31 January 2009 | ChungMo
Old fashion style kung fu film - Good action, overbearing propaganda
China was undeniably proud to be hosting the Olympics for the first time in 2008. The opening day martial art demonstration was a spectacle of human movement that movie makers wish they could pull off. Somebody had the interesting idea of revisiting when the first Chinese martial art demo team visited the 1936 Olympics. And so we have this movie.
The story is based around the efforts of the Chinese National Martial Art League to raise the money to get the Olympic athletes and the demo team to Berlin. Thrown into the mix is a rivalry between women sprinters, a gangster kidnapping the baby of a kindly benefactor, the usual outdoor kung fu tournament with a "bad" kung fu school messing things up, the two male leads put into conflict with each other and lots and lots of feel good Chinese boosterism. In a way this film resembles a classic propaganda film from the days of Mao.
So many things are going on it would take a deft director to corral it into shape. Unfortunately Sui Ming Tsui isn't that director. He plays a lot of tricks but never really gets it all together. He also wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay. The film looks really good but the only character who gets any depth is the lead played by Dicky Cheung. He is a charming rascal, always wearing a hat, and quirky kung fu master who wants to go to Berlin so to impress his amour, a contender for the women's sprint race. Unfortunately, his character seems out of place in the otherwise excellent recreation of China in the 1930's. The other characters are rather shallow and not introduced very well. The bad kung fu school is, of course, an Eagle Claw school which is right out of a typical 1970's schlock chop-socky.
The martial arts, which Sui Ming Tsai also takes credit for, is a combination of modern Wu Shu, traditional kung fu and obvious wire-fu. While there are a lot of real martial arts on display and the script refers to real historical martial artists, the overall effect is typical movie kung fu. The Praying Mantis Kung Fu seem to be the most accurate while the Tai Chi Chuan and Eagle Claw are the same you've seen in other films, not real. That doesn't mean that the action scenes are bad, quite the opposite, but it's nothing that other films haven't done as well or better.
This film probably plays better in China than anywhere else. For the rest of the world, kung fu action enthusiasts might have a good time but everyone else will probably lose interest by the first 20 minutes.