Written by Jámon Y. Huevos
The mid-80s Hong Kong action film, Above the Law, directed by Cory Yuen, begins with a bang – a whole bunch of bangs. Bullets fly, cars crash, feet hit noses. It’s everything one would expect from the genre. However, it’s pretty tough to get into this film, but you’ve got to stick with it if you’re a fan of high-octane action on a dime budget.
Nobody is going to accuse Above the Law of having a deep plot or great acting. In fact, the first twenty minutes are nearly bad enough to knock you out of the film for good. Then four cars attempt to simultaneously hit our star (Yuen Biao) in a parking garage. It’s a great scene with amazing stunts and extremely well placed ramps leading up the backs of the ubiquitous Mitsubishis. These are real stunts, too; the old-fashioned, non-CGI kind that blow your mind. Sure, you sometimes see the ropes and pulleys, but you also see the very real sweat, pained contortions, and smatterings of genuine human blood.
Cynthia Rothrock and Peter Cunningham have great moments in Above the Law. Brought in to help sell the film overseas, both martial arts experts are truly incredible on screen. They have lame dialogue, stupid entrances and exits, bad hairdo’s, but, holy cow, they kick a ton of ass. Cunningham is especially devious as an assassin with the world’s tiniest heart. After killing all the adults in the room, he blows up the leftover children from a distance. Dang, that’s a tough-hearted dude.
Halfway through you will realize there is not going to be a happy ending. In fact, this is the double-downer version of the film. Even the alternate endings don’t add much hope. One alternate ending is even more brutal, and that’s with somebody surviving. Those alternate endings are fun to watch; in fact, the special features are what sold me on Above the Law. It was the long interviews with Yuen Biao, Cynthia Rothrock, and Peter Cunningham that ended up giving the film a bit of much needed depth and placing it squarely in its moment in history.
Above the Law is for Hong Kong cinema fans. Nobody else is going to be won over by this over-the-top presentation. For fans, though, it is a very special treat.