Princess & Seven Kung Fu Masters (Xiào Gōng Zhèn Wǔ Lín)
Hong Kong (2013) Dir. Wong Jing
During the early days of Republic era China, the Japanese have invaded with only warlord General Lin (Sammo Hung) resisting a take over and refusing to betray his country. The one place in Lam’s region that has remained trouble free is Lucky Star Town, which is said to be cursed, with anyone trying to start a fight suddenly disappearing.
The truth is that seven martial arts masters reside there and see off any trouble makers. With the Japanese and Chinese turn coats looking to increase their campaign against Lin they resort to underhanded tactics, forcing Lin’s daughter Cheryl (Kimmy Tong) to flee to Lucky Star Town for help.
Wong Jing’s storied career has seen him dabble in a number of genres over the years with comedy being one of the more prominent, although he has proved himself on the drama front as offerings such as The Last Tycoon have shown. Princess & Seven Kung Fu Masters sees Jing back on familiar ground with this zany ensemble martial arts opus that is crazier than a box of frogs and as hard hitting as a ton of bricks. Relying on a durable cast made up of heavyweights from both the comedy and Kung Fu world Jing delivers something that is thin on story (see above) but high on fun.
Aside from a brief explanation at the start of the film to set the scene, it is twenty minutes until we get a semblance of a story. Up until this point we are treated to a mélange of comic vignettes to introduce the seven martial arts experts and the various inter-relationships that makes up this humorous community.
First there is Madonna (Sandra Ng), whose special power is a sonic boom voice. She has a crush on vendor Little Trumpet (Ronald Cheng) who is in love with Madonna’s younger sister Mademoiselle Hong (Xie Na). Manysons (Eric Tsang), father of three young sons he carries everywhere, is in love with Madonna, while Tai Chi master Nam Mor Bing (Yuen Wah) has eyes for local brothel madam Maggie (Natalie Meng). Finally Little Tailor (Wong Cho Lam) is head over heels with Cheryl, who herself has fallen for rebel fighter Yan Fang (Rose Chan), unaware “he” is a woman disguised as a man.
Got all that? Good. One area where the film has a slight problem is in the conflicting tonal shift surrounding the main thrust of the story and the Japanese quest to take over the region. Here things get very serious and considerably darker; the fights are vicious affairs and not the playful tussles we saw earlier. Once this thread has been established its back to the levity, with the gravity interspersed to remind viewer there is actually a plot.
The Japanese ninja operator sent to seduce Lam, Kiyoko Kurosawa (Jo Kuk), posing as a Chinese dignitary Nie Wu Shuang, has the help of a group of defectors led by Tiger Hong (Xing Yu), deadly female assassin Phoenix Hong (Jiang Luxia) and Leopard Hong (Xu Mingbo). They infiltrate Lin’s home and get to work drugging him so a faux marriage to take place between Kurosawa and Lin thus gaining control of the region. Cheryl escapes their clutches, meeting rebel fighter Tony Luo (Phillip Ng) who vows to save Lin, bringing the seven masters out of retirement for one last hurrah.
It’s a little hard to decide where this film works best. The anarchic off the wall humour delivers some very funny moments but not all of it translates so well. A lot of it revolves around Madonna’s sonic boom, meaning the CGI soundwaves that send people flying across the street or through walls gets old rather quickly.
Other instances are exercises in good old fashioned farce with the various love triangles colliding with each other with (occasional) hilarious consequences. Manic doesn’t not always equate to funny but on the whole the general energy of the scenes and the performances make them tolerable and often cover up the lack of wit and panache present.
The darker material feels like it came from another film and certainly the antagonists have no comedic value whatsoever. Kurosawa is pure duplicitous evil while the Hong family are brutal thugs with no compunction for the bodily harm they cause. As mentioned earlier the aggression of the fight scenes is noticeably increased and the use of dangerous weapons adds to that air of violent excitement.
Jing’s direction reflects the two clashing moods, relying on close up shots and invasive camera angles for the serious scenes, keeping things much looser for the lighter moments. There is even a musical number thrown in for good measure in the first act that, while fun, really should have been left until the end, especially as the ensuing scene is the arrival of the Hong Family.
However this film is billed as a comedy so the major attraction is the frenetic antics of the all star cast. Leading the charge is the Queen of Hong Kong comedy, the irrepressible Sandra Ng, who is on top form and embracing the silliness with the vigour she is known for. Eric Tsang is somewhat restrained as Manysons while youngsters Xie Na, Ronald Cheng, Wong Cho Lam and Natalie Meng seem to be enjoying themselves along with veterans Yuen Wah and Sammo Hung, who get to kick some butt too.
Legit martial arts champion Jiang Luxia is someone I’ve been keen to see truly explode on screen and live up to her credentials. Playing the bad girl sees her get to a how a different side of her skills and while that breakout movie vehicle is still elusive, her energy and fighting prowess is still evident here.
Princess & Seven Kung Fu Masters probably won’t make too many waves outside of Asia, but for those familiar with Hong Kong humour will find something to latch on to here, despite the rather jarring dichotomy of comedy vs serious drama.