Director: Derek Kwok, Henry Wong
Writer: Derek Kwok, Henry Wong
Cast: Ronald Cheng, Josie Ho, Ekin Cheng, Tse Kwan Ho, Edmond Leung, Siu Yam Yam, Wilfred Lau, Andrew Lam, Grace Yip, Michael Tse, Vincent Kok, Phillip Keung
Running Time: 108 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Movies about racquet sports hardly have the most successful track record, either at the box office or critically. Even thinking of one seems liken an unnecessarily difficult struggle. It took me a whole minute before I dragged the 2004 romantic comedy Wimbledon from the depths of my memory, and I was just as happy to return it there. That was a movie about tennis, which you can at least imagine the potential to appear dynamic on the big screen – the speed of the ball, the size of the court, the gracefulness of the players movements. Ok I’ll confess, I’m clutching at straws, but my point is, if it sounds difficult to make a movie about tennis, why even bother attempting to make one about badminton!?
However that’s exactly what directors Derek Kwok and Henri Wong have done with 2015’s Full Strike. If anything, the production had the odds stacked against it even more, thanks to the release of a title during the same year which revolved around another cinematically dull sport, Dante Lam’s To the Fore, which focused on bicycle racing. Having Dante Lam’s name behind To the Fore saw most fans of Hong Kong cinema keeping their gaze firmly locked on his latest effort, and ultimately its failure to exceed anyone’s already low expectations, seemed to result in Full Strike barely registering.
This is a shame, because Kwok and Wong’s effort is one of the most energetically insane and funny Hong Kong movies to come out of recent years, hardly stopping to catch its breath during the entire run time. Kwok is best known for his 2010 kung fu throwback Gallants, co-directed with Clement Cheng, which displayed a keen sense of awareness of what made Hong Kong cinema so great in the past. Full Strike marks Wong’s second time as a director, having both written and directed 2013’s Hardcore Comedy. However the pair have collaborated before, firstly on Kwok’s fire-fighting drama As the Lights Goes Out, in which he was a member of the special effects team, and also on a stop-motion short using Batman action figures. Go figure.
Bringing both of their talents to the directors chair, as well as writing the script, for a full length feature should be a winning combination, and within the first few minutes it becomes apparent that it is. Opening like an old-school kung fu movie, complete with a stern voiced narration tracing the origins of the sport from India to England, there’s no doubt we’re not going to be watching a normal sports drama. Soon we’re introduced to Beast Ng, played by Josie Ho, a lowly worker at her brother’s restaurant who, 10 years ago, used to be the ‘Queen of Hong Kong Badminton’. However thanks to her violent temper, her reign was short-lived.
All that changes though, and bear with me here, when she witnesses a large shuttlecock shaped meteorite fall to earth. Soon she’s being chased by an alien, or it could be a homeless person, and ends up in a run-down badminton school, which happens to be home to a trio of former ex-criminals. All three have some kind of physical impairment, the leader, played by Ekin Cheng (of the Young and Dangerous series fame), is hard of hearing. His two cohorts, one of which is played by Edmond Leong, only has one hand, and the other, played by Wilfred Lau, has poor eyesight. All three of them want to put their life of crime behind them, and redeem themselves through playing badminton. The question is, can Josie Ho rekindle her passion for the sport in time to get them in shape and compete in the Fantastic 5 Badminton Championship?
If the plot outline sounds like a completely random concept for a movie, you’d be right, and the above events also all take place in the first 10 minutes alone. Josie Ho holds the whole thing together though as a likeable anchor to which the craziness revolves around. Ho has been in the Hong Kong movie industry for over 20 years, a highlight of which was her lead role in 2010’s Dream Home (she also had a role in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, but we’ll forgive her), and Full Strike adds another highlight to her filmography. Paired with Ekin Cheng, fresh from starring alongside Jean Claude Van Damme in Jian Bing Man made the same year, they have a good chemistry with each other, with both characters serving to motivate the other to better themselves.
At its heart that’s really what Full Strike is about, bettering yourself regardless of the outcome, however it’s wrapped up in a Looney Tunes paced package that, to some degree, sometimes feels reminiscent of Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle. Kwok and Wong throw in plenty of subtle kung fu references, with characters names splashed onscreen in Chinese calligraphy to introduce them, nicknames like the Flying Devil, and a team logo that looks remarkably similar to the Shaw Brothers shield. There’s also a drunken master type character, who used to be a former badminton champion, but has fallen on hard times. Played by Andrew Lam, recognizable from Sammo Hung movies like Pantyhose Hero and Encounters of the Spooky Kind 2, some of Full Strike’s biggest laughs belong to him. From teaching badminton strokes using a couple of giant meat cleavers, to his random outbursts of English, to a fantastic projectile vomit scene.
Full Strike is very much reminiscent of the Hong Kong movies from the 80’s and early 90’s, especially Stephen Chow’s mo lei tau style of wordplay. Some of the interactions are no doubt lost in translation, however just as many hit the mark, with an expletive filled script that doesn’t shy from some hilariously foul language. Also just like those Hong Kong movies of old, it doesn’t shy from bad taste rape jokes either. I guess you have to take the bad with the good. However with such an anything goes approach, proceedings move on so quickly that nothing dwells in the mind too long before another left of field joke comes along, and reminds you it’s just a movie.
Throw in some nice references to kung fu movies of old, from a sequence which has Andrew Lam training the trio of ex-criminals Crippled Avengers style, to a match played with a steel capped shuttlecock. Full Strike could well be the badminton movie that fans of classic Hong Kong cinema never knew they wanted. Much like Gallants, from the music through to the set design and camera work, Kwok and Wong have constructed a movie that captures the essence of why we love watching these productions in the first place. The energy, the action, and most importantly, the heart that seems to have been missing from many of the Hong Kong film industries recent output, is here very much alive and well. For that alone, Full Strike warrants a watch.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7.5/10