The Prodigal Son
Not rated, 109 min. Directed by Samo Hung Kam-Po. Starring Yuen Biao, Lam Ching-Ying, Samo Hung Kam-Po, Frankie Chan, Dick Wei, Li Hai-Sheng.
Generally considered by aficionados to be amongst the finest films directed by the accomplished, if highly underappreciated, Hong Kong action filmmaker Samo Hung Kam-po, The Prodigal Son is a truly great chopsocky picture, seamlessly combining blistering martial arts brawls with generous doses of silly comedy and wrenching, if typically shameless, melodrama. Kung fu expert Yuen Biao (Dragons Forever) gives an infectiously cocky performance as a spoiled young street brawler who receives a shocking blow to his overdeveloped ego when he discovers that the reason he never seems to lose a fight is because his wealthy, over-protective father has generously paid all of his opponents to lose. Humiliated, Biao sets about finding a new teacher and properly re-learning martial arts from the ground up. He eventually finds not one, but two kung fu masters -- one is a highly skilled, incomparably graceful Peking Opera star (Mr. Vampire alumnus Lam Ching-ying in an excellent performance), the other is his somewhat clumsy, but equally powerful brother (charmingly played by Hung himself) -- who are willing to train him in the deadly art of Wing Chun. Although the tried-and-true elements are all firmly in place, it's Hung's convictions, as well as his stylish direction (especially when compared to the zoom-happy style employed by most Hong Kong films of the period) and bruising fight sequences, that help elevate The Prodigal Son above other similarly formulaic genre fare. If you're a fan, don't miss this rare chance to see this one in the theatre: The only video version available stateside is a hideously cropped, washed-out mess made all the more unwatchable (for non-Cantonese speakers anyway) by the fact that the subtitles have an infuriating habit of dipping down out of sight for well over half the movie. Ouch.
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