1988 Directed by Alex Law. Starring Samo Hung, Cheng Pei-Pei, Lam Ching-Ying.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 6, 1993
It's 1962, and a young boy is entering the mysterious, exotic world of Master Yu's Peking Opera Academy. Bound by a contract where he is little more than an indentured servant -- with his family's wages going straight to Master Yu for the duration of his training -- the boy will spend the next ten years of his life learning the intricate, physically demanding art of the centuries-old Peking Opera. Unceremoniously dubbed “Little Big Nose” by his peers, this is, in fact, a very young Jackie Chan. Along with other Hong Kong action/comedy luminaries Samo Hung and Yuen Biao, Chan spent his youth as a member of Master Yu's “Seven Little Fortunes” opera troupe, acquiring, as it were, the skills to pay the bills and the physical prowess and acting abilities that have made him and his compatriots some of the most astoundingly physical actors ever seen. Samo Hung portrays his own former teacher, Yu, as we see the three boys undergo the rigorously demanding daily workouts and early, panicky theatrical escapades that would forge them into masters in their own rights. It's all too easy, sometimes, to equate modern Hong Kong cinema with bloody John Woo shoot-em-ups or Tsui Hark's vibrant, violent kung fu spectacles; Painted Faces owes more to Truffaut's early explorations of school-age boys and their trials -- The 400 Blows in Cantonese? Not exactly, but the stretch is hardly as ridiculous as it might sound. Law's film also picks up on the mid-Sixties “Westernization” of Hong Kong society, with the boys becoming enamored of the Beatles and Teddy Boy fashions, bell-bottoms and all. Despite the fact that the film lags a bit in its second half (and the more I think about it, the less of a relevant complaint that really is), Painted Faces remains a charming, gorgeously lensed slice of Hong Kong history, and certainly one that no Jackie Chan/Samo Hung/Yuen Biao fan should pass up.