As is typical of a Vigilante Action film, Corey Yuen’s Righting Wrongs intersperses the thrilling action with discussions on the thin line that divides revenge and justice. Unlike most films of such a nature, though, these dramatic beats aren’t lip service before the hero rights all injustices in a violent fashion. More so than the carefully crafted but rugged set pieces, they leave a mark on the viewer. A few key scenes delve into this theme and the clashing psyche of its protagonists and antagonist.

The first is fittingly the opening setup of its protagonist’s arc. Jason Ha (Yuen Biao), a disciplined prosecutor from Hong Kong, is visiting his mentor in New Zealand. Under his guidance, he has learned to respect law and order and fight for justice. However, when his mentor is mercilessly gunned down, Jason is disillusioned and seeks revenge in a high-speed pursuit. All Jason has left to show for his mentor is a book of laws riddled with bullet holes. It’s an unsubtle metaphor for how flimsy and full of holes the system he is tasked to uphold truly is.

Back home in Hong Kong, this comes in the form of corrupted systems, allowing criminals to bypass laws to gain freedom. For Jason, the only true path to justice is in the murder of the guilty. It’s a starkly dark premise, suppressing many of Yuen Biao’s natural charms so that he may channel his dramatic chops for his most iconic solo lead role. Jason’s struggles to be this harbinger for justice and how he gets caught in the miasma to do the right thing are echoed ever so subtly by Biao’s furrowed brow.

Inspector Cindy Si (Cynthia Rothrock) represents the opposing side of this issue, who can likewise let loose but prefers to stick to the rules. Their first meeting really relays Yuen’s core debate with the circumstances and the two characters’ arcs. As a model train races between them, the two use it as a metaphor to discuss how the law operates with a fixed destination.

If something were to disrupt the tracks, the question would be whether it is more important to fix the tracks or to find the source of the disruption by all means necessary. The question remains unanswered in their constant tug-of-war to clean the city, and the two lead characters are at an impasse. At the center of the plot is a mastermind who is also part of the system and echoes that Jason’s track is correct.

Yet director Corey Yuen isn’t someone to provide such simple answers, despite the very mainstream flavors of the film. When the main villain’s (Melvin Wong) nature is revealed, the character confronts and questions Jason’s actions. Wong acts as a mirror to Jason. He clearly points out that, despite their reasons, they are ultimately both murderers. It’s a reasonably profound statement to make in a genre known to ignore the morality and ethics of the hero’s actions to deliver oodles of exciting violence.

Righting Wrongs (1986) Movie Review - HOF
A still from Righting Wrongs (1986)

Not to say the film doesn’t have its fair share of this, Biao displays his action chops in a gritty manner without the comedic beats of his regular collaborators Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. Biao has to contend with a barrage of cars out to get him and a climactic stunt clinging onto a single crewed plane long before Tom Cruise would in the Mission Impossible franchise. The hand-to-hand combat, though, is comparatively sparse, with Biao getting two showcases, but the real highlight of it all is Cynthia Rothrock.

She fights with a female counterpart just before the climax, but her standout moment is the first and only real fight with Biao. Here the character shows brute force and skill, with Jason escaping with the skin of his teeth because he’s willing to be trickier than her. It’s a refreshing choice for a hero of Biao’s stature to look weaker, especially against the rising star of Rothrock.

Despite a lot of philosophizing, Corey Yuen does leave room enough to serve a multitude of tones. There’s comedy in the form of young crook Sammy (Louis Fan) and Cindy’s oafish partner Bad Egg (Corey Yuen). Even when their actions are played for laughs, their arcs emotionally converge further to probe this theme of “What is Justice?” It’s why, at times, the film’s choice to deal with such drama is refreshing.

This shows especially when Cindy confronts the truth that her code is useless in the face of a defective system. Yuen is willing to go to the extreme to establish this point with her death, and the villain also mocks Jason’s chosen path. The film’s controversial Hong Kong cut (dubbed in Cantonese) ends with the death of all three individuals, a bold move by the filmmaker to leave us with no easy answers.

In the alternative cut found in the 88 films Blu-ray release, both protagonists survive, but Jason goes to prison for his actions. This was an audience-mandated cut for the Mandarin dub after they voiced their displeasure over the heroes’ deaths to the cast and crew at a preview screening. It’s a fascinating take where, despite his actions’ intent, Jason is ultimately considered a murderer and must also face the law and order of the system.

With that difference between the two versions, it is easy to understand then the ambiguity of Corey Yuen’s ideas on his themes. The original cut obviously adheres to his idea that the ultimate pursuit of violent justice is akin to revenge. Thus, as the adage goes, both protagonists have to dig their own graves and that of the villain.

In the revamped cut, this becomes clear when Yuen decides that if Jason is to survive, the only outcome is to suffer the consequences of his actions. It’s difficult to say if Jason cures the system of its rot, but at least with his conviction meted out by Cindy, he can go on knowing that, at some point, the law triumphs.

Ultimately, Corey Yuen presents us that as long as heroes stand up for justice, no one is above the law. In that sense, this truly is a very classical vigilante action film befitting its era.

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Righting Wrongs (1986) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia
The Cast of Righting Wrongs (1986) Movie: Yuen Biao, Cynthia Rothrock, Melvin Wong, Wu Ma, Roy Chiao, Corey Yuen
Righting Wrongs (1986) Movie Genre: Action, Runtime: 1h 42m
Where to watch Righting Wrongs

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