House of Fury (Qing Wu Jia Ting)



Reviewed by Lee Alon

Leading a normal life as a herbalist and practitioner of traditional medicine, Master Yue's past comes back to haunt him before long, much like Anthony Wong's advancing years have accumulated to make the cherished thespian look a tad odd in a fast paced actioner. One can't help liking Wong, but at his age it may be prudent to rethink career strategies and maybe concentrate on character roles, where the man's unique style and skill can be better realized.

Yue (done by Wong) has raised quite the superhero family, and even keeps mementos from his James Bond-like history in service of Queen and Country stashed away in a Batmanish hideout behind the med shop. Indeed, House of Fury at least comes to terms with Hong Kong's British background, treating it as a respectable aspect of the city's identity rather than something to avoid. But lest anyone be beguiled into thinking this Jackie Chan-supervised martial arts escapade a History Channel docudrama, things quickly turn to focus on Yue's little troupe of gong fu supremos, comprising son Nicky (Stephen Fung, who also directed) and daughter Natalie (Gillian Chung). The three, a mite reminiscent of the Avengers in their snazzy little Mini with the Union Jack all over the car's roof, face a brutal cavalcade of vindictive retribution from seriously disturbed Rocco (Michael Wong of Magic Kitchen, New Option series and Women from Mars). The latter blames Master Yue and his martial arts progenitor for becoming wheelchair bound, and has traversed the world for 12 years in search of payback.
What follows qualifies as Yuen Wo Ping's best choreography since as far back as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, consisting of a myriad of bewildering moves that make the most of locales and environments. In addition, Yuen injected some of the trademark splits, rebounds and kick combos so often associated with his work, and we have to admit all cast members have done well in carrying out their action duties. Too bad HOF has little to offer beyond its excellent fight sequences. The story doesn't challenge the intellect of a five year old, even with supporting characters trying to flesh out goings on. Charlene Choi steps in as Nicky's best friend from school, and together they aim to relive some of that awfully cute Twins shtick.  Breathe easy, though, for Steve Fung at least knows enough to keep those two at bay, so the damage remains minimal. And Chung even does great as a believable fighter.
Then you have your Daniel Wu guest appearance, which seems plain lackluster following superb contributions to similar action product New Police Story, not to mention leading 2004's remarkable One Nite in Mongkok. Daniel portrays Jason, a suspiciously nice Nicky suitor with more of an agenda than you may suspect. But then again you probably won't notice, since Wu gets too little a presence in HOF to have any impact.
The same can be said of Michael Wong, who we've seen do more impressive roles in low-budget flicks like Super Car Criminals. Still, he pulls off a moderately likeable villain, abetted by young performer Jake Strickland as bad guy Rocco's son and fanatical Street Fighter aficionado. Fourteen-year-old Strickland adds two very impressive fight segments, almost eclipsing the rest of the minion gang. Among the cronies featured prominently are professional martial artist Wu Jing (Legend of Zu, Drunken Monkey) and sultry, eclectic Josie Ho (Naked Weapon, Butterfly). To director Fung's credit, House of Fury contains smooth editing and plenty of inventive camera use, not to mention artsy montages that succeed in lending the movie a more thoughtful air, instead of just coming across as pretentious.
On second thoughts, HOF may be too polished for its own good. Then again, this reviewer just watched the 1993 no-holds-barred classic Butterfly and Sword, so go figure. At any rate, like most HK action titles in recent years, this one too keeps blood and other expressions of "mature" content in check, hence don't expect to be shocked, wowed, or otherwise flabbergasted.
Of course, cerebral taxation has no place in House of Fury. The film culminates in an ending lame even for a textbook mindless mayhem HK number, resulting in a product worthy of attention almost exclusively from those who enjoy watching quality fight choreography, even if it has hardly any meat to back it up. While not offensive, Stephen Fung's second major foray as a director shows ample technical and managerial prowess with barely any creative oomph. We can only hope he improves later on.

Rating: 6/10

Directed by Stephen Fung
Starring Anthony Wong, Gillian Chung, Stephen Fung, Daniel Wu, Michael Wong, Charlene Choi, Jake Strickland
2005, Cantonese, 95 minutes

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