AKA: The Legend of the Kung Fu Queen
Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Writer: Elsa Tang, Anthony Wong
Producer: Yuen Woo Ping
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Kingdom Yuen King Tan, Waise Lee, Catherine Hung Yan, Norman Chu, Tsui Ah Fai, Chui Heung Tung, Cheng Pei Pei
Running Time: 91 min.
In this Yuen Wo-Ping/Michelle Yeoh collaboration, Yeoh is THE Wing Chun, a woman who (in this film, at least) wears mens’ clothing and runs a tofu business with her aunt Abacus (played by a very animated Yuen King Tan). Because scoundrels everywhere hatch plots to disturb the peace on a daily basis, she uses a highly defensive, “brainy” fighting style to humiliate male chauvinist pig after male chauvinist pig without really hurting them. How accurate the choreography in this movie is with regard to Wing Chun as it’s known today I don’t know, but the point that it’s a “gentle” martial art with emphasis placed on restricting your opponent’s capacity to attack you is gotten across sufficiently. This is evinced by bits like Wing Chun luring her foe into a small shed where his big, unwieldy spear is of little value (I’m sure someone will see a phallic symbol in that…read on), while she, armed with a pair of short swords, is able to peck away at him at her leisure.
Action films with female leads aren’t always guilty of “I’m a woman in a man’s world and I’ve got something to prove so all of you pig-headed men had better stay out of my way if you don’t want a severe verbal and/or physical bitch-slapping” syndrome, but this one is. When the men aren’t drooling over the young widow Charmy and going to ridiculous lengths to catch a glimpse of 0.02 square inches of exposed flesh near her rib cage, most of them are making fun of the way Wing Chun dresses or rallying behind some dickhead who challenges her by saying “When it comes to fighting, men are always superior to women” or some such malarkey, because they’re too chicken shit to try it themselves.
Here’s a sample of what to expect:
ABACUS: “Men are disgusting.”
CHARMY: “I know, they really are disgusting.”
Wow, that really brings an unprecedented amount of intellectualism to the whole battle of the sexes issue, doesn’t it? Fortunately, the fight scenes are the main attraction here, not the Lifetime talk show-style dialogue. They’re choreographed well enough, and the wire shit is kept to a bearable level, but, alas, the undercranking is not.
For those who don’t know (or, if EVERYONE knows, then just to waste space): Undercranking is the process of filming something…typically a fight or action sequence…with the camera recording at a higher-than-normal speed, so that when the footage is played at a normal rate, it looks like things are happening faster than they really did (or CAN). When used with moderation and care, undercranking is forgivable…perhaps even unnoticeable. But, with the extent that it’s used in parts (but, fortunately, not all) of Wing Chun’s fight scenes (the movie’s, not the character’s), it looks utterly ridiculous. Seeing a guy perform multiple backflips just isn’t as impressive when he does them all in about as much time as it takes to sneeze. Why Hong Kong film makers ever thought that using this technique so excessively was a good idea is one of those questions that just can’t be answered in a satisfactory manner. A pox on undercranking! I curse the day it was ever devised.
The choreography, at least, is nothing to scoff at, so we are by no means talking about a total loss here. Michelle Yeoh, for her part, turns in a great performance as usual, projecting solemn heroism without losing her feminine touch. An actress of less maturity probably would have given us nothing but arrogant, “you go girl” in-your-face-ness. There is a weepy back story to her ass-kicking, but it’s of little significance.
One of Michelle’s best movies. Of course, she’s been in a fair amount of so-so stuff, and one or two pieces of absolute crap, but still, let’s not take it away from her.
Numskull’s Rating: 7/10
Wing Chun is a film that does some things well and some poorly. Its general story and plot revolving around the bandits is kinda generic and boring. The comedy, while quite good at some points (particularly coming from Wing Chun’s loud-mouth aunt), also gets cheesy and downright annoying at times. On the other hand, you’ve got an interesting sub-plot involving three women with different views on men coming together, and Wing Chun dealing with her femininity. And, of course, Michelle Yeoh gets to kick some major ass. It’s Yuen Woo Ping’s trademark wire-fu, in the tradition of Iron Monkey – so if you like that, you’ll love the fighting here. One particular scene, where Wing Chun must prevent a man from chopping some tofu, is particularly memorable.
Overall – it is a solid film that most martial arts film fans will enjoy. But, the aforementioned flaws in the plot and comedy bring the film down.
Klotera’s Rating: 7/10