Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Heroic Fight (Taiwan, 1986)

Over my years of writing 4DK, I’ve developed an obsession with the Taiwanese actress Lam Siu Law, an extremely appealing performer who, for the better part of the 80s, played the adolescent male protagonists of a series of increasingly bizarre fantasy martial arts films. A Heroic Fight is not one of those, though it might be, despite its contemporary urban setting, even more bizarre than any of them.

The film begins with Thai crime boss Mr. Duh (Yuen Cheung Yan) arriving in Taipei for a meeting with Mr. Barner (Chin Ti), leader of the Golden Triangle gang. Barner wants Duh’s assistance in trafficking his drugs into Thailand, but Duh, having reformed, gives him a hard no. Enraged, Barner swears to avenge himself on Duh and his family. Going by the old “eye for an eye” rule, the commensurate revenge for being refused would be to refuse a request made by the person who refused you (say for a drink of water, or directions to the train station), but Barner is all about escalation. He will kidnap Duh’s little daughter Ting (who is not the same Ting seen in King of Snake, although that would be a fun bit of synergy.)

In a scene pretty typical of A Heroic Fight, the first attempt to kidnap Ting Ting happens while the child is happily karaoke-ing to Madonna’s "Material Girl" in a public park while wearing an age-inappropriate crop top. One of Barner’s men, disguised as a balloon vendor in a bootleg Mickey Mouse costume, hands her an enormous bouquet of helium-filled balloons and, of course, she immediately rises hundreds of feet in the air because helium was invented by NASA. Another henchman on the balcony of an adjacent hotel is able to snatch the tiny, distaff Icarus from the sky before the sun can ignite her and rushes her downstairs to a waiting van.

Fortunately for Ting Ting, young movie stuntman Lin Siu Long (Lam Siu Law) is nearby, miming a cover of Celine Dion’s “Power of Love” with his band. Hearing Ting Ting’s cries, he takes off after the van on his tricked-out bicycle, which, among other things, fires missiles and poisonous gas. The chase that follows is filled with crazy, dangerous looking stunts, as well as more than a few incidents of cleverly executed slapstick comedy, preparing us for the manic cacophony of tones that A Heroic Fight has in store for us.

Lest you assume that Long is a professional Celine Dion impersonator, we have already learned that he is part of a family of movie stuntmen who live in a gadget-filled house with their master/stunt director Master Lin (Yuen Cheung Yan.) The scene that introduces Long is one that easily could have been lifted directly from one of her earlier films, like Child of Peach or Kung Fu Wonder Child. It’s a movie-within-a-movie in which Long plays a young swordsman doing frantic, wire-assisted battle with a giant demon head that looks like it’s made out of yarn. A Heroic Fight’s film industry backdrop allows it to make some gentle fun of the Taiwanese commercial movies of its day and, in this case, the sometimes threadbare practical effects that they employed. A joking reference is even made at one point to Long always playing boys in her movies. She is also shown to have an appetite for peaches, in keeping with her career defining role in the Peach Boy movies.

And while the movie’s definitely a comedy--and often a funny one, even—I think it’s also fair to say that it was also intended by its director Chiu Chung-Hing, an action director who also worked with Lam Siu Law in Child of Peach and its nominal follow-up Magic of Spell, as a heartfelt tribute to the stuntmen of Taiwanese cinema. And it can’t be said that the stuntmen here don’t work hard to earn that honor; The film is nothing if not manically frenetic and loaded to bursting with cheekily over-the-top stunt sequences.

The movie is also as 80s as a spandex-clad Morgan Fairchild doing aerobics on top of a Delorean. From the numerous needle-dropped pop tunes ("Girls Just Want to Have Fun" among them) to little Ting Ting’s colorful dance/workout ensemble, to the BMX Bandits’ style dirt bike shenanigans, and pretty much everybody’s big ‘ol hair, this is a movie that is absolutely saturated with neon decade kitsch. Of course that will be a strike against it for some people, as will the fact that it’s a martial arts comedy, and I can’t really argue with that. Nonetheless, I think that to dismiss this movie too hastily would be a shame, because if you give yourself over to it (which I did), it’s a pretty fun ride. The in-jokey swipes at blockbusters both Hollywood and Mandarin give its humor a bit more of an air of self-referential sophistication than it might have if it simply relied on poop and piss jokes (though there are those, too.) and the action scenes are both directed and performed with a surplus of good-natured enthusiasm. It’s like a giddy celebration of everything that’s great about Chinese language action cinema.

Although it has to be said that it’s also fast paced to the point of being nearly incoherent. Once Long has rescued Ting Ting, he and his brothers become allies with Duh in his fight against Barner and his gang. This sets the stage for the films wild, all-fighting final third. Finally, Barner manages to take Ting Ting hostage, and the action takes on a more purposeful cast. Thankfully, as in her other films, Lam is never allowed to look totally convincing as a boy while she’s demonstrating her formidable fighting skills. One could hope that the makers of Lam’s films, in casting her as a boy, in no way meant to downplay the fact that she was both a woman and a kickass fighter.

To state the obvious, I liked A Heroic Fight a lot. I might even say that it is my favorite Lam Siu Law film that I’ve seen so far. This is not only because it provides a great showcase for the actress’ fighting skills, but also because it contains more madcap martial arts craziness than all of her other movies combined. That is not to say that I am suggesting someone try to combine all of Lam Siao Law movies, or to even watch them in one sitting. For that is surely the way to madness.

No comments: