A small rambling blog about The Prodigal Son

Directed by Sammo Hung and starring Sammo, Yuen Biao, Lam Ching Ying and Frankie Chan.

I really enjoyed this film enormously. It has plenty of humour, a little pathos and, as you would expect, excellent movement sequences.

I had only seen Lam Ching Ying in Mr Vampire before and I found both his character and his portrayal of that character to be fascinating. Lam plays a Chinese opera performer who specializes in playing young female heroine roles.  We see Lam in full feminine makeup and costume, acting with delicate coquetry, onstage and in the dressing rooms of the Chinese Opera venue. Offstage his character is revealed as a quiet and somewhat austere man who is an adept martial artist. There is a scene early on in the film that derives its humour from the fact that some men try to pick up Lam’s character while he is in his Chinese Opera costume and character, without realizing that the ‘she’ is a ‘he’. In terms of an actor playing a role of a different gender to their own, Lam’s performance is mesmerizing to watch for its delicate skill. I am developing a fascination for the history of the martial arts film genre. This is motivating me to find out more about things like Chinese Opera and Wuxia literature (both of which have had a huge influence on kung fu and swordplay films), and I always really enjoy seeing Chinese Opera sequences in martial arts films as it is very interesting to see these 2 art forms juxtaposed against each other. Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao (along with other key martial arts film figures such as Jackie Chan and Corey Yuen) all studied at the same renowned Chinese Opera school as children and teenagers, whereas Lam Ching Ying also studied Chinese Opera at a rival academy. In the extras on this DVD there is an interview with Sammo Hung saying something along the lines that he had confidence in Lam playing his character because he had been schooled in Chinese opera and therefore knew the correct style and movements when performing female parts.

As well as Lam, the acting from the rest of the cast is uniformly good. Sammo Hung, in particular, steals some scenes when his character is introduced in the middle of the film. He is an excellent character actor and in this film he uses his wonderful comedic gifts to full effect.

Another element I enjoyed in this film was the choreography. Sammo Hung has a formidable reputation as a choreographer and director of martial arts films and the choreography in this film was the most enjoyable for me out of all of Hung’s films that I have seen. Again, the DVD extras furnished some interesting information. The prevailing kung fu style featured in this film was Wing Chun, which apparently had not been used in many films up until The Prodigal Son. Apparently, the aesthetic of its movements does not lend itself to creating interesting or entertaining choreography for the big screen. I know nothing about martial arts so I have to take the word of the martial artists in the DVD extras on this (and I am happy to do so, of course). But if this is true then Sammo Hung and his team have done a great job with the choreography. It never looks boring; instead this film is full of dynamic sequences of movement filled with interesting angles, shapes and rhythms.

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4 Responses to A small rambling blog about The Prodigal Son

  1. This is one I never got around to seeing, though it was always on the list. My interest waned quite a bit when DVD’s took over as the primary format (to this date I’ve “upgraded” less than 10% of my original collection), but reading these posts is making me miss watching all those great films, as I used to watch several a week!

    Re: literature, you may have already done so, but I would highly recommend tracking down an unabridged copy of Wu Cheng En’s Journey To The West (written circa 1500’s I think). Aside from being the book Monkey Magic was based on, it’s jam-packed with references and mythologies that continue to find their way into modern cinema. I have a book of short stories, The Core of Chinese Classical Literature (divided into five sections, ranging from pieces as old as 220AD to 20th century work), which is a great read for those that have an interest in older customs and beliefs -particularly the romance/ghost stories. I never got a hold of any of the more famous wuxia novels, though.

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    • Thanks for the literature recommendations. I am aware of Journey to the West but have never read it (might be a good one for my daily train commute). I’ll keep an eye out for the Core of Chinese Classical Literature too. I haven’t read any wuxia novels (young or old) but I would like to.

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  2. dorkarama says:

    If you enjoyed Prodigal Son, you might want to check out Sammo’s other film about the Wing Chun system – Warriors Two, which is terrific.
    It is puzzling that Frankie Chan, who plays the villain in Prodigal Son, has only appeared in a handful of movies. He stars in Outlaw Brothers with Japanese action heroine Yukari Oshima. It has some thrilling action scenes but is one of those films that tends to drag whenever the fighting stops.
    There is a connection between Prodigal Son and The Legend Is Born: Ip Man. Yuen Biao’s character in Prodigal Son is Leung Chang, who was a real Wing Chung practitioner. In The Legend Is Born: Ip Man, the young Ip meets Leung Chang’s son, Leung Bik, played by Ip Chun, the real son of Ip Man. It’s all very inter-textual.
    So in conclusion, I really need to get out more.

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    • Dangerous Meredith says:

      You and me both! But thanks for th recommendations and tyhe background. Nothing like a good bit of inter-textuality to give you a shot in the arm!

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