Well, this month in honor of writer’s block I’m offering up a little kung fu movie stew. You see, when I woke this morning I looked at my reflection in the mirror and said, "your brains are turned to mush." I was actually just quoting one of my favorite lines from Goodfellas, but it was true nonetheless. My brains have turned to mush. I’ve fumbled around the past few weeks and have found that I am absolutely incapable of sustaining coherent writing for than a paragraph before hitting <Control A> and backspacing the whole thing into digital oblivion. When faced with a situation like this I figure a person has two options, (A) quit or (B) wing it. Being the trooper that I am I’ve chosen the latter and am feeling pretty damn dedicated about it. So, anyway, into the fray I go…
Are you watching Martial Law? It’s on CBS Saturday nights at nine P.M. and it features the talents of the one and only Sammo Hung Kam-Bo. As of this writing, I’ve watched 5 episodes and I’m more than happy with the early results. I have to admit that I’d probably watch Sammo cook for an hour if I though it would help the big guy out in some way but, to be honest, the show is pretty entertaining. Even with its truncated early production schedule and over-reliance on cop show clichés the show has already exceeded my expectations. The fights are phenomenal (well, for American TV, they’re phenomenal) and Sammo is as charming as his English allows in his role as a Shanghai cop on exchange in L.A. Most importantly (for the execs at CBS, at least) the pilot won it’s time slot and CBS ordered another eleven episodes (22 total) so Sammo will be a regular on American TV for the rest of the season. Since Sammo is sewn up we can now buckle down and watch for appearances by some other Hong Kong talent, including a rumored appearance by Sammo’s "little brother," Jackie Chan.
Personally, the one guy that I want to see on Martial Law is career super-thug, Billy Chow. Sammo discovered the guy, so it’s not impossible. Chow was in the gym knocking the hell out of a heavy bag and Sammo offered to put the powerful kickboxer in the movies. This was a very good thing, because from his debut in Hung’s classic Eastern Condors to the present Chow has excelled at playing the lead "muscle" in a string of top-notch films. He’s a physically imposing character that immediately signals "trouble" for whoever is unlucky enough to be squared off against him. Chow is definitely one of my personal favorites. Watch him vs. Sammo in the final reel of Pedicab Driver for a taste of this menacing screen fighter and then focus your mental powers in the direction of Stanley Tong’s office and will it to happen.
Who Am I
Jackie’s last film before Rush Hour has been playing on a decent rotation on HBO recently and even-edited-for-America it stands up as his best work since Drunken Master II. It’s an enjoyable film that features an actual acting job by Jackie (as opposed to the "Jackie the ham" we’ve been treated to recently) and a truck load of quality fights and stuntwork. One fight in particular is an honest-to-goodness classic and the main reason isn’t Jackie. His opponent in this fight, super-kicker Ron Smoorenburg, is easily the most impressive of Jackie’s foes since Ken Lo in Drunken Master II. The comparison carries out further because, like Lo, Ron can kick. The sequence begins with Smoorenburg doing a near-vertical standing split. He’s just standing there with his foot a million miles in the air (more like eight, but who’s counting) waiting for Jackie to do his thing. Jackie, being Jackie, does just that and Smoorenburg then treats us to one of the most impressive displays of boot work I’ve ever seen. Like a laser his long legs whip around, over, under and into Chan repeatedly with control, power and incredible flexibility. The guy has to be seen to be believed.
Lucky Stars, Man. It’s All About The Lucky Stars…
Well, all this talk of Sammo and Jackie leads me into a bit of bold recommendation. I’ve heard quite a few people pan these movies but I am forced to give a hearty thumbs up to a trio of Lucky Stars films, Winners and Sinners, My Lucky Stars and Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that these movies don’t aim very high. Full of base comedy and brutal fights, these films skip between "horny guy" jokes and neck-breaking stunt-work with regularity. Start with Benny Hill, mix in a some Oceans Eleven and toss in a heap of incredible fight scenes and you’ve got a good handle on what to expect from the Lucky Stars.
As odd as the above mixture sounds these films do work. They are fast paced and fun, quickly moving from one gag to the next, sprinkling in a nice action piece every few minutes to spice things up. There is also a lot of talent in these movies and director Sammo Hung wastes very little of it. The cameos alone are enough to keep even the most ardent Hong Kong film fan on their toes. The list includes the Stars themselves; Sammo Hung, Richard Ng, Charlie Ching, John Shum, Fung Shui Fan, and Eric Tsang (Shum’s replacement for the latter two installments) as well as a plethora of HK stars in supporting and cameo roles, including; Jackie Chan, Lam Ching-Ying, Yuen Biao, Andy Lau, Michelle Yeoh. Dick Wei, Sibelle Hu, James Tien, Wu Ma, Cecilia Yip, Moon Lee, Lau Kar-Wing, Michiko Nishiwaki, Richard Norton, Yusuaki Kurata, and Rosamund Kwan.
All in all I find these movies charming. They’re light, if sometimes juvenile fun that’s easy on the brain. If you’re curious to see some the elements that attract me to this series, watch for Richard Ng’s "invisible" scene in Winners and Sinners, the final reel of My Lucky Stars and Sammo’s brutal fight with Richard Norton in Twinkle, Twinkle. The first example is hilarious and the latter two are plain amazing examples of ’80’s fight choreography.
Even a Good Times Gotta’ End…
Well, I guess that’ll do for now. I’m not sure if I accomplished much with this one but, what the hell… I just hope my brains are a little less mushy for the experience.
This article first appeared in Shovel Magazine #8. That was the one year anniversary issue. (Nov/Dec 1998.)