Some day someone will do a serious study of woman’s roles in Ancient China, but until then, we have Yuen Woo-ping’s Wing Chun to keep us busy.
Wing Chun stars action mistress Michelle Yeoh (Supercop) as the titular character, a kung fu master in a small coastal town who defends the weak, oppressed, and any damsels in distress that happens onto her radar. Wing Chun is an equal opportunity butt kicker, and one of her many adventures has pitted her against local bandits led by brothers Flying Monkey and Flying Chimpanzee. When Wing Chun rescues damsel Charmy (Catherine Hung Yan) from the bandits, things start to get complicated. Not only does a visiting scholar (Waise Lee) fall for Charmy, but so does Wing Chun’s long-lost fianc’ Pok To (Donnie Yen), who has returned home only to mistake Charmy for Wing Chun. Can Wing Chun defeat the bandits and get back her fianc”s love? Will Abacus Fong ever discover a cure for her stinky breath? Or will Flying Chimpanzee and his Cotton Belly defeat them all?
You can probably guess from the description above that Wing Chun is a silly comedy with kung fu. Since the movie is directed by Yuen Woo-ping, a noted martial arts choreographer in Hong Kong and recently in the States (he choreographed all of the Matrix fights), there is an abundance of action to be found. The movie is most effective when it focuses on the comedy, as one misunderstanding after another takes place. Of course, all of these misunderstandings can be fixed if someone just uttered their names to each other, but then again, where’s the fun in that?
The one thing Wing Chun has going for it is that unlike a lot of martial arts period movie that tries to have its cake and eat it too, Wing Chun seems content to be a silly comedy with moments of action. This makes the film seem coherent, whereas other films seem to be suffering from some kind of schizoid embolism as they struggle to give us fart jokes one moment and bloody massacres the next. Wing Chun doesn’t have that problem, and it’s because every thing is played for laughs that the film works.
Michelle Yeoh is the star and plays the straight man of the film. The bulk of the comedy and silly moments are given to her co-stars, including Yuen King-Tan as Abacus Fong, Wing Chun’s aunt who actually looks younger than Wing Chun! A funny Donnie Yen fumbles and misunderstands his way through the film. At one point in the movie, a character points out to Wing Chun in regards to Pok To: “Your fianc’ is so dumb!” How true. Donnie Yen seems to be having a ball playing the flunky who knows kung fu. Waise Lee as Scholar Wong is equally good as a bumbling scholar who schemes to marry Wing Chun because he needs her to protect him from bandits. (How would you like to get married for that reason?)
Yuen Woo-ping’s action scenes are standard, with few inspired fights — with one involving Wing Chun and Flying Chimpanzee on top of a long spear being the only exception. For such a noted fight choreographer, Yuen’s fights left me wanting. Production values are minor in Wing Chun, as even the bandits’ “fortress” looks like a couple of logs placed on the side of a hill. The camera is static most of the times until the action kicks in, at which point the camera never stands still. I migh have preferred a little bit more movement.
An academic would have a field day trying to decipher all the hidden meanings of Wing Chun’s woman-as-male theme. Heck, even the presence of Flying Chimpanzee’s giant spear could be seen as a symbol of male dominance. Possible Freudian interpretations aside, Wing Chun is a funny film, silly in many respects, but at least it knows what it is, and we can be thankful for that. I know I am.
Woo-ping Yuen (director) / Elsa Tang (screenplay)
CAST: Michelle Yeoh …. Yim Wing Chun
Donnie Yen …. Leung Pok To
King-Tan Yuen …. Abacus Fong
Catherine Hung Yan …. Charmy