Sunday, 13 July 2008

Fong Sai-Yuk (1993)

This film has everything - comedy, romance, tragedy and martial arts. And none of it seems too silly or unsuitable. Yes, this is really the best Jet Li film I've seen so far!

One day, carefree student Fong Sai-Yuk (Jet Li) saves a pretty girl (Michelle Reis) from a bunch of bullies on the fairground. The following day he hears about a rich merchant called Tiger Lui (Sung Young Chen), who has just moved to Canton and will let the man who defeats his wife in kung fu marry his daughter. Always up to a fun competition, Sai-Yuk enters. But at the very end, he sees what the bride-to-be looks like, and quickly loses on purpose, because she's ... hrm ... not quite his type. What he doesn't know is that the bride is Ting-Ting, the pretty girl he met at the fair! (She ran away in the middle of the competition, and was quickly replaced with a maid.)

When Sai-Yuk's mother hears about his defeat, she is outraged - how can any member of the Fong family LOSE?! So, she disguises herself as a man, and enters the competition herself, posing as the older Fong brother. She not only wins, but also makes Tiger Lui's wife (Sibelle Hu) fall in love with her. And Tiger Lui, who is tired of potential sons-in-law running away, wants to force her to marry his daughter ...

Meanwhile, Sai-Yuk's dad is secretly involved in the Red Lotus Flower Society, which wants to overthrow the Manchu emperor. A governor (Man Cheuk Chiu) has been sent to get their list of members, and the society is threatened with extinction.

When mum and son Fong find out about this, they team up to help dad. But it won't be any easy struggle ...

Martial arts:
The fight scenes are quite spectacular and imaginative (though the sound effects seem to be made with firecrackers sometimes). Of course, they involve a lot of humanly impossible tricks aided by wirework, but in this film, that's not the least disturbing, since it only fits with the general mood in this not always too serious story.

Speaking of wirework, in one scene Sai-Yuk's pigtail looks like it's held up by a wire, too.

(The bullies at the fair have challenged him to form a team and compete with them in an athletics championship, and when they play 400 meters relay, Sai-Yuk has to make up for the fact that Ting-Ting runs like a three-year-old, and run *really* fast - so fast that some spectators shout: "How amazing is the pigtail!!!" - "Yes, straightened pigtail!!" ... Whether it really was worth the wire just to illustrate this conversation seems to be lost in translation.)

The film portrays traditional Chinese patriarchy insofar that fathers are distant, cool characters that don't have very close relationships with their family, and have to act tough in front of other people to 'save face'. (For instance, dad Fong beats up his wife and son in front of other people to 'save face'.)
But the Fongs are able to break this pattern a bit, and at the end of the film, dad Fong actually smiles for the first time!!!!!
While the patriarchs are stiff and distant, the mothers are the true stars, superior in kung fu and always saving their husbands' asses.
Then again, Ting-Ting is really passive and silly, and, as mentioned, she runs like a three-year-old ...

Hunk factor:
Fong Sai-Yuk is like a cute and funny little pig, whom you just want to squeeze to death!!!!
The Manchu governor is also quite handsome and charismatic, in a slightly evil way ...