Director: Ho Yuhang
Writer: Ho Yuhang, Chan Wai Keung
Cast: Kara Hui, Simon Yam, Wu Bai, Faizal Hussein, Kirk Wong, Fruit Chan, Li Xuan Siow
Running Time: 90 min.
By Martin Sandison
For me, one of the big draws of this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival was the screening of Mrs K, and the appearance by its director Ho Yuhang. Ho is known for genre hopping and has a lot of successful films under his belt – all made in Malaysia. Martial arts movie fans will be both happy and sad that this movie contains the last action performance by one of the greatest female stars: Kara Hui Yin Hung.
Famously, Kara was discovered by Lau Kar Leung (Martial Club), who taught her screen fighting in the late 70’s. She learnt fast, and starred in one of the greatest kung fu films of all time, My Young Auntie. Her action film comeback came with Peter Chan’s Wuxia in 2011, wherein she faced off against Donnie Yen in a memorable fight. Unfortunately, she didn’t appear in many action films subsequently. She worked with director Ho Yuhang in 2009’s At the End of Daybreak, a low key drama in which she got to flex her acting muscles. Mrs K is a natural progression for director and star, as the film features drama elements alongside the action-style which made her a star.
Come the beginning of the film, Kara is a housewife with a happy family, living in domestic bliss. Soon this is shattered as a former accomplice in a robbery gone wrong reveals Kara’s shadowy past, and she will have to fight for everything she holds dear…
The film is relatively low budget, but thanks to the draw that is Kara’s last action role, director Ho managed to secure the talents of the ubiquitous Simon Yam (Cross). This man needs no introduction, and his part here can be added to his growing number of superb supporting roles. In fact Yam’s performance brought to mind his depictions of psychotic villains in movies such as Exiled and Run and Kill – the latter is one of my favourite category 3 films, made in ’93 when this type of extreme Hong Kong cinema was at its peak.
Also appearing in cameo roles are Kirk Wong (Taking Manhattan) and Fruit Chan (The Midnight After), two of the best directors Hong Kong has ever produced. They are in a flashback scene, which is a welcome humorous diversion.
Of all the films I’ve seen starring Kara, I would have to say this is her best performance. She captures the drama and emotional turmoil her character goes through while also proving, physically, she can still handle herself in tough fight scenes at the age of 56. She also demanded that she do all of her own stunts and fights. What a lady.
Style-wise this film is very strong, with a distinct Spaghetti Western feel that never outstays its welcome. Movies such as The Great Silence spring to mind. In fact, I asked director Ho about this: he said that the latter movie is one of his favourites. He mentioned in his introduction to the film that the Spaghetti Western genre is also reflected in his choice to shoot the film in Malaysia, but with a lot of Hong Kong actors. This creates a parallel with the genre because they were making films set in the American west, but shot in Europe with Italian crews and actors.
Ho’s direction is nuanced, subtle, yet forceful, and there are some great editing transitions. Of course, the movie can also be seen as a homage to classic Hong Kong cinema, with shifts in tone, course humour and standout action sequences.
Unfortunately, fans thinking there will be a feast of action will be disappointed. There are only two hand-to-hand combat scenes. However, they are gritty, exciting and seamlessly edited despite being fast cut. Both opponents are a match for Kara, with Faizal Hussein’s (GK3: The Movie) villain especially giving her a run for her money. Don’t expect anything near the intricacy of Kara’s work with Lau Kar Leung: the style is completely different. This doesn’t detract from the impact of the film as a whole.
Despite not containing lots of action, Mrs K succeeds on many levels, and absolutely gives Kara Hui a beautiful martial arts film swan song. Seek it out.
Martin Sandison’s Rating: 8/10