9 September 2009 | zacelmenreich
Charming Tale of an Odd Generational Gap
If you're looking for a kung-fu action movie, look elsewhere. While there are fighting scenes, the film revolves around its provincial protagonist, who struggles to find her way in Americanized Canton. Unlike most "kung-fu comedies," the action scenes are used to reinforce the comedy, instead of the other way around.
Cheung Booi is a statement about the farcical nature of kung-fu movies, where the stars always seem to find some reason to fight. Instead of some grand drama about honor and respect, minor misunderstandings cause the characters to yell at each other and start beating each other up.
My Young Auntie, as it's known in the West, is the story of Cheng Tai-nun, played by Kara Hui, who is a young woman who marries an elderly landowner to keep his holdings from falling into the hands of his greedy and corrupt brother. After he dies, she moves to Canton to live with her nephew, played by director Lau Kar Leung, and his son Ah Tao, played by Hsiao Ho.
The basis of the irony is that although Cheng is the same age as Ah Tao, her manner is more akin to her status as his step-great-aunt. While Ah Tao speaks English (extremely poorly), plays the guitar and goes to costume parties, Cheng utterly fails when she tries to adapt to her lifestyle in Canton, complete with makeup, revealing gowns, high heels and dance scenes.
What makes this movie great is its realization. Lau Kar Leung is perhaps one of the greatest, if not the greatest director of his generation in Hong Kong, and Kara Hui won "Best Actress" at the first Hong Kong Film Awards in 1982. Also, this is arguably Hsiao Ho's finest performance. His chemistry with Hui is remarkable, and although he went on to have a storied career in kung-fu comedies, often working alongside Sammo Hung, he has the perfect combination of athleticism and comedy. As the romantic tension and intrigue build in the second half of the movie, his entire countenance changes. No longer does he easily jaunt through life without a care in the world. He becomes the straight man and his cohorts the Kramer, Elaine and George.
My one complaint is how suddenly the comedic aspects of the film die off during the conclusion. The film transitions from outright farce to dramatic intrigue with little but a change in incidental music. But there is a certain symmetry in it. The film begins focused on the intrigue, focused more on Lau Kar Leung's character, and it ends that way, too. But the final scene returns to the movie's comedic roots, giving conclusion to both aspects of the film.