Review: Fong Sai Yuk (1993)

Directed by:
Cast: , , , , , ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

Some generally splendid movies have one incredibly creative fight scene that will firmly lodge itself in the memory of those who view them. With Wing Chun, it’s that which has Michelle Yeoh defending a tray of tofu against a male chauvinist pig of an opponent and sending it where no tray of tofu has ever gone before or since. With Dragon Inn, it’s the duel that starts off with Maggie Cheung interrupting Brigitte Lin’s bathing and involves Ms. Lin stripping pieces of clothing off the Magster and dressing herself with her increasingly naked opponent’s garments. And with this 1993 Corey Yuen Kwai directed martial artistic action feast for the eyes, it’s got to be the “touch the ground and you lose” contest that has two opponents resorting to sparring while doing such as balancing themselves on the heads and upper bodies of supporters and previously uninvolved onlookers.

While that which is Fong Sai Yuk’s piece de resistance occurs fairly early in this 100 minute length film, it doesn’t mean at all that ShowTime’s effectively over after it. Instead, it might be argued that it’s really only then that the fun truly begins, with the triggering of: One subplot which has the titular legendary Cantonese youth (who is played with utmost charm by the boyish Jet Li) getting betrothed to the daughter of a rich and brash Manchu newcomer to the province named Tiger Lu (who gets comically portrayed by Chen Sung Yung) and his martial arts expert woman, Madam Lee Siu Wan (Sibelle Hu actually holds her own against the rest of this movie’s able cast); and another which has Madam Lee falling for someone she thinks is the elder brother of Fong Sai Yuk but actually is the skilled fighter’s kungfu mama (The legendary Josephine Siao Fong Fong threatens to steal the show as the sometimes cross-dressing — as Fong Tai Yuk! — and at all times wonderfully eccentric Madam Miu Tsui Fa)!

A third subplot, which this eventful as well as enjoyable offering first concentrates on, involves the Red Flower (secret Triad) Society’s resistance against the rule of the Qing Emperor, Chien Lung. Apart from giving the makers of Fong Sai Yuk a reason to throw in an innovative nightmare sequence which had a bunch of attackers surfing towards a boat and bring into the picture a formidable character named Governor Oryeetor (who is portrayed here by a cinematic debut making — and unusually stern looking — Chiu Man Cheuk), it also provides some depth and seriousness to an effort that often plays like a light-hearted comedy but turns out to be one of those multi-genre Hong Kong movies that also possess some pretty emotionally powerful segments. Lest the reader wonder how this portion of the film connects to the others, here’s pointing out that initially unbeknownst to even his combative family, staid-looking Papa/Master Fong (who is essayed by Paul Chu Kong) — along with the likes Master Chan (Adam Cheng in a cameo appearance) — turns out to be a key member of the Red Flower Society who Emperor Chien Lung has specifically asked Governor Oryeetor to hunt down so that the imperial personage can finally have some nightmare-less sleep.

Another prelude to the spectacularly entertaining showcase challenges that had first Fong Sai Yuk, then “Fong Tai Yuk” (yes, really — It is not for nothing that Corey Yuen Kwai also was the director of such battling femme fests as Yes Madam!, Righting Wrongs and She Shoots Straight!), up against Madam Lee in their home locale’s equivalent of a town square has this Jet Li produced film’s generally cheerful folk hero — along with his two buddies, Bo and Sing — meeting a soft and sweet beauty, who Sai Yuk promptly gets enamored with, named Ting Ting (To my eyes, Michelle Reis has never looked lovelier than in this movie). Seemingly invariably, Ting Ting attracts the attention of other not so nice youths. The result is a couple of brawls but also participation in some Western-style athletic events, at all of which Sai Yuk excels, to the obvious admiration of Ting Ting (And this even without taking into account the lad’s turning out to be the kind of exemplary individual who refuses to step on and kill a slow moving ant!)

However, before formal introductions and arrangements for a first date can be made between the cute pair, Fong Sai Yuk gets carted off by the local constabulary, along with all the young men who fought at the event organized by Tiger Lu in one of his many bids to appease those residents annoyed at the foreign upstart’s coming in and buying up one third of the town in three months. Will their romance ever be allowed to bloom? What do you think, given that this highly popular movie is one whose makers seem to be trying their utmost to please every one of its viewers and is full of women who swoon when the following lines of poetry are recited to them: “The Beauty pulls the curtain up. She sits with furrowed brows. One sees the stains of tears. Who is she crying for?”!

10 charming poetry-quoters out of 10.
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