Red Trousers: The Life of Hong Kong Stuntmen (2004) Review

"Red Trousers: The Life of Hong Kong Stuntmen" DVD Cover

"Red Trousers: The Life of Hong Kong Stuntmen" DVD Cover

Director: Robin Shou
Writer: Robin Shou
Producer: Robin Shou
Cast: Beatrice Chia, Keith Cooke, Hakim Alston, Craig Reid, Sammo Hung, Mike Leeder, Lau Kar-leung, Wong Chi Man, Leung Chi Ming, Monique Marie Ozimkowshi, Jude Poyer, Ng Wing Sum, Ridley Tsui
Running Time: 93 min.

By Ningen

This review is based on a special screening of Red Trousers: The Life of Hong Kong Stuntmen, where Robin Shou is the guest of honor. Before the screening began, Dr. Craig Reid, one of the stuntmen, introduced himself as the white guy who got beaten up in many kung fu flicks. He said Robin would be late.

So anyway, in terms of style, Lost Time – a short, which was part of the documentary, to illustrate how stuntmen prepare for and ultimately perform in modern martial arts films – came off like a low-budget Blade, and did not deliver in terms of acting. If it was longer, they might have had a better chance to flesh out the characters. Although they did manage to slip in some decent dialogue at times.

There were too many close-ups on fight scenes, most likely in an attempt to market it to an American market. A lot of the footage was re-looped, which made it tedious. While the Lost Time wasn’t anything to cry about, the behind-the-scenes segments for the short helped appreciate what the stunt people went through to get a decent action sequence. The meat of the film is the documentary, where you learn about the trials and tribulations and personal lives of the stunt-people of all ages. You come to admire them for wanting to achieve their dreams in the face of failure; and you wince in pain every time they screw up a take and get hurt.

The more amusing segments in Red Trousers were the ones with Lau Kar Lung, where he proudly reminisces about the “good old days” of stuntwork, while they skip to B&W clips of what I assume were wuxia films (a lot of the “effects” in those clips are reminiscent of Flash Gordon, but the fight scenes are something any chop-sockyphile can relate to; they’re as energetic and coordinated as anything today). Lau himself talks about the hardships of working on the set where they constantly challenge you, from making you wear clothes which weren’t washed, to fighting without any padding.

But those pale in comparison to the hardships that former students in Peking Opera had to endure, from not being able to cry when doing a particular acrobatic exercise, to attending to their teachers each morning. Ironically, since Peking Opera is now voluntary, the hardships are outside of the school, as today’s students use their skills to seek better employment opportunities in the movies. The actual Opera performances involve more than just fancy choreography, but singing as well (you have to admire a guy who can flip very fast and sing in a high-pitch voice).

After the film ended, the audience (which was 3/4 full) applauded, and some drummers came in to play during the credits. Robin Shou finally shows up, and is wearing a green and white plaid shirt and white pants, and talks about how he had wanted to do a movie like Red Trousers for years, because he wanted to focus on his humble beginnings as a stuntman which gave him his chance in Hollywood. He talked about how many of the stunt-people worked for very little money, and cared more about their work than being paid extra. Plus he wanted audiences to be aware of the origins behind today’s HK-influenced films such as The Matrix and X-Men.

When asked about where Bruce Lee fit into the film, Robin said that he didn’t recall Bruce doing any opera work. His expertise was Wushu, Wing Chun and salsa dancing.

I asked Robin about Mortal Kombat 3 and any future projects. He said he wanted to do Mortal Kombat 3, but he joked that they didn’t know where to go with it, since The Matrix went everywhere. But his next project would involve Filipino stick-fighting in a cage match.

Finally, when asked about the opportunities for children in Peking Opera, he said they have as much of a chance to get a job as anyone in L.A. (which he called a city where 99.9% of the people are non-working actors). But what mattered to the students was being able to do something which would make their parents proud. Shou’s philosophy is that even when one isn’t working or practicing, they’re still developing themselves. So all in all, the experience was a positive one, as is the film. In an industry where there’s a lot of back-stabbing to get ahead, it’s refreshing to see a group of performers working together to insure a decent film.

Ningen’s Rating: 7.5/10

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One Response to Red Trousers: The Life of Hong Kong Stuntmen (2004) Review

  1. DougWonnacott says:

    Too many clips from the film within the film. Other than that I really liked it. There is another HK stuntmen documentary which is maybe a little better than this one. It’s called ‘Heromakers’ and was made by the UK (sadly now defunct) DVD label Hong Kong Legends. It was a special feature on the Red Wolf platinum edition dvd but it was also released separately.

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