THE OWL VS. BOMBO (1984) review

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Sammo Hung’s The Owl vs. Bombo (also know as The Owl vs. Dumbo or The Owl vs. Bumbo, if you like fascinating film trivia) revolves around two retired robbers, the gentleman-thief type Owl (George Lam) and the more straightforward and bumbling Bombo (Sammo Hung). A year after their respective last heists, they’re contacted by a Chung (Stanley Fung), a cop who has evidence of their crimes and blackmails them into becoming partners to complete two tasks : to expose a gangster’s (James Tien) real estate fraud, and to assist two social workers (Deannie Yip and Michelle Yeoh) in rehabilitating juvenile delinquents. Mirroring the two tasks, this is a film of two halves, featuring light tension and a (very parsimonious) sprinkling of action when the reluctant duo try to bring down James Tien, and a fairly cheesy redemptive vibe when they try to give the delinquents reason to hope and the will to straighten their lives. The film follows both strands lazily, until they are joined in a finale that, while short and not quite memorable, is the only real fight scene of the film.

But there are nevertheless some pleasures to be found in this film. First, it is Michelle Yeoh’s first film. Sammo Hung and Dickson Poon, co-founders of the D & B film company gave the Malaysian actress her big break (she went on to marry the latter) in the first two In The Line Of Duty films, but here she doesn’t partake in what little fighting there is. Her fairly thankless role as a barely up to the task social worker doesn’t allow her to shine, but still there’s a curiosity factor to seeing a future acting queen grace the screen for the very first time. Then there’s the underdeveloped but sweet romance between Sammo Hung’s character and Deannie Yip’s. In a way it plays as a test run for their more fleshed-out and touching love story in Dragons Forever : their chemistry is flawless and very endearing. And it’s precisely in a scene where the two are on a date and she asks him if he knows how to dance, that the film pulls out an unexpected treat : a dance scene where Sammo Hung brilliantly fuses Gene Kelly’s tap dancing, Charlie Chaplin’s slapstick and his own Peking Opera training into an utterly delightful performance that, for a few minutes, raises the film above mediocrity.

Long Story Short : A lazy, forgettable comedy elevated for a few brief moments by Sammo Hung’s chemistry with Deannie Yip, and a delightful dance number. **

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