Winner Takes All! (1977)

Winner Takes All! [面懵心精] (1977)
AKA 泥鰍吃猛龍

Starring Richard Ng, Lok Shut, Rosalind Chan Yee-Hing, Tang Ching, Dean Shek Tin, Max Lee Chiu-Chun, To Siu-Ming, Addy Sung Gam-Loi, Lee Hoi-Sang, Ho Pak-Kwong, Karl Maka, Guy Lai Ying-Chau, Hon Kwok-Choi, Sammo Hung, Yue Tau-Wan, Peter Chan Lung, Hsiao Ho

Directed by Karl Maka

Expectations: Excited, but I don’t really know what to expect.


Winner Takes All! was independently produced, but it is the final film of 1977 that I’m covering as part of my chronological Shaw Brothers series. I chose to review it because it was widely successful in 1977, reaching #2 at the Hong Kong Box Office, incorporating comedy and kung fu in a way that would soon sweep the Hong Kong industry with the 1978 release of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. Upon watching Winner Takes All!, though, I realized that its place in Hong Kong cinema history is far greater than simply “doing well at the box office,” as it represents another step in the dominance of Cantonese cinema in the wake of Michael Hui’s successes. In the three years prior to this (1974–1976), a Michael Hui-directed movie — all starring himself and his brothers — dominated the top spot of the Hong Kong box office. Hui would again top the charts in 1978 with The Contract, but he did not release a film in 1977.

Richard Ng is one of Hong Kong’s most famous and recognizable comedians. I’ve seen him in so many movies, it almost feels like he’s always been around. He apparently started on the Hui Brothers TV show in the early ’70s, and received his first major film role in Michael Hui’s 1976 smash-hit The Private Eyes. 1977 was the year Ng was cemented into Hong Kong cinema history, though, as he starred in both the #1 film (John Woo’s The Pilferer’s Progress AKA Money Crazy) and the #2 film, Karl Maka’s Winner Takes All. Like this film, all of Michael Hui’s films were filmed in Cantonese, and along with Chor Yuen’s mega-hits The House of 72 Tenants (1973) and Hong Kong 73 (1974), they were the impetus for the industry to shift towards the Cantonese language. In addition, Hui’s directorial debut, 1974’s Games Gamblers Play, essentially saved Golden Harvest from bankruptcy and paved the way for comedy’s rise as a dominant genre in Hong Kong cinema, both coupled with kung fu and not.

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Skiptrace (2016)

Skiptrace [絕地逃亡] (2016)

Starring Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, Fan Bing-Bing, Eric Tsang, Eve Torres, Winston Chao Wen-Hsuan, Yeon Jung-Hoon, Kira Shi Shi, Michael Wong Man-Tak, Dylan Kuo Pin-Chao, Zhang Lan-Xin, Na Wei, Charlie Rawes, Mikhail Gorevoy, Sara Forsberg, Jai Day, Richard Ng

Directed by Renny Harlin

Expectations: Pretty low.


Skiptrace was released a couple of years ago, and if I was a competent film reviewer doing a Jackie Chan series I might have reviewed it back then. I chose not to for a simple reason: Skiptrace didn’t look great, in fact it looked like a film that I didn’t mind waiting to see whenever I reviewed my way up to it. That time has finally come, and I can’t say that I was wrong to wait. Skiptrace is as bad as I thought it would be, but somehow knowing exactly why it’s bad just makes it seem worse than before. I’m not a fan of the Shanghai Noon films, and that’s what this film most closely resembles, so I imagine if you like those you might like this one, too.

We begin in the past, where Bennie Chan (Jackie Chan) scales a dock structure to help his friend (Eric Tsang) with the giant bomb strapped to his chest. Eric Tsang, knowing he is beyond help, jumps into the water below and explodes, leaving Jackie with the guilt and the responsibility to care for Eric’s daughter, Samantha (Fan Bingbing). Meanwhile, Connor (Johnny Knoxville) is a scumbag hustler who happens to meet Samantha in a Macau casino. While there he sees a man murder a woman; the same man who Hong Kong policeman Bennie Chan has tried to convict since he killed Eric Tsang. Somewhere in there Connor and Bennie meet up and the chase is on, with Chinese drug runners and a group of Russians in hot pursuit. It’s hard to describe, but it doesn’t play so disjointed while you’re watching it.

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Miracles (1989)

MrCantonandLadyRose_1Miracles [奇蹟] (1989)
AKA Mr. Canton and Lady Rose, Miracle, Black Dragon, The Canton Godfather, Big Brother

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Gua Ah-Leh, Richard Ng, O Chun-Hung, Sunny Fang Kang, Bill Tung, Tien Feng, Ngai Jan, Gloria Yip Wan-Yee, Wu Ma, Billy Lau Nam-Kwong, Lo Lieh, Lee Hoi-Sang, Michael Chow Man-Kin, Paul Che Biu-Law

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Very High. It’s the only classic Jackie film I’ve never seen.

threestar


Miracles is Jackie Chan’s favorite of all the films he’s made, but I doubt many of his fans share the sentiment. It is a lavishly produced film, a true achievement for Jackie Chan the director, but from a viewer’s perspective it is a bit all over the place. It is a prime example of the flexible approach to mixing genre and tone often seen in Hong Kong films, and as such it is both a rousing success and somewhat underwhelming. I imagine that future viewings of the film will only make it better in my estimation, as it won’t be working against 20-some years of expectation and personal hype.

Jackie’s film is a remake of the Frank Capra film A Pocketful of Miracles, which in turn was a remake of the earlier Frank Capra film Lady for a Day. I haven’t seen either of the Capra films, but judging from their synopses it would seem that their stories are more focused on the deceptive plotline that makes up the bulk of the second half of Miracles. Again I haven’t seen the other films, but this would make sense because just watching Miracles, it feels like the first half is almost entirely unnecessary in a strict plot sense.

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Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars (1985)

l_90342_681fc4f9Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars [夏日福星] (1985)
AKA Seven Lucky Stars, The Target, My Lucky Stars 2: Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, Winners & Sinners 3, Powerman II

Starring Sammo Hung, Richard Ng, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, Michael Miu Kiu-Wai, Eric Tsang, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Sibelle Hu Hui-Zhong, John Shum Kin-Fun, Rosamund Kwan, Andy Lau, Yasuaki Kurata, Richard Norton, Chung Fat, Wu Ma, Melvin Wong

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: More fun.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

But the action is:
fourstar


Like the other Lucky Stars films, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars is more comedy than action film. So when a healthy amount of the comedy is rehashed from My Lucky Stars, it feels like a lesser film compared to its predecessors (even when the film’s action is some of the best that Hong Kong has ever cranked out). Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars does have its comedic moments, they’re just more sparse than I’ve come to expect from these films. My biggest laugh came right before the end credits, too, so instead of rollicking along it feels more like it ambles between action scenes and then rises sharply to the occasion at the end. And yes, I do mean that erection pun, because if we know anything about the Lucky Stars it’s that they’re always horny and looking for action.

This one starts off rather tamely, as the Lucky Stars are off to vacation in Thailand. Charlie Chin decides to stay home for some reason, so he sends his brother (Michael Miu Kiu-Wai) in his place, but he doesn’t really do much and just kinda blends into the crowd. Anyway, everyone else from My Lucky Stars is back, and even John Shum, one of the main cast in Winners and Sinners, gets a fairly large supporting role. But what are they doing? If you guessed, “Trying to score with women, and by score I mean, figure out a way to grope women where it seems nonchalant and perfectly normal” than you get the gold star! But this time they’re at a beach resort in Thailand, so the backdrop is bright, fun-filled and sunny.

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My Lucky Stars (1985)

MyLuckyStars+1985-118-bMy Lucky Stars [福星高照] (1985)
AKA Winners & Sinners 2, Winners & Sinners 2: My Lucky Stars, Tokyo Powerman

Starring Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Eric Tsang, Richard Ng, Charlie Chin Chiang-Lin, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, Sibelle Hu Hui-Zhong, Walter Tso Tat-Wah, James Tin Jun, Lam Ching-Ying, Bolo Yeung

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Fun.

threestar


Like Winners & Sinners before it, My Lucky Stars is much more of a Sammo Hung movie than it is a Jackie Chan movie. It’s also much more of a comedy than an action movie. There’s nothing wrong with either distinction, but it’s good to know what you’re in for, especially considering that I imagine the majority of people watching this (at least in the West) are watching for the action. You’ll get your action, and it will be glorious and accompanied by some truly fantastic stunts, but you’ll have to be patient.

Well — you’ll have to be patient after the first few minutes, where the film explodes into action by throwing both Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao into a car chase that leads to an amusement park. They are cops in hot pursuit of some devious criminals, but by the time they’ve jumped their car over a semi-truck and the traffic that impedes them, the criminals have already ditched their car and sought refuge in the crowds of a nearby amusement park. You or I might wander around the park, hoping to get lucky and spot the criminals, but Jackie makes a truly inspired move towards higher ground by nonchalantly scaling the structural supports of the Ferris wheel.

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Wheels on Meals (1984)

wheelsonmeals_posterWheels on Meals [快餐車] (1984)
AKA Spartan X, Million Dollar Heiress

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Lola Forner, Benny Urquidez, Keith Vitali, Pepe Sancho, Paul Chang Chung, Richard Ng, John Shum Kin-Fun, Wu Ma

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: The highest.

fourstar


Wheels on Meals is an old favorite, but it’s one of those movies that slipped through the cracks and I haven’t seen it in over 10 years. In the intervening years many films have come and gone, leaving very little of my memories of this film intact, but that’s OK because watching it this time around was almost like seeing it again for the first time. And with a film as enjoyable as Wheels on Meals, that’s a real gift.

What’s interesting about Wheels on Meals is that on the surface it’s a very simple, almost storyless film. So much of the first half is just random antics and gags, and while they’re all incredibly entertaining, there isn’t a traditional drive to them like you expect a movie to have. But as the film progresses it becomes apparent that the film’s plotting is actually very tight, controlled and slowly bringing the pieces together. In a way it feels similar to the fight choreography of the film; it’s simply flawless.

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Winners and Sinners (1983)

WinnersandSinners+1983-255-bWinners and Sinners [奇謀妙計五福星] (1983)
AKA Five Lucky Stars

Starring Sammo Hung, Richard Ng, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, John Shum Kin-Fun, Charlie Chin Chiang-Lin, Cherie Chung Cho-Hung, Jackie Chan, Cecilia Yip Tung, James Tin Jun, Pat Ha Man-Jik, Tai Bo, Lam Ching-Ying, John Cheung Ng-Long, Fung Hak-On, Yuen Biao

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: High. Can’t remember if I ever saw this one or not.

threehalfstar


Winners and Sinners is a film that could easily be disappointing for someone expecting a true Jackie/Sammo movie like their later collaborations. This is much more of an ensemble movie, and Jackie is but a minor supporting character that happens to have a couple of outstanding action sequences. But this isn’t cause for alarm; Winners and Sinners is a clear winner of a movie.

Winners and Sinners isn’t the type of movie where each moment adheres to a strict plot, instead it’s more concerned with being as funny and engaging as possible. The film opens by introducing us to the main characters one-by-one, each one attempting some kind of thievery and getting caught by the police. In prison the five cons strike up a fast friendship and open up a cleaning company when they are released. It sounds kinda boring and uninteresting just listing the plot details, and it really doesn’t evoke the sense of raw fun that is on display in every moment of the film.

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