Sammo Hung directs this excellent kung fu movie starring Yuen Biao as Leung Chang, the son of a wealthy business man who discovers that his kung fu training has been a sham. After meeting a traveling Chinese opera performer with real kung fu skills named Leung Yee-tai (Lam Ching-ying), Chang fruitlessly attempts to become his pupil after convincing his father to buy the entire Lok Fung Nin opera troupe that Yee-tai travels with and joining them on their tour. During one of their stops, Ngai Fai (Frankie Chan), the son of a Manchu official, tries to pick a fight with the performer to test his skills. Under orders to protect him at all costs, Ngai Fai’s bodyguards attempt to covertly assassinate Yee-tai by targeting the whole troupe while they sleep. Chang is wounded and barely escapes with the aid of Yee-tai, who while skilled also suffers from chronic asthma. The two withdraw to Yee-tai’s rural home to recuperate. Chang begins training in Wing Chun kung fu, learning short forms from the performer and long forms from his crass martial brother Wong Wa-po (Sammo Hung). Later, when Ngai Fai has a chance encounter with Yee-tai, he offers to engage in a friendly duel which prompts his bodyguards to attack the ailing Yee-tai outright. This prompts Chang to challenge the Manchu martial artist to a climatic duel. With entertaining performances, flawless fighting action and an authentic portrayal of Wing Chun kung fu theory and practice, THE PRODIGAL SON represents the very best of kung fu cinema nearing the end of the genre’s golden age. Lam Ching-ying, who went on to greater fame as the vampire slayer in the popular MR. VAMPIRE kung fu comedy series, steps out of stunt acting obscurity in this film with a wonderfully dynamic and subtle performance as a reluctant mentor. Yuen Biao and Sammo both maintain their top form after having starred together in the outstanding kung fu comedy KNOCKABOUT. As director of his eighth martial arts production, Sammo displays greater maturity with more robust production values, a more complex story that humanizes the lead antagonist and screen fighting action that manages to be true to its real-world counterpart while remaining exciting. Moreover, Sammo manages to clearly and accurately define core attributes of Wing Chun in ways that no martial art has been portrayed on screen before. The end fight is brutal and satisfying, more so because it leaves behind the fantasy, acrobatic and comedy elements of so many other kung fu screen fights to embrace a harder, higher-impact battle where practicality trumps style. Sammo’s choreography was ahead of its time by offering the kind of rugged martial arts fighting later found in the likes of FIST OF LEGEND and SPL.
REVIEW: Prodigal Son, The (1981),
Genre: Kung Fu • Golden Harvest • Lam Ching-ying • Sammo Hung • The Prodigal Son (1981) • Yuen Biao