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October 30th, 2000 Issue #23

Hong Kong Digital is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong Kong Filmography.

NOTE: The review for FLYING DAGGER has been excerpted from The Hong Kong Filmography. Information about the DVD edition, written specifically for Hong Kong Digital, follows.

Flying Dagger
(1993; Chang Hong Channel Film and Video Company): 7/10

Cover art courtesy Mei Ah.

San ging do yue fei tin maau

Shen jing dao yu fei tian mao

Crazy Dagger and Flying Sky Cat

Ng Man-tat. Image courtesy Mei Ah.

Cinematographer: Chen Rong-shu
Art Director: Andy Lee Yiu-kwong
Music: Not Original
Writer: Wong Jing
Producer: Mark Wu Dan
Action Director: Ching Siu-tung
Director: Chu Yen-ping
Cast: Tony Leung Kar-fai (Big Dagger), Sharla Cheung Man (Big Bewitchment), Jacky Cheung Hok-yau (Nine Tails Fox), Maggie Cheung Man-yuk (Flying Cat), Jimmy Lin Chi-ying (Little Dagger), Gloria Yip Wan-yee (Little Bewitchment), Ng Man-tat (Leslie Cheung), Yuen King-tan ("Fifth Lady"), Yuen Cheung-yan ("Never Die") Pauline Chan Po-lin (Evil Lady of Yi-ho)
VHS: Tai Seng, SYS/Youngtze (Dubbed)
LD: Tai Seng
Import LD: Golden Cinema City
85 minutes

Sharla Cheung Man, Tony Leung Ka-fai, and Jimmy Lin Chi-ying (left to right). Image courtesy Mei Ah.

Although A Home Too Far (1991) and End of the Road (1993) proved him capable of crafting competent dramatic fare, Taiwanese director Chu Yen-ping seems more interested in solidifying his position as one of Asia's most eccentric filmmakers. While this period fantasy-comedy doesn't quite attain the absurd heights previously scaled by Chu's feminist "Eastern Westerns," Golden Queens Commando and Pink Force Commando (both 1984), it is the director's most entertaining film to date, offering his trademark mix of frenzied action, off-kilter plotting and broad, scatological comedy. Bounty hunters Big and Little Flying Dagger and their female counterparts, Big and Little Bewitchment, manage to put their professional rivalry aside long enough to pursue the notoriously prehensile criminal, Nine Tails Fox, and his screeching feline of a wife, Flying Cat. The quartet capture their quarry but must eventually side with them when they are challenged by a bizarre array of Chinese and Japanese villains.

Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and Sharla Cheung Man. Image courtesy Mei Ah.

Flying Dagger takes the low road all the way, yet jokes about lust-inducing incense and coma-inducing flatulence become strangely endearing when delivered by such a paramount cast. Martial arts director Ching Siu-tung provides the kind of high-flying action setpieces that habitual viewers of Chinese fantasy have come to expect from him, but just as technically impressive is a lascivious severed hand (inspired by "Thing" from The Addams Family) that becomes a surprise ally. Good fun. The rousing score consists almost entirely of stock cues, as well as tracks swiped from A Fish Called Wanda and Jay Chattaway's soundtrack for Maniac.

Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau. Image courtesy Mei Ah.


DVD Specs:

Mei Ah #DVD-333
Dolby Digital (5.1 and 2.1)
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Optional Subtitles in English and Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)
9 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Still Frames
Letterboxed (1.64:1)
Coded for ALL Regions
Category IIB
85 minutes

DVD menu courtesy Mei Ah.

In the time since I originally wrote the above review, Mei Ah has issued this wonderfully nutty feature on DVD. However, if you already own it on another format, you will probably be more satisfied just sticking with that version. The source print and transfer on the new release are good but the image is soft. Unfortunately, that's a minor complaint compared to the digital compression, which is quite poor. Never one of Mei Ah’s strong points, it is particularly bothersome here, with frequent smearing and displacement. The problem intensifies during sequences bathed in smoke or haze -- and this is a movie filled with such atmospheric touches. The 5.1 re-mix on the Cantonese track does little beyond adding an echo to the dialogue; the original mono version is included and preferable. The Mandarin versions are flat and bass heavy and all three sets of subtitles are synched to the Cantonese track so, unless you understand Mandarin, they should be avoided. Mei Ah's English translation differs from that on the print used for Tai Seng's version, making some plot points more coherent, while muddling others. The cover lists director Chu Yen-ping as "Kevin Chu," though Mei Ah's art department is apparently getting him confused with Kevin Chu Kar-wang, director of MY WIFE'S LOVER and LOVE IS A FAIRYTALE. There are no extras or time functions.

PS: In my cast listing above, I neglected to note a cameo appearance by Lo Lieh as "Die With One Blow," one of The Gods of Death that Tony Leung Kar-fai and Jimmy Lin battle in the second reel. Sure enough, he dies after one blow.

Gloria Yip Wan-yee. Image courtesy Mei Ah.

Copyright © John Charles 2000. All Rights Reserved.

Hong Kong Digital is presented in association with Hong Kong Entertainment News In Review