Vinegar Syndrome has been restoring and releasing films to disc for nearly a decade, and while they started with a focus on sexploitation they’ve long since expanded their vision. Horror films, action movies, and all manner of weird, wild cinema followed. The label’s latest genre push is a welcome one for action fans as their team has began acquiring, restoring, and releasing Hong Kong gems from the 80s and 90s — some of which have been difficult to come by in the U.S.
1996’s Ebola Syndrome received a fantastic 4K UHD release late last year, and Vinegar Syndrome is chasing it with a shift towards HK action. (Other HK titles available now or coming soon include The Iceman Cometh and Burning Paradise!) First up is Corey Yuen’s stone-cold classic from 1986, Righting Wrongs (aka Above the Law), and after years of having to settle for shoddy, edited versions, fans have finally been rewarded with a beautiful release absolutely packed with extras including three distinct cuts of the movie.
Ling Cheng (Yuen Biao) is a Hong Kong prosecutor prone to taking matters into his own hands when justice fails. His acts of vigilantism land him in trouble, though, with both criminals and cops. The former include members of organized crime and a dirty policeman or two, while the latter consists almost entirely of Det. Cindy (Cynthia Rothrock) and her slovenly partner (Yuen). They’re all trying to stop him, and it’s not long before his good deeds are punished in violent fashion.
Yuen’s desire to make an action movie showing that the good guys don’t always win results in a film that’s thrilling on the action front before ending on one hell of a downbeat finale. Righting Wrongs is bleak stuff, unless, that is, you watched it under the title Above the Law. That American cut gets a “feel good” wrap up guaranteed to leave viewers a bit happy as the credits roll. Whichever version you watch — and you should arguably watch all three — the main draw is going to be the action, and there’s no doubt you’ll be feeling good on that front.
Both Biao and Rothrock are at the top of their game here delivering some blistering fights and stunt work. Both combat all manner of baddies with everything they’ve got, but we also get a couple fights between the pair. Rothrock has stated that Biao was the most perfectly matched performer she’s ever fought against, and it’s evident in their tense and exciting bouts.
Vinegar Syndrome delivers, as expected, with a fantastic restoration and release. It’s a clean, vibrant print offering up detail both in and out of the action beats without having scrubbed away the film’s natural grain. Play it on a big enough screen, and you’ll feel like you’re watching it again for the first time.
Disc one includes the Hong Kong cut of Righting Wrongs [1:37:14] with the original Cantonese soundtrack, an English dub, and a Mandarin dub. It also features trailers, a photo gallery, and the following new and archival extras.
- *NEW* Commentary with Cynthia Rothrock
- Commentary with Cynthia Rothrock
- *NEW* Fighting Wrongs [24:58] – “They did not want their heroes to die.” Cynthia Rothrock talks about her time making movies in Hong Kong, why Yuen Biao is her favorite person to “fight” against, why Golden Harvest decided to shoot an alternate ending, and much more. It’s a fun interview filled with great details and anecdotes.
- *NEW* Unscripted Justice [35:31] – “They just wanted to see how I move.” Karen Sheperd talks about her early years on the martial arts fight circuit, how an invite to Japan to star in The Shinobi Ninja (1981) kicked off her film career, how this was a reunion of sorts with Cynthia Rothrock who she had competed against on the mat, and more.
- *NEW* Kung Fu Was the Equalizer [20:24] – “You don’t announce it everybody that you know kung fu.” Melvin Wong shares how he started out as a pharmaceutical chemist before falling into acting, moving onto law, and then returning to movies, working with Golden Harvest, playing villains, and more.
- *NEW* Fighting for Success [20:50] – Peter Cunningham talks about being the lightweight kickboxing champion with film aspirations, jumping from No Retreat No Surrender (1985), his love for Cynthia Nixon and Richard Norton, and more.
- The Vigilante [16:40] – Yuen Biao
- Action Overload [12:52] – Cynthia Rothrock
- From the Ring to the Silver Screen [18:56] – Peter Cunningham
- *NEW* Violence & Corruption: A Video Essay by Film Historians Samm Deighan and Charles Perks [11:07]
Disc two includes two cuts of Righting Wrongs — the U.S. edit retitled Above the Law [1:32:04], and the Chinese export cut [1:39:49] with the original Mandarin audio and English subs. In addition to being five minutes shorter, the Above the Law cut also features the “happy ending” reshoots leaving both Biao and Rothrock’s characters alive (and the former sentenced to eight years for manslaughter). The export version has numerous changes throughout and keeps its lead characters alive, but Biao is sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance for parole. Harsh! That export cut also features the following extra.
- Commentary with martial arts historians Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
Disc three features the 1990 documentary The Best of the Martial Arts Films [1:31:19], and it’s a brilliant addition to this release. This doc is responsible for getting numerous viewers into Hong Kong action cinema and highlighting fighting stars beyond the obvious big names. A quick peek at the talents explored includes the likes of Yuen Biao, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Sho Kosugi, Joyce Godenzi, Sibelle Hu, and more. Host John Saxon brings exactly the right kind of dramatic flair to his narration as he shares a look into the history of martial arts, “a heightened awareness of mind and body,” and the practitioners who mastered it for cinematic purposes.
Vinegar Syndrome’s limited edition release of Righting Wrongs also includes a hard box, a slipcase, and a forty-page booklet with new essays by Pearl Chan, Grady Hendrix, and Simon Barrett. It’s a gorgeous release, both inside and out, and it’s guaranteed to leave fans stoked for a slate of upcoming Hong Kong releases from the label.