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.