James (Frankie Chan) and Bond (Max Mok) - see what they did there? - are a couple of slick car thieves stealing high-priced Porsches for a local chop-shop. Their high speed crime spree soon draws the attention of HKPD in the form of ball-busting lady cop, Tequila (Yukari Oshima). A game of cat-and-mouse ensues with James growing increasingly attracted to the sexy supercop who proves an invaluable ally when the boys find themselves at odds with a gang of international drug traffickers smuggling cocaine in stolen cars.
Often described as Gone in Sixty Seconds with kung fu, Outlaw Brothers ranks among several triumphs in the eclectic career of the multitalented Frankie Chan. He began his career in the film industry as a remarkably prolific soundtrack composer at Shaw Brothers and in fact continues to score films made by other directors to this day. In 1980 he segued into acting with the romantic thriller Read Lips but found real stardom with a villainous turn in Sammo Hung’s acclaimed martial arts masterpiece Prodigal Son (1981). The Perfect Match (1982) marked his directorial debut after which he cranked out a diverse array of occasionally inspired movies such as Burning Ambition (1987) and A Warrior’s Tragedy (1993) between balancing a unique parallel career as a trusted second unit director on several films for close friend Jackie Chan (no relation), notably handling the full-throttle car chase sequences on the underrated Thunderbolt (1995). For his part, Jackie lent his celebrated stunt team and assisted former Shaw Brothers star Yuen Tak in choreographing the frenetic and hugely entertaining action scenes featured in Outlaw Brothers.
Sporting that vibrant, appealing neon Eighties look, Outlaw Brothers is very much a product of the brash, flash bubble economy attitudes of its time and as gleefully frivolous as its sharp suited, smart-mouthed antiheroes. Amoral and unrepentant, though they balk at drug trafficking, James and Bond are not the most admirable heroes, but the charismatic actors make them engaging nonetheless. Scripted by Barry Wong, the prolific industry stalwart behind classics including the aforementioned Prodigal Son, Mr. Vampire (1985), Eastern Condors (1987), Pedicab Driver (1989) and Hard Boiled (1992) before his untimely death in 1991, the wayward plot segues from silly slapstick to dippy domestic drama with James torn between safeguarding his sister (Siu Lan) from her abusive boyfriend (Kwok Yiu-Wah) and helping Bond negotiate with triads for the right to marry a frankly rather mercenary nightclub hostess (Sharon Kwok Sau-Wan), but Frankie has an ace in the hole in the form of Yukari Oshima who gives the real star turn.
Having trained at the Japan Action Club founded by the legendary Sonny Chiba, the appealing Oshima first found fame with a supporting role in cult sci-fi favourite Space Sheriff Gavan (1984) before swapping her native Japan for Hong Kong and stardom with a stellar turn as a scary villainess in the trailblazing girls-with-guns classic Angel (1987). Frankie Chan struck an enduring partnership with the Japanese born femme fatale, both onscreen and off. His recent return to directing after a decade’s absence with Legendary Amazons (2011) featured a scene-stealing supporting role for his significant other. With Outlaw Brothers, Chan wisely tailored the film around Oshima’s jaw-dropping athleticism and commanding charisma but also gave her a rare chance to do more besides sneer and punch men in the face. The pair spark very well off each other in their flirty comedic scenes and the real charm comes from watching James and Tequila dance around each other, to the consternation of her lovestruck colleague (Michael Miu Kiu-Wai), although their relationship ends on a strangely sour and abrupt note sadly symptomatic of late Eighties action-comedies.
With Oshima on top form, the film needed a formidable villain. Once again, Frankie Chan lucked out by casting the era’s other imported Japanese superstar: Michiko Nishiwaki as a chic, coke-snorting criminal mastermind. From her breakout role in all-star caper classic My Lucky Stars (1985) to a celebrated cameo in God of Gamblers (1989), nobody played the slinky but sadistic villainess better than Michiko. Which leaves it all the more mystifying why Outlaw Brothers concludes without the expected showdown between the two deadly divas. Perhaps their rumoured off-screen enmity led Frankie to think twice about letting them loose on each other. By way of compensation, the climax features plenty of cracking kung fu scraps pitting the heroes against several of the most celebrated western martial arts talent active in HK cinema at that time, including British born Mark Houghton and American Jeffrey Falcon who went on to co-script and star in the cult oddity Six String Samurai (1998).