7 May 2009 | SamuraiNixon
Owl And Dumbo
Sammo Hung's most sagacious period in his oeuvre for both local and transnational success was his string of comedic martial art infused fare in the 80s. Though comparing this to Prodigal Son is like comparing a Hyperion to a satyr (Hamlet anyone?). Up until this film I didn't think he had a bad/mediocre 80s film. But this film was an audience smash though making over 21 million Hong Kong dollars made after his previous success Wheels on Meals that same year. No matter what I think of this film Sammo was in tune with his audience.
Many Hong Kong films mix genres haphazardly. Sometimes it will be broad comedy with brutal violence like From Beijing with Love or drama with out-of-place action scenes like Heart of Dragon. This film does something a bit different: it interjects the broad martial arts comedy with societal message that is more akin to certain western fare (On Deadly Ground or The Great Dictator) with long harangues of dramatic passages that feel so out of place that you wonder what is trying to be accomplished. There were also uneven in tone: one actually was quite good of a kid explaining the difficulties of being a son of a prostitute and one was tedious as a female teenage prostitute brings Michelle's character to tears in a most annoying didactic speech.
There is also the problem that many Hong Kong films do during this era -- stealing scores from other films. Some of this musical soundtrack is from Phantasm and Escape From New York.
Owl is the sophisticated George Lam Chi-cheung (first time I have even seen this singer act but his acting is quite natural even in bizarre situations; he also was nominated for a Hong Kong award for Best Original Song from this film) and Bombo is the unrefined Sammo Hung (aka Dumbo or Bumbo depending on which translation is used; I think there was just some issue or fear with the legality of using the Disney's character name outside of Hong Kong) two ex-thieves who are being blackmailed by an ex-cop Fung (Stanley Fung: Winners and Sinners) to do two jobs or else have there past paraded to cops for potential life employment in the big house. Their first job is to help troubled kids at a youth center. Why? I have no idea. I have read one review stating that it is to see if they work together so they can pull off the second job, but nothing in what I saw (and several other reviews I have read have had the same problem) shows that. Plus the second job happens quite quickly and is really just there to set up the ending with Au Gun (James Tien: Fearless Hyena) once again playing a cigar chomping bad guy.
There is also a romantic sub-plot that is thrown in between Owl and Ms. Yeung and Bumbo and Joyce Leung (Deannie Yip: Pom Pom) who is the superintendent of the school. The owl relationship seems too contrived, but the one between Sammo and Deannie works out decently (of course Sammo is the director).
However, there are some great scenes in this film. Sammo Hung has a great scene as a tights wearing aerobic instructor and throughout the film he shows despite his rotund exterior he can flip, fight and astound me with his physical virtuosity. In fact one scene (out of nowhere) he puts on a montage of Fred Astaire dance moves (or Fred Astaire inspired; I recognize a few but not all the routines Sammo does) that is quite good and ends with a nice little duet with Deannie. There is another homage to From Soup To Nuts (1928), a short with Laurel and Hardy though Anita Garvin does the gag in that movie, dealing with an errant cherry and a spoon. The fighting is quite good even if you recognize that George Lam is doubled constantly, and the abuse of stuntmen is prevalent in those scenes. Though I think fans of Sammo Hung would probably want more comedy and more action than what you find in this film.
This is Michelle Yeoh's first film (I do not think she knew Cantonese that well at this point though) and she does no fighting and seems a bit out-of-place though it does make sense if you know that she would later marry the founder of the production company behind this film D & B's Dickson Poon (and later divorce him). She has even stated this film was an impetus for her to get into action since "...I saw the men having all the fun doing the action scenes and I wanted to do that too." (City on Fire Stokes/Hoover) And way at the bottom of this review I will state that there is a great esoteric in-joke with Fung Ging-man (an elderly man who has acted in hundreds of Hong Kong films) and his clothing attire that cannot be explained unless you know what I am talking about.
The Universe R0 DVD I own is an OK DVD though out-of-print. The print quality is decent. The English subtitles are many times quite hilarious with their grammatical errors and bizarre use of the language. However, both Mandarin and Cantonese audios are on here. It has a trailer for this film as well as a non-subtitled "Where's Officer Tuba (1986)" also starring Sammo Hung. There are currently no R1 DVDs of this film.