Written by: Carroll Jenkins on June 20th, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: Hong Kong, 1988
Director: Alfred Cheung
Writer: Alfred Cheung
Cast: Yuen Biao , Pat Ha, Idy Chan, Charlie Chin, Phillip Ko, Bowie Lam, Lieh Lo, Wah Yuen
DVD Released: July 30th, 2002
Approximate Running Time: 88 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Letterboxed Widescreen
Rating: Cat II
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Cantonese
Subtitles: English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean
DVD Release: Tai Seng
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $11.95
Yuen Biao is a low level detective who meets his almost ex-wife in a restaurant minutes before she is hit by a paid assassin. Seems she was living with the head of the Narcotics Enforcement department and found he was pushing immense quantities of heroin. All’s well until Biao catches the assassin and reports her arrest. Mr. Lui has decided there can now be no loose ends.
Who made the grittiest, bleakest, and most brutal crime thriller from Hong Kong? John Woo? No, it was Alfred Cheung. Who? Well, he did write and produce 3 Days Of A Blind Girl, but mostly he did comedies. Nevertheless, he left hard evidence that he has created one of the finest neo-noir action films ever made.
We must start with the star of the picture, and it’s not Yuen Biao and there is no kung fu or acrobatics. What? The star is actually Pat Ha (An Amorous Woman of Tang Dynasty) as a female assassin. Now, besides possessing deadly cunning, she is absolutely ruthless, pragmatic, and an ace sharpshooter. And there’s no haw haw I was wearing a bullet proof vest stuff with her – two bullets in the brain pain. Put her in a room with La Femme Nikita, Naked Weapons, Lady Exterminator, Black Cat, Emma Peel, and all the Charlie’s Angels you can find and she’s the one walking out the door.
So, Yuen Biao is basically a character actor [no martial arts] who teams up with the hit lady (after they have each saved the other) in an effort to save themselves and his daughter from the bad guy – Charlie Ching (Her Vengeance, Eastern Condors). His performance here is rather reminiscent of that guy Chow Yun-Fat at times, and he has his core group of confederates. Then he issues a shoot-to-kill order to the entire police (CID) department.
The script is one of the best realized in the history of Hong Kong film. First, there is no comedy. Certainly, Above The Law / Righting Wrongs was a gritty police actioner, with thrilling martial arts action from both Biao and Cynthia Rothrock, but there was the verbal and physical comedy. It had an ending so bleak that it had to be rewritten and reshot for the international release. But that fine effort will not prepare you for this.
On The Run was released 10/1988, and the first Cat III release was 11/1989. There is no linger of a doubt that this would have been rated Cat III; in fact it was probably a prime cause of the ratings system in the first place. This film is brutal and bloody to the bone. It only lets up about an hour in, but that, my friends, is the calm before the storm.
Not only do we have an excellent script with twists and turns galore, taught direction and brisk editing, but an exceptional and original music score that’s sooo good you almost don’t notice. The supporting cast are all outstanding, right down to the little daughter.
There have been numerous DVD editions: Deltamac, Mega Star, Tai Seng, and VCD’s by Deltamac and Fortune Star. Availability seems quite limited, with the Tai Seng DVD or the Fortune Star VCD being the best bet at this point.
SPOILER: The ending has been censored, apparently on all the various home video versions. Instead of allowing the couple to ride off into the sunset for Thailand, the finale was abruptly chopped and we get a text crawl telling us that they are both doing heavy prison time – and it serves them right.
There is even some scorching political commentary regarding the pending turnover of Hong Kong to mainland China, but that’s just another little detail among myriad others. On The Run is a roller coaster ride you will never forget, if you can just find that ticket.