Hong Kong Taoist Magic
Possibly taking a page from Ghostbusters, Hong Kong icon Lam Ching-ying battles supernatural foes in director Stephen Tung Wai’s entertaining Magic Cop. Arriving on the heels of Sammo Hung’s popular Mr. Vampire films, the 1990 action comedy sees a crafty veteran cop battling a woman using Chinese vampires and magic. A heady mixture of sneaky martial arts, supernatural mayhem, esoteric folklore and campy comedy, Magic Cop is a fun entry from Hong Kong’s heyday.
Updating the Taoist magic genre for a modern setting, Magic Cop explores a veteran detective well versed in the supernatural battling forces steeped in magic rituals and zombie-like vampires. Officer Feng (Lam Ching-ying) is tasked investigating a mysterious drug ring in the city using Chinese vampires for their illicit crimes. No stranger to the supernatural, Feng humorously schools his unbelieving younger subordinates in the police department as he goes after a nasty witch (Michiko Nishiwaki) smuggling drugs.
Magic Cop is a fun entry from Hong Kong’s heyday
Magic Cop is a fun entry from Hong Kong’s heyday
Bumbling police antics and cheesy Hong Kong humor pepper Magic Cop. The mix of high-stakes supernatural action and comedy is held together by Lam Ching-ying’s hard-nosed persona as Uncle Feng. He’s an excellent straight man for the crazy stuff happening around town, including keeping a womanizing younger colleague away from his young niece on vacation. There are some marvelous set pieces, including a fantastic Taoist duel between Feng and the villainess as they control others like puppets.
Bearing all the hallmarks of a genuine, crowd-pleasing 1980’s Hong Kong production with a charismatic actor in Lam Ching-ying, Magic Cop is unrepentant fun from a simpler era of cinema. Think a little Ghostbusters crossed with bits from Army of Darkness. While not as good as either of those classics, Magic Cop has its own Taoist charm.
The Hong Kong version of Magic Cop is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, making its Blu-ray debut courtesy of British cult label 88 Films. The main feature runs a full 87 minutes, encoded in high-bitrate AVC on a BD-50. Compression holds up even in the darkest and most challenging scenes. The video quality is a clear improvement over existing DVDs while a step down from more lavishly restored Hong Kong movies from the era.
The 1990 production looks serviceable in 1080p video, taken from solid elements with no appreciable damage. However, this transfer doesn’t have the detail and definition of a brand-new scan from the negative. It appears to be a slightly older telecine effort with a little processing baked into the final product. Hints of ringing and edge halos are prominent in a few telling spots.
A more consistent contrast and even color palette would have been nice. Color temperature is all over the map, from colder scenes drained of their warmth to bright, over-saturated exteriors. Black levels aren’t a big problem but certain scenes could use inkier shadow depths.
88 Films provides four different audio options for the main feature. A serviceable English dub is heard in 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD MA flavors. The stronger choices for most fans are the original Cantonese mono mix in 2.0 DTS-HD MA and a tweaked Cantonese home video mix in 2.0 DTS-HD MA.
The language differences between the Cantonese audio and English dub are often stark as the translation seemingly takes liberties with the Hong Kong film’s dialogue.
Magic Cop’s soundtrack is lively, if dated in approach by today’s standards. There isn’t a big discrete presence to the English dub’s surround elements, mildly adding a little atmosphere in select scenes. The Hong Kong comedy’s sound design isn’t bad for action but limitations sometimes reveal themselves. Dialogue is often placed loud in the mix. Some crackling in the English audio is lightly present in a few scenes.
Optional English subtitles play in a white font. They aren’t dubtitles if you’re wondering.
Magic Cop (“Qu mo jing cha”) makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of 88 Films with a host of new special features in a handsome package. The first 3000 units come with a double walled slipcover featuring new artwork by Sean Longmore. Included inside is an attractive, double-sided foldout poster. A reversible cover offers new artwork by Sean Longmore and original Hong Kong movie poster art.
The Blu-ray is coded for Region A and B. A lot of love and care has clearly gone into this niche Hong Kong release.
Audio commentary with Hong Kong Film Experts Frank Djeng and Marc Walkow – An informed commentary from two veteran commentators discussing the primary cast and Taoist rituals seen in the movie, among other topics. It does eventually degrade into a casual screen watching as each man relaxes.
Magic Cop Taiwanese Cut with Alternate Score (93:57 in 4:3 SD; 2.0 Cantonese Dolby Digital with English subtitles) – Presented in fairly rough video quality, a relic of the VHS era.
Interview with Tung Wei (36:21 in HD; Chinese audio with English subtitles) – Director ‘Stephen’ Tung Wei gives a generous and insightful modern interview discussing Magic Cop’s origins and its connection to Sammo Hung’s Mr. Vampire films.
Image Gallery (01:57 in HD)
Magic Cop Trailer (02:51 in HD)
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. This has not materially affected DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit DoBlu’s about us page.
Entertaining Hong Kong gem in the mold of Mr. Vampire starring the great Lam Ching-ying
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 32 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots ripped directly from the Blu-ray: