Winners and Sinners as Chan's fiancιe – appears among several guest stars crammed into the final scene. Yuen Biao and Chan would exit the series which would continue with Hung as an actor and Tsang directing Lucky Stars Go Places, Fung directing Return of the Lucky Stars, and Frankie Chan helming How to Meet the Lucky Stars .
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Video

Winners and Sinners went unreleased in the United States but it had a 1984 release in the UK by Sino Cine Co Ltd. Fortune Star's anamorphic widescreen master was released barebones stateside on DVD by Fox and as a Hong Kong Legends special edition in the UK with 5.1 remixes of the English and Cantonese dubs. The film made its Blu-ray debut in Hong Kong followed by a special edition in Germany, but both used an upscale of the Fortune Star SD master (as did a Scandinavian edition which only included the English dub). Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a new 4K restoration that does what it can with the original photography, this being the oldest and oldest-looking of the three films with a slightly grainier image, diffused daytime exteriors, and not particularly vibrant color.

Most American viewers were first exposed to My Lucky Stars via Tai Seng's VHS and non-anamorphic DVD before Fox's anamorphic Fortune Star-mastered disc while the UK got another Hong Kong Legends special edition. Eureka's Blu-ray release was once again preceded by upscaled discs from Hong Kong and Germany (where it was originally sold as a sequel to Wheels on Meals). Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer also comes from a new 4K restoration and immediately shows the leap in visual style and production budget over the first film, looking overall sharper with more vibrant hues (particularly in the haunted house scenes) and stable blacks, very much in keeping with the look of Hong Kong action films from the mid-eighties onwards including the films of Chan and Hung.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars bypassed theatrical release in the US and the UK. While the UK got a VHS edition and subsequent anamorphic Hong Kong Legends special edition, stateside the film went no further than non-anamorphic Tai Seng DVD due to Miramax's acquisition of the title and decision to do nothing with it on physical media (although it was available as a streaming title). The Hong Kong and German Blu-rays were upscales of the Fortune Star master while Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray is derived from a new 4K restoration and sporting the expected improvements, seeming subjectively less impressive than the second film due to the color scheme and less interesting backdrops.
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Audio

Dropping the 5.1 remixes of the DVDs and the other Blu-rays, Eureka's Winners and Sinners features the original mono mix in Cantonese LPCM 1.0, an hybrid LPCM 1.0 mono track with Cantonese dialogue and the music track from the Japanese version including a theme song throughout, and the original English export dub in LPCM 1.0. There are also three English subtitle tracks, the second including the theme song lyrics along with the dialogue, and the onscreen text on the third track accompanying the English audio. Much is the same case with My Lucky Stars although with the greater production value comes more opportunities for sound design even if the soundscape is still monophonic. The original Cantonese dub is presented in LPCM 1.0 along with another hybrid Cantonese dialogue/Japanese music LPCM 1.0 track – along with a "home video mix" Cantonese LPCM 1.0 track – and an English LPCM 1.0 track that is itself a bit of a hybrid since it has been grafted to the longer Hong Kong version (the export version ran nearly eight minutes shorter, see below). Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars also has original Cantonese LPCM 1.0 mono, a home video mix Cantonese LPCM 1.0 track, a hybrid Cantonese dialogue/Japanese music LPCM 1.0 track, and an English LPCM 1.0 track. Subtitle options are the same, with a second track translating the Cantonese dialogue and Japanese song lyrics and Chinese text for the English track.
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The subtitle translations are flatout odd in some cases, with Hung's character previously called "Teapot" in the first film and "Kidstuff" in the follow-ups originally, now named "Francolin Greens" and the other characters named after herbs in the latter two films, and Fung's character called Rhinohide in some versions.

Extras

Winners and Sinners is accompanied by an audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng of the NY Asian Film Festival who reveals that the reason that there are few onscreen credits is because the Chan, the Five Lucky Stars, and the various celebrity cameos were introduced onscreen with subtitles along with the dual English/Chinese subtitles required for Chinese theatrical prints, the influence of and the series' thumbing of its nose at Aces Go Places series along with The Benny Hill Show, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton, background on the performers – noting the irony of Sham's character advocating for a prostitute's union since he was a social activist in real life – the model of The Italian Job, and the film as a test run for the more rest of the series in which there was more continuity between the entries.

The disc also includes two interviews with Hung (5:49 and 13:30) in which he notes the concept of The Italian Job and a Japanese cop show with five characters with different specialties, while "The Man Behind the Legend" (20:00) is a Sammo Hung retrospective in which American martial artist Bobby Samuels recalls living with Hung and his family while helping him learn English, and being directed by Hung in The Gambling Ghost, Elaine Lui (The Bride with White Hair) on Hung's warmth (and his love of hot chili peppers) while appearing with him on the show Martial Law, along with input from Richard Norton. The disc also includes a Lucky Stars Live Performance (8:02), a NG (“No Good!”) Shots Compilation (4:57) which also functioned as a Japanese promotional featurette for the film, the alternate Japanese end credits sequence (2:09), as well as a Hong Kong teaser (0:42), Hong Kong theatrical trailer (4:08), English theatrical trailer (2:40), Japanese TV spot (0:15), and a Japanese theatrical trailer (2:30).
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My Lucky Stars also features an audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng of the NY Asian Film Festival in which he discusses the significance of shooting the film in Japan in elevating Chan's reputation in the country (along with that of Yuen Biao) including a Mitsubishi spokesperson deal, recasting the actors from the first film in different roles with a different origin story for the Lucky Stars, as well as noting that Tsang, Ng, and Fung dubbed themselves on the Cantonese track unlike Chan, Hung, and most performers in Hong Kong cinema (where sync-sound shooting was not adapted until the nineties). The disc's major extra, however is the international export version (88:29) of the film – in English LPCM 1.0 mono only – which includes an entirely different animated title sequence (also used in some international versions including the German version), and looking for the most part similar to the feature presentation (it may indeed be a composite).

The disc also includes an archival interview with actress Michiko Nishiwaki (20:44) who discusses her early career, winding up at Golden Harvest, observing the working methods of Chan and Hung, and being disappointed that she did not get to fight with any of the guys and suggesting that they did not want to be seen beating up a woman. In "Clown Prince" (18:00), Hung recalls how rapidly he had to prep the film to get it done in time for the New Year release with a month of pre-production and two months of shooting. As with the first film, the disc also includes the alternate Japanese end credits (2:16), a music video (2:02), and Japanese promotional NG (“No Good!”) Shots Compilation (9:42) along with the Hong Kong theatrical trailer (4:22), English theatrical trailer (2:36), and a Japanese theatrical trailer (2:23).

Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars also has an audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng of the NY Asian Film Festival in which he discusses the film in relation to the success of the second film, the replacement of Chin and the introduction of Andy Lau (who also appeared in the immediate follow-up), points out more of the cameos – including singer Anthony Chan of the band Wynners who would also appear in Chan's Armour of God, and the increase in sexual innuendo in the film which was intended and exhibited as a family film. As with the second film, we get an entire different version, in this case the extended Taiwanese version (107:09) that includes an extended introduction to Ginseng's replacement character Pagoda (including the first prank on him by the others), some more antics on the bus on the way to the resort, a scene establishing the case Muscles and Ricky are working on in the first half of the film, a better introduction to his new partner (Andy Lau), as well as some more scenes with the guys at the theatre.

"Gentleman Warrior" (32:48) is an extensive interview with actor Norton who discusses getting into martial arts, working as a bodyguard and touring with various performers – the likes of Stevie Nicks, Mick Jagger, and the male singers of ABBA wanting to train with him in the mornings – and meeting Chuck Norris which lead to three roles in The Octagon and his larger role in Force: Five through stunt coordinator Pat Johnson before being contacted by Chan and Hung. Of the film, he recalls the eighteen hour shooting days, and how Hung had to step in for the final fight scenes with him when Chan was badly injured. In "A Lifetime of Laughter" (21:02), Ng discusses his British schooling, his early uncredited roles in British seventies film, and offers his frank assessments of his co-stars, noting that Tsang is "funny when he's not trying to be funny" and is more of an idea man without the knowhow to execute them as well as the clashes between rightwing Fung and leftwing Sham who he felt never really wanted to be an actor. The disc also includes the usual Japanese promo NG (“No Good!”) Shots Compilation (3:44) as well as the Hong Kong theatrical trailer (3:48), the English theatrical trailer (2:28), a Japanese TV spot (0:15), and the Japanese theatrical trailer (2:06).

Packaging

Housed with the discs in a unique variant edition limited edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling is a twenty-seven page collector's booklet featuring essays on each film by James Oliver. In "The Chuckle Brothers: Sammo, Jackie and Canto-comedy in Winners & Sinners", he discusses the antecedents to the film and its influences while in "Family Reunion: The Lucky Stars Carry On..." he discusses how the series was refined over the first film and the influence of the Bond series on the Aces Go Places series which was Lucky Stars direct competitor, while in "Sibling Rivalry: Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars: Sammo Hung Stands Back" derives its title from Oliver's observation that Hung's character is less prominent because of the greater demands of directing, with the final fight scene resulting from Chan's injury.

Overall

Since we have not seen the final three "Lucky Stars" films, we cannot claim that they are lesser works, but the The Lucky Stars 3-Film Collection likely does not include them because they lack the draw of Jackie Chan and lesser Sammo Hung as part of an ensemble.

 


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