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Enjoyable if silly lightweight martial arts affair
Though folk in the West generally know the work of Yuen Woo Ping in the likes of the Kill bill or Matrix films and a fair few are familiar with the likes of Iron Monkey or some of his earlier outings, there are numerous films like this, decent, but unspectacular, entertainments that offer a good deal of fun and fighting, without doing anything earth shaking. This one tells of young Hok Man, who learns Tai Chi whilst locked up to study by his father and also has the advantage of being able to use his ponytail as a weapon. One day he leaves the house, spies young beauty Rose and impresses her by saving two children from sacrifice. Then in amongst splashes of light comedy a story involving nefarious opium dealers unfolds. The comedy is breezy and sometimes pretty amusing, though never as ribtickling as some I have encountered. The story is fairly engaging, touching on the thorny issues of Chinese independence, democracy, the opium trade and its relationship with Britain. Sadly these issues are not best used in this light hearted film. As far as fighting goes, there are a clutch of decent scenes, spread across the film, not quite enough to give it the breakneck excitement of a classic but enough to keep things going. The choreography is as good as one might expect from Yuen Woo Ping, with a mixture of fairly silly wire-work (outside of wuxia films I'm not a huge fan of wire-work) and great more grounded fighting, with some of the legwork most impressive. Jacky Wu makes for a charming hero and he has some fine skills, whilst Billy Chow has a good turn as a Northern Leg Master. There are also nice turns from the beautiful Christy Cheung and the elegant Sibelle Hu. As far as the villains go, they aren't a particularly inspiring bunch, they have good skills but never come across as dangerous or especially malign. Chuen-Hua Chi plays a bald evil doer who fights with his head a lot, whilst Darren Sahlavi plays the head baddie Mr Smith, convincingly angry, but to the point where he seems a little silly. The baddies, combined with the light writing and the occasionally slightly lax pacing are what bring the film down, its not quite wild enough to be a great mindless entertainer, and not well written or serious enough to properly handle the issues it raises. Its never less than watchable, but I couldn't help but wish for more from it. Also, it would have worked better had it avoided wire-work and stayed on the ground. Still, this is pretty solid stuff, definitely worth a watch for martial arts fiends, but not a classic of the genre.
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