You’re all mad! Mad, I tell you!

In From the Vault by John Tebbutt

Swiping jewels and saving the world with Sam, Sylvia and Karl

Anchor Bay Entertainment continues to put out fantastic DVD versions of many of my favourite movies. (It’s almost as if they were reading my column!)

Take the Mad Mission series, for instance. I spent years tracking down second-hand tapes of the first three Mad Mission films, and now Anchor Bay has released them not only in their original widescreen format, but bundled together in a box set, complete with the previously unavailable fourth film, Mad Mission 4: You Never Die Twice (1986). Clearly, this momentous occasion merits an appreciative retrospective of these cheerfully berserk action comedies from Hong Kong.

The first film of the series, originally entitled Aces Go Places, came out in 1982, and was dubbed into English under the new title Mad Mission: Diamondfinger. In it, we are introduced to the amiable cat-burglar protagonist Sam, played with crafty innocence and cheery aplomb by former stuntman Samuel Hui.

The film’s opening moments show one of Sam’s typically daring jewel heists, with our hero launching a grappling hook into a highrise office building, snatching the stones from under the noses of some shady gangsters, riding his getaway motorcycle into the elevator, obtaining a pretty girl’s phone number during the ride down, and finally making his escape via ultra-light aircraft.

Shortly thereafter, we’re introduced to the series’ other regulars: a pair of dedicated cops who vow to hunt Sam down, but wind up joining forces with him against the real villains. Hot Tongue (yup, that’s her name) is the fiery-tempered lieutenant of the local constabulary, and is played with brassy intensity and a sort of swaggering femininity (if that’s the right term) by Sylvia Chang. Her partner in this case is a displaced Chinese-American detective by the name of Kodijak, played as a bald-headed smarmy buffoon by the film’s producer, Karl Maka.

I could explain why all this silliness is going on, but… er… actually, no, I couldn’t.
Over the course of the movie, romance blossoms between the two mismatched law officers, who get married in Part 2 and have a child in Part 3. But first, the trio must find the missing jewels by facing the wrath of Al Capone and deciphering clues left tattooed on the pert buttocks of two unsuspecting women.

In one of the sillier scenes, Kodijak finds himself trapped onstage dressed as Ming the Merciless (!) during a serious production of Swan Lake, while Sam repeatedly swings by on a rope, randomly abducting ballerinas. I could explain why all this silliness is going on, but… er… actually, no, I couldn’t. The Mad Mission series is not about realism or coherence – it’s about frantic, ridiculous action punctuated by frequent motor vehicle chases, explosions and humour so broad and juvenile it’s almost dubbed into baby-talk. Come to think of it, some of the jokes are in baby-talk.

The first film, wild as it is, seems positively sane compared to the sequels that follow. Mad Mission 2: Aces Go Places (a.k.a. Aces Go Places 2, 1983) begins with a pair of remote-controlled toy helicopters flying through the window of Sam’s apartment before quickly assembling themselves into a truly impressive kung fu-fighting robot. The fight scene that follows is too cool to be described. Later in the film, Sam uses some remote-controlled robots of his own to save the day. Easily twice as much fun as the film that preceded it.

My personal favourite of the series, though, is Mad Mission 3: Our Man from Bond Street (1984). Legendary Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark takes over directorial duties from Eric Tsang in this one. (Hark had already acted in cameo roles in the previous films – in Part 1 he was the exasperated director in the ballet scene; in Part 2 he was the escaped mental patient who thought he was with the FBI.)

Here, Sam’s afternoon of girl-watching in Paris is interrupted by an attack on his life by a sexy female assassin. Then he gets chased up the Eiffel Tower by Oddjob (he of the killer bowler hat in Goldfinger) and Richard “Jaws” Kiel. Parachuting into the Seine, Sam gets eaten by a giant mechanical shark that turns out to be a submarine piloted by James Bond and Queen Elizabeth II. Then things get silly.

There’s just so much weird stuff in this film, it’s impossible for a normal human brain to contain it all. By the time you see Sam use his inflatable tuxedo to beat up a room full of henchmen, you’ll have forgotten all about the half-dozen Santa Clauses wearing jet-packs. Highly recommended!