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Dreadnaught (1981) November 3, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Uncategorized, Comedy, Kung Fu, 1980s films , 7 comments

Director: Yuen Woo-Ping  Main cast: Yuen Biao; Leung Kar-Yan; Yuen Shun-Yi; Kwan Tak-Hing  Territory: Hong Kong

Cowardly laundry boy Mousy (Yuen Biao) unwittingly draws the interest of twisted serial killer White Tiger (Yuen Shun-Yi) while an elderly Wong Fei-Hung (Kwan Tak-Hing) finds himself facing jealous rival Tam (Phillip Ko-Fai) and his hired help.

By 1981, the Kung Fu comedy cycle started by Yuen Woo-Ping’s twin hits Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master was clearly running out of steam.  Nevertheless, Golden Harvest’s Dreadnaught is still better than most of the dire comedies that came out of the Shaw studio around this time, even if it falls somewhat short of being an all-out classic in its own right.

By my reckoning, this was the very last time Kwan Tak-Hing played Wong Fei-Hung after appearing as the legendary doctor in many, many, many films.  Despite being doubled in a lot of scenes and with the remainder being fairly stationary affairs with just upper body movement, he still looks fairly convincing.

I hope that's your belt buckle, mister!

The story is pretty perfunctory (and littered with Lion Dance scenes, which were popular at the time), with a strange killer with the name of White Tiger being introduced at the beginning as the film’s obvious villain.  Played by Yuen Shun-Yi (every Kung Fu film fan’s favourite nutter), the character is enraged by the sound of small decorative bells since his wife was killed in an ambush at a restaurant.  Apart from this scene, there’s not a lot of explanation of his character, and all we know is he’s severely screwed up over his wife’s death.

Mousy, as played by Yuen Biao, is not exactly the most memorable character in the genre.  Like in the 1982 movie Dragon Lord, the hero can’t actually fight, but rather bumbles along and wins the day through sheer spirit.  This is a shame as we never really see Yuen’s considerable agility.  Leung Kar-Yan puts in a rare beardless performance as Ah Foon (who was previously played by Yuen Biao in another Yuen Woo-Ping film, Magnificent Butcher), and actually gets to show off his stuff more than the film’s star.  The rest of the supporting cast appears to be filled out by Yuen Woo-Ping’s entire family, and you can’t go very long without spotting one of the director’s relatives.

Sadly, this was the only time Yuen Biao had top billing in one of the legendary director’s films and Dreadnaught always strikes me in as a film that doesn’t really live up to its potential, despite being quite enjoyable.  But then, I feel that way about a lot of Yuen Woo-Ping’s films.  As far as I’m concerned, if you want to see Yuen Biao on top form, check out Knockabout instead, and if you want to see the director at his best, see the aforementioned Drunken Master.

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