Killer Imports: The Enforcer

Killer Imports is a regular feature on Film Junk where we explore foreign-language films from around the world that haven’t yet had their chance to shine.

Originally, I had seen The Enforcer when it was called My Father is a Hero on a Chinese DVD. The movie had been completed in 1995. Chronologically, this puts The Enforcer after Fist of Legend and before Black Mask in Jet Li’s list of movies. I have seen over half of the thirty-nine movies that Jet Li has acted in (or fought in) so far, and all of his post 1993 movies (except for his latest, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor).

With the exception of Zhang Yimou’s Hero, I prefer the movies where Jet Li plays a contemporary action hero despite Jay’s belief that I like all my action when it’s done on wires. I don’t really appreciate the Once Upon a Time series with Jet Li that many martial arts fans find so endearing. The Enforcer is contemporary and set in Beijing and Hong Kong.

What I remember liking about the movie was the relationship between Jet Li and his son (Xie Miao) in the movie. His son is about 10 years old, and does a lot of fighting in the movie against other kids and also against adults! The child actor is quite natural. He was chosen for his acting skills even though he was found from a martial arts school. Apparently, he had six stunt doubles, but I never noticed when I originally watched the film. I found the film heartwarming as it worked its way to the inevitable climactic fight scene at the end.

The plot involves Jet Li playing an undercover Beijing cop with a wife and a son who both do not know that he is an undercover cop! The son gets picked on by classmates because everyone thinks his dad is a bad guy. The legendary Anita Mui plays a Hong Kong cop who investigates the gang that Li has infiltrated. The gang is led by a psychopathic killer (Yu Rong Guang). The international crimes that the gang is involved with aren’t the focus of the plot, but rather how Jet Li will be able to bring the gang down and reunite with his family. The son gets his share of camera time, so if you’re expecting the story to follow Jet Li all the time, then you’re going to be disappointed.

The action was choreographed by Cory Yuen who also directed the film. He’s the guy responsible for the fighting choreography in The Transporter series of films. He also is credited with directing the first Transporter movie, but Luc Besson’s protégé was responsible for the dramatic scenes. The drama in The Enforcer was well staged, but I guess Cory Yuen’s inability to speak English does not inspire confidence in his ability to direct English actors. Cory Yuen has the ability to make non-martial artists look good at fighting. (In The Enforcer, you can see him playing the small role of the bartender in the glass restaurant.)

I didn’t find the fight scenes all that impressive, but then again, I didn’t find the fight scenes in Jet Li’s Fist of Legend all that impressive either even though most people would rave about that film. Maybe I had gotten use to Cory Yuen’s particular style of fighting that he chose to use for this film. One of his most recent films is D.O.A.: Dead or Alive which I actually enjoyed as well. Maybe the women leads in that movie were distracting me, but I think Cory Yuen is still able to be creative in staging fight scenes. Now that I think about it, I actually enjoyed Cory Yuen’s action choreography of Jet Li in Kiss of the Dragon more.

The villain’s performance is over-the-top and pretty one-dimensional. We never find out anything about him or his motivations as is typical for action films. The actor playing the villain played a good guy in Iron Monkey as well as Supercop 2.

Anita Mui adeptly handles both her action and drama scenes with the son. I’m not sure if most Westerners will know who she is; her most high profile action role would probably be in Heroic Trio. She was a very popular concert singer as well, drawing comparisons to Madonna. She died young of cancer.

This Jet Li movie generally isn’t held in high regard. I enjoyed it enough to think that my brother and sister-in-law might enjoy it. My brother likes Jet Li and has a young son, so I thought he might like the bonding and fighting scenes with Jet Li and the son character. When I showed the Chinese version of the movie to them several years ago, they only watched the first fifteen minutes or so before deciding they had better things to do. In defense of this film, I will say that my brother and sister-in-law are both highly westernized and are more apt to enjoy a Michael Bay style of film.

Dragon Dynasty has recently released a Special Collector’s Edition of this film. I also have the Dimension Home Video version of this film that was released in their Jet Li Collection several years ago. It seems like both versions are the same. I’m not sure about this, but it looks like the Dragon Dynasty release might even have visually cleaned up some of the film artifacts. The same English Dolby 5.1 audio and language dubbing appears to have been used. There are no Chinese language tracks. Because I’ve heard Jet Li speak English, the English dubbing of his voice was off-putting, but I got used to it. On my Chinese version, I’m not even sure if they used Jet Li to dub the Mandarin or Cantonese.

The Chinese version I have is a DVD bootleg that I’ve had for ten years or so. I was surprised to find that the silver coating in it is deteriorating, so I can no longer watch the last half of the movie on it. I was checking if the Dragon Dynasty release had missing scenes, but at least for the first half of the movie, both of these versions are the same.

Because I’m a big fan of commentaries and special features, I was disappointed that The Enforcer wasn’t a 2-Disc Special Edition. Besides the feature commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan, there are only three interviews, but they are fairly lengthy, recent interviews at about 25 minutes each, I think. The interviews are with Wong Jing who provided the story, Tse Miu (formerly known as Xie Miao?) who played Jet Li’s son, and Ken Lo who was one of the henchmen. I liked Bey Logan’s commentary because it mentions valid reasons why we should appreciate The Enforcer. He is also honest enough to point out the gaffes and silly stuff.

If Jet Li was not the star of The Enforcer, I’m not sure it would have been released by Dragon Dynasty. I’m not going to recommend The Enforcer unless you’re a hardcore Jet Li fan. If you’re already a fan of his, I don’t think The Enforcer will show you anything different from what you’ve seen in his other movies.

Dragon Dynasty releases movies held in high regard or at least generally might be of some interest to Westerners. I do recommend that you check out Dragon Dynasty’s web-site. If you’re thinking about building a library of Asian films, then I can think of no better place to start.

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  • “The villain’s performance is over-the-top and pretty one-dimensional.”

    Why are you watching 90’s HK action cinema expecting understated and three-dimensional villians?

    Reed, if you really love Jet Li you need a bit of Kids from Shaolin…it’s his second movie (and naturally has many titles in North American release) but it’s very worth it. It also has one of the funniest moments in kung-fu that has nothing to do with fighting (which you’ll know when you see it).

  • Ha, Ryan M., you’re right about not expecting understated and three-dimensional villains from 90’s HK action cinema, but I had to at least say what I said, didn’t I? The major reason I reviewed The Enforcer was because Dragon Dynasty just re-released it in a Special Collector’s Edition as I noted in the review.

    It’s funny that you should mention Kids from Shaolin because that’s one of the few early Jet Li titles that I have. I think it’s in the public domain or whatever because a cheapie distributor issued the DVD copy I have. I don’t remember the action being all that thrilling. And I don’t remember the humorous moment that you mention. I remember a pretty actress was in it. I think she had kung fu skills, so that was an added attraction. The kids were adorable.

    Jay says I don’t have a sense of humor, so does anyone know the funny moment that Ryan M is referring to?

  • @Reed: Part of the plot to Kids from Shaolin is that a man is desperately wanting to have a “dragon” (son). When his wife finally has a son the man enthusiastically kisses the infant’s penis and I lol’d consistently.

    It’s possible that the copy you have omits this scene seeing how there is so much butchering done between different releases of kung-fu flicks.

  • Hmm… I don’t recall that scene. Interesting. Thx, I think.