Stephen Chow has been doing his ‘nonsense’ comedy for quite some time now. Please don’t think I’m being disrespectful by calling his brand of humour ‘nonsense’, since his style is actually refered to as ‘Mo lei tau’ in China, which literally means ‘with no source’ or in other words ‘makes no sense’. Of course this has made it pretty hard for his early films to make an impact outside of Asia. With cultural gags, random obsurdities and ridiculous pratfalls that would be at home in a Benny Hill sketch, a lot of his comedy is hugely popular in HK, but not so much internationally. Things like From Beijing With Love and Sixty Million Dollar Man, while obviously spoofing American pop culture are so crazy, they defy belief and are certainly not for everyone’s taste (for instance I don’t remember Steve Austin ever transforming into a toilet!).
However with Shaolin Soccer, Chow quickly became a worldwide sensation. This film still contains plenty of nonsense, but it’s certainly more accessible than some of his previous movies (though the use of the ‘hilarious’ song ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ in the Miramax cut is a little too much!). And now that his profile is bigger than ever, he actually appears to be slowing down a little bit. For instance, in 1992 he acted in all five of the top grossing films in HK (according to trusted source Wikipedia), though Shaolin Soccer came out in 2001, Kung Fu Hustle in 2004 and CJ7 in 2008. Of course I can’t begrudge the man a break, though it is a shame that we’re not seeing enough of his comedies in this decade!
TOP 3 STEPHEN CHOW MOVIES
1- Kung Fu Hustle- This film is probably Stephen Chow’s most accessible movies in terms of limiting the ‘Mo lei tau’ and increasing the crowd pleasing action, however it is simply sublime. The cartoonish style mixed with the wuxia parody plot is wonderfully executed, mainly because it is evident that Chow is a huge fan of the genre. In some of his past films such as King of Beggars and Legend of the Dragon, he has exhibited some nice martial arts skills, but this is where his talents truly shine. What is also interesting about this movie, is the fact that Stephen Chow is absent for quite a bit of the run-time. It’s a shame, but at the same time shows a generosity towards his supporting actors (Yuen Wah and Yuen Qiu in particular are awesome). Of course he might have just been lazy, but I highly doubt that. So yeah, I can’t recommend this movie enough! (Trailer)
2- God Of Cookery- I’d say this film is a pretty good introduction to ‘classic’ Stephen Chow flicks. It’s wacky, nonsensical and completely insane, though the movie is consistantly funny! Some jokes fly over my head and Karen Mok’s make-up makes me feel ill, but there is rarely a moment where it’s not doing something to make you laugh. The whole thing culminates in a parody of Iron Chef, which makes me chuckle just thinking about it. Also to note, is that it stars Ng Man Tat who is in a lot of Stephen Chow comedies. These two have such great chemistry, which makes it a big shame that they didn’t work together on Kung Fu Hustle. (Trailer)
3- Tricky Brains- I might regret later that I placed this in the Top 3 instead of Shaolin Soccer. But my reasoning is while Tricky Brains is a stupid movie, it is also one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life. Now I admit that I have a fairly weird sense of humour which might not gel with others, however this film is so relentless in its goofiness that I’m sure it’d make anyone burst (or on the other hand give them a headache). The plot is all over the place and the characters are obscenely mean spirited that you kinda dislike them, but I highly recommend that you give it a go. The gags are non-stop, so there is bound to be something you like (though if you dislike the idea of Stephen Chow playing a character called ‘The Handsome Tricky Expert’ who constantly plays practical jokes on people, then stay away as that’s pretty much the entire movie). (Clip)
I was reading a blog post the other day on Empire Online about the genius of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s one-liners. I’m a huge fan of a good pun (though I guess some would argue that there is no such thing as a good pun), so Arnie’s killing quips are all gold to me! Inspired by this article, I decided to look back at the intense pun-overload of Batman & Robin. This is a movie which is pretty much hated across the board, but I kinda love it in its own special way. Ok, so the plot sucks, the dialogue is corny, and Joel Schumacher seems intent on amping up the camp to 11. Though for some reason I think it works. And this is mainly because of the sheer relentlessness of Arnie’s Mr Freeze and his inability to conduct a conversation without throwing in a dubious gag. He is basically a frosty version of Rodney Dangerfield and because of this, I find his character extremely entertaining. So in tribute, I felt that I should rank his best puns.
5- ‘Ice to see you!’ – The most perfect ice related pun, though I can’t actually remember when he says it in the film. The sheer intensity of cold related puns in Batman & Robin has slightly confused me as to what lines he actually says. For instance there was a time when I was convinced he used the line ‘Thanks for the frosty reception’, but alas I was mistaken…
4- ‘Let’s kick some ice’ – Another great use of ‘ice’. The instance above had Mr Freeze replacing ‘nice’ for ‘ice’, but in this case, he manages to somehow substitute the word ‘ass’. That’s some dedicated punning!
3- ‘I hate it when they talk during the movie’ – This isn’t really a pun and not even a play on words…it’s barely a one liner! But what I like about it, is the fact that Arnie basically says it directly to the audience. None of the characters are listening to him deliver this line, however he does it anyway, showing his commitment to bad comedy.
2- ‘What killed the dinosaurs? THE ICE AGE!’ – People have speculated for years what killed the dinosaurs, but Mr Freeze is convinced that it was the ice age. In fact he was so convinced, that he raises his voice to deliver the answer. What I particularly like about this line, is that he is battling Batman at the time but seems to be having a go at dinosaurs…
1 ‘Allow me to break the ice. My name is Freeze. Learn it well. For it’s the chilling sound of your doom.’ – I think this is the perfect pun. It’s not clever and it’s not witty, but it does boast three ice related puns in a row!
And to finish, you can watch a montage of Mr Freeze puns here!
Now I wasn’t planning to write two columns in a row about martial arts stars, but after seeing Ip Man last week, I decided I was in the mood to discuss the career of Donnie Yen. Added to the fact that Ip Man was choreographed by Sammo Hung and you have quite a nice link into this post, though this was simply a coincidence and should not be considered a stroke of genius.
Now as you might gather from the photo above, Donnie Yen is a bit of a poser. Unlike Sammo, the man rarely plays things for laughs (and when he does, such as in the film Wing Chun, the results are a bit awkward). Though this is not a problem for him, as he oozes charisma and is still one of Hong Kong cinema’s biggest bad-asses (the most technical term that I could come up with!). Western audiences might recognise Yen from his roles in Blade 2 or Shanghai Knights (his fight with Jackie Chan being a huge letdown for those waiting years to see the two duel). However he has been around since the Hong Kong New Wave in the mid 80s, making his debut in the rather ridiculous Drunken Tai Chi. And he pretty much still looks and moves the same as he did decades ago, which can be evidenced in recent films like S.P.L and Ip Man! Acting wise, he’s ok, but his fighting techniques have always remained stunning. Donnie Yen is quick and well versed in a variety of styles, so it’s always a pleasure to watch him fight (even when he’s matched up against lesser performers).
TOP 3 DONNIE YEN MOVIES
1- Iron Monkey- This film was probably the first time that Donnie Yen caught my attention and it remains one of his most well known movies. The wire work goes a little overboard, but for the most part it’s spectacular to watch, including a fight sequence involving umbrellas and another where Yen battles an opponent while standing on top of wooden poles. (Trailer)
2- Once Upon a Time in China 2- I think it takes a little courage in China for leading men to play villains. I know Jackie Chan has turned down a bunch of bad guy roles to protect his hero image, so it was great to see Donnie Yen play the evil Commander Lan. The movie itself is decent enough, but it’s the final fight sequence between Yen and Jet Li, which is a stand out in the whole of kung fu cinema (Donnie Yen also uses rolled up wet cloth as a weapon during the film, which further demonstrates his immense bad-ass status). (Trailer)
3- In the Line of Duty 4- This film is definitely just about the fights (barely a story), and don’t worry if you have not seen the first three in the series…it really makes no difference. But once again the moves displayed by Yen are a sight to behold and a great deal of the thanks can be attributed to his frequent director/choreographer/collaborator Yuen Woo-Ping (a man who is unfortunately often billed as simply being behind The Matrix fight sequences, seemingly ignoring most of his other amazing credentials…but more on him later). In the Line of Duty 4 is a brutal film and will make you wince at the beatings the actors receive…I hope these guys have a good health care system! (Trailer)
Special Mention- Ip Man- I’ve mentioned this film at the start of my post and while I don’t think it’s one of Donnie Yen’s better movies, it’s still extremely entertaining and even in his mid-40s, the man moves like lightning. It also tells a surprisingly interesting story about the first master of Wing Chun who taught the style openly and eventually becomes Bruce Lee’s teacher (a subject which is going to be covered in the sequel). Of course the film does take extreme liberties with the truth. It’s set during the Japanese occupation of China, and there were moments where I thought Donnie Yen’s character was going to rewrite history and end the war himself. However it’s a fun ride filled with short bursts of intense combat…not quite an action overload (though it’s more of a loose historical biopic anyway), but still very entertaining. (Trailer)
Hello! Welcome to the first ever ‘Heroes of the East’ column where I shall be discussing my favourite actors and directors from East Asian cinema. My reason for doing so? Well I’ve been a huge fan of movies from this region for some time now and while I am no expert on the subject, my aim is to hopefully raise the profile of various talents that I’ve admired for some time or that are currently breaking out onto the scene.
And I could think of no bigger way to start this column than by paying tribute to the larger than life, Sammo Hung! Now many might know Sammo from the slightly hokey TV series Martial Law. There is nothing particularly wrong with this, but if it’s your only exposure to the man, then you’re missing out on one of the greatest martial artists to grace the screen! Hung trained at the same Peking Opera school as Jackie Chan, and the lessons there certainly paid off as despite being a rotund gentleman, Sammo can move unbelievably fast and hit even harder. In fact he claims that he once met Bruce Lee in a corridor and challenged the legend to a sparring match. Hung says it was a draw and to be honest this wouldn’t surprise me. He may be large, but for power, stamina and speed, he was one of the best in the HK martial arts world.
TOP 3 SAMMO HUNG MOVIES
1- The Odd Couple– A fairly interesting concept for a movie, where Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-Wing play rival kung fu masters who specialise in the sword and spear respectively. They’re both equally matched so hire two students who they plan to train and have a duel to prove who is the greatest master…the twist is that the students are played by the same actors, so you get to see Hung train Lau and vice-versa. Now the story is decent enough and the comedy is as broad as ever, but the real reason for seeing this film is the stunning choreography. I don’t use the phrase ‘jaw-dropping’ lightly, as the moves Hung pulls off with a spear and sword are simply sensational. The speed and sheer talent in the final fight sequence makes it one of the best of all time. (Trailer)
2- The Magnificent Butcher- Just a purely entertaining kung fu movie, packed with everything you’d want from a Sammo Hung film such as outlandish training sequences, amazing fight scenes and plenty of fat jokes (Hung was never afraid to make fun of himself). To be honest it’s not too far removed from Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master, and even features the character of Wong Fei Hung! But the set pieces truely stand out, including a unique Calligraphy battle, which has to be seen to be believed! (Trailer)
3- Encounters of the Spooky Kind– Always a trend setter and one of the principal movers and shakers in the HK New Wave, Sammo Hung demonstrates his inventiveness again with ‘Encounters’, one of the freshest and most interesting kung fu movies of all time. While combining martial arts and horror had been previously done in films such as Human Lanterns, Hung took the concept of mixing genres one step further by adding his unique brand of comedy. The result is a film filled with sheer lunacy and the plot is madness! But the sight of watching Sammo battle hopping vampires is worth the admission alone. (Trailer)
(Please note I plan to cover some more Sammo movies in future posts. So while I have indeed left out The Prodigal Son here, I will be mentioning it in the Yuen Biao column)