THE HUNTED HUNTER (1997) short review

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Yuen Biao’s last lead role on the big screen before he retreated to supporting parts and TV, Ricky Lau’s The Hunted Hunter is a cheap, limp semi-remake of The Fugitive, set in the Philippines with Yuen as the titular wrongly accused man on the run (here a chief of security accused of murdering a woman in the building he supervises), Zhang Fenyi as the dogged cop on his trail (along with Filipino help from Roi Vinzon and Karen Timbol), and Jessica Hsuan Hester as his wife who has the key to proving his innocence. Jerry Lamb, Chung Fat and a ponytailed Wu Ma also feature. The plot, in which it should be noted the hunted is not a hunter at all, is a toxic mix of convoluted and vague, and while Zhang Fenyi at least tries to look like he’s invested, Yuen Biao gives a lifeless performance, a very unusual sight indeed. Worse : in a numbingly stupid artistic choice, some action scenes which could have been fairly exciting are shot in a blurry semi-slow motion that annihilates any excitement or impact. When shot normally the action is serviceable, with a watchable fighting finale the only competent moment in a slightly depressing film. *1/2

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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. **

KICKBOXER (1993) short review

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Directed by Wu Ma and sometimes billed as Once Upon A Time In China 6, which it is definitely not, Kickboxer instead focuses on a disciple of Wong Fei Hung (who is absent from the whole film), Yuen Biao’s Lau Zhai, who after being wrongly accused of smuggling opium into China, has to infiltrate a Opium gang led by Chairman Wah (Yuen Wah), with the help of his friend Bucktooth (Wu Ma) and constable Panther (Yen Shi Kwan). Produced not only to cash in on the success of Tsui Hark’s Once Upon A Time In China series, but also to provide Yuen Biao with a starring role worthy of his talents following his sidelining in the first film of Tsui Hark’s series, Kickboxer was unfortunately made with much less money, resulting in a far cheaper look. More disappointingly, despite its ambition to better showcase Yuen Biao, the film relies too much on comedy and not enough on fights. It has crazy moments, like what can only be described as a kung fu chess game between Yuen and Yen Shi Kwan, but overall has the feel of a TV knockoff. Things do get a bit more memorable in final fight between Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah (always an exciting match-up), but in the end, Kickboxer isn’t that much less a waste of Yuen’s massive talents than Once Upon A Time In China was. **