Director: Stephen Chow, Lee Lik-Chi
Screenplay: Stephen Chow, Lee Lik-Chi, Roman Cheung, Vincent Kok
Starring: Stephen Chow, Anita Yuen, Law Kar-Ying, Pauline Chan, Yu Rongguang, Wong Kam-Kong, Lee Kin-Yan, Joe Cheng, Leung Hak-Shun, Chun Yip, Ku Ming-Wah, Sau-Ming Tsang
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 84 min
BBFC Certificate: TBC
Whilst Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle did good business in the West in the early 2000s, Stephen Chow has never enjoyed the same level of fame over here as contemporaries such as Jackie Chan or Jet Li. However, in Hong Kong during the 90s and 00s, and in mainland China in more recent years, he has been phenomenally popular. His films both as actor and/or director have frequently broken box office records in the regions and lines from his most popular titles are still oft-quoted.
Chow became known for his “mo lei tau” (‘makes no sense’) style of comedy, which was more straight-faced than other Hong Kong comedians but nevertheless very silly. With his early films and TV work being largely based on verbal humour, it meant international audiences didn’t latch on to him in the same way local ones did (and even Mandarin speakers didn’t see what the fuss was about originally).
I enjoyed Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle a great deal back when they were released but, due to Chow’s films not getting much of a release in the UK, I never delved any further into his filmography. So, I was thrilled to hear Eureka were planning to release a few of his titles over here. I’m hoping to review Royal Tramp and its sequel next month when they arrive but first up is Chow’s From Beijing With Love.
As you might gather from the title, the film is a James Bond spoof and it saw Chow first try his hand at directing, working alongside long-term associate Lee Lik-chi.
From Beijing With Love sees Chow play Ling Ling Chat (‘007’ in Cantonese), a Chinese secret agent who’s been effectively retired due to his incompetence. However, his file is dusted off when China’s only dinosaur fossil is stolen and the more prestigious agents are either busy or dead. So, Ling Ling is sent to Hong Kong to catch the culprit.
We soon discover, however, that the real reason this half-arsed agent has been assigned to the case is that his Commander, Yuen (Wong Kam-kong), is, in fact, the criminal mastermind Ling Ling is after, otherwise known as ‘Golden Gun’.
Golden Gun isn’t merely going to gamble on the fact he thinks Ling Ling will be unable to discover the truth though. He brings in a double agent, Lee Heung-kam (Anita Yuen) to act as Ling Ling’s Hong Kong contact, keeping an eye on him and being ordered to kill him as soon as he gets close to cracking the case.
Ling Ling has no idea, of course, but complicates matters by making amorous advances towards Lee. She thinks he’s an idiot but has to string him along to an extent to keep him from discovering her true identity.
Whilst I didn’t find From Beijing With Love as consistently brilliant as Kung Fu Hustle, I did enjoy it quite a lot.
As with most foreign-language comedies, some of the jokes have been lost in translation or have dated a little but, overall, I found the film goofily entertaining. Chow’s charm and timing help a great deal and a few of the gags are pure gold too. Ling Ling’s unusual form of anaesthetic had me creased up with laughter and the skit with the gun that alternated which end it fired from also got me laughing out loud.
It helps that I’m a big James Bond fan, so all the franchise lampooning made me grin. The Maurice Binder-spoofing title sequence is particularly well done and good mileage is made of ridiculing the daft spy gadgets our hero has in his arsenal.
A little more effort could have maybe been put into the plot though. I don’t need an elaborate story in a zany comedy like this but it’s particularly threadbare here, meaning a lot of the film just consists of Ling Ling and Lee hanging out together. This leads to the film feeling a little on the slow side, though it’s too short and funny to ever get boring.
Away from the comedy, the action is surprisingly bloody and contains one particularly brutal moment, when a father is shot in the head in front of his young son. This would feel out of place in a Bond movie, let alone a light-hearted spoof, so there are some unusual tonal shifts. I’m used to these though, living on a steady diet of Asian cinema over the past 25-30 years.
What’s also surprising in From Beijing With Love, considering how close the film was made to the handover of Hong Kong back to mainland China, is the fact that it regularly pokes fun at the Chinese authorities. The culture clash between mainland China and Hong Kong plays a key role too. These gags went a bit too far for the Chinese government, leading to a ban from cinemas there, but it must have been water off a duck’s back, as Chow is now as popular as ever there and has even been elected a member of the 11th Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Overall though, narrative deficiencies aside, From Beijing With Love is a fun Hong Kong Bond spoof with some surprisingly brutal violence interspersed between goofy skits. Aided by the charm of its star, the film goes down smoothly like a vodka Martini.
From Beijing With Love is out on 23rd October on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Eureka Classics series. It looks stunning. Contrast is perfectly balanced, colours are rich and details are crisp. You get both Cantonese and English audio options. I opted for the former and it sounded good.
LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES
– Limited edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Grégory Sacré (Gokaiju) [2000 copies]
– 1080p HD presentation on Blu-ray from a restoration of the original film elements
– Original Cantonese mono audio
– Optional English dubbed audio
– Optional English Subtitles
– Brand new feature-length audio commentary Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival)
– Wong Kam Kong on “From Beijing With Love” – new interview with actor Wong Kam Kong about his role in the film
– Wong Kam Kong in conversation – actor Wong Kam Kong discusses his career
– King of Mo Lei Tau – Archival interview with Lee Lik-chi by Frédéric Ambroisine
– A Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver [2000 copies]
Frank Djeng opens by saying how much of a big Stephen Chow fan he is and his love of the film shines through in his commentary. On top of discussing the backgrounds of those involved in making the film, he adds great value by pointing out any gags we might have missed, particularly those that would have gone over the heads of most Western viewers.
Co-director Lee Lik-Chee is interviewed for the disc too. He talks about his career, particularly his collaborations with Stephen Chow. He’s honest but diplomatic about them parting ways following Shaolin Soccer.
Wong Kam Kong provides an epic 76-minute interview that’s split into two on the disc. One segment discusses his role in From Beijing With Love and another talks mainly about Burning Paradise (I’ve heard it was originally shot with this release in mind but was too big for the disc). He speaks very fondly of Ringo Lam in particular. It’s a pleasure to hear about his time on both films and those who picked up Burning Paradise should definitely get this disc too.
James Oliver’s essay in the booklet discusses the impact of the film in Hong Kong, as well as looking at other Bond pastiches made in the country before From Beijing With Love. He also touches on its targeting of the Chinese government in many of the gags. As ever, Oliver provides valuable background to the film.
So, it’s another first-rate package as usual for Eureka and one that comes warmly recommended to fans of Hong Kong comedies and action movies.