KUNG FU WING CHUN (2010) short review

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Unfortunately more notable for the tragic death of its star Bai Jing than for anything to be found in it, this martial arts comedy by Tung Cho Joe Cheung features more inane comedy than interesting fighting, a shame given its title. Just like Yuen Woo-Ping’s 1994 film Wing Chun (starring the soon-to-be-reunited triumvirate of Yuen, Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen), it plays fast and loose with the already fast and loose origins of Wing Chun kung fu, a fighting style recently kicked into a full-blown trend by Yen’s Ip Man films. The historically baseless story of Wing Chun is that it was taught by buddhist nun Ng Mui to a young girl called Wing Chun, whose only way out of a loveless wedding to a rich kid was defeating him in a fight. Kung Fu Wing Chun more or less sticks to the legend, coating it in some uninspired comedy and akwardly choreographed fights, all very fake looking due to a stuffy studio aesthetic and cheap-looking green-screen work. The late Bai Jing is endearing but no Michelle Yeoh, being a bit short in the charisma department and quite often obviously doubled. Brief relief from mediocrity comes in the form of some illustrious supporting actors, among which Kara Hui as Ng Mui, Collin Chou as the villain of the piece, and the Yuen Wah/Yuen Qiu couple from Kung Fu Hustle. *1/2

 

SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT (aka LETHAL LADY) (1990) review

Joyce Godenzi, a former Miss Hong Kong of Sino-Australian descent, had a short career as a lead actress, before marrying Sammo Hung Kam-Bo in 1995 and retiring from the film industry. The few films she made as a lead actress were often associated with the successful Girls with Guns sub-genre of action cinema, which in the late eighties and early nineties had people like Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Khan or Kara Hui as its most famous faces. Her best-known film remains Corey Yuen’s She Shoots Straight, in which she plays a career-oriented policewoman who marries Tsung-Pao (Tony Leung Ka Fai), the only son in the Huang family. She has to face the resentment of her husband’s four sisters, (all of them cops under her command, which makes things more complicated) who do not approve, among other things, of her unwillingness to have a baby just yet. The elder sister Ling (Carina Lau) is also defiant of Mina’s authority on the force, and enraged that her own mother and brother are siding with Mina in every argument. At the same time, they have to put their differences aside to stop a gang of Viet-namese criminals (headed by the great Yuen Wah) on a crime spree through Hong Kong. Sammo Hung Kam-Bo endearingly crops up from time to time, surely to show his future wife some support (he’s also a producer on this film).

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ON THE RUN (1988) review

Heung Ming (Yuen Biao), is a down-on-his-luck cop who is looking to emigrate to Canada to start anew. But when his ex-wife is killed for digging too much into a case of corruption involving the head of Criminal Police, Lu (Charlie Chin), he finds himself accused of the murder and chased with his young daughter through night-time Hong Kong by Lu’s squad of corrupt cops (Lo Lieh, Yuen Wah and Phillip Ko). Through a bizarre but inevitable twist of fate, he finds that his only ally is Pai (Pat Ha), the very person who killed his ex-wife.

Casting against type can be a cheap way of bringing a sense of novelty to well-worn formulas, but when made right it can also be, as in the case of On The Run, a powerful way of taking the audience aback and hitting harder in the dramatic stakes. The director himself, Alfred Cheung, was and is still better-known for his comedies, and for him to direct such an unflinching noir thriller, is kind of like if Jon Turteltaub was the director of There Will Be Blood. But credit where it’s due : Cheung directs not only with a firm hand, but also with a great eye for dark humor and shocking turns of events. The pace is crisp, with taut, realistic action scenes that are made more hard-hitting not by trying to be too spectacular, but through striking details such as the hitwoman’s almost uncanny ability to kill anyone she fires at with a single, perfectly aimed headshot, even if that person is using a child as a human shield. The gripping pace of brief shootouts and blistering chases only ever lets up for strangely mesmeric interludes, as when Pai, the hitwoman, takes advantage of a moment of respite in a hideout to coyly try on a dress she’s bought before everything went to hell.

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MOB SISTER (2005) review

After getting his big break in the Hong Kong film industry with the over-indulgent and gaudy Jiang Hu (aka Triad Underworld), director Wong Ching-Po came back to the world of the Triads with Mob Sister, and once again gathered a who’s who of Hong Kong gangster films, from acting gods and Johnnie To regulars Simon Yam and Anthony Wong Chau Sang to Derek Yee’s go-to actors Alex Fong and Liu Kai-Chi, as well as the omnipresent Eric Tsang, and a representative of the Yuen clan in the person of Yuen Wah. Add to that fresh faces like Annie Liu, up and coming mainland actor (at the time, now he’s well-established) Ye Liu and actress Karena Lam, and you get one of the most intriguing and exciting casts in a while. Annie Liu is Phoebe, the adopted daughter of a kind-hearted mob boss (Eric Tsang), who lives a sheltered life surrounded by her father, her three protective uncles (Yam, Wong, and Fong), and her bodyguard (Ye Liu). But when her father is killed, she is called on to replace him as triad boss. The idea of an innocent teenage girl catapulted into the shoes of a mob boss is pure comedy material, but Wong Ching-Po choses – wisely – to not settle on a particular tone, instead oscillating between whimsical, bittersweet and tragic, and peppering his film with animated sequences that illustrate the “mob sister”‘s feelings.

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HERO (1997) review

Corey Yuen has action-directed countless films, but also directed quite a few, generally falling into two categories : chick-action flicks (Yes Madam!, So Close, Dead or Alive…) or Jet Li vehicles (The Enforcer, The Defender, the Fong Sai Yuk films…). Most of these film are enjoyable fluff, but not much else. But ironically, his very best film, one that stands in a league of its own compared to the others, is also his least famous. Released in 1997, Hero gave Takeshi Kaneshiro his first leading role in a big action film, and saved Yuen Biao from his Philippines-set career degeneration. Kaneshiro plays Ma Wing Jing, a young man who comes to Shanghai with his brother Tai Cheung (Yuen Wah) to escape the poverty of his village. He finds that life is no less hard in the city, working as coolie and being paid almost nothing. After saving the life of benevolent mobster Tam See in an ambush by his rival Yang Shuang (Yuen Tak), Ma Wing Jing is catapulted to the head of one of Tam’s nightclubs, where he falls in love with Kim (Jessica Hester Hsuan), a singer. But Yang Shuang is scheming with the local corrupt authorities to take full control on the town, and he may be getting help from the conniving Yam (Valerie Chow), Tam See’s former girlfriend.

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DRAGONS FOREVER (1988) review

Dragon Forever was the last film (or is the last film so far, as I like to think) to feature the mighty trio of Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (aka Biggest Brother), Jackie Chan (aka Big Brother) and Yuen Biao (aka Little Brother). After that film, their friendship would go through rocky times, with Sammo resenting Jackie’s superior degree of success, and Biao wanting to make a career for himself without always being tied to his illustrious big brothers. Well, at least the “three dragons” went out with a bang, because Dragon Forever is a marvel of breath-taking action, zany humour and, more unexpectedly, heart-warming sweetness. Jackie Chan is Jackie Lung, a lawyer who is more interested in money than justice, and who is a bit of a ladykiller, too. He is hired by Mr. Wah (Yuen Wah), the owner of a chemical plant against whom the owners of a fish farm (Deannie Yip and Pauline Yeung) are pressing charges for polluting the water. To gather information and exert pressure on the two women, Jackie calls upon two friends, Luke (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) and the slightly deranged Tak-Biao (Yuen Biao). But when they proceed to bug their house and monitor their actions, the unexpected happens as Jackie falls in love with one of them and Luke with the other. On top of that, they find out that the chemical plant is actually a drug refining plant and decide to take action.

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