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April 11, 2006

All the Wrong Clues

wrongclues.jpg

Gui ma zhi duo xing
Tsui Hark - 1981
Deltamac All Region DVD

I'm certain that most people who saw All the Wrong Clues would never believe that twenty-five years later Tsui Hark would be a major force in Hong Kong cinema. Although compared to Steven Spielberg for bringing in higher quality special effects to his film, Tsui is some ways closer to Luc Besson with his writing and producing films directed by proxy, in addition to his own formidable output as a director. All the Wrong Clues was Tsui's fourth film as director, and first commercial success.

What distinguishes this film is how Tsui stretches his limited resources, as well as how All the Wrong Clues anticipates some of Tsui's future work in content and style. The film is a screwball and slapstick detective story, closer to the Three Stooges than Nick and Nora Charles. Tsui begins with a very funny visual joke: what appears to the audience as one man walking through a shadowy alley is revealed to be three men, one closely behind the other, each man markedly taller than the man in front. Visual gags include a conversation conducted with a skeleton sitting between two characters, a barroom brawl that becomes a dance scene with a change of music, and a detective discovering several different women hiding in different rooms, including the bathtub, in his apartment. Tsui demonstrates a fondness for the ridiculous that would be honed to better effect in Peking Opera Blues and The Chinese Feast.

The action scenes are created by clever editing, creating the illusion of movement and otherwise unaffordable stunt work. Like the "B" directors of earlier eras, Tsui also shoots close-ups and disguises minimal sets. Tsui also plays with silhouettes at different times, an effect he would revisit with a beautiful shot of Jet Li appearing to kiss Rosamund Kwan in Once Upon a Time in China. The main reason to see All the Wrong Clues is for Tsui's anything for a laugh approach to comedy which includes naming a character Ah Capone, having one of the women dress like Lana Turner with a white turban, and including a couple of nuns in a car chase. All the Wrong Clues may also have the distinction of being possibly the only Chinese language film where you'll hear "Hava Nagila".

Posted by peter at April 11, 2006 07:30 AM