CHOY LEE FUT KUNG FU (2011) review

choy-lee-fut-kung-fu-2011-1

A few years before Donnie Yen gave him an opportunity to demonstrate his actual kung fu skills in The Iceman 3D and Kung Fu Jungle, Wang Baoqiang already demonstrated his martial arts proficiency in John Ching’s Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu (not to be confused with Choy Lee Fut, a film starring Sammo Hung and his son, that came out the same year). Wang plays Danny (Wang Baoqiang), a young martial arts enthusiast who arrives in Hong Kong to head a school of Choy Lee Fut (a combination of Northern and Southern Chinese kung-fu systems) owned by his wealthy father (Ng Man Tat). At the airport, he’s swindled out of his wallet and phone but is given help and shelter by a young woman (Michelle Ye), much to the chagrin of her jealous boyfriend (Miu Tse) and her kind but suspicious mother (Kara Hui). With an important boxing match coming up, Danny is trained by a master of Choy Lee Fut (Norman Tsui), while the school’s janitor (Wong Yat Fei) tries to locate the second half of an old martial arts manuscript, which contains a map to a treasure map.

On the surface, it’s easy to dismiss Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu as a low-rent romantic martial arts comedy : the production values are passable but TV-grade, the fights are short and awkwardly edited, the plot is unfocused and too perfunctory whether it be on the romantic, martial arts  or comedic side, and nothing much is learnt about the art of Choy Lee Fut, outside of a short montage that may have been the wikipedia article copied and pasted into the screenplay. But it’s still a sweetly entertaining little film that saunters from subplot to subplot with a sunny, unpretentious and harmless disposition and a welcome lack of crass humor. It’s fairly episodic in structure, never building up into anything notable on the whole, but simply adding little touches here and there, playing out each scene almost as a skit. Expectations are often side-stepped, such as in the climactic fight, which is fairly unremarkable and short for a final fight, but actually quite funny thanks to Gabriel Wong as the oddest referee in boxing history ; or in the treasure hunt subplot, which ends in a weird and rather hilarious way.

With such a featherweight film it helps tremendously that the cast is uniformly charming, starting with Wang Baoqiang, who displays a mix of his naive, happy-go-lucky characters from films like Lost in Thailand or A World without Thieves, and the martial arts proficience of his recent performances in Donnie Yen films. Michelle Ye is so likeable and funny that one wishes she’d appear in more romantic comedies, Ng Man Tat brings his comic timing and warmth, and it’s good to see a very fit-looking Norman Tsui as a charismatic fight trainer, but the most delightful supporting role might be Kara Hui : there’s a sly (if a bit insistent) wink to her famous role in Liu Chia Liang’s My Young Auntie, and the actress is simply irresistible here as Michelle Ye’s youthful-looking, high-energy, and bluntly straightforward mother.

Long Story Short : While technically mediocre, Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu manages to be charming and whimsical without being forced or crass, thanks to a game cast and a good sense of fun. ***

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