Chinese Heroes (2001)
"They don't make 'em like they used to", people are forever complaining about Hong Kong action movies... but then everyone ignores the one person HK who *does* make 'em very much like they used to... Douglas Kung! To be fair, his films never seem to get released in HK itself, but they surface on budget DVDs in the UK and US. CHINESE HEROES shares a Chinese name with the greatest martial arts film of all time (that's Heroes Of The East of course!), which suggests a lofty ambition. The plot of the film would have fit right in at Shaw Brothers or (more so) Golden Harvest 20 years earlier - a good-natured kung fu kid gets caught up in conflict between rival schools and rival countries, and has to fight for justice, honour and friendship. Chin Kar-Lok plays a Drunken Master (tm) with a troupe of kung fu kids, who teaches our hero how to attain true mastery of the Chinese Martial Arts.
"FROM THE ACCLAIMED ACTION-DIRECTOR OF CROUCHING TIGER AND THE MATRIX", the DVD cover desparately proclaims - though as Executive Producer, Yuen Wo-Ping was probably little more than vaguely aware the film was being made. The fight scenes (choreographed by Douglas Kung and Kwok Ngai-Cheong) do seem to be going for a bit of a Wo-Ping vibe though, with some intricate choreography performed by some really talented guys. Lead actor John Zhang only has two films to his name (both for My Way), but the guy has real skills. Not as an actor, unfortunately, but as a fighter he definitely cuts the proverbial mustard (and he does have a minimum amount of screen presence). There's some other great fighters in the film - one of whom is Kwok Ngai-Cheong, though I'm not completely sure which. Chin Kar-Lok was still in good shape, and Ken Wong Hop-Hey shows skills I hadn't noticed previously. The fights do come close to being great, but they're let down by some sloppy hand-held camerawork and editing, and not too good sound effects.
Douglas Kung's films are somewhat odd - they seem to have a decent budget behind them, looking at costumes and sets etc - there's even a little bit of unnecessary CGI that doesn't totally suck - but in other respects like the foley effects, post-dubbing and music, his films do seem a bit cheap. That's kind of a virtue though - he's practically the only person left in Hong Kong who's willing to just make a fun action film, entertainment with no pretensions of being art, without worrying about how it will stand up to Hollywood imports. As a result, his films do capture some of that magic of Hong Kong's "Golden Age" where the film-makers weren't looking to anybody except each other to set the standards.
I'm sure critics would lambast CHINESE HEROES for the occasionally sloppy production values, shallow and unoriginal plot and sometimes crappy acting. All fair points, but I counter their hypothetical attacks with the unblockable defense that the film is FUN. It features some truly talented physical performers, some hotter-than-the-sun babes (well, Lee San-San), some comedy that wasn't all cringeworthy, and a nice little message about being nice to each other and stuff (and kicking the heads of people that can't manage being nice). You might not get many 10/10 scores making such a film, but your chances of producing something that completely sucks are also small - Douglas Kung has chosen his path wisely, and I salute his efforts. It's just a shame practically nobody on the planet gets to see the results!