Young Lovers on Flying Wheels [電單車] (1974)
Starring Ti Lung, Rainbow Ching Ho-Wai, Helen Ko, Chin Chun, Chiang Nan, Dean Shek Tin, Lee Hoi-Sang, Lam Fai-Wong, Wong Ching, Lee Man-Tai, Lau Mei-Fung, Gam Lau, Wong Chi-Keung, Ho Pak-Kwong
Directed by Ti Lung
Expectations: Moderate. The title is fun and intriguing.
Within mere seconds, Young Lovers on Flying Wheels has shown us both young lovers on the beach — Song Da (Ti Lung) and Ye Wei (Helen Ko) — and a bunch of young riders zipping around on the flying wheels of their motorcycles. The tone is immediately light and a bit strange, as Ti Lung is wriggling on the sand to avoid Helen Ko’s kisses and eventually runs away and jumps into the ocean. OK, then! The title led me to believe this might be a motorcycle-themed delinquent youth romance picture to go along with the many films of Chang Cheh (and David Chiang’s The Drug Addict). It’s technically closer to those than any other Shaw films, but it lacks the hard-hitting drama necessary to pull that type of movie off. Ti Lung’s directorial debut is more of an action comedy with a moral, although without the drama the moral isn’t nearly as potent as it could have been.
Shortly after the beach shenanigans, Song Da and Yu Wei need to catch the bus back to town. They aren’t quick enough to make the big bus, and when the mini-bus comes around there just isn’t enough room for them both. Yu isn’t the kind of girl who likes to be kept waiting, so when a group of motorcyclists stop to help, she hops on the back of one of their bikes and rides off without Song Da. She’s a selfish girlfriend, pushing Song Da out of his comfort zone and influencing him negatively. Song Da is a dreamy, somewhat dense character, naive and looking for guidance. Watching Yu drive off with the motorcycle dudes, he dreams of one day having his own bike, and this dream quickly consumes him completely.
Young Lovers on Flying Wheels is a fun little movie if you already like Ti Lung and the Shaw Brothers, but it’s far from a great film. I imagine much of the blame should fall on Ti Lung’s shoulders for failing to pull the film’s various elements together, but that sounds too harsh. It’s more that Ti just doesn’t fully develop the themes and the relationships, instead focusing on keeping the light tone consistent above all. He succeeds on this front, but at the cost of what could be a better movie. He only directed one other movie (1975’s The Young Rebel), so it would seem that the task of directing didn’t particularly agree with him.
The potential for emotional connection and drama is exceptionally ripe, as you might expect from the wonderful and prolific screenwriter Ni Kuang. Shortly after the intro, we are introduced to the cousin of Song Da’s neighbor, a wholesome girl named Yuan Yumei (Rainbow Ching Ho-Wai). She’s clearly got the hots for Song Da, but he’s seemingly clueless, as well as being devoted to Yu Wei. When the film finally addresses this relationship between Song and Yuan, it’s done with almost everything happening between the cuts. The changes in the character’s lives make sense, but they are completely unearned and shallow. Ti Lung never delves any deeper than this, either, so you’re left to either complain or roll with it and have fun. Although, I suppose by writing this I’m proving that a third option of doing both is doable, as well.
It did cross my mind that perhaps the tone was consciously kept light, not for fun, but in order to reflect the naivety and worldview of Song Da. The darkness is in the film’s world, and is often presented to Song Da, but he is not one to dwell on it, or even engage it. In one moment, Ti chooses to insert near-subliminal flashes of motorcycle carnage, but it never affects the course of Song Da. It’s the visual equivalent of something going in one ear and out the other; he’s hearing the negatives of his choices, but he’s not listening. This theory makes the film more impressive, but even considering this take on it, the moral is still frivolous and ultimately without much weight.
Another source of potential lies in Song Da’s obsession with motorcycles, and the lengths he goes to in order to acquire one and keep it running. The literal translation of the film’s Chinese title is simply, Motorcycle, perhaps referencing the obsession. Without going into too much detail, Song Da takes on a lot of debt and this sets him down a rocky path of his life getting progressively worse. He’s completely unprepared for this struggle of adulthood, which is kind of ironic because it appears that by day he works in an accountant’s office. But he’s young and naive so it makes sense for him to do these things, regardless of his job or any other glaring red flags waving in his face. We’ve all done dumb things that we regret in our teens and 20s, so Song Da is a relatable and meaningful character that might teach someone about the dangers of debt and living beyond your means. I say “might” because the film never really gets dark enough to scare anyone away from the idea of debt, and whenever he’s faced with a problem he’s usually able to solve it with his fists.
Song Da is a very skilled and trained martial artist, at the level of vigorously competing in a martial arts tournament (that just so happens to be giving away a motorcycle as a top prize). But when he acquires a bike, he completely abandons his kung fu training. His training buddy asks him why he’s been away from the gym, but Song Da is so wrapped up in his motorcycle fixation that he never even answers the guy’s questions. That’s also the last we hear of Song Da’s training. This is one of many loose threads that might have been tied together under the eye of a different director, but it’s clear that Ti Lung was more concerned with the broad ideas and delivering a fun film around motorcycles. Which is fine, but even if you have fun with this one, it would be nearly impossible not to want more out of the various threads of drama that are only engaged in a limited manner.
Keeping with Ti Lung’s light tone, the fights are never too exciting or powerful. They are fun — Ti Lung’s in fantastic form — and they help move the film along, but they don’t really pack much of a punch. The fights were choreographed by Lau Kar-Leung and Lau Kar-Wing, but without the dramatic hooks it’s all a little bland in spite of their great choreography. The martial arts tournament contains the best of the Lau brothers’ work, including a lot of acrobatic choreography that incorporates fighting from the floor and rolling. There’s also a hilarious contestant played by Wong Chi-Keung who practices spiritual boxing, a harbinger of Lau Kar-Leung’s own directorial debut, 1975’s The Spiritual Boxer.
Young Lovers on Flying Wheels has many faults (including some sloppy and really obvious continuity errors), but its light and fun tone makes it an entertaining film regardless, especially for fans of Ti Lung, motorcycles or 1970s fashion. Dean Shek and Lee Hoi-Sang play a couple of thieves to great effect, and there’s a few cameos scattered around from the likes of Wu Ma, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho and John Woo!
Can’t find a trailer, but someone made a music video using clips from the film!
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Chang Cheh’s Na Cha the Great! That’ll be in November, after the dust has settled from Horrific October. So next week get ready for 1975’s Night of the Devil Bride! See ya then!