The Buddhist Fist (Yuen Woo-ping, 1980) — June 21, 2013
Maybe the biggest gap between quality of acting/storytelling and choreography/action I’ve ever seen. It’s the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers of kung fu movies.
To what degree that is the result of the copy I saw being badly dubbed, I can’t say. But the film is plagued by a half-baked mystery, wildly broad supporting performances, and leads that simply lack the star charisma to carry a plot like this. But the fight scenes are simply amazing. Yuen Woo-ping directs his brother Yuen Shun-yee and Tsui Siu-ming in some of the best hand-to-hand fight scenes in the genre (the finale is as good as it gets). Yuen’s father Yuen Siu-tien (the Drunken Master himself) also appears and the stunts and choreography are credited to the whole Yuen family.
The screenplay was co-written by Wong Jing, perhaps the nuttiest of lowbrow Hong Kong directors. I’m just going to go ahead and blame him for everything wrong with the movie.
Legend of a Fighter (Yuen Woo-ping, 1982) — May 13, 2014
Like The Buddhist Fist, a Yuen Woo-ping film more memorable for its elaborate fight choreography than anything particularly interesting in plot or style. Telling the story of Chen Zhen’s teacher Hou Yuanjia (the character Jet Li plays in Ronny Yu's Fearless), we see him as a young man who isn’t allowed to learn kung fu, but does it anyway thanks to a bespectacled tutor (Kurata Yasuaki, from both Fist of Legend and Legend of the Fist) who is secretly researching Chinese kung fu for the Japanese, or something. When Hou grows up, he turns into Beardy (sans beard) and is awesome. Then he beats up a Russian and some Japanese, all while being virtuous and stuff. Inevitably, he has a showdown with his former teacher.
Mercenaries from Hong Kong (1982) - July 20, 2022
Already here at the beginning of his career, directing his third film after more than a dozen credits as screenwriter over the previous five years, Wong Jing is resolutely, purely, unapologetically himself, even if he’s credited as “Wang Tsing” (the Mandarin spelling of his name, following the conventions of the Shaw Brothers studio at the time). Mercenaries is an all-star action-comedy, a genre Wong would revel in for the rest of his (still going strong) career, making some of the grossest, rudest, clumsiest, most offensive, least graceful, and yet most highly entertaining films of the past 40 years. Working for the Shaws in the last years before they completely gave up on filmmaking in the face of challenges from Golden Harvest and Cinema City, Wong has access to their deep bench of contract players, and he packs as many familiar faces into his film as he can grab.
Ti Lung plays a righteous professional killer who, as the film opens, murders a bunch of guys who have kidnapped and drugged a young woman. He doesn’t rescue the woman—he’s just out for revenge because these guys did the same thing to his 15 year old sister. This sparks a Triad group led by Yuen Wah to go after him, but Ti is quickly hired by a mysterious Mrs. Ho to go to Cambodia and bring back the assassin who killed her father. To this end he assembles a team of the eponymous mercenaries, which include such Shaws stalwarts as Johnny Wang Lung-wei, Lo Lieh, and Wong Yu. A good twenty minutes or so are spent putting the team together, during which time our band of killers manages to get not one but two sets of matching tracksuits, which they model together at the local mall before Yuen Wah and his gang show up. But eventually he gets sorted out and the gang heads off to Southeast Asia, where nothing good ever happens to Hong Kongers in 1980s Shaw Brothers movies.
The rest of the film is a series of hyperbolic action sequences (explosions, stabbings, machine guns, crossbows, grenades, hidden pneumatic darts, the works) punctuated with new bits of breathless exposition reversing the loyalties of guys both good and bad. And that’s exactly what we're here for with a Wong Jing film. He’s a director who promises nothing but more. More infantile jokes, more ridiculous outfits, more gratuitous blood and sex, more insane plot twists, more fights in shopping mall hallways, more more more. At one point, Ti Lung even exclaims in anguish to an opponent he considered a comrade, “I know you’re quick with a blade, but I never expected your character to change even faster!” And how could he, since he’d never seen a Wong Jing film before.
Magic Crystal (1986) — January 2, 2014
Bears a superficial resemblance to a motion picture.
Andy Lau plays an Aces Go Places-esque adventurer/thief/friend of cops who goes to Greece to help a friend, who has found a jade relic with magical powers and is being chased by the KGB, led by Richard Norton. He takes his useless sidekick Wong Jing along with him, as well as his nephew (aged six or thereabouts). There’s a chase, and Cynthia Rothrock and some other guy as Interpol agents, and somehow the friend ends up captured while the kid gets the rock (this part doesn’t quite make sense).
Back in the US, the friend’s sister, Sharla Cheung, is attacked by men hired by Norton, and Andy defends her along with a creepy dumb guy who’s stalking her. They all move into Andy’s sister’s house where the rock bonds emotionally with the kid and punishes the dumb guy for his creepiness by switching his hands and feet. Shih Kien appears around this point as Andy’s cop buddy, then the KGB kills him. The dumb guy gets driven crazy by the rock and Sharla disappears from the story completely and with no explanation while Andy, Cynthia, Andy’s sister, the other Interpol guy, and Wong (for some reason) attack the KGB warehouse.
Then they all follow the kid to Greece (except for Andy’s sister, a terrific fighter who also disappears from the narrative with no explanation, why wouldn’t she go to Greece after her son?). They enact the last 20 minutes or so of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, except it makes slightly more sense. The End.
The only really “good” thing about the film are the fights, Andy Lau and the stunt team do a passable job, but Rothrock and Norton are pretty terrific in their scenes. And Wong, if nothing else, certainly has a knack for the surreal, even if it’s through sheer accident. IMDB says Norton only had one outfit to wear for the entire shoot, they had to repeatedly dry the sweat out of it on set, which sounds about right.
The Romancing Star (1987) — December 28, 2013
A Lucky Stars-type movie from Wong Jing aided immensely by Chow Yun-fat and Maggie Cheung acting silly. The plot is a vastly less interesting variation on Tsui Hark’s Working Class with Chow as a mechanic pretending to be rich (his snooty English accent is pretty funny) to woo Maggie, a fitness instructor also pretending to be rich (but then it turns out she really is rich, when Wong Jing’s father, the director Wong Tin-lam, future Johnnie To regular, shows up). Actual Lucky Stars Eric Tsang and Stanley Fung play two of Chow’s buddies (along with Nat Chan) and the film is mostly built around their mediocre slapstick antics.
Maggie Cheung wears a hideous white dress halfway through the film that I was sure was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever seen. And then at the climax she tops it with an even sillier blue one. I’m starting to think the terrible clothes worn by Hong Kong actors in the 80s are intentionally awful. They had to know, right?
Casino Raiders (1989) — December 26, 2013
A movie about Chang Cheh-style brotherhood updated to the post-A Better Tomorrow universe mixed with bits and shots from Scorsese (Mean Streets and The Color of Money), Coppola (The Godfather), and Leone (Once Upon a Time in America). Written and directed by Wong Jing and Jimmy Heung, (the pair parodied it less than six months later with God of Gamblers) and action direction by Corey Yuen. With Andy Lau and pop sensation Alan Tam as a pair of expert gamblers (they don’t cheat normal people, only other pros) one of whom tries to go straight while the other gets injured and falls into poverty. Epic in length for a Hong Kong film (I think all the Wong films I’ve seen recently are longer than the standard HK 100 minute running-time) and serious in tone (only one tone, highly unusual for Wong Jing), building to a terrific climax and a very cool final twist. It’s weird to say that a Wong Jing film is the normal one in a comparison, but compared to the highly-stylized heroic bloodshed films of the late 80s (not just the John Woo films, but also Patrick Tam’s My Heart is that Eternal Rose or Wong Kar-wai’s As Tears Go By or Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, and so on) Wong plays it pretty straight.
God of Gamblers (1989) — December 23, 2013
Like that two-part episode of Charles in Charge where Charles gets hit on the head and turns into his alter-ego Chaz. Except Charles is Chow Yun-fat as the coolest guy in the world and Chaz is Chow Yun-fat playing a six-year old with magical gambling powers. Andy Lau plays a small-time hood who tucks his t-shirts into his jeans, I guess he’s the Nicole Eggert part. And then Joey Wong stabs Ng Man-tat in the leg with a switchblade.
Wong Jing is so weird even his normal movies feel like someone spliced together scenes from eight different films from eight different genres into something resembling a chronological story.
God of Gamblers II (1990) — December 27, 2013
Wong Jing takes what is essentially a normal sequel-type story (Andy Lau’s character, now a success after being adopted as a disciple by Chow Yun-fat, loses touch with his roots and his identity as he chafes under the rules of superhero gamblerism and must overcome these doubts to defeat a new enemy, a disciple of the bad guy from the first film) and destabilizes it by throwing in Stephen Chow and Ng Man-tat from All for the Winner, a parody of the first film. It’s like if Tony Scott had made Top Gun 2 starring Val Kilmer and Charlie Sheen’s character from Hot Shots!. Considering that God of Gamblers itself was a kind of half-parody of Casino Raiders, the result is an almost wholly unmoored film. Andy Lau’s sadness is the only thing that holds it together.
Tricky Brains (1991) — December 26, 2013
I think this is the closest I’ve seen Stephen Chow get to a Michael Hui comedy, more classically structured than the standard Chow/Wong Jing strategy of just filming any crazy thing that happens to come to mind. Maybe it’s just the setting, with Chow as a “Tricks Expert”, someone who gets hired to play elaborate pranks on people with the hope of driving them crazy or into ruin (kind of like Fincher’s The Game, if it was run by Jerry Lewis), which reminds me a bit of the structure of the Huis’ The Private Eyes or Security Unlimited. Andy Lau is the perfect straight man for Chow to play off, and there are not one but two terrific musical sequences: a goofy duet with Chow and Lau and a bit where Chow, Lau and Ng Man-tat talk to each other in Peking Opera verse. Also with Rosamund Kwan and Waise Lee, who is, as ever, a terrific heel.
In this one, when Chow says Ng Man-tat’s name, he doesn’t begin humping everything, he simply begins to gyrate uncontrollably. This is a running joke I do not understand.
Added March 19, 2017:
Stephen Chow as the “Handsome Tricks Expert” hired by heel Waise Lee to disrupt Andy Lau’s romance with Rosamund Kwan by convincing Lau and his father, Ng Man-tat, that Chow is Ng’s long lost son and having him sabotage every aspect of their professional lives. Tasteless, crude, silly, it’s peak Wong Jing and maybe the best film of Chow’s mo lei tau period, building sublime nonsense out of the simplest of filmic elements. Half the jokes are Cantonese puns I can’t understand. It doesn’t matter.
Naked Killer (1992) – January 27, 2022
Like Basic Instinct, but if instead of a writer Sharon Stone was a member of an elite lesbian assassination squad that specializes in castrating the gangsters they murder. A movie about how Chingmy Yau is so hot she not only brings impotent cop Simon Yam back to life (and then makes him suicidal), she inspires so much jealousy in said lesbian assassin group that they basically tear themselves apart.
This was released nine months after Basic Instinct, which is more than enough time for Wong Jing to throw it all together. The plotting gets a bit muddled in the middle, but no one with a pulse cares when director Clarence Fok gives it all so much style.
City Hunter (1993) — October 25, 2018
Jackie Chan and Wong Jing team up to bring out the worst in each other. But at least it’s one of Wong’s least lazy films, from the black and white and red all over color scheme to the Tex Avery meets Sega Genesis special effects.
May contain Chan’s worst acting. Joey Wong and Chingmy Yau and Goto Kumiko fare slightly better. Somehow, someway, Leon Lai comes off as the coolest person in the movie. Maybe my favorite Michael Wong performance.
Boys are Easy (1993) — December 30, 2013
Wife’s review after watching her first Wong Jing film:
“Oooooooookay. I liked the Bruce Lee guy and the gender reversals.”
A set-up like The Eighth Happiness or All's Well Ends Well, with three siblings and their love lives. Except the siblings are girls and their father is Richard Ng and he fakes having cancer because he wants them to get boyfriends. So they do, sort of. Brigitte Lin, a tough as nails cop who dresses like a boy, hooks up with The Other Tony Leung, an effeminate gigolo (he does a Bruce Lee impression late in the film). Demure Maggie Cheung hooks up with Jacky Cheung, the wanna-be Triad boy next door (at one point he competes in the Triad Olympics: you know, machine gun as starter pistol, knives as relay batons). Successful doctor Chingmy Yau pretends to be a whore hired to seduce 27-year old virgin Ekin Cheng. Lin has the most hilarious reaction to the “hand in your badge and gun” scene, which is to basically kick her police captain’s ass and trash the police station. Maggie and Jacky have an O. Henry moment when he becomes a Christian to suit her while she busts out her biker outfit leftover from The Heroic Trio to suit him. Richard Ng gets in on the fun when his pen pal Sandra Ng arrives and takes over his house, only to be captured and held hostage by Triads trying to kill Lin (they threaten to take her to Brazil and rape her a lot). The family collectively shrugs and happily go on with their lives.
Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Star (1996) — April 14, 2016
Nat Chan plays the Windfall God. Hanging out in Heaven (with Kenny Bee and Superman, as one does) he falls in love with the Angel of Nine Heavens, Christy Chung, as she rides around on Michael Wong’s motorcycle-cloud (St. Michael, on loan from Jesus). They all get sent to Earth, and Chan has to get one of his most fervent believers (Anita Yuen as a gambling addict/massage therapist) to help him find Christy and win her love while winning some gambling contests and fending off vicious Triad Ugly Kwan (Francis Ng, parodying his character from the hugely popular Young & Dangerous series, which launched in 1996 and essentially kept the Hong Kong film industry afloat for the next few years). It’s Wong Jing at his most delightfully nutty.
Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (Wong Ching-po, 2014) – May 28, 2014
A remake of Chang Cheh's The Boxer from Shantung with nods to Bruce Lee as well, specifically Fist of Fury. It was written by Wong Jing, with action by Yuen Woo-ping and a decent co-starring role for Sammo Hung. Director Wong Ching-po shoots it in a dusty gray miasma (apparently he wanted to make in in black and white, but Wong Jing wouldn't let him because $money$, and this was as close as he could get) which mostly just looks gross.
The fights are great (Philip Ng as the hero Ma Yongzhen and Andy On as the suave gangster Long Qi, roles played by Chen Kuan-tai and David Chiang in the original), with some neat innovations. In Boxer, Chen announces his awesomeness by punching a guy in the fist. Ng does the same here near the climax (I'm pretty sure the fist he punches is Chen Kuan-tai's in fact, playing a bit part) and then one ups it by punching a dude in the foot, with bone-shattering special effects. Problematic though is the way Wong speeds up the motion of the fights. Not just because it's fakery (digital fakery being the hallmark of 21st century Hong Kong cinema), but because the herky-jerky motion looks so ugly (it's hard to describe, I've never seen anything like it. It's almost like a frame-rate stutter. It actually made me wonder if it was a problem with the digital projection we got at the Seattle Film Festival.)
So what we have in the end is a neat homage to some 70s classics, with some excellent star performances and great action buried beneath a hideous color palate and possibly intentionally glitchy movements. Andrew Lau's Legend of the Fist covers much of the same territory (and I'm pretty sure uses at least one of the same sets), but with smoother fights and an almost-too-gorgeous glossy visual style. YMMV, I guess.
From Vegas to Macau (2014) — January 17, 2015
Digital silliness from Wong Jing, with Chow Yun-fat in wacky mode. Actually, everyone’s pretty wild (including the ubiquitous Chapman To and longtime Milkyway sidekick Hui Shiu-hung), except Nicholas Tse, who underplays everything and thus ends up looking like the coolest guy in the world. In true Wong Jing style, his character is named “Cool”. It bears a passing resemblance to the God of Gamblers films, documenting how far they’ve descended into absurdity with a killer final gag.
Black Comedy (2014) — February 15, 2015
Wong Jing-scripted movie about a short but talented cop named “Johnnie To” who makes a Faustian deal with the devil (a slutty Chapman To) that essentially boils down to creating variations on his ideal girl (Kimmy Tong, who, to be fair, is pretty ideal). Wong Cho-lam plays the cop as a mix of all the worst elements of Raymond Wong Bak-ming and Samm Levine. As dumb and offensive as you’d expect from Wong Jing, but not nearly as fun.
From Vegas to Macau II (2015) — February 5, 2016
When that sad day comes and there are no more Wong Jing movies, the world will be a bit more sane, a little more tasteful and a lot less fun.
From Vegas to Macau III (2016) — September 17, 2016
Less of a plot than either of the first two films in the series, and even less tethered to reality, in action, story, setting, or character. A bunch of shiny effects thrown at aged stars of the 90s, old movie and TV references: Chow Yun-fat spends a while thinking he’s in Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, a ping-pong match with Jacky Cheung calls back to Johnnie To’s The Eighth Happiness, a little joke about Nick Cheung’s award-winning performance in Unbeatable, a whole sequence set in a prison with leftover costumes from Prison on Fire, even the central romance is Jacky Cheung’s unrequited love for Carina Lau, ala Days of Being Wild, etc etc. The movie loses a half a star though because the two dying robots didn’t crawl past each other like at the end of The Killer.
Of course the whole thing is a riff on the God of Gamblers series, with Chow playing a dual role as the original character and this newer farcical incarnation, kind of as if his amnesia-induced split personalities in that first film had developed into two separate realities. Andy Lau unites them (as he did the original series and Stephen Chow’s parody of it), reprising his role as the Knight of Gamblers, but his performance bears no relation to that original character: he’s merely a vehicle for dumb slapstick jokes (a literal pie in the face, peeing baby robots) and inside jokes about Lau’s own career. It’s a movie that breaks into a song or an extended effects-driven bit of action, or a series of dumb mostly unfunny jokes at any opportunity. But there’s something liberating about Wong Jing’s indifference to normalcy.
Chasing the Dragon (2017) — April 15, 2018
Lotta wig acting going on here. I guess Wong Jing must have seen American Hustle.
The Crippled Ho/Lee Rock hagiography no one asked for.
I haven’t seen the Andy Lau Lee Rock movies from the early 90s (you know, back when he and Donnie Yen were the right age for these parts), but I have seen To Be Number One, the Crippled Ho biopic from the same era. It’s not all that great, kind of a run of the mill gangster film of its era, but at least its plot makes sense and it finds something interesting to do with its female characters and it has no illusions about Ho and Lee being anything but gangsters.
Now that I’ve seen it, I’m not surprised this picked up Hong Kong Film Awards for editing and cinematography. Not that either are particularly good, but there is a lot of both. DP and co-director Jason Kwan did better work I think in 29+1, for which he wasn’t nominated. Our Time Will Come should have won both categories anyway.