Part comedy, part broiling melodrama, Fong Sai Yuk (1993) is good solid entertainment in the form of a kung fu film. Directed by master choreographer Corey Yuen Kuei, it boasts an excellent cast including Jet Li (Fong Sai Yuk), Josephine Siao Fong Fong (Miu Chui Fa – Fong Sai Yuk’s kung fu fighting Mum), Paul Chu (Fong Tak – Fong Sai Yuk’s Dad), Michelle Reis (Lui Ting Ting – Fong Sai Yuk’s love interest), Chan Chung Yung (Tiger Lui – Ting Ting’s Dad), Sibelle Hu (Lui Siu Wan – Tiger Lui’s wife), and Vincent Zhao (Nine Gates Governor – the film’s baddie). A synopsis of the film’s plot can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fong_Sai-yuk_(film)
Below I have jotted down some random thoughts about this film.
Random Thought 1:
I have written another brief blog with a few random thoughts on the 2 main characters of Fong Sai Yuk and his mother played. This first random thought is about the other actors included in this film’s strong cast. The winsome Michelle Reis, as Ting Ting, makes for a charming love interest for Fong Sai Yuk. Personally I find Chan Chung Yung hilarious in the part of Ting Ting’s vulgarian father, Tiger Lui. He delivers his lines in a rasping shout punctuated by florid hand gestures and some pretty outrageous facial expressions. His comedic timing is excellent and transforms what could have just been a loud, hammed up performance into something genuinely funny. Paul Chu performs the role of Fong Sai Yuk’s father, Fong Tak, with a sense of effortless authority and quiet heroism. Sibelle Hu imbues the role of Tiger Lui’s wife, Siu Wan, a woman dutifully submitting to a loveless marriage, with a sense of grace, resignation and quiet poignancy. These last 2 actors do well in their roles – in terms of presence they hold their own against all of the enjoyable nonsense perpetrated by the more extroverted characters. Vincent Zhao as the main villain acquits himself well – he speaks his dialogue with a quiet menace and is capable of virtuoso physical performance in his fight scenes with Jet Li.
Random Thought 2:
There is symmetry to the main characters in this movie. The story revolves around the actions of the 2 young potential lovers, Ting Ting and Fong Sai Yuk, and their pairs of parents. Each parental couple has one extroverted, comedic character (Fong Sai Yuk’s mother and Ting Ting’s garrulous father) married to a more dignified and serious personality. Another point of symmetry can be found in that, in both couples, it is the wives that are the martial arts experts (and not the husbands).
Random Thought 3:
Early in the movie both Fong Sai Yuk and his mother are flogged as a punishment by their father / husband. This is presented as a comic scene but it is something I just can’t take to. I guess there is a cultural barrier to me finding humour in this scene and, quite frankly, it is something that I don’t want to learn to smile at. When it comes to domestic violence I choose to maintain the rage. Sorry Yuen Kuei, but I will just have to fast forward through this scene when I watch this movie (which, overall, I enjoy very much).
Random Thought 4:
Despite the scene showing the beating, the Fong’s marriage is depicted as a loving one and Fong Tak’s behaviour does, at times, have a romantic dimension. The loving marriage of the Fongs is contrasted with the loveless marriage of Ting Ting’s parents, which I am guessing was an arranged marriage. For all that this is a madcap film I guess it is still alluding to some of the realities of marital life in Qing dynasty China – wives could be beaten or otherwise punished by their husbands and marriages were arranged so that folks had to take pot luck as to whether or not they would be compatible with their spouses.
Random Thought 5:
When Mrs. Fong drags up and pretends to be a youth by the name of Dai Yuk, Siu Wan falls for ‘her’. Dai Yuk is many things Siu Wan’s husband is not – young, slim, comely, a smooth talker and a dashing martial artist. Siu Wan’s infatuation with him is an indication as to just how lacking in romance this unhappy woman’s life has been. I also find it interesting to consider the fact that this constrained woman is, unwittingly, attracted to and yearning for the attention of someone who is, underneath the boy’s clothes, a strong, confident and decisive woman. Perhaps, on an instinctive level, Siu Wan recognizes and longs for qualities she would have liked to have manifested herself in her own life.
Random Thought 6:
The first half of Fong Sai Yuk is full of comedy and slapstick but the film quickly slips into melodramatic mode from the point where Siu Wan is shot. The transition happens quickly – one moment the Fongs are in full clowning mode, pulling grotesque retarded faces and hiding behind pieces of pork to disguise themselves; and the next the unfortunate Siu Wan is shot.
Fong Sai Yuk (as with so many other martial arts movies) carefully constructs a context of skillfully wrought atavism for its audience. The viewer is primed by the crazy comedy, elaborately staged violence and occasional moments of histrionic emotion so that they can be maneuvered into a primal place. This is why the viewer can move from laughing out loud at the slapstick to shedding a tear at the death of Siu Wan without the experience jarring at all.
I love the structure of this film. The death of Siu Wan is the emotional apex of the film – the film has plotted a course from farce to melodrama to this point, and then plots a course away from it leading up to the ultimate showdown.
Random Thought 7:
In this film Fong Sai Yuk fights his way into a town square to rescue his dad. In the sequel, Fong Sai Yuk 2, he fights his way into a town square to rescue his mum.
Random Thought 8:
I would love to know more about where this movie is set – it appears to be some sort of prosperous frontier town in a semi arid region. Is it set in the North? The characters are wearing warm, padded costumes that suggest a colder climate (it was cold when they filmed it too – you can see the actors’ breaths condensing all through the film). The Qing dynasty was ushered in by the conquering Manchu, who had evolved from a nomadic people and for whom, as a consequence, the horse was culturally important. Some of this horse dependent culture must have rubbed off on the conquered Han people (especially in the North) so it is fitting that there’s a bit of horse riding in the film. In the final action scene Sai Yuk performs some amazing fighting antics on the back of a horse. The animal is treated more as a prop than as a sentient being but then so are the humans in some of the action scenes in this film.
Random Thought 10:
Most of the kung fu movies I see I watch on DVD, but the first time I saw this film was actually in the cinema with other people. When Fong Sai Yuk’s mum gallops in at the head of the rescuing cavalry in the final action scene she received a rousing cheer, especially from all of the lassies in the audience.
I have written a couple of other brief blogs about this film. One is on Jet Li and Josephine Siao in their roles as Fong Sai Yuk and his naughty mother and the other is about the choreography. I will be posting them soon.