Friday, April 03, 2009

The Young Master

Plot: Orphans Lung (Jackie Chan) and Tiger (Wai Pak) have been taken in by Sifu Tien (veteran Tien Fung) of the Jing Fung kung fu school. With the annual lion dance against their local rivals looming, disaster strikes as Tiger appears to be injured and Jing Fung lose as Lung subs for him- but it later transpires that Tiger danced for the opponents for cash, and is kicked out of the school. After further humiliations from the enemy school, Sifu Tien delivers a major reproach to the whole class, resulting in Lung storming out, but being offered the olive branch of returning once he finds his disgraced brother. Tiger, meanwhile, finds out that the rival school is corrupt, and they force him to free local bandit Master Kam (Hwang In Sik) from a police escort. Lung's efforts to track down Tiger are complicated by his identity being mistaken for the now-wanted Tiger, and he has a long comic diversion with local police chief Shek Kin, son Yuen Biao and daughter Lily Li (that's one tough family!). Eventually Lung catches up with Tiger as he is being framed for a bank robbery by his new colleagues, leaving Lung to track down Master Kam and his cowardly toady Fung Fung for a brutal finale.

Production: Golden Harvest assembled a terrific cast, with every major and minor role spot-on: with hindsight this really is a dream-team of an ensemble! Obviously Jackie was blossoming into greatness, and he is served well by harsh but loyal Sifu Tien Fung, conflicted anti-hero Wai Pak. The opening lion dance scene is a true treat; colourful, graceful and agile, brilliantly edited and paced with a suspensful drum beat. Most of the fights make ingenious use of props and comedy; and the editing between the comic scenes and the drama make for spot-on pacing. Jackie's various thwarted escape attempts are as good for me as any Western farce. Dialogue is (intentionally) hilarious: from cracking insults such as "If you're school banner could run away, it would" ; "You're not very stable for a fat man"; to Jackie's over-familiar bantering with Shek Kin.

Fights: Standouts are the freeing of bandit Master Kham, wherein his wagon police escort is attacked by a mohican-sporting Lee Hoi-Sang and his sneering cohort Fung Hak-On (reprising their partnership from Warriors Two). Lee Hoi-Sang makes good use of his looped rope, but it's the parched, half-crazed Hwang In Sik that steals the scene, unleashed from his bonds to deliver brutal side kicks and lightning turning/reverse-turning kicks to the constabulary. Jackie, meanwhile, humiliates everyone's second-favourite tubby kicker Fan Mei-Sheng in the now legendary fan scene showing great dexterity, agility and imagination; clearly involving much patience and many takes. We also get a fun one v many scene in a tiny temple shrine with the fugitive Jackie against sword wielding policemen, led by ol'cross eyes Yue Tau Wan.

The fight scenes against the chief's family are varied and tremendous fun: son Yuen Biao totes his minibench with skill and arrogance, only to be thwarted by Jackie's longstaff; daughter Lily Li uses her skirts to mask her fleet legwork to deadly effect, and big daddy Shek Kin muscles in with his ornamental sword. The variety ensures you don't get 'fight fatigue'. Jackie makes use of Lily's tricks in his now-famous 'flamenco' scene, unleashing vicious kicks from under a makeshift-skirt/toreador cape, and making gymnastic use of street scenery against the deadly duo of Lee Hoi-Sang and Fung Hak-On.

The final rumble against Master Kam has attracted controversy, being around 20 minutes long and being pretty one-sided for the bulk of it. But I love two things: first that Hwang In Sik mixes up his super-flash kicking with a variety of wristlocks and arm takedowns from Hapkido (Hwang was a student of Hapkido founder Jung Sul Choi and is now the Head Grandmaster of Huardo Kwan) . Second is that Jackie keeps pausing for a breather in the arms of rascal Fung Fung, who gives half-baked advice and eventually fills Jackie with waccy baccy juice from his pipe. So Jackie overcomes by being pumped up like Popeye, rather than the shapes mastery of SITES; but it's still a terrific epic fight in my book.

The kid's verdict: And now for a very special review from number one son, as this was the first traditional kung fu he has watched (although his second Jackie Chan after The Forbidden Kingdom):
"I loved it - good use of fights, lots of hilarious comedy especially Jackie singing 'London Bridge is falling down' in the swamp' and having a wash in the policeman's house who is tracking him by mistake. When Jackie frightened the goldfish out of the bowl I laughed!The lion dance was very exciting as they had to eat all the lettuce first. Jackie didn't give up against the tough kung fu master even when he was hurt and the master did an awesome spinning back kick! I would like to watch another Jackie Chan film as they are so exciting and funny. 5/5 is my rating"

Number one son also gets big respect for choosing the sub over the dub as he wanted to hear how they were speaking naturally.

(PS any concerned parents may want to watch out for Fung Fung's use of the four-letter 's' word during the final fight, but by that stage we were enjoying it so much we didn't give a shit.)

Overall: 5/5, sharp editing, priceless choreography, rock-solid cast and a marvellous blend of comedy and plot make this one of the greats. Jackie's self-deprecating humour mixed with underdog bravery is at its best here.

Version watched: Fox DVD, 106 mins, LBX

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