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May14th, 2001 Issue #56

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 FROM BEIJING WITH LOVE has been excerpted from The Hong Kong Filmography. Information about the DVD edition, written specifically for Hong Kong Digital, follows.

From Beijing With Love
(1994; Win's Movie Production): 6/10

Gwok chaan Ling Ling-chat

Guo chan Ling Lingqi

Country-Made 007

Cinematographer: Kin Lee Kin-keung
Art Director: Jason Mok Siu-kei
Music: William Woo Wai-lap
Writers: Stephen Chiau Sing-chi, Roman Cheung Siu-lun, Vincent Kok Tak-chiu, Lee Lik-chi
Producer: Charles Heung Wah-keung, Jimmy Heung Wah-sing
Action Director: Tony Poon Kin-kwan
Directors: Stephen Chiau Sing-chi, Lee Lik-chi
Cast: Stephen Chiau Sing-chi (Ling Ling-chat), Anita Yuen Wing-yee (Siu-kam), Pauline Chan Po-lin (Mystery Woman), Law Kar-ying (Da Mansi), Wong Kam-kong (The Commander / The Man With the Golden Gun), Yu Rongguang (Mainland Soldier), Cheng Cho (Mystery Woman's Partner)
VHS: Tai Seng
Import LD: Cameron Entertainment, Mei Ah Gold
Import VCD: Mei Ah
83 minutes

Stephen Chiau and Anita Yuen. Image courtesy Universe.

Disappointed by the choice of Pierce Brosnan as the new 007? Well, how about Stephen Chiau? HK's reigning king of slapschtick stars here as bumbling Mainland pork vendor/superspy Ling Ling-chat (whose name sounds like "007" but literally means "Frozen Frozen Rain") in this violent, chaotic Bond send-up. When the skull of China's only dinosaur fossil is purloined by a renegade calling himself "The Man With the Golden Gun," Ling is dispatched to HK in pursuit, oblivious to the fact that his contact there, an assassin named Siu-kam, has been ordered to liquidate him. Soon realizing that Ling's unbounded luck and unmatched stupidity make him invincible, Siu-kam switches sides, with ensuing events leading the pair back to China for a final clash with Ling's superior who is, in actuality, the armor-clad menace they seek.

Wong Kam-kong. Image courtesy Universe.

Though it makes no attempt to poke fun at the large-scale stunts and chase sequences for which the Bond cycle is noted, a number of other ingredients receive a good skewering. There is the requisite lampoon of the series' fashionable title sequences and Ling preps for the mission by watching bootleg Bond videos (a clip from Moonraker is shown). Comedian Law Kar-ying plays China's answer to "Q," cooking up hopeless inventions like the world's first solar-powered flashlight (!), and William Woo's score includes a variation on the Bond theme, while also riffing on Ennio Morricone's score for The Untouchables (which works quite well in this context).

Pauline Chan and Stephen Chiau. Image courtesy Universe.

As for femme fatales, former softcore star Pauline Chan receives prominent billing (but little screen time) as a rival agent with flame-throwers built into her breastplate, who is partnered with a "Jaws" lookalike. Anita Yuen is amusingly stoic in a very atypical role, and there is even a brief send-up of her 1993 smash hit, C'est La Vie, Mon Cherie. In a rather daring move (considering that the 1997 re-unification was just around the corner), the Mainland characters here are all dense, corrupt, or just plain psychotic. Although there are a number of universally appreciable moments, the proceedings get awfully bloody for a parody and the film lacks the visual stimulation of Chiau's period fantasy spoofs from earlier in the decade. Nonetheless, the substantial success of From Beijing With Love prompted Chiau to continue poking fun at Western fare in The Sixty Million Dollar Man (1995). Forbidden City Cop is a follow-up of sorts.

Joe Cheng Cho. Image courtesy Universe.

DVD Specs:

Universe #5538
Dolby Digital (5.1)
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Optional Subtitles In English and Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)
8 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Clips
Letterboxed (1.80:1)
Category II (for brutal violence; would receive IIB if the rating were updated)
83 Minutes

DVD menu courtesy Universe.

In the time since I wrote the above review, Universe has acquired the rights to the film and released it on a nicely priced DVD. The presentation looks decent; the transfer is a bit on the dark side and the print has occasional speckles but the image is fairly sharp and colors are deep. Unfortunately, both audio tracks have been given a crummy 5.1 re-mix. There are some separations and a bit of rear channel activity now but there is also distracting reverb. Most annoying of all, many of the original sound effects (gunshots and explosions mostly) have been changed and not very well. Instead of going back to the original audio elements, the technicians have simply plastered the new foley effects over top of the old ones. Not only can the originals still be faintly heard at times, the new effects are much too crisp and immediate to blend well with the rest of the sound. If Universe had also included the old mono track (like Mei Ah routinely does), the disc would have been more satisfying. In another downside, the English subtitle translation has not been improved and a number of jokes are compromised as a result. The only extras are the HK trailer and Stephen Chiau and Anita Yuen bios / filmographies.

Anita Yuen. Image courtesy Universe.

Copyright © John Charles 2000, 2001. All Rights Reserved.

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