Wing Chun deservedly ranks high among the films of Yuen Wo-ping for it’s winning mixture of winsome humor, creative action, and colorful characters.
The undisputed action film queen, Michelle Yeoh plays Yim Wing-chun, a woman who according to most accounts created the popular kung fu style of Wing Chun. This is a style whose students have included both Bruce Lee and Sammo Hung, which could lead to some misguided expectations about the film’s use of martial arts. In fact, Wo-ping rarely sticks to the style. His Peking Opera roots shine through with a much more eclectic range of fighting styles that emphasize pizzazz which suits the light-hearted tone of the film. Those looking for a more reverent display of Wing Chun will find Sammo Hung’s masterpiece, The Prodigal Son (1982) starring Yuen Biao more to their liking.
The plot is the weakest element as it becomes less defined and less important as the film progresses. A widow named Charmy (named so for her effect on men) becomes employed at a bean curd shop owned by Wing Chun’s mouthy aunt, Abacas Fong. The three develop a bond that’s interrupted by a gang of thieves who try to kidnap Charmy and take her to their mountain hideaway. They finally succeed, but not before Wing Chun turns their junior leader into a Eunuch. Wing Chun then hits the trail to save her new friend. Joining her is Leung Pok-to, played by Donnie Yen in one of his few comedic roles. He has returned after many years to marry Wing Chun, but initially mistakes Charmy for his bride-to-be. This results in a bunch of mildly entertaining situational nonsense before Yen and Yeoh figure out who is who and go looking to stir up trouble. They face off against the thieves’ leader (Norman Chu) who bares the ridiculous name of Flying Chimpanzee for no apparent reason. Its pretty much a stand-off as Charmy is released on condition that Wing Chun return to challenge Flying Chimp for a final match. After Wing Chun consults with her martial arts master who is played by film legend Cheng Pei Pei, she finally masters her style and returns to fight for the privilege of having the entire band of outlaws call her mom!
Of all of his post-1985 Hong Kong features, this is probably Wo-ping’s breeziest action film, where the bad guys are not all that bad and the good guys spend most of their time clowning around. The terrific Yuen King-tan provides heavy comic relief in a role not unlike that played by Josephine Siao as the obnoxious mother of Fong Sai Yuk (1993). Her shameless attempts to win the affections of Waise Lee who is repelled by her perpetual scent of smelly bean curd is matched only by Donnie Yen’s awkward, yet charming attempts to court the wrong girl.
Although Yeoh is known to have a solid sense of humor off camera, it doesn’t come through so well on screen. She’s forced to play the heavy for the most part which leaves her with the least interesting character. But, she does such a fine job of performing the action scenes with grim determination and playing a strong, forceful lead that it doesn’t really matter. A mid-film scene where she repeatedly keeps a tray just out of reach of an assailant is outstanding and brings to mind her stunning restaurant fight in The Tai Chi Master (1993).
There is a lot of wire use and Norman Chu is obviously doubled on numerous shots. The editing and fight choreography is very good, although not quite on par with Iron Monkey (1993)… but then, what is? Having one of the villain’s left with literally roasted nuts is a bit too harsh in contrast to the rest of the film’s mostly mild hijinks. Of course, this is the same Wo-ping who brought us Shaolin Drunkard (1983), where tasteless slapstick is commonplace. Even so, this is a great flick, especially for casual viewers less inclined to watch more violent or dramatic fare. Its clear that this film is all about having a good old time which is what you’ll likely experience.REVIEW: Wing Chun (1994),