AKA: Pull No Punches
Director: Sammo Hung
Writer: Wong Jing
Producer: Raymond Chow
Cast: Yuen Biao, Frankie Chan, Lam Ching-Ying, Sammo Hung, Wei Pei, Peter Chan, Dick Wei, Wei Pei, Wu Ma, James Tien
Running Time: 100 min.
In my “Invincible Shaolin” review, I wrote that I’d never seen a New Wave Hong Kong movie that could hold a candle to a Shaw Brothers film. Well, I finally have, and it’s called Prodigal Son.
This movie has it all: great action, story, acting, drama, comedy, and most importantly, some kick-ass martial arts that (I hate to admit) actually makes Shaw Brothers fighting look tame in comparison. Whereas Shaw Brothers movies starring the Venoms belie their Peking Opera training, with plenty of flips, acrobatics, and precisely-timed choreography, the actors in Prodigal Son go at it with ferocity, and really look like they’re beating the shit out of each other.
Yuen Biao plays Chang, a spoiled punk who thinks he’s a kung-fu genius. Traveling Peking actor Lam Ching-Ying shows him otherwise, and Yuen forces himself into Lam’s life, begging to become his pupil. When Lam’s challenged by Ching official Ngai into a “friendly match,” tragedy catches up with Lam’s opera troupe, as they’re attacked in the night by ninja-like assassins. This scene is probably the best in the film, as Lam and Yuen Biao take on these ninjas in a burning theater. Lam and Biao retreat to Sammo Hung’s home, where Lam finally relents and teaches Biao wing chun. Now ready to take on anyone, Biao ends the film with a magnificent “friendly match” with Ngai that has to be one of the most hard-hitting, fast-paced, brutal kung-fu matches ever seen on film.
There’s comedy interspersed throughout the film, which in truth comes off a bit jarring, especially when placed directly after a disturbing scene of people being murdered cold-blooded in the night. Sammo though is very funny, and his braggart character is one of the film’s most memorable. He has a great scene where he attempts to master calligraphy, and also instructs Biao on the more offense-based aspects of wing chun. But whereas the comedy in “Dreadnaught” totally derailed the movie, the humor in Prodigal Son is less slapstick and doesn’t get in the way of the action.
Some familiar faces pop up in smaller roles: Wei Pai (the “Snake” Venom) plays one of the opera actors, but he doesn’t do any kung-fu. James Tien (who appeared in all of Bruce Lee’s Hong Kong movies except for “Way of the Dragon”) shows up in a cameo as a guy looking for a rematch with Ngai. But Biao is the true star, excellent in his role as the spoiled brat who eventually becomes a kung-fu master.
Bey Logan put Prodigal Son in the number one spot in the “Top Ten Kung-Fu Movies” list he published in Stefan Hammond’s book “Hollywood East.” I don’t know if it’s the best ever, but it’s up there for sure. If I had to lodge any complaints against the movie, it would be that the way in which the murderers of Lam Ching Ying’s opera troupe are dealt with is anticlimactic, and the meshing of comedy and drama is off-setting at times. But that doesn’t detract from what is otherwise a near-perfect film. It’s certainly a classic, and I recommend it even to those who don’t like martial arts movies.
Joe909’s Rating: 9.5/10
Prodigal Son is clearly a cut above your average Saturday morning revenge-based chop-socky adventure, but the size of that cut is relative to what you like to see in a kung fu flick.
You like fighting? Of course you do. What kind of insipid, braind-dead dolt doesn’t want to see fighting in a martial arts movie? Certainly not I. There’s combat here, and there’s a fair amount of it, and Sammo Hung is the captain of this ship so you can be sure it’s good (he makes an appearance as a guy who has only one good arm to do battle with). Don’t expect modernized “action fighting”, though…this is strictly a martial arts movie.
You like comedy? Then go watch The Simpsons or fall off a cliff or something. Prodigal Son makes a few stabs at being humorous, but it isn’t often successful. Yuen Biao gets knocked into a river a couple of times, a guy gets his face painted while attacking an opera performer, and “Pork Pie” gets over-zealous while practicing calligraphy. Maybe you’ll think it’s hysterical, but personally, when I want to laugh I’ll take my car out for a spin on Friday nights and stampede drunk teenagers into telephone poles.
You like stunts? Well, the money-grabbing shot here is Lam Ching-Ying doing a backflip over a burning flag with which Yuen Biao is fending off a pair of assassins. And when I say “burning flag”, I don’t mean like in those street demonstrations held by people whose social lives make mine look exciting by comparison, where the fire in question would barely set off a smoke alarm. I mean BURNING burning, with nary a patch of cloth visible and a great big swath of flame left behind to mark its path through the air. Fuckin’ cool. You won’t see any car chases or leaps from atop mile-high skyscrapers, though…this ain’t one of those Fantasy Mission Farce-style time warp movies.
You like drama? Look somewhere else. Lam Ching-Ying doesn’t have eyelashes, but if he did, he wouldn’t bat a single one of them at the sight of his entire opera troupe butchered in their beds. Yuen Biao’s character gives us little reason to wish hiim well in his seemingly endless crusade to acquire some decent kung fu training. And the big baddie who just loves to fightt really ain’t such a baddie at all.
You like gorgeous women? Sorry, no dice there either. Pork Pie’s daughter is a rather bulbous young woman named Twiggy (Ah…irony. Is there anything so bitter yet so sweet at one and the same time?) and the actress who plays her seems to have abandoned all sense of shame in accepting the role. The only other…ah…um…er…”woman” of prominence in this movie is an opera performer who, after fighting off the unwanted attentions of a lusty young nogoodnik, turns out to be a man. If you haven’t seen it and you’re now bitching me out for that little spoiler, don’t, because, unless you possess the intellect of a gnat, you would have seen it coming a mile away even if I hadn’t told you. So shaddap!
Last but certainly not least, do you like climactic, exciting endings? Really? Me, too. But here’s where the movie kind of half-succeeds and fizzles instead of exploding in your face. There’s a great, expertly-choreographed, hard-hitting, one-on-one fight to finish things off, but, getting back to that “drama” bit, it won’t exactly have you jumping out of your seat, cheering the hero on. In fact, his opponent isn’t even a real villain…he’s just a poor shmoe in a predicament quite similar to the one our boy Yuen found himself in not long ago. At least in a cookie cutter revenge movie there’s good reason the for the good guy to beat the shit out of the bad guy, no matter how trite it may be. Here, it’s just two guys fighting because they can. They do a damned good job of it, but it just doesn’t have the impact it could’ve had if the story had taken a slightly different direction.
But hey…don’t let ME stop you.
You never have before…right?
Numskull’s Rating: 6/10
Sammo’s sequel [or actually prequel] to his ground-braking masterwork “Warriors Two” comes off as another near-perfect kung fu film. While not quite as good as it’s predecessor, “The Prodigal Son” is considered to be his finest directing work [at least he things so himself]. I also got my hands on the subtitled version and think that the film’s surprisingly clever dialogue definitely suffers when dubbed.
All the performers are in top form: Yuen Biao, Lam Ching-Ying, Frankie Chan, everybody. Fights are realistic, imaginative and delightful. The highly praised end fight is worth all the hype, but why Biao had to beat the poor Frankie up SO badly? The ignorant Frankie wasn’t even an evil guy, just a misled prodigal son just like Biao himself! That was rude! And for everybody who think that this is the best Wing Chun movie of all time: check out “Warriors Two”, it’s even better.
Perkele’s Rating: 9.5/10
By Vic Nguyen
Considered to be the finest Wing Chun movie ever made, this Golden Harvest production remains a firm classic with martial arts fans worldwide. Although Yuen Biao and Frankie Chan star and deliver worthy performances of their own, it is the late, great Lam Ching-ying who totally steals the show. His performance as the asthmatic Peking Opera performer is incredible, and is one of the best roles he’s ever taken in his long and illustrious career. Hung again delivers fantastic martial arts to the mix, and the final reel, pitting Yuen Biao against Frankie Chan is considered by many to be one of the best fight finales ever filmed. It takes no genius to figure out that I highly recommend this gem, which deserves all the recognition it gets.
Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 9.5/10
Arguably Sammo’s finest directorial effort, The Prodigal Son tells the tale of Leung Jarn (Biao), a self-absorbed and over-protected martial artist who boasts an incredible record of over 300 fights, without a single loss. Unbeknownst to him, his moneyed parents and servant (Peter Chan Lung) have been “fixing” his fights, and literally paying off his opponents. With a head filled with over-confidence, and no real skills to match, Jarn challenges a traveling opera performer (Lam Ching-Ying) to a duel, and promptly loses, thus beginning Sammo’s masterpiece! Unerringly, Sammo and the cast seamlessly blend the best Wing Chun fights seen on film with comedy and dramaÉAll culminating into a truly spectacular battle between Yuen Biao and Frankie Chan – It’s safe to say that this is one of the greatest kung fu battles of all time. Don’t miss “The Prodigal Son.”
S!DM’S Rating: 10/10