1 February 2009 | BrianDanaCamp
THE THIRTY MILLION RUSH Amusing Hong Kong caper comedy
THE THIRTY MILLION RUSH (1987) is a Hong Kong comedy about a caper to steal $30 million (HK) in used bills from an incinerating plant where they've been left over a holiday weekend to be burned when the crew comes back. One has to have a taste for Hong Kong comedies and their freewheeling approach and casual regard for narrative development to enjoy a film like this, but, as someone who's seen a lot of HK comedies, I have to say this one's more accessible than most. Sure, the plot goes off on tangents and the film sometimes seems to forget the urgency of the situation, but the players are all game, the slapstick action is extremely well-staged, and there are enough genuine laughs to make it all worthwhile. Also, it avoids the vulgar humor we often see in these films.
I sought this film out because Brigitte Lin (PEKING OPERA BLUES, DRAGON INN) is one of the stars, but it turns out she's only a supporting player in an ensemble cast. The real star here is bald-headed Karl Maka, who also produced, directed and co-wrote the screenplay. Outside of the Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung circle of action comedians, Maka is arguably the greatest Hong Kong slapstick star. Here he plays an ex-con newly released from prison who is recruited to direct the caper. Eric Tsang plays the treasury employee who'd noticed that a malfunction in the Treasury shredder left the $30 million unshredded and then got to the incinerator too late to get them burned up. He solicits the help of two friends, Mark (Mark Cheng) and Tomboy (Angile Leung Wan-yui), to figure out a plan to steal the bags of bills and replace them with fakes, but they figure they need an actual thief to help them out so they stand outside the local prison to see if anyone is getting released that day. The first person they approach turns out to be the warden! When "Baldy" (Karl Maka) comes out, he first refuses their entreaties but when he sees his nemesis, a dogged police inspector (Wang Ching), drive up, he quickly joins "Fatty" (Tsang) and his friends and drives off with them, leading to a wild sequence of car chase slapstick.
Eventually, other parties get involved in the quest for the money, including an attractive and successful clothing designer (played by Paula Tsui Siu-fung), whom Karl tries to woo when he learns her apartment abuts the entrance to the drain tunnel that leads to the incinerating plant. Once recruited to assist, she even designs her own "cat burglar" outfit which is quite fashionable but a bit impractical. Brigitte Lin plays a nun who overhears the culprits planning the caper in church and she gets on her handy motor scooter to give chase and try to save their souls. The police inspector gets involved as well. At some point, after the caper's been committed, they all find that they've been tricked by another party, which leads to a whole new line of pursuit, culminating in a fight over the money aboard a yacht suspended by a crane over Hong Kong Harbor. The actors each do some of their own seemingly dangerous stunts.
I've always been struck by Eric Tsang's uncanny resemblance to comedian Lou Costello (of the Abbott and Costello comedy duo), even down to the mugging he does. Tsang is quite funny here although he's overshadowed by Maka, who does most of the heavy lifting as he eludes the police inspector (Wang Ching), tries to hook up with an old girlfriend who got married while he was in prison, and then romances Feng, the fashion designer, who remains impervious to his charms until he tells her about the money. At one point, Maka tries to get rid of Sister Maria (Brigitte) by "selling" her to a pimp, who's excited about her nun outfit, leading to another funny scene. The three actresses in the ensemble cast--Brigitte, Paula Tsui Siu-fung, and Angile Leung Wan-yui--all play rather tough babes and hold their own among this crowd. They're all pretty funny, too, and play it at just the right pitch.
Famed kung fu director Lau Kar Leung (HEROES OF THE EAST) stages the action scenes and appears in a significant supporting role. Cult director John Woo (HARD-BOILED) appears as the new husband of Baldy's ex. Other important future Hong Kong directors worked on the film in different capacities, including Ringo Lam (CITY ON FIRE), Kirk Wong (CRIME STORY), and Andrew Lau (INFERNAL AFFAIRS).
Although this film has been likened to IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, the Hollywood comedy it seems most inspired by is WHO'S MINDING THE MINT (1967), which starred Jim Hutton, Dorothy Provine, and Milton Berle.