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Yes, Madam! (1985) January 19, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, 1980s films , 2 comments

Director: Corey Yuen Kwai  Main cast: Michelle Yeoh; Cynthia Rothrock; John Shum; Mang Hoi; Tsui Hark  Territory: Hong Kong

An incriminating piece of gang-related evidence has been inadvertently stolen by a pair of bumbling crooks (John Shum and Mang Hoi), who take great pains to save their skin while on the run from the police and the Triads.  Meanwhile, a special task force is drawn up to bring the crime syndicate down, and Inspector Ng (Yeoh) teams up with her foreign counterpart Morris (Rothrock).  Together despite their open scepticism of each other, they take on the crime lord and his army, but may have met their match with the petty criminals in possession of the crucial evidence…

I’ve said it before, but there are certain things about Hong Kong action films from the 80s that instil a feeling of warm cosy familiarity that is hard to shake off even if the film itself doesn’t live up to expectations.  Tacky synth soundtrack?  Check.  Silly hairstyles and clothes?  Check.  Dick Wei as the main evil henchman?  Check.  John Shum larking about?  Check.  James Tien as the smug, arrogant villain?  Check, check check.  Throw in a cameo by Richard Ng (and Sammo Hung, producer of the project) at no extra cost, and you have all the hallmarks of Hong Kong cinema from the period that arguably produced its most well loved genre films.

However, Yes, Madam! is strangely lacking focus.  The two leads share relatively little of the screen time, while the comic team of John Shum and Mang Hoi take centre stage.  While their overly “shouty” routines wear thin after a while (for me, about ten minutes into the film) there are a few touches of genuine humour in there, and the proceedings are livened up immensely by the addition of Tsui Hark as their forger friend.  And the scene where the pair keep trying to get locked up to avoid the Triad gang only for the two police women to keep releasing them is pretty funny.

Yes, Madam!

When the two female leads take the screen, there is a definite lack of chemistry between them.  Although the film contrives to create a cop buddy movie atmosphere, there is very little character development.  While most would argue that this is an action movie and therefore to hell with character development, I would still have liked a bit of flesh on the bones, so to speak.

Mind you, the action scenes are pretty damn good.  But when you throw the likes of Michelle Yeoh, Dick Wei and Chung Faat into the mix, something pretty damn good should come out of it.  Speaking of Chung Faat, his character is bloody hilarious, despite not delivering a single line of dialogue that I can recall.  It’s impossible to think that someone looking the way he does could have stayed on the streets for so long without being identified as demonic.  Put it this way, he doesn’t look human

Some mention must be made to the film’s misogyny and dubious dialogue.  Well, if you’re very sensitive, you will probably find Yes, Madam! pretty offensive.  Personally, a lot of the insults are so outrageously over the top that I found most of it quite funny.  My favourite line is delivered by Tien, who, when being tackled by Yeoh, admonishes her with: “if you want to show off, do it in the kitchen!”

Yes, Madam! is not a solid gold movie classic, with its reliance on comedy skits and with an unsatisfactory conclusion, but is one of the best films in Rothrock’s extremely variable filmography.  And Michelle Yeoh fans should be pretty happy if they can live with the fact that her physical skills are used somewhat sparingly.

The Sentimental Swordsman (1977) January 10, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Wuxia, 1970s films , add a comment

Director: Chor Yuen  Main cast: Ti Lung; Derek Yee; Fan Mei-Shang; Ching Li; Norman Chu  Territory: Hong Kong

This Chor Yuen film is quite hard to come by these days – I had to pay over the odds for a Thai DVD on eBay.  It’s quite a shock hearing Ti Lung dubbed in Thai, but luckily the original Mandarin audio is also included on the disc.  I can’t quite remember why I was chasing this down so arduously, but I assume I read a favourable review of it somewhere, bought it and then forgot about it for about a year.

Based on a Gu Long novel, The Sentimental Swordsman is typical fare, full of intrigue, mystery and conspiracy.  Stylistically, it’s virtually identical to Clans of Intrigue and it’s hard not to compare the two.  It’s head-spinningly complex and fast-paced, with a general plot of the hero Li Xunhuan (Ti Lung) in a feud with a shadowy assassin known only as the Plum Blossom Bandit.  Occasionally aiding him is the mysterious Ah Fei (Derek Yee), who looks to be imitating David Chiang a lot of the time (and who would almost certainly have had the role had he still been in Shaw Brothers’ employ when this was made).  Also involved is Li’s sidekick Chuan-Jia (Fan Mei-Shang), Lin Xianer (Ching Li) and a cast of dozens of bizarrely-monikered characters who weave in and out of the convoluted plot.

Chor Yuen was a director with a keen eye for the dramatic, and some of the external shots for this film are pretty impressive, with lots of atmospheric footage across frozen rivers and snowy landscapes.  The action scenes (of which there are many) are variable but generally pretty good, although Ti Lung is doubled quite a lot for some of the more agile scenes.  I would have liked to have seen more of Derek Lee’s character, though, and the same can be said about Fan Mei-Shing, who seems to have only been included as Li’s companion and manservant when convenient to the plot. 

sentimental-swordsman.jpg

The problem with The Sentimental Swordsman is the break-neck pacing that Chor used so frequently.  It is so hard to actually settle down and enjoy this film when no one will stand still for more than a few seconds.  The exposition scenes begin well, providing the viewer with essential information, but then degenerate into confusing directionless rambles.  I suspect this film condenses the source material down and instead of cutting plot threads and characters, Chor decided to throw everything in and hope for the best.

Even though the film is too haphazard and messy, it is not without its entertainment, although it is largely unintentional.  The Plum Blossom Bandit is the most obvious example.  He’s the evil villain of the piece, but you can’t take him seriously at all.  The reason?  He wears a bright pink costume, that’s why, and throws darts with little plum blossom designs on them.  And that’s not to mention a character who goes by the name of Mr Iron Flute.  And you have to laugh when an inebriated poison expert says to a fatally dosed hero: “why should trivial matters get in the way of drinking?”

So while The Sentimental Swordsman can never be considered a classic, it is worth watching if you’re in the mood for something that looks like it was written by someone on a fatal caffeine kick.  That’s of course if you can track it down…

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