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June 11, 2006

Fong Sai-Yuk

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Fong Sai-Yuk
Corey Yuen Kwai - 1993
Universe Laser & Video Region 0 DVD

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Fong Sai-Yuk II
Corey Yuen Kwai - 1993
Universe Laser & Video Region 0 DVD

I've seen both of these films on cable. Like virtually every martial arts film they've got their hands on, the Weinstein Brothers cut and dubbed the two Fong Sai-Yuk films, retitled as The Legend. While the alterations for American audiences wasn't significant to either film, it was still nice to see both as originally intended by Jet Li and Corey Yuen. The first of this two part series was the first collaboration between Li and Yuen, capitalizing not only on Li's martial abilities, but also his comic charm and balletic grace.

The second film is a variation of the first. Li portrays a young man with proven martial arts skills who fights on behalf of the rebel Red Flower Society against the hated Manchus. In the first film there is a search for a secret list, in the second film it is a special box. Fong's mother, also a kung-fu champion alternately causes confusion and joins in the heroics. The films also share scenes of mistaken identities, women dressed as men, free for all fights, and Fong saving one of his parents from execution. While the films look somewhat crude compared to the CGI enhanced extravaganzas that mark similar films made now, the films also are marked by sense of humor that is missing in the current bid to impress audiences.

Although I enjoy Jet Li's films, the main reason to see either of the two Fong Sai-Yuk films is for Josephine Siao. The goofy facial expressions and ability to take pratfalls are reminiscent of Lucille Ball. Siao portrays the kind of character who is virtually unimaginable in Hollywood films, both a comic foil and a capable heroine. One aspect of Hong Kong films that is too often unremarked is the tradition of female martial arts heroes. While much of the humor is at the expense of Siao's character, her ability to fight is recognized with same kind of respect shown to the male characters. In the first film, Sai-Yuk beams in admiration knowing that his mother, disguised as a man, has been the only person to beat Sibelle Hu in a martial arts display to win the hand of Michelle Reis. Fong Sai-Yuk may be the only film with mother and son cross-dressing scenes, followed by the pair performing "Invisible Hand" kung-fu. Filial loyalty is both honored and gently satirized. Mom might not alway know best, but she can sure kick your ass.

Posted by peter at June 11, 2006 02:41 PM