(Hong Kong 1988)
Original Title: Qi Xiao Fu
Directed by Alex Law Produced by Leonard Ho, Mona Fong Action by Yuen Wah, Sammo Hung Stunt Team
Starring: Sammo Hung, Lam Ching Ying, Cheng Pei Pei, John Shum, Chung Gam Yam, Cheung Man Lung, Wong Kim Wai, Lee Din Hung, Lee Din Hing
Reviewing: Netflix UK Release
Genres: Biopic / Drama
Rating - 4 / 5
Synopsis: The story of the infamous Beijing Opera School, where Master Yu taught and raised Hong Kong superstars Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, and Yuen Biao along with the other 7 Little Fortunes.
Views: More famously known as the film that tells the story of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao's time spent at the Beijing Opera School, Painted Faces shines a light on the ways of their teacher – Master Yu Jim Yuen, who is played by Sammo Hung himself. The film starts with the young Jackie Chan's arrival at the academy, with a reluctant Mrs. Chan signing over her son that gives Master Yu permission to teach – and even beat the mischievous youngster to death. Although homesick after a short while, Jackie learns to adapt to the strict rules of the school and finds new brothers in his classmates, winning them over with his cheekiness and clowning around. As the story progresses, the children are prepared for the stage and soon appear in shows for large audiences, impressing with their acrobatics and stage work yet at the same time, putting their master to shame with so many mistakes. But under his tough exterior and iron-handed teachings, the boys find love and appreciation for their master – a traditional man who is stuck in his ways – and soon make him proud with their achievements, as well as getting a little help and understanding from Master Yu's close friends Uncle Hua, an opera brother-turned-stuntman, and Master Cheng – mistress of the all-girls opera school, whom Master Yu has an eye for!
While it has been criticised by both Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan for only teasing how brutal their upbringing at the Beijing Opera School really was, Painted Faces is still a fascinating film to watch. With strong performances all over, the film offers plenty of humour, impressive acrobatics, romance, and emotion as the kids grow-up under the watchful eye of a man who is struggling to deal with the fast-paced changes in modern Hong Kong. The casting of the kids is just brilliant, with each of them having somewhat of a visual connection to their namesake – and especially when the younger kids are swapped for teenage actors, just before the halfway mark. The likeness of teenage Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan was just spot-on...
Although he had already been writing for a few years in the Hong Kong film industry such as 100 Ways To Murder Your Wife, The Happy Bigamist, The Autumn's Tale, and To Err Is Humane, Painted Faces would be the directorial debut for Alex Law Kai Yui (of which he also penned). Oddly enough, as great as the film is, Law has only ever directed another 4 films since, including the Chow Yun Fat vehicle Now You See Love... Now You Don't, and Echoes Of The Rainbow with Simon Yam and Sandra Ng. He would continue writing of course, delivering films like Eight Taels Of Gold, Moon Warriors, The Soong Sisters, and The Blacksheep Affair starring Vincent Zhao, to name but a few. To date, Alex Law's final project would be as the writer for Mabel Cheung's 2015 film, A Tale Of Three Cities – a film that she co-wrote with him and saw Law also produce. It's very strange how his career panned out actually, considering his nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay at the 1989 Hong Kong Film Awards for Painted Faces, as well as many other nominations for others he wrote and a win for The Autumn's Tale.
Apart from Law's screenplay and direction, the cast is a really big win for me in Painted Faces. The always wonderful Sammo Hung Kam Bo gets the chance to play his old master, Yu Jim Yuen – which is probably one of the most interesting casting choices I've ever seen to be honest, with Hung having had years of first-hand experience under Master Yu's ruling. He does an incredible job as the iron-fisted teacher, beating and training his students morning, noon, and night – including the younger version of himself, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, and many other Hong Kong movie legends. Sammo has always been a fantastic actor and his role here gives him the chance to shine, bagging him the award for Best Actor at the 1988 Hong Kong Film Awards and Asia-Pacific Film Festival. It was certainly a strong year for the big man with the awesome (and ironically titled) Dragons Forever, Painted Faces, and a cameo in the Andy Lau thriller In The Blood (directed by his school brother Corey Yuen Kwai), before moving onto the wonderful Pedicab Driver through to 1989. The late Lam Ching Ying (who I miss massively) plays Uncle Hua, an old opera brother of Master Yu. He broke off long ago to work in the film industry as a stuntman (very much life imitating art for the man) and goes on to inspire the kids to do the same as the years at the opera school comes to a close. Although he only pops in and out, I really loved Lam in his role here which gave him the chance to show just what a great actor he was – as well as execute a painful-looking stunt that goes on to end his character's career. The wonderful Cheng Pei Pei stars as Master Cheng, the teacher of the all-girls school of dance and the woman that steals Master Yu's heart. It was great to see her in such a role, and although void of any kung fu or fighting during her time on-screen, Pei Pei still manages to light up the screen whenever she appears.
Interestingly produced by both Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, Painted Faces is gorgeously shot by cinematographer David Chung Chi Man – director of classic Hong Kong films such as It's A Drink! It's A Bomb!, Royal Warriors, Magnificent Warriors, and I Love Maria. Chung also worked as the DOP on a host of great titles including God Of Gamblers 1 & 2, Zodiac Killers, Flirting Scholar, Esprit D'amour, My Heart Is That Eternal Rose, Once Upon A Time In China, Full Throttle, and many more. Keeping a very classic look to the whole thing, Chung fills every shot with gorgeously detailed set pieces and scenery that makes Painted Faces a film I can't wait to own on Blu-ray! Opera school brother Yuen Wah looks after the action, along with the Sammo Hung Stunt Team, most of which focuses on the more classic style of Peking operatic acrobatics and stage combat – all but for Lam Ching Ying's aforementioned film stunt moment, which was just superb. Regardless of its lack of kung fu action, Painted Faces still proves to be a highly entertaining piece held together with some great performances, great cinematography, and a story that should be of interest to any true fan of Hong Kong cinema!
Overall: Wonderfully written and directed by Law, Painted Faces is a very entertaining piece that gives fans a small insight to the upbringing of some of Hong Kong cinemas greatest stars!
(Hong Kong 1993)
Original Title: Hua Pi Zhi: Yin Yang Fa Wang
Directed by King Hu Produced by Ng Ming Choi, Chung Wai Shing Action by Alan Chui
Starring: Adam Cheng, Sammo Hung, Wu Ma, Joey Wong, Lau Shun, Lam Ching Ying, Lu Shu Gui, Yang Yi
Reviewing: YouTube Release
Genres: Fantasy / Romance / Horror
Rating - 2 / 5
Synopsis: A roving ghost spirit who is controlled by the Ying Yang Evil Clan, disguises herself as a human to hide on earth. Her spirit can only be saved and released by a ghost-busting monk who soon comes to her rescue.
Views: The swan song of legendary director King Hu, is somewhat of an anticlimax considering the amount of incredible films he had already brought fans over the years. That's not to say that Painted Skin is a bad film at all – it just simply couldn't be – but more of a case of having seen it all before. The years between 1987 and 1991 saw us receive the wonderful trilogy of A Chinese Ghost Story which, in turn, spawned a host of copycat films and inspired many directors to make something similar. It seems that King Hu was one such person! Of course, Hu had directed the popular Tsui Hark produced Swordsman film (with Sam Hui) just a few years prior, but his 1980s productions hadn't made as much of a splash such as The Juvenizer, All The Kings Men, and The Wheel Of Life respectively. Personally, I believe King Hu was at the height of his game as a director from the mid 60s through to the late 70s, and had been a successful enough actor from the mid 1950s appearing in around 40 films until he mainly focused on his forte. Hu also wrote the most of anything he directed, and Painted Skin would be no exception – although this time joined by Zhong Ah Zheng who also penned The Assassin in 2015, starring Shu Qi. That said, I didn't think there was anything too special about the script for this project, which came across as a pretty average piece. The story of Painted Skin had been told a couple of times before in Hong Kong cinema, one in 1966 by director Bao Fang and the other only 3 years before King Hu's by director Cheng Shao Feng - although I have yet to see either of them for comparison...
If there is one thing Painted Skin benefits from, its having big names such as Sammo Hung, Adam Cheng, Joey Wong, Wu Ma star as well as a cameo by Lam Ching Ying, but the majority of all the other cast seem to be first time actors or at the very least, didn't go on to do too much more after this. Of course, after her success with the aforementioned A Chinese Ghost Story, the beautiful Joey Wong was pretty much typecast from here on in much like Lam Ching Ying was after Mr. Vampire. Wong would go on to play the role of a flirting ghost in more than a few titles throughout the next decade, and offers up one such role here as a spirit who is stuck between heaven and hell. Adam Cheng steps into the role of the scholar, in search of a woman who can carry his child since his wife in unable to have babies. But unlike the most of his roles as a dashing swordsman, Cheng plays a more subdued role than that of which he portrayed (the very same year) in Fong Sai Yuk 1 & 2 with Jet Li. The great Wu Ma and Lau Shun play a couple of odd priests, with the amazing Sammo Hung out-ranking them as a mysterious High Monk that helps save the day. Although production dates jump between 1992 and 1993 for Painted Skin, it's safe to say that (either way) Sammo was a vey busy man around this period – both as an actor and a director – with titles like Moon Warriors, Ghost Punting, Lovers Tear, King Swindler, Blade Of Fury, and Kung Fu Cult Master on the cards (most of which leave this film in the dust in terms of entertainment value). And last but not least, the greatly missed Lam Ching Ying pops in (and quickly out again) in a cameo as the Purple Monk.
While it has its moments in a visual sense, the cinematography in Painted Skin didn't really reach the heights of that in Hu's earlier films such as A Touch Of Zen, The Fate Of Lee Khan, or Raining In The Mountain. This time, cinematographer Stephen Poon was behind the lens – the same guy who shot classics like Armour Of God, Pedicab Driver, Hero Among Heroes, Shanghai Affairs, Master Of Zen, and many more including a host of Jackie Chan hits as part of the camera crew. In fact, one of Poon's first jobs was as a focus puller on King Hu's Legend Of The Mountain in 1979. Painted Skin is produced by Ng Ming Choi and Chung Wai Shing, both of whom have had plenty of experience in the Hong Kong film industry. That said, the latter would only work as a producer and planner throughout the 90s with films like A Serious Shock! Yes Madam!, Tough Beauty & The Sloppy Slop and The Hunted Hunter with Yuen Biao, and Leopard Hunting with Jade Leung and Yukari Oshima. Ng Ming Choi on the other hand, who is probably better known as Yuen Ting – one of the Seven Little Fortunes and classmate of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung – would star in over 70 films, appearing in many classic hits from Shaw Brothers studios and independent titles from Hong Kong and Taiwan, including a host of King Hu's more memorable films, some of which he would also help choreograph. And speaking of choreography, that is left to the brilliant Alan Chui for Painted Skin – an actor and choreographer who has starred in over 130 films, worked in the action department on titles such as Leopard Hunting, Super Lady Cop, The Killer, Shaolin Vs Ninja, Demon Strike, A Chinese Ghost Story, and even co-directed the fun (but very low budget) Tough Beauty & The Sloppy Slop with Yuen Biao and Cynthia Khan. To be honest though, there's really not enough action going on here for my liking – saving everything for the final 10 minutes or so!
Overall: A little uninspired and hardly vital viewing, Painted Skin feels uneven at times but is worth one watch at least if you have nothing else to do!
(Hong Kong 2008)
Original Title: Hua Pi
Directed by Gordon Chan Produced by Gordon Chan Action by Stephen Tung Wai
Starring: Donnie Yen, Chen Kun, Vicki Zhao Wei, Betty Sun Li, Zhou Xun, Qi Yu Wu, Jin Song, Ada Lui, Wen Yang, Xiao Cong, David Liang, Michael Tan
Reviewing: Metrodome UK DVD Release
Genres: Fantasy / Romance / Action
Rating - 3.5 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Combining momentous battle scenes with stunning combat choreography and a stirring story of the fight for freedom, PAINTED SKIN is a searingly powerful martial arts epic already being hailed as a modern classic. In the turbulent days between the Qin and Han Dynasties a dark, tyrannical presence rules the land, sea and air of a once beautiful realm. As the evil forces press further into the lives of the people it falls to an ex-general (Donnie Yen – Ip Man, Hero, Blade 2) to reclaim the mantle of battle and begin a bloodthirsty war that will decide the fate of the world. Facing the mightiest foe ever the have walked the earth he must test his strength, courage and honour in one of the greatest battles ever fought by man.
Views: Produced and directed by Gordon Chan, this 21st-century adaptation of the famed Painted Skin story, albeit with a much different take than those which came before. While it may have received mixed reviews upon release, I actually like this take of the story – which proves to be a hell of a lot more interesting and exciting than the 1993 King Hu directed version! After they invade the camp of some barbarians, general Wang Sheng rescues Xiao Wei – an orphaned young woman who instantly catches his eye. But once they return home, Wang Sheng's wife – Pei Rong – starts to suspect that Xiao Wei may be a demon, and soon finds herself right when she learns that she is actually a fox spirit, as well as the competition for her husbands love. Pei Rong sets out to find help from ex-general Pang Yong – Wang's old boss and rival for Pei Rong's love. Together, with an amateur ghostbuster by his side, the team set out to catch Xiao Wei and her demon servant to stop the killings in the town, all in the name of love!
Although he has been in the business for a good few decades now, Gordon Chan has always been a hit-and-miss kind of director for me. The man has been behind some great films such as Fight Back To School 1 & 2, King Of Beggars, Thunderbolt, Fist Of Legend, Beast Cops, 2000 A.D., and the underrated comic-book trilogy, The Four - he has still made plenty of films that didn't really do it for me. And while his Painted Skin may not be perfect, it still proves to be quite an entertaining piece overall. Beautifully shot by Arthur Wong (as DOP), the visuals help keep the film above average with some great shots over the course of its (almost) 2-hour running time. While he has played many roles in the Hong Kong film world over the years, as an actor, producer, and even as the director of a few flicks including In The Line Of Duty 3, Wong has been behind the lens of many classic titles such as Eastern Condors, Miracles, Operation Condor, Moon Warriors, The Warlords, Chan's very own 2000 A.D. - and the sequel to this, Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection. In fact, well over 100 movies from the late 1970s! Arthur is joined by Ally Wong, an actor and cinematographer who has also directed over 20 movies himself (many low budget), as well as working behind the lens of many great titles such as Donnie Yen's Legend Of The Wolf and Ballistic Kiss, Dreaming The Reality, Angel Terminators 2, Avenging Quartet, Happy Together, and many more. The beautiful score is handled by first-time composer Fujiwara Ikuro who has only since worked on Gordon Chan's Mural, and The Lost Bladesman with Donnie Yen – both in 2011.
While the action is a bit more frequent than King Hu's film of the same name, it still probably doesn't happen enough for Donnie Yen fans or those who are hoping for a kung-fu epic. The great Stephen Tung Wai is the man behind the choreography, but this time delivers some seemingly average action scenes that, while not terrible by any means, just don't ever get too exciting for the skills of the cast involved. Although the amazing Donnie Yen has been splashed all over the artwork and is the big name of the film, I'd say its actually Chen Kun who leads the way in Painted Skin. Of course, he returns for the sequel as a different character altogether but here, the underrated Chen does a great job as general Wang Sheng - the man caught between two beautiful women. Donnie gets to loosen up somewhat as Pang Yong, starting off as the stern kick-ass general before returning to town as a carefree warrior with both leading men get to take part in the action of course, which is always a treat to watch, with their main competitor being a lizard spirit played by Qi Yu Wu in only his third role. Qi would follow this by starring alongside Donnie once again in the awesome Daniel Lee film, 14 Blades. While she would have had a busy year starring in the brilliant Red Cliff 1 & 2 for John Woo, Vicki Zhao Wei found time to star in Painted Skin as Pei Rong, general Wang's wife. I'm a huge fan of Zhao Wei and think she's an amazing actress, so it was great to see her come back again for Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection as well as also star alongside Donnie Yen once again in 14 Blades soon afterr. Zhou Xun is just as fantastic as the fox spirit Xiao Wei, devourer of men's hearts and the woman who comes between general Wang and his wife. This was the first film I had ever seen Zhou Xun in before catching her in the brilliant True Legend, Confucius, Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate, The Great Magician, and once again in the sequel to this. And last, but not least, the great Betty Sun Li stars as demon slayer Xia Bing in what would only be her 3rd role after Brother Tree and Jet Li's Fearless. Betty would go on to star alongside Yen once again in the aforementioned (and underrated) film, The Lost Bladesman and work for Chan once again in Mural...
Overall: Beautifully filmed and well-acted, Gordon Chan's Painted Skin is a decent romantic drama with enough supernatural action to keep things moving!
PAINTED SKIN 2: RESURRECTION
(Hong Kong 1988)
Original Title: Hua Pi 2
(aka) Demon Hunter: The Resurrection
Directed by Wuershan Produced by Chen Kuo Fu Action by Stephen Tung Wai
Starring: Chen Kun, Zhou Xun, Vicki Zhao Wei, Yang Mi, William Feng, Gordon Liu, Kris Phillips, Cheng Ting Jia, Zhang Yi Long
Reviewing: Cineasia UK DVD Release
Genres: Fantasy / Romance / Action
Rating - 4.3 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Experience this record-breaking fantasy action adventure from the production company behind Jackie Chan and Jet Li's blockbuster, 'The Forbidden Kingdom'. After five centuries of captivity, a beautiful demon spirit embarks on a relentless quest to become human. To succeed, she must first overpower the will of a warrior princess and test the love of a self-exiled general, who was once her devoted bodyguard. However, when the princess becomes the target of a barbarian army, swordsmen, demons and archers collide in a supernatural battle that escalates into all-out war!
Views: After saving everyone at the end of the first Painted Skin, fox spirit Xiao Wei is imprisoned in ice for 500 years. Once free, she wastes no time in finding new lovers so that she (and her new demon companion) can eat their hearts, determined to do whatever is needed to become a human. While getting chased by a gang of demon bandits, Xiao Wei finds herself rescued by a masked warrior on horseback, but as time passes and the fox spirit tries to get close to her newfound hero, she soon finds that it is in fact, a woman known as Princess Jing – the reincarnation of Pei Ying from 500 years ago. Enter the love of Jing's life and a face only too familiar to Xiao Wei – General Huo – reborn into a position that seemingly mirrors his past life, from his role in the army, to finding difficulties in love. As more truths come to light, Xiao Wei convinces Princess Jing to swap bodies with her for 12 hours – beautifully done in a pretty gross scene that takes place in a large bath. Of course, it only leads to more problems in the love triangle and puts a strain on the (already unsteady) relationship of Princess Jing and her general. With threats from opposing clans moving in fast and the future of the kingdom in jeopardy, general Huo must decide if it is true love he wants by looks alone, or what really lies in someone's heart!
This was one of the first Hong Kong movies I showed my husband when we first met, using the whole romantic plot-line to convince him that it was worthy of a watch, and he actually loved it. He's since become a big Vicki Zhao Wei fan and usually loves anything she's in! As for myself, I'd definitely say that Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection is my favourite of the adaptations so far, proving to have a much more solid storyline, stunning visuals, a lot more excitement about it, and the best action of the lot. Although we see the return of the 3 main characters from the previous chapter, it is really Zhou Xun's character of Xiao Wei that links the two films together. Gordon Chan did a pretty good job with Painted Skin, but this sequel takes things to another level. With more Chinese studios getting involved and wanting to show the progression of the SFX teams, Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection explodes with vivid colours, stunning cinematography, and has a more epic feel to it overall. In fact, you could probably watch this as a stand-alone film and not feel like you are missing out in not having seen part one. That seems to be what Cineasia was hoping for anyway when they renamed it Demon Hunter: The Resurrection for its UK release...
While these films are all about the twists and turns of a fantastical love story, Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection also carries the sub-plot of the evil Wolf Clan wanting to kill Princess Jing and bring down her family's empire. Backed by a crazed wizard played by Kris Williams (who I actually thought was Daniel Wu on the DVD artwork when I first bought it) in his first role since 1986, the Wolf Clan brings a whole new twist to the story and brings a blend of the brilliant Korean television show, The Arthdal Chronicles, to the film. Directed by Wuershan, in what was only his second film after his directorial début The Butcher, The Chef, & The Swordsman, you would actually think that a more accomplished director was behind things considering how epic and well done the whole thing really is. Stephen Tung Wai, who also returns from the previous film, handles the film's fight choreography once again along with Li Cai who worked on films such as Curse Of The Golden Flower, Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, and more. Between them, they deliver a much more exciting range of action scenes that highly entertain, and come about a bit more frequently than before. Chen Kuo Fu, director of films such as Dangerous Choices, The Personals, and Double Vision, produces and brings years of experience on Chinese hit films that probably helped Wuershan feel a little more comfortable on such a huge production. Chen produced many of Feng Xiao Gang's films such as Big Shot's Funeral, A World Without Thieves, and Aftershock as well as the brilliant Warriors Of Heaven & Earth, Mountain Patrol, and The Yin Yang Master most recently, that sees him team up once again with the handsome Chen Kun (general Huo).
I found it interesting how the producers didn't bring back composer Fujiwara Ikuro, who handled the music on Painted Skin, yet obtained the services of another Japanese (first time) composer Ishida Katsunori, who had a busy year in 2012 composing for this production as well as Tai Chi Zero and Tai Chi Hero. The great Arthur Wong does get to return though, as DOP along with Ally Wong on 2nd Unit. They are also joined once again by Liu Ai Dong, who worked with them on the previous chapter as a cinematographer which was also his first step into the Chinese film industry. Between them all, they manage to deliver a constant stream of stunning visuals that just keep you glued to the screen – blended with some decent CGI backgrounds and enhanced scenes that don't distract too much. The return of the main cast goes without question, with each of them acting their chops off and hardly anyone giving a bad performance. In fact, it was great to see Chen Kun, Zhou Xun, and Vicki Zhao Wei return and do think that each of them took their roles to the next level compared to what they delivered in Painted Skin. The cute Yang Mi, who started her career as a child actor in Chow Sing Chi's King Of Beggars, stars as Quer – the sparrow demon sidekick to Xiao Wei who falls for bumbling demon hunter Pang, played by William Feng Shao Feng. Between them, they bring a little light and humour to the dark and emotional tale, as well as having their own relationship problems to try and deal with in the grand finale. And finally, the incredible Gordon Liu pops up in what would (unfortunately) be his final role to date before taking ill. I was hoping that we would get to see him in action, but alas, Liu's role is merely that of a cameo as one of Princess Jing's guards – killed off before he can leap into action, and quite possibly because his health wouldn't allow it in reality.
Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection is a stunning movie – beautifully filmed and epic in scale, with fantastic performances from all involved. While I did mention that it could be watched as a stand-alone movie, it does have a bit more emotion behind it when you watch after the first film. Regardless, it's a highly impressive second project from director Wuershan and an action-packed, supernatural love story that is well worth seeing!
Overall: Beautiful, powerful, and highly entertaining, Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection is my favourite of any adaptation from the story, and worth a watch!
DVD Extras: Behind The Scenes Features, Trailers
(Hong Kong 1990)
Original Title: Zhi Fen Shuang Xiong
(aka) Lethal Killers
Directed by Sammo Hung Produced by Sammo Hung Action by Samo Hung Stunt Team, Brandy Yuen, Siu Tak Foo
Starring: Sammo Hung, Alan Tam, Joan Tong Wing Lun, Chu Wai Shan, Yam Wai Hung, Andrew Lam, Chung Fat, Billy Ching Sau Yat, James Tien, Ridley Tsui, Paul Chun, Philip Chan, Tai Bo, Chu Tau, Wu Ma
Reviewing: Bonzai Media Corp. USA DVD Release
Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Comedy
Rating - 4 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Cruising meets Police Academy in this flagrantly politically incorrect yarn directed by stocky kung fu master Sammo Hung. The film opens with the streets of Hong Kong being terrorized by a serial killer targeting gay men. Wisecracking veteran cops Jeff Lau (Hung) and Alan (Alan Tam Wing Lun) are assigned to go undercover as a gay couple and ferret out the killer. After hitting the bars, the two stumble on not only a few leads but also a few propositions. Meanwhile, Jef falls completely head over heels in love with the beautiful Chen-Chen (Joan Tong Lai Kau), which threatens to blow his cover. Worse, after Jeff's partner and Chen-Chen get loaded on spiked champagne, they wind up in the sack.
Views: Sammo Hung's politically incorrect action-comedy is about two Hong Kong cops, Jeff Lau (Sammo in a likely nod to the popular director) and Alan/Gaykey (Alan Tam), who must go undercover as a gay couple to find and stop a crazed serial killer who is murdering members of the gay community across the city! Of course, it just couldn't be simple and soon the cops are being trained by a lady officer on how to act gay. It doesn't take long for them to hit the bars and nightclubs, picking up a few leads along the way as well as a few propositions. A fight outside the club leads to Sammo getting hit by a car, which in turn has him falling for its driver (Chen Chen) and almost blows his cover. As their new life on the case moves forward, Chen Chen soon ends up in bed with Alan after drinking a bottle of spiked champagne, left over by a handsome neighbour who is determined to get into Alan's pants. On his return home, Sammo finds out about the affair and the pair quickly leaves, only to be replaced by the killer they are hunting who attacks the big man with a knife. After a brutal fight, Sammo only just manages to defeat him but the killer escapes. As if things couldn't get any worse, the burly cop finds himself in trouble with some local gangsters who soon kidnap the trio and hold them hostage amidst a drug deal. And after managing to free himself, in yet another attempt to avoid the crazy serial killer, they make their escape and set out to take the gang down in a balls-to-the-wall action-packed finale!
There was a lot of controversy behind Pantyhose Hero on its release in 1990 and while audiences in the West were perhaps a little too PC about many things in it, some cinema-goers in Hong Kong felt that Sammo Hung's thoughtless approach to the gay community was perhaps a step too far. As I a gay man, I can totally see why – but as someone who doesn't get easily offended and can have a laugh, I can see past it for the fantastic action that's on offer. Yes, the script and humour may be a little crude at times (as if it was written by someone who had no idea of life in the gay community), but Pantyhose Hero isn't all that bad and it's quite obvious that Sammo's character of Jeff is quite simply homophobic to some degree. They are out there! It's also a big part of Hong Kong culture in that they are very direct people. Black is black, fat is fat, and gay is gay. I must also point out that it was also made at a time when humour like this was rife in many movies, including that from Hollywood. Pantyhose Hero was written by Barry Wong Ping Yiu and Szeto Cheuk Hon, two veteran scribes with a long list of classic titles and hits behind them. Wong, who has also appeared in many films such as Winners And Sinners, The Killer, Curry And Pepper, and Fight Back To School, made his debut as a writer with Frankie Chan's Read Lips. From there he delivered a host of amazing titles such as The Prodigal Son, Dragon Lord, the Lucky Stars Trilogy, Mr. Vampire, Eastern Condors, Twin Dragons, Hard Boiled, and so much more. His writing partner Szeto also started writing in 1980 making Tsui Hark's fun We're Going To Eat You, his debut. Sticking with Hark right through to Zu Warriors, Szeto soon co-wrote with Wong on many of the aforementioned titles as well as delivering a few more Sammo Hung movies such as Slickers Vs Killers, Blade Of Fury, Don't Give A Damn, and Once Upon A Time In China & America...
Given the serious plot points of the film (with the opening murder scenes being particularly dark), the questionable comedy sequences and offensive AIDS jokes don't actually happen all that often. In fact, the whole gay act doesn't come about too much which in some ways was a shame. Had the comedic side of it been a little more refined, it would have been good to see both actors go down the route of something like The Birdcage for example, but the pace moves so fast between cops, killers, and gangsters it doesn't really have too much time to settle on the offensive stuff – unlike many reviewers and critics would have you think. This, ironically, would be down to Wong and Szeto's uneven script that sees Pantyhose Hero start as a cop-thriller chasing a serial killer, to finishing as a generic action-flick with triads and drug deals. Regardless, Sammo and Alan do a fine job in their roles, with the latter taking to gay life a little better than his rotund partner. Keeping his hair perfect and wearing more flamboyant outfits than usual, Alan minces his way around the place staying in character and speaking in a more feminine tone, constantly hounded by his handsome neighbour – a gay fitness freak that (as he puts it) is determined to rape him. He is played by Poon Chun Wai, a recognisable face that has been in films such as On The Run, Doubles Cause Troubles, and Cash On Delivery. This scene in itself is hilarious, with Alan trying so hard not to blow his cover while at the same time trying even harder to stop this muscle-bound, half-naked man from having his way with him. After all, it is a remake of the 1982 movie Partners directed by John Burrows with Ryan O'Neal and John Hurt in the main roles. Even that had questionable lines in it that might just offend the sensitive today, but to be honest, I do think Sammo offers a more entertaining and funnier piece overall – even to the point where you would think that Wong Jing himself had been involved.
While the supporting cast isn't made up of many A-listers, a host of cameos from regular faces help make up for that. These include Wu Ma, Philip Chan, Paul Chun, James Tien, Chung Fat, Chu Tau, and Tai Bo. The great Ridley Tsui plays the serial killer with a manic smile. It's a shame we didn't get to see a bit more of his character to be honest, as we don't really learn too much of his intentions and I loved the twist of him being the bartender at the gay club. Joan Tong Lai Kau stars as Chen Chen, the love interest who hits Sammo (hard) with her car. I mean, it's one hell of a stunt for the big man! Joan made her debut alongside the legend in Alfred Cheung's so-so, To Err Is Humane, and appeared with him again in The Fortune Code which was made the same year as this. Joan also appears in titles such as The Crazy Companies, Fatal Vacation, The Tigers, To Live And Die In Tsim Shat Tsui, and many more. She does a fine job in Pantyhose Hero, even getting in on the action towards the end – as well as taking a bit of abuse which is typical for any actress when Sammo is in charge! Apart from Ridley Tsui as the serial killer, Yam Wai Hung stars as the other big baddie and the boss of the drug-dealing gang. As far as I'm aware, this was his first-ever role and impressive as he was both in acting and in action, Yam only went on to star in two other films – Slickers Vs Killers once again with Sammo, and Truant Hero for Wong Jing. Popular bad guy Billy Ching Sau Yat stars as Yam's right-hand man who gets into more than enough scraps with Sammo. Starting life in the Sammo Hung produced Yuen Biao movie, Those Merry Souls, Billy Ching very quickly became a part of most Hung Kam Bo productions as well as making an impression in Jackie Chan's Project A 2, Curry And Pepper, Off Track, Beauty Investigator, and so much more!
Of course, Pantyhose Hero will be in most Hong Kong film fans players for the kick-ass, martial arts action – something there is definitely enough of. Sammo Hung and his stunt team are joined by Brandy Yuen (brother to Yuen Woo-Ping) and Siu Tak Foo, an actor and choreographer who has been involved with many great titles such as King Hu's Raining In The Mountain, Kickboxer's Tears, Royal Warriors, and a host of Sammo Hung projects including The Blonde Fury, Pedicab Driver, and Dragons Forever. Between them, they deliver some of my favourite Sammo Hung fight scenes combing tight choreography and painful-looking moves, along with some incredible stunt work that will have you cringing. Its opening action scene takes place at an old rundown house, where cops Jeff and Alan infiltrate a gang of thugs who come at them from all sides, one of which is the wonderful Chung Fat who attacks with a chainsaw. While it often gets overshadowed by the epic chainsaw fight from Tiger On The Beat, this battle still holds its own and is brutal, exciting, and well-choreographed. It's also nice to see Alan Tam getting to pull off some great moves here, having only just become more of an action star in the few years leading up to this production in films like Rich & Famous, The Dragon Family, Casino Raiders, and The Fortune Code. He would follow this soon after with the awesome Andy Lau vehicle, The Last Blood, which would pretty much be his last role as a hardened hero before going back to more comedy-based roles and kung-fu comedies. There are, of course, a number of other fights throughout the film from the awesome gang fight in the street - which leads to the aforementioned car stunt that sees Sammo painfully explode through the front window before hitting the road – to the fun restaurant scuffle between Sammo and some gangsters, and the brutal attack in his home by the serial killer. It's another fantastic fight that utilises everything and anything from the living room to the kitchen and gives Ridley Tsui the chance to show off some great stunt work as well as take some powerful hits from Sammo who gets to show off some incredible moves.
And of course, there is the epic end battle – perhaps one of the hardest and most exciting finales of any modern Sammo Hung action movie! After being kidnapped by the gangsters, Sammo, Alan, and Chen Chen are tied to large rope spools on an old construction site and threatened with fruit being shoved up their asses. But as the gangsters leave the trio to conduct a drug deal, serial killer Tsui appears (having followed them since their abduction) and attempts to finish off Sammo and Alan with his blade. As Alan literally kicks off, and Sammo uses all his might to roll the huge spool, managing to free himself and take care of the crazed killer with some powerful moves. As the 3 of them escape, they soon notice visiting dealer James Tien and his men leaving with some briefcases. Opting to steal them, the trio soon finds themselves in the firing line and are chased down by every gangster in the building. It all leads to a collection of amazing fight scenes that are packed with power, violence, and some incredible moves. This finale reminded me very much of the epic construction site fight in Heart Of The Dragon, but a little edgier. My only thoughts are that Sammo felt he missed out on that fight so much, that he made sure he got to play in a similar setting this time around – only cranking things up to eleven! The poor Joan Tong gets thrown about quite a bit, sending her into such a panic that she tries to get a hit in whenever she can. This is often executed in that typical Sammo Hung way and harked back to those moments of Cherrie Chung fighting in Winners And Sinners. With Sammo delivering the most of the solid martial arts action, Alan opts to play a bit as he ducks, dives, and dodges the gangsters while getting-in some nice moves along the way, as well as providing plenty of laughs. It all boils down to some amazingly choreographed martial arts action that, in my eyes, showcases the big man's talents perfectly and is most definitely a closing battle that has you reaching for the rewind button!
All in all, Pantyhose Hero is a bit of a lost Sammo Hung classic, that should have been given a proper clean-up and release by now - regardless of its small list of offenses. It should be a movie that sits proudly on any true Hong Kong film fan's shelf alongside the likes of Pedicab Driver, Dragons Forever, Eastern Condors, and so much more. While flawed in its script and uneven story, the film stands strong with its fast pace, crazy comedy, and powerful martial arts action (that deserves 5 stars itself) offering a fantastic team-up with Sammo Hung and Alan Tam in top form, and lots of memorable moments...
Overall: Fast-paced, funny, and featuring some of my favourite Sammo Hung fight scenes, Pantyhose Hero is well worth the watch and a lot of fun!
DVD Extras: Trailers