Long Arm of the Law 3 Review: It’s a guns-and-gangsters flick from late 80’s Hong Kong

Michal Mak’s second sequel to his brother’s action classic finds an ex-soldier/escaped death row prisoner fleeing to Hong Kong and forced to work for a gang of criminals when they kidnap the woman he loves.

Long Arm of the Law 3 (Huong Cang Ky Binh) is an easy film to overlook. It’s the second sequel in a series of films only loosely related by their subject matter and a handful of actors; and it’s a guns-and-gangsters flick from late 80’s Hong Kong, an era that wasn’t exactly hurting for guns-and-gangsters flicks. That said, fans of actor Andy Lau will probably want to check this movie out since Andy gets to kick inordinate amounts of ass in it.

“Long Arm of the Law 3” is one of the few instances I can think of where Lau is front and center the entire runtime performing stunts and fight choreography. And Andy  gives it his all. A standout scene occurs when he goes to rescue his lady love from a brothel. And he must square off against fifty attackers in a tight corridor. A bit of action that reminded me of the hallway sequence from “Oldboy.”

You don’t need to have seen the first two movies in the “Long Arm of the Law” series to understand the plot at all. Andy Lau (Luu Duc Hoa) plays an honorary soldier living in Mainland China who is wrongly accused of a crime while helping his buddies elude the police. This being Mainland China, he is quickly sentenced to death. Andy escapes with some help from his father and makes it to Hong Kong with some other refugees. One of whom includes Elizabeth Lee. Soon the two of them fall in love but to their dismay she’s sold into prostitution.

Most of Lau’s movies from the late 80’s and 90’s had him as a supporting player or the “bad boy”

Andy must work for a local gangster (Kirk Wong) in order to buy back Elizabeth’s freedom. Meanwhile, a ruthless supercop from the Mainland. Played by the physically intimidating Elvis Tsiu, travels all the way to Hong Kong to try and capture Andy Lau.

The action in “Long Arm of the Law 3” was choreographed by Tony Leung Siu Hung. Who would soon move to America to direct the b-movie goodness of “Superfights” and the Gary Daniels vehicle “Bloodmoon”. Siu Hung has since returned to Hong Kong. And even helped Sammo Hung choreograph the fight scenes for the first “Ip Man” film. Needless to say, the guy is incredibly talented when it comes to action. His choreography is characterized by a constantly roving camera and faster paced editing than per usual for a Hong Kong movie. His style works well for “Long Arm of the Law 3” and the script consistently serves up the action. Including a scene where Andy Lau and Elvis Tsiu engage in a John Woo-style gun duel in the middle of a neon-lit nightclub. Recalling a similar moment from James Cameron’s “The Terminator.”

The final shootout is a ‘heroic bloodshed’-style finale that takes place in a crowded apartment complex. At one point, Andy Lau is trapped on a floor of the building while a bad guy in the apartment above him shoots through the floor with a machine gun, and Kirk Wong blasts up through the floor with a shotgun from the apartment below. I can’t say I’ve ever seen that in an action movie before; even more impressive is the fact that Kirk Wong’s shotgun is literally blowing holes through the floor. You just gotta love the exaggerated damage that shotguns always do in Hong Kong flicks.

“Long Arm of the Law 3” has more blatant commentary on the then-impending Handover than one typically finds in a HK movie.

Mainland China is portrayed as being overly extreme in their pursuit of justice: Elvis Tsiu (Tu Cam Giang) beats and tortures people for information and doesn’t care about following local law during his stay in Hong Kong. The funny thing about the story is that Andy Lau and Elizabeth Lee maintain a sort of naive and happy-go-lucky attitude about Hong Kong. Even after they’ve become immersed in the underworld and Elizabeth Lee is tortured by the bad guys. You’d think after awhile they would wizen up and become a bit more cynical. But the movie maintains the stereotype of Mainlanders being wide-eyed bumpkins. The script is difficult to take seriously as a result.

Not surprisingly, this film is nowhere as good as Johnny Mak’s original 1984 “Long Arm of the Law”. Which earned a Best Picture nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards and helped ignite interest in Triad movies. But Johnny’s brother Michael Mak has always been something of a ‘B’ filmmaker. With movies like “Sex and Zen” and “Dragon Force” to his name. Once he was handed the reigns to the “Long Arm of the Law” series.

It edged closer and closer to Category III-style exploitation with each sequel. Although Part 2 remains underrated due to a screenplay by legendary director Tsui Hark. Thankfully, for the most part Michael gets out of the way and lets action choreographer Tony Leung Chiu Sung do his thing in the third entry. If you’ve already seen all the classics by the likes of John Woo and Ringo Lam. Then “Long Arm of the Law 3” is a decent place to arrive next. But don’t expect to discover an unheralded classic.

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