CIRCUS KIDS (1994) short review

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Wu Ma’s last film as a director (though he kept on appearing in films for twenty more years), Circus Kids stands out simply by being the only time – so far – that martial arts greats Yuen Biao and Donnie Yen have been in the same film. Both were about to experience a unfortunate career wane in the second half of the nineties, and indeed Circus Kids is not up to their talent. It follows the various misfortunes of a circus troupe (led by Wu Ma himself and including Yuen Biao) during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai around 1910. Forced to move and take up jobs at a factory when their tent is destroyed in a Japanese bombing, they are thrust in the middle of political machinations and opium trafficking, but find an ally in a constable (Donnie Yen) who has feelings for the troupe’s trapeze artist (Irene Wan). Much of the goings-on in Circus Kids are tedious, thinly-written melodrama, which coupled with the film’s short running time and fairly low budget, don’t allow it to develop any kind of epic sweep or even dramatic poignancy. It is also fairly light on martial arts, with Donnie Yen and Yuen Biao only trading blows for a few seconds. Still the film’s stunning final fight, which sees Yuen take on fearful kicker Ken Lo (who the same year fought Jackie Chan in Drunken Master 2‘s unforgettable finale), is worth the wait, and a welcome relief from the mediocrity that precedes it. **

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TOUCH AND GO (aka POINT OF NO RETURN) (1991) review

What could a collaboration between Sammo Hung Kam-Bo and Ringo Lam in the early nineties look like, since the former was at the time known more for his hard-hitting but breezy comedies, and the latter already celebrated for his brutal and pessimistic style and outlook (having already directed such classics as City on Fire and Prison on Fire). In a way, this is a similar kind of pairing as when two years later the realistically-inclined Kirk Wong paired up with the perennially sunny (at least at the time) Jackie Chan for Crime Story. But Touch and Go didn’t fare quite as well as Crime Story would, artistically or financially. It tells of Goose (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), a cook who witnesses the murder of a cop by a gang of sex traffickers headed by Tiger (Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung) with ties and “customers” high up even in the Hong Kong police. Goose agrees to testify against Tiger, but the latter is bailed out and proceeds to burn his restaurant down to scare him away from testifying. A terrified Goose finds help with Pitt (Yeung Ming Wan), the murdered cop’s partner, as well as his sister Angel (Teresa Mo) and a kind-hearted Mainlander May (Irene Wan) who was lured to Hong Kong only to be exploited by Tiger, who actually may have feelings for her…

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