Justice, My Foot!

Reviewed by YTSL

In 2001, Stephen Chow’s “Shaolin Soccer” became the HKSAR’s all time highest grossing local film.  This fact notwithstanding, 1992 it was that was THE banner year for Hong Kong’s King of Comedy -- what with the top five overall hits at the local box office being works in which he starred.  For the record, and in the order of number five to one, these major commercially successful crowd pleasers were:  “Royal Tramp 2” (whose total box office gross amounted to HK$37,416,607.00); “King of Beggars” (whose total box office haul came to HK$40,862,831.00); “Royal Tramp 1” (whose cinematic run was 49 days in length); “All’s Well, Ends Well” (more an ensemble piece than a genuine Chow Sing Chi vehicle...but still!); and a majorly “mo lei tau” comedy infused second filmic adaptation of a story that functioned as “a satirical exposé of corruption among Qing officials” (See Paul Fonoroff’s “At the Hong Kong Movies”, 1998:235-236) whose total box office takings was to the tune of close to HK$50 million.

The Johnnie To directed and Ching Siu-Tung action-directed period comedy that’s JUSTICE, MY FOOT! has a queue- but never clue-less Stephen Chow in the lead role of a Canton-based, Qing dynasty-era master lawyer named Sung Shih-Chieh (who bears the non-Mandarin but still respected rank of Secretary).  Anita Mui plays the main man’s kung fu expert wife -- and sometimes threatens to steal the show -- as a woman who has quite the influence over him.  For example, early on in this Mona Fong produced offering, she successfully induced him to “seal his brush” (i.e., retire) -- after noticing that whenever her “shyster” spouse took up a court case and got his clients off the hook (even when they actually were guilty of the crimes that they had been accused of and it really would have been the just thing for them to have gotten punished for their sins), as though mandated by heaven, an infant son of theirs would end up having his life cut short.
What with Secretary Sung quite obviously feeling socially insecure as a result of being not allowed to write anything (never mind pen official documents) -- plus not the equal, forget superior, of his wife in terms of such as height as well as ability to physically defend oneself -- though, it seemed to be just a matter of time before he would end up pursuing opportunities to show off his mental plus verbal prowess.  Interestingly, when the time finally came for him to go back on his vow to cease “turn(ing) black into white” in front of overwhelmingly less erudite plus intelligent court officials like the hapless Lord Ho Yu Tai (portrayed by Ng Man Tat) and honest -- but not entirely without blemish -- high Inspector General (played by Paul Chun Pui), it was the result of the thirteen son losing Madam Sung asking her husband to take pity on and thus legally represent a pregnant widow (the differently unfortunate Madam Chou Hsiu Chien is essayed by an unexpectedly non-scene-stealing Carrie Ng) whose late husband’s premature death appeared to have been arranged by his unfraternal-acting brother and that man’s well-connected wife (whom comes in the form of Yuen King Tan).
As one might expect, this particular legal suit turns out to be more complex than those that Secretary Sung was shown effortlessly as well as adeptly winning earlier in JUSTICE, MY FOOT!  Also, to be sure, some of the complications that shown arising from the Sungs’ decision to see to the overall welfare of Miss Chou -- and the baby she gave birth to -- is of a comic variety.  However, what might surprise those who (continue to) think that Stephen Chow comedies contain not much more than fart and fecal jokes -- though this is not to say that these are not present in this movie... -- is that quite a few others of what turn out to be main plot twists in this Sandy Shaw scripted story are pretty serious in nature and implication (as actually befits the legal action being handled by Secretary Sung being one that involves murder accusations and getting heard in a court where those who displease its officials are liable to be subjected to such tortures and punishments as thirty slaps on one’s face with embarrassing along with painful mark-making wooden paddles as well as monetary fines or imprisonment).
Something else that this non-Hong Kong native -- and, more pertinently for the purposes of appreciating this movie, someone whose mother tongue is NOT Cantonese -- thinks has to be taken into account about an effort that she found quite engrossing but far from laugh-a-minute funny is that a great part of JUSTICE, MY FOOT!’s humor does appear to be more verbal than visual in variety and probably also generally of the sort that will be more greatly appreciated by those who hail from the same geographic territory and socio-cultural plus linguistic milieu as this film’s star.  Consequently, it certainly doesn’t help those who are English subtitle-dependent that corners seem to have been cut with regards to that facet of the movie (unlike was the case with other, more attractive departments of this attractively lensed -- by Peter Pau -- offering like costume and set design).  Nonetheless, even while I can’t see this particular production being the favorite of (m)any of the Hong Kong funny man’s foreign fans, I think enough does manage to come through the language and other barriers to make it yet another of his efforts that we -- especially those who also have a fondness for the independently charismatic Anita Mui’s antics and master Ching Siu-Tung’s wire work -- won’t want to give a complete miss.

My rating for the film:  7.5