The Iceman Cometh (1989) poster

The Iceman Cometh (1989)


aka Time Warriors
(Jidong Qixia)

Hong Kong. 1989.


Director – Huo Yao-Liang, Screenplay – Johnny Mai Dang-Xiong & Stephen Xiao Ruo-Yuan, Producer – Ruo-Yuan, Photography – Pan Heng-Shen, Music – Chen Yong-Liang, Art Direction – Fang Ying. Production Company – Johnny Mak Productions/Golden Harvest.


Yuan Biao (Fong Sau Ching), Maggie Cheung (Polla), Yuan Hua (Fung Shan)


China, during the Ming Dynasty. The palace guard Fung Shan tires of duty and goes on a spree of murder and mayhem. When he rapes one of the princesses of the realm, his former colleague Fong Sau Ching swears to bring him to trial. Ching pursues Fung Shan into the mountains where Fung manages to activate The Wheel, a mystic Buddhist artifact that places them in suspended animation just as they fall into an icy glacier. Unfrozen in present-day Hong Kong, they make their way into the streets of a bewildering 20th Century where Fung Shan quickly turns to a life of crime and the naive Ching is fooled into becoming the slave of an opportunistic hooker.

Hong Kong Martial Arts Cinema was the most inventive form of fantasy filmmaking in the world. This wonderfully entertaining effort plays like a comic martial arts variation on Highlander (1986). Any connection with the revived Neanderthal film Iceman (1984) or The Iceman Cometh (1939), Eugene O’Neill’s famed play of the same title about characters meeting in a flophouse should be construed as probably intentional.

Director Huo Yao-Liang offers up a lightning paced array of acrobatics and martial arts displays – dazzling backflips, mid-air aerobics, swordfights, gun battles, fight scenes hanging from Jeeps suspended in mid-air, even slow-motion shots showing people catching bullets, all executed with a breathless precision that leaves any near Western equivalent for dead.

In one astounding sequence, Yuan Hua disables an opponent by flicking bullets at him with the impact of a gun; not merely content with that director Huo Yao-Liang has the downed man pulling one of the bullets out of his shattered leg to put back in the gun and continue shooting at Yuan after he runs out of ammunition. What is also refreshing in comparison to its Western parallels is the lack of macho posing and the neo-fascist underpinnings that fill the films of American martial artists like Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal.

Swordsmen in the present day - Yuan Biao vs Yuan Hua in The Iceman Cometh (1989)
Swordsmen in the present day – (l to r) Yuan Biao vs Yuan Hua

The film is equally enjoyable for the broad humour it raises in its cultural clashes – with Yuan Biao believing toilet water is for drinking, lighting log fires in the kitchen to cook and the like. The cast give excellent performances, particularly noticeable being the fact that they seem to all be doing their own stunts. The most charming of the performers though is Maggie Cheung – the bored expression on her face as she is forced to endure an S&M scene or the moment she thrusts her shoe out to the police officer who promised to lick her toes when she claimed Yuan Biao was 300 years old is absolutely wonderful.

There is a cheerful absurdism to the film – one that can happily produce a potion of losing martial arts abilities out of nowhere at a moment’s notice. In fact. the bad subtitling – dynamite for dynamo, lotion for potion – actually works in the film’s favour. If the film has a fault, it is in the happy ending imposed, which is content to have Yuan Biao return, inexplicably back in the present time and dressed as a student with glasses for some reason.

Iceman/The Iceman Cometh (2014) was a remake starring Yuen Biao, which led to a sequel with Iceman: The Time Traveller (2018).

Huo Yao-Liang (also known as Clarence Yiu-leung Fok) has been a regular director of Hong Kong action and crime films since the 1980s. His most well-known film is the cult action film Naked Killer (1992). He has made occasional ventures back into genre material with the likes of:- the ghost story Don’t Turn Around or You’ll Be Sorry (2000); Don’t Open Your Eyes (2006) about a mediumistic cop; and the supernatural adventure Dating a Vampire (2006).

Trailer here

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