Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Prodigal Son (Bai ga jai, 1981)

Next up here on the blog is a classic from the Golden Harvest studio, "The Prodigal Son"!! This film features Seven Little Fortunes member Yuen Biao in the lead role, one of his earliest apart from his 'brothers' of the Peking Opera School, Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo(who also stars and directs the picture.)The film also features Lam Chang Ying, Frankie Chan, Wei Pak & Dick Wei.

The film opens up in 19th Century Foshan following Leung Chang(Biao), the son of a wealthy merchant and a kung-fu fanatic. His father arranges to have him trained by two instructors, and as a result Chang has had 300 fights. The problem is, his dad doesn't want to see him hurt, so he pays Chang's instructors to purposely lose and has his servant Yee Tong Choi(Chan Lung)bribe all of Chang's foes to lose. Everyone in Foshan knows this EXCEPT Chang, calling him 'The Prodigal Son' in mockery.

One evening, three of Chang's friends take in an evening seeing a performance by the Lok Fung Lin Opera Troupe. One of them becomes smitten with the actress and goes backstage afterwards to make his move. She refuses, and has to fight off his harassment and then his forceful advances. Basically by beating his ass. She then reveals herself to be a man by the name of Leung Yee Tai(Ying). Chang hears this, and goes to challenge Yee Tai, who thoroughly whips him and then reveals to Chang that everyone loses to him on purpose. Shamed, Chang challenges his two instructors who beat him knowing they'll be fired. Only Choi is there to comfort him. Chang then takes it upon himself to convince Yee Tai to be his master, even having his father buy the opera troupe so he can work there.

Six months go by with a few funny encounters along the way, and Chang becomes a part of the troupe. One night, Yee Tai's co-star winds up having to flee after committing adultery. Chang steps into his role and is confronted by the angry mob and has to fight them off with Yee Tai's help. Watching all of this is Lord Ngai Fai(Chan), the son of a Manchu duke and also a rabid martial artist. He sees Yee Tai's skills and invites him to dinner as a pretext to challenging him to a duel, viewing him as a worthy opponent. They fight, but Yee Tai is stricken by a severe asthma attack. Ngai puts off the fight until Tai recovers. But his handlers, on orders from Hgai's father, set out to kill both Tai and Chang. See, Ngai is also a 'prodigal son' due to his father not wanting to see him hurt, but his solution is extreme. Both flee into the country to the home of Wong Wah-Bo(Hung). There, Chang learns Wing Chun from both Tai and Wong, in anticipation for the showdown against Ngai.

"The Prodigal Son" is a smart, snappy kung-fu comedy that really shows off Yuen Biao's exemplary acrobatic skills. Seeing him evolve and become better throughout is what makes the film so vivid. There's also enough bloody, bone breaking action in here to satisfy that crowd who seeks it, best seen in the final fight between Chang and Ngai. You're gonna find yourself flinch once or twice, trust. Sammo Hung also shines here, thrilling you with his flips and making you laugh with a training scene I can only describe as, 'hygenic'. As for Lam Ching Ying, "The Prodigal Son" was another high point for him. He had started his film career in Hong Kong as a stuntman for Shaw Studios, and wound up challenging Bruce Lee upon meeting him in his hotel room, not believing Lee was as tough as they said. Reportedly Lee sent him flying with a punch, but liked Lam enough to make him an action director and also star in The Big Boss. For this film, he was also action director and won the Best Action Direction award that year. To this day it's still regarded as the most true-to-form portrayal of Wing Chun on film. If you want rollicking comedy with enough kick to keep you in your seats, go check out 'The Prodigal Son' when possible.

1 comment: