“Choy Lee Fut” should be cause for excitement for martial arts fans, given that it stars genre godfather Sammo Hung alongside his real life son Sammy Hung for the first time. Directed by the team of Tommy Law (whose CV includes such undeniable classics as “Wife from Hell” and “Sex Medusa”) and Jackie Chan stunt crew member Sam Wong, the film also features considerable kung fu talent in the form of Yuen Wah, another genre veteran and Chinese Opera School pupil who graduated along with Hung and Chan. Filling out the youthful cast are Kane Kosugi (who fans of 1980s action may recognise from the likes of “Nine Death of he Ninja” and “Pray for Death”, and who still looks around 20), Steven Wong (“L For Love, L For Lies”) and actress Wang Jia Yin.
The film kicks off with a hilariously unconvincing series of scenes in the UK (actually the British-themed Chinese development Thames Town), in which graduate and apparent paper boy Jie (Sammy Hung) gets into trouble in a restaurant before taking advice from his visiting (Sammo) and deciding to return to China and his family’s Choy Lee Fut training school, his cheerful friend Ken (Kosugi) randomly tagging along. Although things initially go well, with the lads being trained by Wei Yip’s eccentric uncle Master Chen (Yuen Wah), they soon receive the bad news that his father is to sell the school to the possibly nasty Pan-American corporation. Of course, the only way for Jie to save the academy and to restore the glory of the Choy Lee Fut style is to defeat the company’s top fighters in a tournament, while at the same time courting one of their cute executives (Wang Jia Yin).
For a modern, vaguely youth-oriented martial arts film, “Choy Lee Fut” delivers pretty much exactly as expected, trying to hit as many bases as possible in order to achieve some level of commercial crossover appeal. As a result, the film spends almost as much time on comedy and relationships as on action, with Sammy Hung’s pursuit of Wang Jia Yin vying for centre stage with the impending, but never particularly important seeming tournament. To be fair, the combination really isn’t a bad one, giving the film very much the feel of an early 1990s style piece of mixed bag nonsense, though it does mean that fight fans may feel a little short-changed, especially during the largely pointless middle section. Also very evident is the use of pop and rap music, with the cast clad in brightly coloured trendy clothes and sporting spiky, boy-band hairdos, which may grate with anyone after something more grounded and gritty.
Thankfully, whilst the romance never ignites or amounts to much, the film is frequently hilarious, thanks in part to a wonderfully knowing performance from the excellent Yuen Wah, and in part to some unintentional laughs from the sheer, almost overwhelming daftness of the whole affair. Certainly, some of its bizarre date montage scenes, in which Sammy Hung and Wang Jia Yin pack in a staggering array of activities in the space of a few short hours, may well cause considerable bewilderment in the audience, as will the shameless and blatant product placement which rears its head in pretty much every scene.
On the plus side, when the film does get around to the business of martial arts, it scores highly with some excellent fight scenes leading up to the predictable though thrilling tournament. Sammy Hung and Kosugi provide most of the action and both acquit themselves very well, with Sam Wong’s choreography being tight and old school. Sadly, Sammo only really makes a cameo appearance, though he and Yuen Wah do get a few chances to show off their skills, as well lending the film a sense of torch-passing credibility. Most of the film’s kung fu slapstick is entertaining and imaginative, in a sort of old Jackie Chan type fashion, and the film is all the better for not taking itself too seriously. The low budget does show in places, with some of the CGI work and backgrounds being laughably and almost surreally obvious, though Law and Wong do a pretty decent job of at least keeping things moving at a reasonable pace.
This is enough to make “Choy Lee Fut” enjoyable enough for genre fans, if a little lightweight given the players involved. Though Sammy Hung is a pleasant enough action star, he still has some way to go before filling his father’s mighty shoes, and will hopefully soon manage to find a more substantial vehicle for his talents.
Ming-Sing Wong (director)
CAST: Wah Yuen
Sammo Hung Kam-Bo
Tin Chiu Hung
Chia Yung Liu