Historically set during the early 1900s as China fought to politically stabilize, The Postman Fights Back spins up an Asian folk tale about five people traversing unsettled lands to deliver a package with unknown contents. It’s a familiar fable, with peasants rising against the ruling class in order to survive. The twist comes from the tone.
Postman Fights Back uses the martial arts genre and its many quirks. It’s unapologetic about taking truth then twisting it to include disappearing ninjas, a (sort of) hockey fight, then closing with graphic, cruel violence including two seven-ish old girls gunned down by the villains.
It’s an inconsistently told story, the tone always serious even if the action isn’t. In overall genre terms, Postman Strikes Back holds a handful of unique fight scenes, including one with live torches at night that’s spectacle purely for the danger involved. Chow Yun-Fat earns top billing today, but at the time, was still hunting for breakout stardom. Postman Strikes Back was but a step, evident by his character’s eventual fate.
A rather lengthy (even overlong) opening act takes time to set this story in motion, creating bonds between the men and women venturing out to deliver goods, using that development to squeeze full emotional value during the finale. Greater-than-usual budgetary leniency brings a number of spectacular explosions to the screen, and some visual scale that gives the otherwise barren landscapes power.
The dramatic change to China during the time period adds limited political might to this story, but the script falls back on a generic, manically laughing, stock villain. That’s less about detailing various movements than servicing the genre – little is made of the leaders who sent peasants on this journey, clearly involved and equally as culpable. Since no one actually fights those men, it’s nothing more than an expository sequence to get Postman Strikes Back started. Because of that, Postman Strikes Back comes across as empty as the antagonists, choosing to put the creative juices into the choreography rather than storytelling. It’s a critical fault, but doesn’t dissolve the entertainment value completely.
Hazy cinematography presents the main challenge to 88 Films’ encode. Mixed with the preserved grain structure, The Postman Strikes Back needs plentiful disc space and that’s the case here. While spending most of the runtime on the fringes between organic film stock and digital encoding, the grain wins. It’s typically transparent, save for a few lapses.
Overall, the scan looks fresh and high res, bolstered by superlative black levels. Healthy contrast provides added lift too. This is all consistent. The print itself shows no damage or notable imperfection.
Colorfully bold, it’s flesh tones that stick out, flush with warmth from the primarily fire-lit interiors. Exteriors flatten comparatively, in particular the greenery that looks marginally faded. A touch of yellowing impairs peak saturation.
The original Hong Kong version includes a Cantonese mono mix. For 5.1, jump to the export cut for the dub, although there’s also a mono dub with a different score. Staying with the Cantonese, Postman Strikes Back withers in this area, struggling with age and what’s likely limited source material. Static and popping happen on occasion, indicating source degradation and likely explaining the harsh, flat result. There’s not much DTS-HD encoding can do in this situation short of being uncompressed.
The Hong Kong cut features a commentary with Frank Djeng, who after commentating on some 30+ genre films in the past year or two, must be exhausted. On a second track, it’s Djeng again (!), this time joined by director Ronny Yu. There’s a third commentary too, this on the international cut, with Stephen Hammond. A handful of archival interviews includes Chow Yun-Fat, Leung Kar-Yan, and Ronny Yu. Trailers and still round this disc out.
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The Postman Strikes Back
Built on historical folklore, The Postman Strikes Back creatively tells the journey of four peasants delivering materials across barren landscapes.
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