Monday, March 30, 2020

Fong Sai-yuk aka The Legend of Fong Sai-yuk (Corey Yuen, 1993)

This 1993 Corey Yuen-directed Jet Li flick ranks way up there on the list of great Hong Kong Cinema experiences. It's about legendary hero Fong Sai-Yuk, who was a member of the Red Flower Society, a secret society who desired to take back the country from the Manchu-run Ching Dynasty. As portrayed by Li, Fong is a happy-go-lucky kung-fu expert who spends his time fooling around with his buddies. By strange happenstance, he gets involved with Ting Ting (Michelle Reis), the daughter of the new Manchu governor (Chan Chung-Yung).

However, Fong really doesn't just get involved with Ting Ting. Circumstances are much more involved and screwball-comedy complex. He wins a kung-fu contest to determine Ting Ting's future husband, but he doesn't realize that Ting Ting is the girl whose hand he's won. Even more, his supermom (Josephine Siao) dresses up like a man to try to bail out her son, and ends up winning the affections of Fong's new mother-in-law (Sibelle Hu). Plus, the new governor doesn't know that Fong's dad (Paul Chu) is a high-ranking Red Flower Society officer. And last but not least, the supreme government baddie (future Wong Fei-Hong Zhao Wen-Zhou) arrives to act mean and terrorize everyone in sight. I've said it before and I'll say it again: hijinks ensue.

What makes Fong Sai-Yuk such an incredible delight is the overabundance of eager-to-please yet very agreeable comedy and action sequences. The comedy is typically Hong Kong, meaning lots of minor shtick, gender confusion and mistaken identity silliness. Still, unlike usual comedymeister Wong Jing, Corey Yuen manages to make the comedy pleasing and unobtrusive. The action is in another entire class. Fong Sai-Yuk is loaded with intricately choreographed classic set pieces, including a famous fight atop the heads of a crowd, and a showdown between Wong Fei-Hongs Jet Li and Zhao Wen-Zhou. Even the drama manages to work.

To assign negatives to Fong Sai-Yuk would seem like ungrateful nitpicking. The film is a rarity: a popcorn crowd-pleaser that elicits so many different cinematic emotions that calling it exhilarating would be an understatement. In a perfect world they would still make Hong Kong movies like this.