Wing Chun



Reviewed by YTSL

It’s hard to be objective about a film that is only the second one I ever felt compelled to own a home video copy of, even without its being a work which I’ve probably watched close to forty times over some three years now.  So, I’m not even going to try to do such.  Instead, what follows will be a bona fide fan girl rave review of one of my very favorite Hong Kong as well as Michelle Yeoh movies:  A fight- and fun-filled kungfu romantic comedy -- yes, really! -- produced and directed by Yuen Woo Ping which surely must number among the most bloodless yet brilliantly choreographed action motion pictures ever made.

Michelle Yeoh
In many ways, the part of Yim WING CHUN may be Michelle Yeoh’s best yet since it showcases both the former Miss Malaysia’s action moves -- which are that rare combination of grace and power -- but also her quietly lovely allure.  As a Tofu Beauty turned kungfu master, who has taken to dressing in men’s clothes but hasn’t abandoned hope of getting wed to a childhood sweetheart she had not laid eyes on for ten years, her character is that of someone who is emotionally vulnerable even while being physically formidable.  In her role as a friend as well as relative of her foul-mouthed Aunty Abacus (who the extroverted Yuen King Tan plays in an over-the-top manner), along with the savior plus patron of a young and penniless widow named Charmy (who is attractively portrayed by Catherine Hung), she shows herself to be still very much an empathetic female even while assuming a social position usually accorded to males.  On top of all this are the many opportunities for the Action Goddess to demonstrate that her smiles can be as heart breaking as her martial abilities are bone crunching.
Michelle, Yuen King Tan and Waise Lee
Fight fiends who desire more in a film than just Michelle Yeoh’s beatific smile and charm offensive need not worry though about WING CHUN lacking enough action to satisfy them.  After all, this is a production that:  Is helmed by one of the all-time great action choreographers cum wire-fu masters; and also stars his one-time protege, Donnie Yen (as Leung Pok To, a young man who went away to study kungfu for six years so that he could protect his betrothed love), plus martial arts movie veteran Norman Tsui (as the “Champion Spear” wielding First Fortress Lord with a strange sounding -- but powerful -- “cotton belly” and alternative appellation of Flying Chimpanzee).  Additionally, the masochistic actors who play the not so masterful “Master Wong” (Chui Heung Tung) and the Second Fortress Lord called Flying Monkey (Tsui Ah Fai) ought to be commended for allowing their butts to be so mightily and convincingly kicked by the female lead of a 1994 offering that some people have described as possessing distinctly feminist undertones.
Donnie Yen and Catherine Hung
However you count them, there are at least ten fights on view in WING CHUN; of which all but two involve the movie’s titular heroine and a good many are impressive to behold as well as entertaining to watch (For the record:  This (re)viewer’s particular favorites are all three of the one-on-one contests between Wing Chun and Flying Chimpanzee as well as that which has a tray of tofu going where no tray of tofu had ever gone before).  While Yuen Woo Ping is undoubtedly guilty of under-cranking some of the film’s action scenes and it is patently obvious that some of the more breath-taking feats could not have been achieved sans wires, this still ought not to take much away from the fact of there being quite a bit of individual skill and technical prowess on display in the fast paced effort’s varied -- as well as various -- martial artistic sequences.
Norman Tsui and Flying Monkey
Depending on the mood I am in when viewing the movie, the sections of broad humor -- particularly those involving Scholar Wong (Waise Lee in over-acting mode) -- and romantic interludes in WING CHUN can either generally amuse or irritate.  One non-action scene that never fails to put a smile -- or smirk -- on my face though is that which features a demonstration by a woman of how orgasms can be achieved without members of the opposite sex that directly follows a conversation in which it is asserted that “men are disgusting”!  I also always get a kick out of viewing the cute scene in the hut that involves Wing Chun and Pok To (and has the individual who the Wing Chun branch of kungfu is named after learning the true meaning of her nun sifu’s advice in between innocent bedroom antics).
With regards to a couple of WING CHUN’s “comedy of errors and mistaken identity” scenes, it would help for the movie’s audience to:  Understand that in the Chinese language (be it Cantonese, Mandarin or whatever else), there is but one non-gender specific word that encompasses the English “he”, “she” and “it”; accept that it is not necessarily an odd thing for a Chinese individual to refer to him- or herself by name in conversation with another person; plus be willing to believe that a cross-dressed Yim Wing Chun/Michelle Yeoh could easily get mistaken for a man.  Here’s mentioning too that fans of “The Girl with the Thunderbolt Kick” ought to appreciate the cameo appearance by Cheng Pei Pei (She who plays Wing Chun’s teacher in this film would, of course, go on to work once more with the younger actress in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”).  It is with such small touches as well as in more eye-catching ways that this light yet full offering amply gives its (repeat) viewer(s) plenty of delights, pleasure and enjoyment.
Catherine, Michelle and Cheng Pei Pei

My rating for this film:  A 9.5 when I am in a tolerant mood and an 8.5 when I’m not averages out to a 9.0.


Reviewed by Brian

Wing Chun was one of my very early introductions to Hong Kong film and I was simply enthralled with the wonderful and at times witty choreography – but even more so I was awestruck by the charismatic presence of Michelle Yeoh. She glides through this film with a heart-clutching serene grace that nearly brings tears to my eyes at various times. For me it is physical poetry – purity of motion, an elegant stanza, sublime exhilaration.

I have continued to visit the film less frequently than I would prefer – but it is like an old friend that will always welcome you no matter how neglectful you have been. Though there are parts of this film that have not worn as well on repeated viewing, whenever Michelle goes into her perfectly still fighting pose – the eyes intense and focused, the hands at the ready - goosebumps begin slowly crawling up my leg. As YTSL mentions, Michelle is involved in a number of action scenes in this film – but there are a couple in particular that I look forward to with complete delight.
What could be simpler? A kung fu master, embarrassed by Wing Chun’s martial art’s prowess, demands a match against her. Wing Chun accepts and tells him that all he has to do is hit the tray of tofu that has been placed on a table between them. Three minutes of physically bewitching cinema follows as Michelle thwarts the man’s efforts with minimal but perfectly executed movement.
Later on Michelle is forced to accept a challenge from Norman Tsui the bandit king. He tells her that if she can pull out this spear from the stone wall then he will let Charmy go free. With a might fling, he then embeds the giant iron spear deeply into the wall. Soon gravity and physics practically lose all meaning as the two of them duel above, on and below this spear with the grace and thrills of a kung fu ballet.
Even with the numerous action scenes contained in the film, this is a very gentle film in all respects. No one is killed and only Flying Monkey is hurt in any meaningful if slightly amusing way. This is really a comedic farce in many ways – a series of mistaken identities that lead to misunderstandings and a small amount of heart break – but eventually in near Shakespearean fashion the truth is revealed and alls well that ends well.
Michelle radiates calm and grace in this film like an art form – never angered, always in control – she is nearly Zen like. Though she is dressed in male attire for most of the film, her serene demeanor and occasional winsome smile makes me almost giddy. Of course the fact that Donnie Yen takes her for a man is a bit incredulous, but this is a fairly standard device in the female kung fu films of the 70’s. Women were not expected to be kung fu experts and so often had to travel the land disguised as a man. Here though, Wing Chun is not in disguise and everyone in town knows that she is a female – her father is at his wit’s end that he will ever be able to marry her off. Instead her male attire seems more of a declaration of celibacy and independence on her part – until Donnie shows up of course. The switch to her more feminine side is by contrast all the more alluring – and also seems to bring out even a stronger inner force and resolve as if by having rejected this side of her personality and sexuality she had diminished her strength.
This is simply a great little film – as much a drawing room farce as a kung fu film – and one that the whole family can enjoy.

My rating for this film: 9.0



DVD Information:

Distributed by Tai Seng

Tai Seng has done a very nice job on this transfer - very clean and sharp.

Letterboxed

Cantonese, Mandarin and English language tracks. Have not listened to the English dub track to see how bad it is.

22 Chapters

The subtitles are English or none.

There is a trailer for this film - and also ones for Heroic Trio, The Executioners, Bride with White Hair, Tai Chi Master and Fong Sai Yuk II.

Star Files on Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Norman Chu and Yuen Woo Ping.