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This is a film that almost makes it, but falls short due to some faults in direction and screenplay. Firstly, it must be said that the film starts off a little strangely, and has a mixed introduction between some brilliant, well, circus-routines, and almost hurried character introductions. It was a little hard to keep up with things to begin with. But, once the film settles, it goes about taking us along with a misfit group of circus performers, who, outside of the circus, fail to fit in smoothly with the rest of the population. These difficulties are compounded by the Japanese bombings during the second world war.
Yuen Biao, a trapeze artist within this group, is also an accomplished martial artist, and through various underworld dealings, he is forced to indulge in thee skills quite often. Unfortunately for him, Donnie Yen (the police superintendent) is quite often there to stop him. There are some nice mini action scenes between these two practitioners - you just need to be a little more patient than usual.
Wu Ma is the father figure, the ringleader of both the circus and the family group. His values are quite old-world, and he refuses to trade honour for pure survival - a scene where he forces the children to return stolen food is pivotal.
Although the film has a certain charm, there is a problem somewhere. I'm not sure if it's in the pacing of the scenes, or the attempt at resolving the many character ambitions, but, towards the end, a most of the detail has been lost, and we are faced with a pretty respectable string of action sequences. Yuen Biao is more of a brawler in this film, and his crisp clean kicks and flips are absent. In their place, there is more of a scrambling urgent style, (I think of some of the Dragonlord fighting when I remember this film). Donnie Yen seems criminally underused, and Bey Logan, the British writer/actor has a few scenes to show his physicality, and, he's not too bad.
The balance between the dramatic and action elements is a little uneven, and it seems that maybe too much was aimed for, the price being a drop in quality in all areas. However, do not think that this film is forgettable as it does do some things well. The set design, cinematography and performances are pretty solid. It's just a shame that there was less of a coherent culmination of the elements.
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