The Odd Couple (1979)
The weapons movie for people who didn't think they liked weapons movies!
Plot: Grumpy old weapons masters King of Spears (Lau Kar-Wing) and King of Sabres (Sammo Hung) duel periodically - every year or every ten years, depending on whether you believe the subs or the box blurb - at the Wu Lin holy place, also known as 'convenient plateau'. Frustrated at never determining a winner, and getting long in the tooth, they resolve to train students to battle on their behalf. Said students turn out to be Sammo and Lau again, sans ageing makeup, and each is trained by the other actor's older self. Got it? Good. Whilst the students take on their training with different motives, a shadowy former opponent of the masters, Laughing Bandit (Leung Kar-Yan) sets a plot to entrap the two masters and avenge his defeat from long ago...
Production: Director Lau Kar-Wong and writers Lai Wai-Man and Raymond Wong set a crisp, lean pace: the simple storyline clips along well without sagging, with well thought out interludes to the fights and training. The leads do well as both their younger and older selves - Sammo doing better when young, and Lau when old, funnily enough - and the Gar Bo casting includes many Golden Harvest and Indie regulars. Peter Chan and Karl Maka have a fun opening bout as spurious sabre masters, and Dean Shek puts in a hilarious turn as cowardly playboy 'Master Rocking', complete with entourage and rock-beat signature theme! If the Wu Tang Clan are looking for further aliases, Master Rocking must be a contender - up there with Greenman and Redman for gimmicky minor villains.
Fights: I'm not a fan of wuxia swordplay, especially when it involves stars (rather than fighting experts) on wires. But no fears here, each weapon stroke is vicious, skilfull and often acrobatic without being ridiculous. The spear and the sabre make for a fascinating matchup with long v short range tactics. As well as the excellent one v one of Lau and Sammo, there is a short marketplace barney involving Harvest staple Lee Hoi-Sang; a superb match to the death between the masters and Laughing Bandits specially-trained gang of four; plus the twin finale involving firstly Laughing Bandit and secondly the two students. The Laughing Bandit/student match starts with weapons and moves to fists and feet, with some of the most brutal end of fight death blows I can remember. The battle between the students notches up the speed from their masters' match, with a hilarious attempt to resolve their differences with some target practice at the end!
Only mild let-downs: some undercranking, and no appearance of the grotesque weapons seen at the beginning, including a silver hand with poking finger on a spear shaft, plus maces and rakes.
Overall: 5/5: funny, exciting, and well-paced with magnificent fighting and good humour. Highly recommended.