Issue #220           HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES                 July 12th, 2004

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The Lady is the Boss
(1983; Shaw Brothers)

Cantonese: Jeung mun yan
Mandarin: Zhang men ren
English: School Leader


RATING: 5/10


Conservative kung fu instructor Wong Hsia-yuan (Lau Kar-leung, who also directed) is informed that the Wah Chiang Martial Arts Association must be torn down, in order to accommodate local road expansion. Hsia-yuan and his students (Gordon Lau Kar-fai, Hsiao Hou, Wong Yue, Chang Chan-peng, and Mai Te-lo) are prepared to defend their building until the end but a telegram arrives from their sifu in America, proclaiming that it is time for a new beginning. Relocated into new and more spacious accommodations, Hsia-yuan and the men await their teacher’s arrival, so that he may officially open the new school. To Hsia-yuan’s horror, the Chan that arrives is not their elderly leader but his young and very Westernized daughter, Chan Mei-ling (Kara Hui Ying-hung). Filling in for her sickly father, Mei-ling’s modern ideas of training and constant use of English drive Hsia-yuan halfway around the bend, particularly since he must continue to show her a suitable degree of respect. She also launches a campaign to bolster the school’s meager student body and ends up with a group of very odd but enthusiastic young people. Among these new recruits are some call girls and the self-defense training they learn at Wah Chiang does not go over well with their triad bosses (including Lung Tien-hsiang, Johnny Wang Lung-wei, and Sun Chien).

Kara Hui Lau Kar-leung Mai Te-lo, Chang Chan-peng, Gordon Lau, Hsiao Hou, Wong Yue

Lau Kar-leung’s follow-up to MY YOUNG AUNTIE (reviewed in issue #212a) relocates the action to the present day (well, 1983) and basically just inverts the premise. This time, it is Kara Hui as the young upstart making life miserable for the traditionalists but the results are not nearly as enjoyable and the film seems out-and-out misguided. By 1983, Shaw Brothers’ pictures were slipping badly at the box office and THE LADY IS THE BOSS plays like an attempt to court the audience that made Cinema City’s ACES GO PLACES films such monstrous hits. Unfortunately, the comedy is very heavy-handed and badly overplayed by just about the entire cast. The youth angle has dated badly (though Lau’s go at "Disco Kung Fu" is not nearly as painful as that seen in Joseph Kuo Nan-hong’s THE OLD MASTER) and much of the film is downright embarrassing. Thankfully, there are also some good points here and the film can be cautiously recommended to stalwart Lau fans. A sequence in which Kara Hui and some friends use BMX bikes to battle the hoods is dynamic and well-executed, and the film improves dramatically during the final third, thanks to prolonged battles in the gang’s bar and a gymnasium (in-joke references to THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN and MAD MONKEY KUNG FU do not hurt either). These scenes are superbly choreographed and thoroughly enjoyable, almost redeeming an otherwise faulty enterprise. In fact, the best bet for viewing is to simply skip the first hour and revel in what sifu Lau Kar-leung does better than just about anyone. Ku Feng and Elvis Tsui Kam-kong also appear.

Kara Hui Center: Johnny Wang, Sun Chien Lau Kar-leung


From a visual standpoint, there is nothing to complain about. The image looks very crisp and clean, with excellent detail and fine hues. Unfortunately, the audio on the Cantonese track is a bit below average. The upper end is limited (whenever a word beginning with "s" is uttered, it s-s-s-lurs noticeably) and the sound is somewhat hollow. Foley embellishments are, thankfully, subdued. The Mandarin version is better in most regards and the actress dubbing Hui’s voice speaks much better English, making for a more convincing Westernized girl than the actress on the Cantonese track. The standard Celestial extras are included (what happened to the original theatrical trailers?).

This DVD is available at:

Images in this review courtesy of Intercontinental Video Ltd. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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DVD Specifications

  • Hong Kong Release
  • NTSC Region 3 Only
  • Intercontinental Video Ltd #101854
  • Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Post-synced Cantonese and Mandarin Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English, Traditional Chinese, Malaysian, and Indonesian
  • 12 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (2.35:1)
  • 93 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Australia: PG
  • Great Britain: 18 (cut)
  • Ontario: AA
  • Quebec: 13+
  • Singapore: PG (cut)
  • Contains moderate violence, coarse language, mild sexual content, and substance abuse


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful