MY YOUNG AUNTIE (1981) review

My Young Auntie was the breakout film for Kara Hui, a young actress with a background in ballet, who was legendary director Liu Chia Liang’s protégé and, some say, his mistress. Gossip aside, she was indeed quite a sensation, earning the Hong Kong Film Award for best actress in this award show’s first ever edition in 1981. And you can see why: cute and graceful, sprightly and playful, she was – and is – also a fine actress capable of immediately earning the public’s sympathies. In a way, she was superseded shortly after by Michelle Yeoh, a more striking performer in every way ; still, Hui remains a unique presence to this day, having made a bit of a comeback after a string of obscure films in the nineties. Directed by Liu Chia Liang, My Young Auntie has Kara Hui play a young woman of modest origins, who is married by a kind and wealthy old man who fears his fortune could go to his cruel brother after his impending death. After he dies, Hui meets his nephew (played by the director himself) and his son (Hsiao Hao), a hyperactive student. She then has to impose herself as the family’s dean (although she’s younger than everyone), while fending off the cruel brother’s attempts to reclaim the inheritance.

The strange thing about My Young Auntie is how it evolves from a passable Kara Hui showcase in the first half, into an impressive Liu Chia Liang showcase in the second. For the most part, the film is an entertaining intergenerational comedy with Kara Hui’s character stuck between having to assert her authority over the family and proving that she can also be a fashionable youg woman. The cheeky interplay (of a sometimes pugilistic nature) between her and Hsiao Hao’s character can get tiring very quickly, all the more so as the latter is a brilliant martial artist, but here a rather obnoxious actor. There are also too many unrelevant scenes involving Hsiao Hao’s student friends (including Gordon Liu who sings and wears a blonde wig). Fortunately, Kara Hui is a joy to watch, especially in a sexy scene where she fights in a slit dress while self-consiously trying to show as little flesh as possible. However, while she is the eponymous hero and the focus of more than half of the film, her character gets stuck in a damsel-in-distress situation, and it’s up to Liu Chia Liang’s kindly nephew to step up and reveal that he’s an incredibly skilled fighter himself. The finale, where he storms the villains house with his brothers, is a wonder of dance-like choreography shot in impossibly long takes. As a result, one leaves the film more impressed by Liu’s martial arts and directing talents than by Kara Hui’s comely presence. In a way, it should have been titled My Old Nephew

Long Story Short : The delightful Kara Hui is a joy to watch, and the final fight scenes are jaw-dropping, but My Young Auntie suffers from an imbalance between comedy and drama, and strangely sidelines its female star, albeit in favour of the admittedly impressive director/actor Liu Chia Liang. ***

 

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