Bad Chinese Movies

Movie Review By Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

This statement seems redundant, since the majority of Chinese movies are of pretty low quality, with titles that allow you to judge the book by its cover: Drugs Area, Tough Beauty and Sloppy Slop, He Ain't Heavy He's My Father, Its a Drink Its a Bomb!, etc. The reasons for this are many: Hong Kong and Taiwan, the powerhouses of Asian cinema, crank out movies very quickly and frequently, treating their products as commodities. When compared on an expense basis, the budgets are very modest, with very little in the pie for production values or writing. Also, with the majority of the Chinese film-going audience preferring the more visceral thrills as opposed to the intellectual ones, you have movies like Die Hard: With a Vengeance (script? what script? lets just blow things up!) being one of the top 5 grossing movies in Hong Kong in 1995, and Rumble in the Bronx being nominated for best film of the year in Hong Kong's film awards (maybe because it was a martial ART film). Finally, with several movie production houses actually fronts for laundering money for the Chinese Mafia (triads), the drive for quality really isn't necessary. However, in a sea of mediocrity, there are a few pleasant surprises: the films of Wong Kar-Wai, John Woo, Ang Lee (no relation to Spike), and Zhang Yimou.

But I'm here to talk about bad Chinese movies. I mean really bad Chinese movies. So bad, that they are actually worth a good laugh to watch and a great way to learn how not to make a movie.

Bodyguard from Beijing

Not only is this a rip-off of The Bodyguard, the Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston vehicle (itself a piece of mainstream fluff), it is BAD rip-off. It stars Jet Li, a poor man's Jackie Chan, a martial arts master who defected from China a number of years ago. We should have let them keep him. Jet plays a special forces type of soldier in the Red Army who does security for visiting foreign dignitaries. He is hired by a rich man in Hong Kong to protect his mistress, who witnessed a murder. So you have your obligatory scenes of Jet trying to keep things secure while the mistress goes about her every day activities of shopping, talking with friends on the phone, etc. Throughout the whole movie, Jet manages to keep the same stone expression on his face, regardless of what's happening around him, even when the mistress starts coming on to him. This film also relies on horrid plot devices that are so implausible that they are laughable. In one scene, the lights are out in the house and a group of hired killers are in the living room. Jet can't see them, so he throws a flashlight like a boomerang (yeah, right). As the light falls on the faces of the killers, Jet shoots them. During an outing at a shopping mall, Jet kills a man attempting to kill the mistress. The dead man has two fountain pens clipped in his breast pocket, and so Jet jumps to the conclusion that anyone sent to kill them will have two fountain pens clipped in their breast pocket. So Jet runs around the shopping mall, killing anyone who happens to have two fountain pens clipped in their breast pocket (is this what they teach them in the Red Army?). These kinds of idiotic implausibilities show up in all his films, the most recent being in My Father the Hero, about a man from China (I guess anything else is a stretch for him) who is trying to find his kidnapped son. He learns of his son's location because the house he is staying in has an answering machine that inexplicably turns itself on when someone makes an outgoing call and records the conversation (now everyone wants one, too). If you want to see the American equivalent of the reliance on implausibility to keep a story going, check out the Die-Hard-in-a-hockey-arena starring everyone's favorite hero, Jean-Claude Van Damme in Sudden Death. Horrid dialogue, bad acting, a public service message about the dangers of playing with loaded guns, and some attempts at humour round out this bad Chinese film. What really bugs me about this is that the laserdisc rental place feels justified in charging two rental coupons for this laughable schlock.

Once a Thief

This film is proof that even John Woo can make a really bad movie. Yes, the master of action cinema from Hong Kong, John Woo, actually put his name on this piece of crap. This movie was intended to be an action-comedy, but fails miserably in both aspects. Filmed in 1991, when every film-maker in Hong Kong was making movies in France for some inexplicable reason, it features Chow Yun Fat (The Killer), Leslie Cheung (Ashes of Time), and Maggie Cheung (she is actually a good actress if given the right material). They play a trio of art thieves who were all raised by a con man, though they are not related to one another. In a keystone cops flashback, the three youngsters are befriended by a cop (Chu Kong) after having been caught stealing food. They are sent on a job to steal a painting but are double-crossed by their foster father. Following an impressive chase sequence, Chow's car crashes and it is assumed that he is dead. Leslie and Maggie have no choice but to assume he is dead and they board a plane back to Hong Kong. One year later, Leslie and Maggie start an almost-incestuous relationship and Chow shows up in a wheelchair (a symbol of maturation?), having apparently survived the crash. To exact revenge on their foster father, the trio devise a plan to steal the painting back, however, Chu Kong is on their tail. Yes, it all sets up nicely like your typical John Woo movie, with your conflicts between friendship, loyalty, and duty... but it falls flat in execution. The dialogue is alright, but because Woo was trying to make a comedy, he makes the main characters merely caricatures that make fools out of themselves, as though they were in some Police Academy sequel. And the jokes are not even funny. Another problem is the way it vacillates between comedy and action. One minute everyone is acting like an idiot going for cheap laughs, and the next minute some has a bullet through their head. However, this kind of split-personality is apparent in many Chinese so-called-comedies (another good example of this is a James Bond spoof From China with Love which has Naked-Gun type comedy with blood-splattering ultraviolence). And the worst aspect of this movie-- nobody grows in this movie. At the end, Chow leaps out of his wheelchair, apparently having faked his disability to keep his foster father off-guard (oh well, so much for the maturation symbolism) and begins acting like the idiot he was in the beginning of the movie (so what was the point?). Couple that with a comic-book shoot-out at the end with a magician armed with killer playing cards, you have the worst John Woo movie (even worse than Hard Target).

SDU Mission in Mission

This movie from 1994 is a prime example of how a bad movie can be a box office smash. This movie was so popular, in fact, that it actually ran for a limited run at the Famous Players Parkway Theatres (Hwys 404 and 7) a couple of years ago. Anyways, this movie started a whole trend of SDU movies, which revolve around the Hong Kong equivalent of a SWAT team, the Special Duties Unit. It follows the story of an SDU captain and his unit of rookies as they train and take on criminal scum in Hong Kong. Though they try to set up your typical John Woo internal conflict and morality play, especially with the captain trying to track down his former partner who does his own brand of vigilante justice, this attempt falls flat on its face. It is very apparent from the onset of the film. A group of police officers, new recruits into the SDU, are told to spend five minutes writing an essay on why they want to be in the SDU. Five minutes later, all the rookies have only been able to write one or two sentences. And they aren't profound either: 'I want to be righteous and honourable in my duty' or 'Being in the SDU will give me respect and make me brave'. The dialogue gets worse in the actual missions, when they start chirping out technobabble written by six-year olds, "Alpha team move in position to the third area." The subtitles are hilarious too, where they done lots of worse grammar and speling mistaks, such as 'snipper' instead of sniper.

Love, Guns, and Glass

This movie from last year tries to emulate the John Woo Heroic Bloodshed formula, reminiscent of A Better Tomorrow and The Killer. Though it is nicely directed and beautifully shot, it soon degenerates into an overly-melodramatic mockery, much like Rob Roy. The leader of a triad, Simon Yam (who appears on more magazine covers than the cast of Friends), is double-crossed by an undercover cop and goes to jail. While he works hard to reform himself, his wife is spending all his money and sleeping with every man around. When he gets out 12 years later (hey, he still looks the same! and so do his friends!), he divorces his wife and rejects his now-14 year old daughter (she looks more like 18) who both reject him. He starts over, trying to reform his triad into a group of ethical criminals (an oxymoron). They won't kill anybody, steal, extort, but they still manage to have thousands of dollars of flash money. The whole righteous triad gets really out of hand when the gang members proudly declare, "Jesus is our big boss now!" and turn into a bunch of wimps. Simon also falls in love with a woman who has gone into heavy debt with loan sharks in an attempt to keep her factory going (hasn't she heard of raising equity, or issuing bonds?). On the day of their wedding photographs, Simon allows himself to be beaten up by a rival gang because the woman still owes money to them. While she hears Simon being beaten up, she slashes her wrists in an attempt to commit suicide. After Simon is finished being beaten up, he rushes to her side and tells her that he needs her more than anything. Instead of rushing the poor girl to the hospital, they proceed to have their wedding pictures taken, with the blood stains and bruises, so that their children will remember the sacrifices that their parents made for love (*uncontrollable fits of laughter*). And guess what? The laserdisc rental place charges two coupons for this rental, too.

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