Prodigal Son (1983) / Action-Comedy
aka Pull No Punches
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and some crude humor
Running Time: 104 min.
Cast: Yuen Biao, Lam Ching Ying, Sammo Hung, Frankie Chan
Director: Sammo Hung
Screenplay: Sammo Hung, Barry Wong, Wong Jing
Martial arts legend Sammo Hung (Mr. Nice Guy, Wheels on Meals) writes, directs, co-stars, and choreographs this lesser-known comic kung fu gem that evokes some of the funniest and most exhilarating scenes outside of Jackie Chan's finest. Some people even call this the best kung fu flick ever made. I won't go nearly that far, but I'd be hard-pressed to find something about it that isn't enjoyable on some scale.
Yuen Biao (Iceman Cometh, Dragons Forever) stars as the finest street brawler there is, at least he was led to believe so. It seems his rich daddy has been protecting his boy by paying off people to lose their fights to him, and his martial arts instructors fill his heads with delusions of grandeur. One day he meets his match with an opera star and martial artist (Lam Ching Ying, Mr. Vampire) who shows him the error of his ways by besting him soundly. Upset that he's been duped, the young man decides he wants to learn to be a real master under the opera star's tutelage, and will do anything to get the reluctant man to teach him his moves.
What makes Prodigal Son worth every penny of the price of admission comes from its exhilarating fighting, with some truly death-defying stunts and always high-flying Wing Chun action. Biao is a terrific acrobatic fighter, and quite skilled at showing himself doing poorly although trying not to. Equally impressive is the supporting cast of players, who are not only fantastic fighters, but also quite skilled in delivering the very broad comedy. There are a few deadly serious moments that creep in once in a while, but the film never really loses a beat, so credit Hung for keeping this very ambitious over-the-top action-comedy from coming apart at the seams.
No CGI, none of the wire-fu that would plague most later kung fu films, Prodigal Son is one of the last and finest examples of the old-school martial arts cinema styles, with real people doing real stunts in stunning fashion. Some viewers will find it too saturated in its goofiness, while others may find the acting to be left wanting, but for true martial arts aficionados, this is a best bet purchase for your video collection.
©2004 Vince Leo