Thursday, November 30, 2006

[1981] MY YOUNG AUNTIE: This was right on the cusp of greatness. Clearly Lau Kar-Leung was trying to do something different with this one--it's a Shaw Brothers kung fu movie with a strong female protagonist, Kara Hui's Jing Dai-nan, and that's different right there. Dai-nan's been rushed into the Yu family in order to keep the family's wealth out of the hands of the philandering 2nd Uncle (Johnny Wang)--so she marries the family patriarch so she can inherit his wealth and pass it onto the good-natured 3rd Uncle (Lau doing the director-star thing.) Which puts her in the position of being the "elder" to a bunch of guys in their mid-50s and being the same age as her grandnephew Ah Tao (Hsiao Hou.) Hijinks ensue; Dai-nan is a backwoods country girl, first of all, and Lau puts her in a bunch of fish-out-of-water situations in a newly Westernizing Guangzhou--wearing heels for the first time, for example (and fighting in them.) And there's a attraction between Dai-nan and Tao, which they're both too immature to acknowledge openly (never minding that she's his great-aunt) so they frequently engage in contests of one-upmanship: whose kung fu is better, who can beat up more villains quicker, etc. Hou Hsiao's comedy really grated on me in the beginning, but I think it was intentional--he was supposed to be acting like a wild kid, in contrast to Dai-nan's acting like a wizened elder. Neither persona turned out to be true as the story went on and they got more comfortable with each other. Now most of the reviewers I read singled out the following as the film's major flaw: Dai-nan gets captured, and the film turns into a bunch of middle-aged dudes (the good uncles) vs another middle-aged dude (Wang) as they fight to free her. I think it probably is a flaw, even if the final fight is a great bunch of action and wraps everything up plausibly (2nd Uncle and 3rd Uncle are an even match, but--according to Ah Tao--3rd Uncle had to lose because of his guilty conscience. And the family wealth goes to 2nd Uncle as the patriarch intended.) But it keeps Dai-nan out of the action and you keep waiting for her to get in there and kick some ass and she never does; you notice the lack of her, even when Lau and Wang are fighting. Plus it strays away from the most interesting subplot, the Kara Hui-Hou Hsiao non-romance. Like I said--it's right on the verge of greatness, but not quite sure if it wanted to be Kara Hui's movie or your regular brother-vs-brother picture. But highly recommended all the same. (The scene where everybody goes to a masquerade ball dressed as white people and they go through every foreign dance style they can think of is priceless.)

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