12 Oct LAUGH WHILE YOU FIGHT: A BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION OF THE MIRTHFUL SIDE OF DIRECTOR & WRITER SUN CHUNG
With so many grim elements in Sun Chung’s Shaw Brothers wu xia & period filmography, this Shaw Brothers director took every opportunity to slip in some comedy. Here are a few characters and funny moment(s) that make for a delightful tonal contrast.
Judgement of An Assassin: Hei Mo Le the Swift Sword (David Chiang.)
Our youthful lead disrespects elders, women and just about everyone who rubs him the wrong way. From snooty competitor Man Ying Tai (Tsung Wah) to Old Hedgehog (Ku Feng) and even the big bad himself, Bloody Devil (Chen Hui Min.), “Little Hei” just cannot stop himself from inciting trouble. His curiosity and emotions reveal just how inexperienced his would-be hero can be. Hei Mo Le was Sun’s first wu xia character who imparted a little mirth into an otherwise intense story, and he remains my favorite of Sun’s sometimes silly, yet important characters.
Hei, Hei, Hei: Whether Hei wakes the “Devil,” insults Old Hedgehog, tries to scare Miss Sek in the cemetery, or calls out Man Ying Tai on his attempt at wooing Miss Sek, you can’t help but chuckle. These are just a few of the funny and charming moments young Swift Sword brings to this movie. David Chiang perfectly embodies this adorable fighter making you laugh, cheer and maybe scold him, for just a minute.
The Deadly Breaking Sword #1: Xiao Dao the Little Dagger (Alexander Fu Sheng.)
Beloved Kung Fu comedian Fu Sheng shines in Sun’s second story to feature an arrogant swordsman. As the ne’er do well fighter Xiao Dao, Fu provides many physical laughs in each of Xiao’s contests. Tong Gai worked with the actor to create a carefree, yet slap-stick fighting style, (the funniest moment comes from a gag during one of Xiao’s battles.) Xiao’s purpose isn’t simply for laughs though, as the young man is here to teach the arrogant Tuan Chang-Qing a thing or two about being selfless. Plus, Xiao is deadlier than you’d expect.
How now, silly Xiao: Every fight Xiao becomes embroiled in has a cute or funny moment, but the gag that makes me laugh hardest is while Xiao was fending off assassins in courtesan Liu’s apartment. In the heat of the melee, the Little Dagger fumbles and drops his short sword, and promptly calls himself out on it. It’s one of my most favorite bits Fu Sheng performed because it felt very natural while almost breaking the fourth wall. Poor Xiao aspires to be something more, but his plans always backfire.
The Deadly Breaking Sword #2: Tuan Chang-Qing the Deadly Breaking Sword: (Ti Lung.)
As Fu Sheng is the clown in this wu xia, the surprisingly amusing title character is so obnoxious and full of himself you may laugh at some of his snootier pronouncements and feats. Mocking Tuan heightens his haughty nature, which the actor embraces on high. Everyone is beneath the Deadly Breaking Sword. He’s always right, and his horse also thinks nothing of most people too.
Tuan, Tuan, Tuan: From his opening monologue to his constant insults of anyone who defies him, Tuan Chang-Qing is such a peacock it’s easy to chuckle at some of his bluster. Like so many of Sun’s light-hearted characters, physical comedy plays a part too. Note: Tuan’s tippy-toe, galloping sword style. It looks ridiculous until he delivers the fatal strike.
Tuan was a very subtle way for the director and star to make fun of the noble gallant Ti often portrays. One of the funniest moments comes from Tuan’s horse while Xiao Dao is trying to lure Tuan into giving up a ruby. The white stallion protests while Xiao talks shop with his master.
The Kid with a Tattoo: Li Bao-Tong (Wong Yue.)
Who wants to take over their father’s cotton business? Not Master’s Li’s teenaged son Bao-Tong that’s for sure. Learning Kung Fu from an undercover cop, glory fills the young man’s head with delusions of heroic deeds, so much so, Bao-Tong blindly thinks dad might be the feared criminal Sword in Cotton. Oops. As he did with Fu Sheng, Tong Gai and his stunt team make sure a lot of the comedy appears whenever Bang-Tong is anywhere outside his house.
Kidding around: Note Bao-Tong’s winky presentation of Eagle Claw martial arts against a Snake Fist practitioner, instigating squabbles amongst friends (with hidden kicks.) and his rather goofy exercise routine. When Wong Yue is on screen, he makes this tale of mistaken identity a little less intense. The Kid with a Tattoo is a proud and silly love letter to Kung Fu from the director.
My Rebellious Son: Chang Tak Tai (Ku Feng.)
You’d expect a movie starring Alexander Fu Sheng to feature him playing the clown, but the younger man is overshadowed by legendary SB thespian Ku Fung as poppa Chang Tak Tai. Teaching his wayward son Siu Tai what for, you know the older man loves his boy through the stern and sometimes playful chiding Tak Tai dishes out. I love it when Ku gets to play for laughs.
Rebel swell: The morning exercise routine is adorable, but Ku Feng is at his funniest pretending to die from Siu Tai’s drugged tea and subsequently ‘returning’ as a “vampire.” While he doesn’t hop, Ku plays up the ghoulish angle in a rather funny way as he chases Fu throughout their house.
My Rebellious Son: Mr. Yamaguchi (Chen Hui Min.)
Here, one of Sun Chung’s favorite villain actors Chen Hui Min, revels in being more of an abusive teacher than you’d expect. As Yamaguchi, he expertly mixes the mirth into a very complicated scene. During this time, Chen began to poke fun at his macho action star image, and this master warrior was one of those deconstructed baddies.
Ha, Ha, Hai: Mr. Yamaguchi undoes all the evil ninja and samurai Chen portrayed to that point. In his opening scene, Yamaguchi insults, slaps the crap out of his men, and plays up the over-the-top while kicking butt. Chen’s control during this fight is as entertaining to watch as his kicks, slashes, and admonishments, and yet, there’s something inherently silly about this strict swordsman. Yamaguchi perfectly embodies the goofy “evil foreigners” director Sun presents while still projecting an aura of danger.
In exploring class and the human condition, Sun Chung understands the importance of laughter and how to deploy it successfully. I would like to wish him a wonderful birthday, and thanks for these great characters who make me chuckle as well as cheer. This welcomed bit of mirth is one of many reasons why Sun remains my favorite Shaw Brothers director.
When not flexing her Pen Fu for ShawBrothersUniverse.com, Kim August contributed a story based on Chang Cheh’s Vengeance! to NANG magazine #3, and frequently ruminates on Shaw Brothers movies at her blog.