Long Arm of the Law

Directed by: Johnny Mak
Written by: Philip Chan
Starring:  Jing Chen, Joan Huang, Lung Jiang, Wai Lam, Ming Yeung
Year: 1984
Country: Hong Kong
Running time: 106 mins
BBFC Classification: 18

Considered one of the all-time great Hong Kong flicks of the Golden Era and even seen by some as the originator of the Heroic Bloodshed genre (just pipping John Woo’s genre titan A Better Tomorrow to screens), Long Arm of the Law has lost none of its ferocious urgency or brutal impact 40 years on.

A group of friends and ex-army mainlanders make the treacherous journey to Hong Kong to strike it rich by robbing a jewellery store then fleeing back to the mainland with their spoils. Led by their would-be leader Tung (Wai Lam), who had already been eeking out an existence in Hong Kong plotting the robbery, the gang are scuppered when the HK police notice them scoping about the store they plan to rob. Thus, forced into hiding and deciding to wait three days to reattempt to rob the store, the group take on a hit for a local crime boss to make some quick cash to tide them over. However, said hit turns out to be on a police officer meaning the HK cops are now gunning for the crew. And as the heist looms, tensions rise, the vices of the big city get their grips on the group, and things go from bad to worse resulting in the robbery going spectacularly wrong.

Grim, grimy, and without a hint of the stylised posing and action the Heroic Bloodshed genre would become synonymous with, Long Arm of the Law pulls no punches in its depiction of desperate crime and the seduction of 80s materialism. The group of ex-army buddies all set off thinking they’re going to make it rich only for things to go wrong from the get-go. The escalating feeling that things are only going to get steadily worse for the group permeates the film as Johnny Mak’s film never glamourizes criminal life: the glamour the group crave getting further and further away and their penchant for violence and self-preservation taking on increasingly violent tendencies. Mak’s film, written by the legendary (and ex-police officer) Phillip Chan (Double Impact, Hard Boiled), is as much about the seduction of the mainlander group by the heady heights of Hong Kong and the promise of quick fortune and status as it is with barn storming action. It’s a dark and often bleak film that offers little hope to any of its characters and is certainly not about super cops going up against well organised and cool looking villains.

That’s not to say the film isn’t entertaining as it certainly rockets along on its spiralling into criminal world chaos premise that builds to some absolute incredible action which has rarely been topped. While a drama first and for most Long Arm of the Law stills features an impressive level of Hong Kong style action and stunts, albeit with a brutally realistic edge, culminating in the infamous Walled City shootout. The brotherly gang finds themselves trapped within the claustrophobic confines of the ghetto like structure as they flee through never-ending alleyways to allude the ever-swarming cops, taking ever desperate (and violent) risks to get out alive. It’s a marvel of tightly confined bullet riddled action that still exhilarates today due to the expert use of the setting and thundering gun blasting firepower.

Tough, bleak, but grittily released, Long Arm of the Law is certainly a case of they don’t make them like this anymore. Female characters are unfortunately given short shrift, there’s a few plot contrivances (and nasty scenes) that may irk some and some may not gel with the overly brotherly melodrama but there is no doubting Long Arm of the Law is a first-class cop vs. crooks thriller that has lost none of its edge.

Long Arm of the Law 2

Directed by: Michael Mak
Written by: Philip Chan
Starring: Fui-On Shing, Elvis Tsui, Yat-Chor Yeun, Alex Man, Ben Lam
Year: 1987
Country: Hong Kong
Running time: 90 mins
BBFC Classification: 15

Some three years after the original Long Arm of the Law Michael (brother of the originals’ producer/director) Mak followed up with a sequel that sees a new set of characters from the mainland caught up with crime and cops in Hong Kong. Three recent escapees from a labour camp are caught and given a second chance to go undercover in Hong Kong to bust a notorious criminal gang. Arriving in the big city they’re put in the care of master undercover cop Biggie (Alex Man), who while antagonistic at first becomes a mentor like figure to the crew. Yet when these would be undercover criminals get too close to the gang they’re meant to infiltrate leading to one of their ranks being brutally slain and their cover blown, the within reach new life the group were promised in shattered in an explosion of brutal violence.

Slicker but no less brutal follow up to the genre defining original, Long Arm of the Law 2 is another hard-hitting heyday Hong Kong thriller that highlights the darker side of life while also delivering thrilling firepower. It may not have the unique feel or style of the original (akin to glossier late 80s Hong Kong action fare), but Part 2 is still a tough slice of guys on the wrong side of the law finding everything going wrong fast. Solid cast and gritty location lensing lend authenticity and while the storyline does get a little muddled on occasion (due to a surfeit of characters and sub-plots) Alex Man and Elvis Tsui (as the de facto group leader of the group forced to go undercover) carry the film with their likeable and committed performances. In fact, their quiet scene where they just chat in the street enjoying a drink and a smoke once they’ve come to trust one another is a welcome (and well-acted) moment of calm in amongst the storm of violence.

Again, pulling no punches when showing the violence of the criminal underworld, Long Arm of the Law 2 showcases some stellar 80s era dangerous looking stunt action and gunplay including an impressive escape from an airport and a climactic shootout (that while doesn’t top the original’s finale!) is full of bombastic firepower and fallout. The dark edge of the original is ever present leading to some unflinching scenes of brutality not least quite possibly one of the most insanely brutal torture scenes put to film – rats in a bag and all! Not for the fainthearted but for fans of hard-edged cop action films from the golden era of Hong Kong, this is tough to beat.

88 Films presents Long Arm of the Law 1 & 2 on Blu Ray from 20th November 2023.


  • Rigid Slipcase to House 2x 11mm Black Blu-ray cases with artwork by Sean “Barbenheimer” Longmore: not available at the time of review.
  • 40 Page booklet featuring an essay by Tom Cunliffe and archive stills, posters and lobby cards: not available at the time of review.
  • Double Sided A3 Fold Out Poster featuring original poster artworks of both films: not available at the time of review.


  • Brand New 2K Remaster from the Original Camera Negative
  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ presentation in 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio: film looks fantastic and while the picture is sharp it doesn’t lose the gritty-shot-on-location style the makers were going for.
  • Hong Kong Version featuring Cantonese Mono Audio with Newly translated English Subtitles (106 mins approx): the version to watch!
  • English Version featuring English Mono dub (105 mins approx)
  • Audio Commentary by Hong Kong Film Expert Frank Djeng (HK Version): another excellent and informative commentary by Djeng that covers everything from the making of the film, to the Hong Kong film industry at the time, to the cultural relevance of the film. He’s a wealth of knowledge and his passion for the film (and Hong Kong films in general) shines through not least his ability to spot cameos from prolific actors of the time which all adds to the fun.
  • Family Business – An Interview with Michael Mak: short but interesting interview with Michael Mak (director of Long Arm of the Law 2) and his involvement with the first film. He talks about his brother’s, Johnny Mak, directing style and how a lot of the film was shot on the fly. In order to capture the almost docu feel of the film, the crew would put the actors onto the streets of Hong Kong with the cameras disguised as such things as lampposts, mailboxes etc, filming everything as it was happening for real. He also mentions the dangers of filming in mainland China at the time and it’s an interesting listen into how they made the film, captured the action, and if made today it would be done a whole lot differently.
  • From Hong Kong Police to Big Circle Gangs – An Interview with Scriptwriter Philip Chan: great half hour interview with the man himself, Philip Chan, that covers everything from his time in the Hong Kong police (he was pretty high up and important!), to how he got into the movie business (he was actually in a band that performed with some big stars of the time!), and how he came to write Long Arm of the Law and collaborate with Johnny Mak.. It’s fascinating stuff from a humble and likable man who has led an incredible life and made a lasting imprint on Hong Kong cinema. Good stuff.
  • A Conversation with Action Director Billy Chan and Scriptwriter Philip Chan: another excellent interview with writer Philip Chan and action director Billy Chan as they talk about the making of the film over coffee. They cover a wealth of topics, are complementary of the crew, and talk about how they created the incredible shootout within the confines of the now tore down Kowloon Walled City. They also discuss at length how the many of the actors were not professionals (and many have done little acting since the film!) and how Johnny Mak rehearsed everything to get the right feel for the film and performances from the actors. Fascinating stuff.
  • An Interview with Director Johnny Mak: archival interview with Johnny Mak that covers a lot of what the others say in the other featurettes but interesting nonetheless and great to hear from the director himself.
  • Hong Kong Trailer: epic 5-minute trailer that showcases most of the film and plays up the action elements that Johnny Mak confirms, in his interview, they were forced to do in order to get the film marketed.
  • Reversible cover with new art by Sean Longmore: not available at the time of review.


  • Brand New 2K Remaster from the Original Camera Negative
  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ presentation in 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio: again the film looks great, the slick visuals coming through sharp thanks to this new presentation.
  • Hong Kong Version featuring Cantonese Mono Audio with Newly translated English Subtitles (90 mins approx): the version to watch!
  • English Version featuring English Mono dub (87 mins approx)
  • Audio Commentary by Hong Kong Film Expert Frank Djeng (HK Version): another great commentary from Hong Kong film encyclopaedia Djeng, who’s wealth of knowledge and ability to talk about every aspect of the film and Hong Kong culture of the time is impressive. He gives great insight into the lead actors and their careers and what happened to many of them after appearing in Long arm of the Law 2.
  • Bringing the Action – An Interview with Director Michael Mak: longer interview with Mak continuing on from his chat on the first film as he goes much more in-depth about the making of Part 2 and gets candid about the legacy of the first film (basically all cop/crime films made in the wake of Long Arm of the Law were rubbish and his only cinematic influence is The Godfather – yawn!). Still, it’s fascinating stuff, especially about how the sequel came about and how the main trio were cast. Mak is opinionated but passionate and often talk highly of the film and his collaborators.
  • Man of Action – An Interview with Co-Star Ben Lam: great little interview with the very likable Lam who talks about his early days in the Hong Kong film industry (and joining Jackie Chan’s Stunt team) and how he came to get one of the leads roles in Long Arm of the Law 2. Dude has had a prolific career with Long Arm of the Law 2 being one of his only leading roles. He talks fondly of the film and his co-stars who, regrettably it seems, hasn’t heard from for years.
  • An Offer You Can’t Refuse – An Interview with Scriptwriter Philip Chan: a quick interview with Chan, that again continues on from his interview on the first, film where he basically talks about his reluctance to get involved in the sequel and his seeming disdain for it overall. He offers interesting insights into the genesis of the film but does not seem to be a fan of it at all.
  • The Iron Fist of Crime – An Interview with Stuntman Stephen Chan: great extended interview with lead bad guy Chan (Long Arm of the Law 3, Crocodile Hunter) that delves into his earlier life being raised and learning martial arts here in the UK, to how he got into the Hong Kong action movie scene, and his experiences of literally being thrown into the acting fire: Long Arm of The Law 2 being his first role! Great stuff.
  • Hong Kong Trailer: another epic trailer of it’s time that pretty much shows the whole film!
  • English Trailer: shorter, tighter trailer that sells the flick well amping up the action aspects.
  • Reversible cover with new art by Sean Longmore: not available at the time of review.

Fantastic set from 88 Films featuring perhaps two lesser known (at least on these shores!) but very important Hong Kong action films that can be viewed in either their Export cut or original Hong Kong cuts.

Now release Parts 3 & 4!

Long Arm of the Law 1 & 2 - 88 Films
Andrew Skeates reviews the brilliant epic 2 film set of Hong Kong classics, Long Arm of the Law 1 & 2 from 88 Films.
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"To tell you the truth I don't think this is a brains kind of operation." Way of the Gun (2000)

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