Wing Chun (1994) / Action-Comedy
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for violence, language and sexual references
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Yuen King-Tan, Catherine Hung, Lee Waise, Norman Chu, Cheng Pei-pei
Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Screenplay: Elsa Tang
Review published January 13, 2007
Wing Chun has two saving graces: Yuen Woo-ping's (Iron Monkey, In the Line of Duty 4) breathtaking martial arts choreography and Michelle Yeoh's (The Heroic Trio, Magnificent Warriors) dynamic physical performance. Just like a musical is entertaining if the song-and-dance routines are well-executed, so is a martial arts film when the fight scenes are spectacular, as they are here. It's a good thing too, as the silly farce that takes place in between the fighting is barely adequate, even as filler.
In the film, Wing Chun (Yeoh) works as a tofu clerk working for her halitosis-suffering aunt, living in a village that is in constant threat of being pillaged by nearby thieves. Despite her prowess in the ways of self defense, she's only one woman against a great many strong men. The town is abuzz when a young, attractive widow named Charmy (Hung, Tristar) enters the scene, and when she takes a job with Wing Chun and her aunt (King-Tan, Fight Back to School), the business soon booms from all of the male business they receive. However, the local bandits are unrelenting, and Wing Chun soon finds she must take a more active stance in defending her friends and neighbors from coming to harm, even if she needs to sacrifice everything to do it.
Wing Chun is a period action film, and while the name of the main character is derived from a historical legend (Yim Wing-chun, a female Shaolin student and eventual teacher of the fighting style), it's a complete work of fiction. Even the martial arts style known as "wing chun" isn't employed by the film's namesake.
Most of the humor is farcical in nature, playing off of mistaken identities and gender confusion. Wing Chun's childhood friend (Yen, Blade II) comes back after six years away, mistakenly thinking that Charmy is Wing Chun, while also confusing the real Wing Chun as her boyfriend. While most of the cast plays the film in comedic fashion, Yeoh maintains her position as the "normal" character by playing things completely straight, and, of course, her fighting technique is without rival, utilizing the grace and poise during her days as a dancer. The gags are fairly trite, such as a scene where the aunt tells a would-be suitor to meet "Charmy" for a midnight rendezvous, but takes her place in the dark. Another has an oft-used simulated coitus scene of the aunt making tofu with the same man, though wiht the all of the "ohhs" and "ahhs" of lovemaking -- mildly funny to witness, but not in a genuinely witty sense. There's not much freshness in any of the material, which can either please or irritate, depending on your mood and level of expectation in the film.
The stunt work is excellent, as is the manner in which Woo-ping shoots the action. There are occasional wires evident and some sped-up action, but the cutting and editing are quick enough to not make these stick out as too phony to believe within the context of the scenes. The costumes and locale work are also impressive. If the storyline were more interesting and humor less broad, this had the ingredients necessary to become a martial arts classic, but Woo-ping set his sights fairly low, concentrating more on blowing people away with wire-fu action and enough jocoseness in between to keep the tone amiable and relatively entertaining. Most of it is forgettable, but two classic fight scenes emerge: a bet between Wing Chun and another man that he can't muss her plate of tofu, and the final fight scene between Wing Chun and the head of the thieves as they balance on the end of a giant spear stuck in a stone wall. These scenes pretty much justify the price of admission for all martial arts aficionados. Old-school kung fu fave, Cheng Pei Pei (Lavender, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), also contributes in a supporting role as Wing Chun's mentor.
Wing Chun isn't a landmark kung fu film, and probably ranks among Yuen Woo-ping's lesser efforts, both as a director and fight choreographer, traversing over material he's done before in previous films, though this time with a feminist leanings. Consequently, it's best to keep expectations at bay, even if you're a die-hard fan, though Michelle Yeoh fans should be ecstatic. Still, even a lesser Woo-ping effort is better than most others at their best, so if you're a fan of the goofy comedy and acrobatic, wire-fu flicks that came out in abundance during the early 1990's, this is a safe bet to satisfy.
©2007 Vince Leo