Aces Go Places V The Terracotta Hit
Hong Kong 1989
Directed by Lau Kar Leung.

Aces Go Places V The Terracotta Hit is the last in a series of films which were in many ways a watershed in Hong Kong Cinema. The Aces Go Places series established, once and for all, that chop-socky wasn't all the little island colony was capable of producing. Instead the series offered action comedy complete with master thieves, bumbling detectives, clever gadgets, killer robots, and international intrigue. But then, in a bit of a turnaround, the last movie in the series features chop-socky anyway.

Each of the films in the series star cantopop star Sam Hui as King Kong, a master thief, and Karl Maka as Baldie, a detective. Although often at odds with each other, they always end up teaming up together by the end to beat the bad guys. Together, they are 'Best Partners,' and Sam Hui even sings a nice theme song to prove it.

Our story begins this time in Chang Mai, Thailand, and the Best Partners swoop in to rescue a beautiful woman who is gettting married against her will. Or at least, it looked that way. Actually she was marrying her sweetheart, and is on the run from a cruel, abusive tyrant of a husband. Unfortunately, that husband is precisely who hired the boys to find her. It becomes a matter of letting the girl go or keeping the money, and King Kong decides to let the girl go, throwing the money back to their client. Baldie is infuriated by his nonchalant heroism, as he could have really used the money. They fight, and decide to split up the team.

Meanwhile back in Hong Kong, a major heist happens, of which we are only told in the supertitles -- Criminal mastermind "White Glove" steals a shipment of terracotta warriors which were to be displayed in Hong Kong for the first time. Along with the shipment, he also gets the First Emperor's jade sword, which he immediately calls the "Chinese Excaliber." He doesn't get a chance to enjoy it, however, because two more master thieves (Leslie Cheung and Nina Li) steal the sword from him, disguised as the Best Partners.

Now both the police and White Glove's gang are hunting for the Best Partners so they can give up what, in fact, they don't even have in the first place. Their only hope is to get back together, find the other thieves, and return the sword to the police. But they want to do it on their own terms, first escaping from the crooks, then from the police, as they make their own way toward solving the case.

At one point they are captured by a mainland officer called the "Chinese Rambo" (Conan Lee), who takes them to a mainland prison, where the horrors of life there spur them into agreeing to work with the police. Danny Lee has a cameo here as a prisoner, and Roy Cheung is the head of the prison, named "The Murderer King." In one of the best scenes of the film, Danny shows our heroes his lifestyle in the prison, and how, when it's time to be executed, prisoners are expected to buy their own bullets.

The Best Partners finally catch up with the fake partners, and together track White Glove's gang to a big warehouse, to recover the stolen sword and terracotta warriors in a climactic kung-fu action fight to the finish.

Aces Go Places V is a pretty solid film, and although Hong Kong audiences may have considered it the worst of the bunch, they did so because they were perhaps looking for a more hollywood-like style. For viewers outside of Hong Kong, however, this film offers a lot of Hong Kong cinema strengths. As directed by Lau Kar Leung, an old hand at old school kung fu films, even the most clearly unskilled fighters, like poor Leslie Cheung, can cut a pose and do a few quick moves that don't seem to far fetched. Sam Hui is able to put his film fighting skills to good use here, as he spars with Conan Lee and a variety of other fighters. Even the non-combat scenes are well-choreographed, a particular stand out is when the two Best Partners must fight over a single coat while trapped in an ice storage locker. Jackie Chan still does this type of action comedy best, but Sam Hui and Karl Maka put their own twist on it here and it comes out pretty well.

The humor fares less well, sharing as it does with many Hong Kong films an over abundance of boob jokes as everyone stumbles over themselves to admire Nina Li's ample bosom, which perhaps should have had its own credit, given the amount of attention that goes to it here. But brushing the tired old gags aside, the fresh and hilarious scenes spoofing life in a mainland prison, a la Prison on Fire, are more than worth waiting for. Light entertainment, best served with a bowl of popcorn and your choice of beverage.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 19, 2004.

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