Love On Delivery (Poh wai ji wong)

Hong Kong (1994) Dirs. Stephen Chow & Lee Lik-Chi

Stephen Chow has been the most prominent name in off-the-wall comedy from Hong Kong for two decades yet very few of his films have made it to the UK. Luckily for us, Amazon Prime have got their hands on some of these elusive titles and are sharing them for our delectation.

This madcap effort from 1994 might seem less sophisticated in comparison to Chow’s more well know hits Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle but his trademark humour is still recognisable. Plot wise this is ridiculously simple but the zaniness and mileage Chow gets from the jokes makes it feel more substantial than it really is.

Ho Kan-Am (Chow) is a lowly delivery boy for a small café, dropping off an order at the local martial arts centre where one of the female Judo students Lily (Christy Chung) kisses him to make her bullying instructor Master Blackbear (Joe Cheng) jealous. This is enough to work and make Ho fall for Lily but his attempts to woo her end in disaster when Blackbear attacks Ho who doesn’t fight back.

Because Lily hates cowards, she sends Ho on his way leaving him heartbroken but ripe for the picking by fraudulent Kung Fu master Tat (Ng Man-tat), fleecing Ho for all his money in exchange for teaching him ancient Chinese boxing. Yet inexplicably Ho actually learns something and obscured by a Garfield mask, defeats Blackbear in a fight defending Lily – although convincing Lily he was the masked hero is proves much harder.

Love On Delivery was released by the famous Shaw Brothers studio, adding a nice touch in showing they have a sense of humour in allowing Chow to essentially lampoon and often ridicule the very essence of their raison d’être and film legacy. The plot could easily have been transposed to a historical setting with Ho as a peasant and Lily the daughter of nobility it is that generic.

Modernising this basic concept shows what an astute mind Chow has for realising what will work and for being able to pick out the clichés and the subtleties for inclusion and more importantly, for spoofing. The opening, in which Blackbear is the lone Judo fighter fending off an ambush of other fighters is very much in the classic Kung Fu vein before being revealed to be a vision of his own ego.

This is enough for Lily to think Blackbear is all man because she like a tough, strong hero but is aware that her master’s arrogance and tendency to bully people is also equally off-putting. Tough break for Ho then, to fall for this high maintenance woman when he can hardly say boo to a goose and is as physically imposing as a stick of rhubarb. But he has a good heart and when Lily agrees to a date goes all out to make it special.

Unfortunately for Ho (and us), Chow is not beyond sinking low for his laughs and while there are some giggles to be had involving Ho, Blackbear and dog excrement it is of the cringing, toe-curling variety pre-dating the American Pie films by 5 years. This is actually as base as Chow goes, leaving the remainder of the jokes as quick fire visual gags, high-energy slapstick, and cartoonish lunacy.

Ho is an easy target for the slovenly Tat, a portly stall owner with no scruples when it comes to conning money out of people. Sporting a metal brace on his left leg, Tat plays the crippled senior card every chance he gets yet his mind is still razor sharp. Luckily, simple folk like Ho exist and are easily manipulated, convincing him that he is invincible like Chinese Boxing.

Tat sets Ho off on simple training techniques which look legit but are complete tosh – or are they? His big move involves throwing yourself down a steep flight of stony steps with your opponent’s body wrapped around yours; nobody in their right mind would believe this was a legit technique – well, almost no-one.

Yet when Lily is being manhandled by Blackbear, a surprisingly confident Ho, sporting a Garfield mask, uses this dangerous move to finish Blackbear off and win Lily’s heart – except she doesn’t know it is Ho under the mask, and when news spreads, every man in the neighbourhood, dons a Garfield mask to claim her affection.

If you are thinking that a Garfield mask sounds silly, you are right but Chow makes it incredibly funny through the simplest of means, which can’t help but elicit laughs purely because of the expression of the mask. And amazingly, this isn’t even the wackiest cosplay in the whole film – all I will say is Ultra Man fans will never look at their hero the same way again.

Like most Asian comedies however, the humour starts to wane a little in the third act, but nonetheless remains inventive and inspired. Ho is challenged by a Karate champ (Lam Kwok-Bun) an former beau of Lily’s who has taken the edit for being the masked hero, and a duel is on. Chow takes the mickey out every sports film you can imagine and the frippery of tabloid TV, all the while throwing in some nifty fighting for a change.

Where Chow gets his ideas from is anyone’s guess but as we have seen over the years, he appears to have a bottomless pit of gags to draw from. He may have slowed down over the past decade but here we are assaulted by something leftfield and absurd on a near constant level. Not all hit the mark, but the ones that do are not just silly but also clever.

Calling Love On Delivery a classic is perhaps overselling it – vintage is more appropriate even though it is only 24 years old, but the sheer energy and force of Chow’s inimitable style compensates for the dated aesthetic and gives us plenty of laughs. Worth a look for a quick burst of silliness.