AKA: Choy Lee Fut: The Speed of Light
Director: Tommy Law, Sam Wong
Writer: Maan Lik, Ye Feng-Jin, Ceng Chun-Hui
Cast: Sammo Hung, Sammy Hung, Kane Kosugi, Lau Kar Wing, Yuen Wah, Sam Wong Ming Sing, Sam Wong Ming Sing, Sam Wong Ming Sing, Ian Powers, Joe Odagiri
Running Time: 92 min.
As far as I can tell, “Choy Lee Fut” was produced for two reasons: 1.) to serve as the debut starring vehicle of Sammo Hung’s son, Sammy Hung and 2.) to introduce movie-goers to the martial art of Choy Lee Fut. If so, the film is a failure on both counts.
“Choy Lee Fut” never once convinced me that Sammy Hung has inherited an iota of his father’s talent. Whereas Sammo Hung busted his ass for years to get out of Jackie Chan’s shadow by directing, choreographing, and starring in a bunch of classic Hong Kong action movies, Sammy Hung barely registers onscreen. Although he recites his lines and conveys minimal emotion when necessary, Sammy doesn’t come across as much of a fighting force. Aside from a few flying kicks during his training sequences, I wasn’t impressed by Sammy’s moves. In a post-Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa world (this flick even has a shout-out to Tony), you’ve just got to try harder.
As for the plot, its your basic inspirational sports drama a la “Best of the Best” as the entire film leads up to a martial arts competition between Sammy Hung’s school and the evil Pan-American Corporation. The movie maintains a simple worldview in which the Western lifestyle and corporate mentality are seen as universally negative; in fact, “Choy Lee Fut” opens with a veiled call for Chinese expatriates to return to their homes in Mainland China. Kane Kosugi is at least given fair treatment as a Japanese citizen spending time in China, though the film implicitly states that Chinese martial arts are superior to Karate.
Die-hard fans of 80’s ninja movies will recognize Kane Kosugi as the son of Cannon Video icon Shane Kosugi and Kane is easily the best thing about this movie. He’s the only actor who seems to invest any seriousness into his role and he comes across as the most talented martial artist of the bunch. The penultimate fight scene in which he squares off against American brawler Ian Powers is clearly the highlight of the entire production.
When you watch Donnie Yen in “Ip Man” or Jet Li in any number of his films, you become convinced that their respective fighting styles are the best in the world, whether it’s Wing Chun or Wushu. “Choy Lee Fut” aims to similarly impress by bringing its titular style to the big screen for the first time, but I felt unmoved by the fighting on display. In fact, two of the three Choy Lee Fut students who compete at the end of the movie serve as glorified punching bags for their opponents. I wasn’t exactly running to my local dojo to sign up for Choy Lee Fut classes after watching this.
Lionsgate has slapped Sammo Hung on the cover of the DVD in order to sell more copies in North America but, buyer beware, Sammo has only about ten minutes of screentime in the entire movie. That said, I don’t think even Sammo could have saved this flick. He has a brief fight scene with his old Peking Opera buddy Yuen Wah (“Eastern Condors,” “Kung Fu Hustle”) but it’s all wires and computer effects since the two masters are most likely too up there in age to duke it out anymore.
Sam Wong, who was so ferocious against Jackie Chan in “Supercop,” has good screen presence but isn’t allowed to cut loose in front of the camera. You can mostly say the same for Dennis To of “The Legend is Born – Ip Man” fame, who has a brief cameo. For a movie that’s stuffed to the gills with famous Chinese martial artists, it’s a shame that no one gets to break a sweat and really show the audience what they can do during its entire 90 minute runtime.
Let’s be real, we action buffs watch these movies for the fight scenes. When the fighting sucks, it puts the rest of the film’s faults in sharp relief: the predictable storyline, canned dialogue, phoned-in performances, and sappy music stick out all the more. I can put up with a lot if you impress me with your action choreography (see: “Champions,” also from Lionsgate), but “Choy Lee Fut” suffers from over-edited, over-directed fight scenes and limp choreography. Only the biggest gluttons for martial arts movie punishment will find anything to enjoy here. Avoid at all costs.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 3/10