Sunday, December 11, 2011
Yuen Woo Ping's Dreadnaught
With a story by Wong Jing and direction and choreography by the great Yuen Woo Ping, Dreadnaught straddles the kung fu and comedy genres with ease, this should be no surprise as Yuen was responsible for Jackie Chan's first efforts to mix comedy into kung fu. Yuen didn't have Chan at his disposal for this film and so the fantastic Yuen Biao stars here. What is surprising about the movie is the introduction of a few horror tropes, which makes for an interesting combination.
A rival kung fu schools plot is spiced up by the fact that one of them is Wong Fei Hung's (Kwan Tak Hing) school. The jealous Tam King (Philip Ko) runs the rival school and is looking for any way to get rid of Wong. Throw a wild card into the mix in the form of White Tiger, a man whose wife is murdered in the film's opening scene, sending him spinning into madness. Mousy (Yuen Biao) is an innocent and cowardly laundry worker who wants to learn kung fu at Wong's school. Without knowing why, he's targeted by White Tiger who also murders his friend Foon (Leung Kar Yan), all leading to the inevitable showdown.
Yuen Woo Ping packs so many different ideas into Dreadnaught, it can be quite disorientating, from the broadest of broad comedy to some genuinely funny scenes right through to the horror overtones I mentioned before. In between we get Yuen Woo Ping's customary excellent action choreography, covering everything from laundry fu to an inspired sequence of a tailor using his tailoring equipment to try to kill Wong Fei Hung while measuring him for a new suit. The most impressive scene has to be the lion dance early on in the film. Truly memorable, the precision and skill involved in this scene is amazing, and that's before they even start to fight! It's worth tracking the film down for this sequence alone.
Yuen Biao is excellent, but due to the storyline, he doesn't get to showcase his skills as much as I would have liked, but the fighting he does is great. Kwan Tak Hing is great as Wong Fei Hung, a role he had played many times previously, with this time being his last, the illusion of him still being a supreme martial artist is excellently handled and is a fitting tribute to the actor. Special mention must be made for Yuen Shun Yi who takes overacting to a whole new level, never before has one man overacted to such a degree, thankfully due to the film's largely comedic tone, it works.
It would have been interesting to see a Dreadnaught minus the comedy, instead emphasising the horror elements a little more, perhaps making more of White Tiger's striking Peking opera makeup and with more sequences like the fight in the darkness between him and Foon, a fantastic scene. That isn't the way the film went however, so what we do have is an excellent fight film, with a number of outstanding scenes, some fun performances and the undoubted genius of Yuen Woo Ping.