With the back-to-back international success of both Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, the rest of the world finally knows what Asia has for some time, namely that Stephen Chow is possibly the funniest man on the planet. I for one immediately tracked down 1996's God Of Cookery after seeing the cinematic joy that is Shaolin Soccer, and sadly, coming off the high of that film, the "Iron Chef" like antics of God Of Cookery left me wanting. Now with his continued success overseas, many of his earlier comedies are being released onto DVD.
After the amazing success of his first starring vehicle, 1990's All For The Winner, Chow proceeded to star in dozens of Hong Kong comedies including no less than two sequels to God Of Gamblers/ All For The Winner, as well as the fantasy influenced Chinese Odyssey series. In fact, after All For the Winner Chow's mo lei tau or "no brain" comedies would consecutively top the box office until Chow found himself Hong Kong's highest paid actor. With such an incredible gift for comedy, it was only a matter of time before he moved behind the camera. His directorial debut came in 1994, with this hilarious "James Bond" spoof, From Beijing With Love.
Beginning in typical "James Bond" fashion, a valuable shipment for the Chinese government (in this case, the skull of a Tyrannosaurus Rex) is hijacked by a private army. Guarding the shipment is a top agent who quickly dispatches the mercenaries in a John Woo inspired action scene, only to come up against "The Man With The Golden Gun," an armored giant with an equally large hand cannon. Even taking cover behind a dozen steel plates doesn't save the agent from one of the golden gun's armor piercing rounds. The Commander of the national spy agency is forced to call Ling Ling Chai (literally translated as 0-0-7 and played by Chow) out of retirement where he's been working under cover as a cigarette smoking, martini (shaken, not stirred, of course) drinking, womanizing pork butcher.
Ling is told to meet up with a female agent, Siu Kam (Anita Yuen), who is actually a double agent working for "The Man With The Golden Gun" (who gives her orders through her toilet). Between his incomparable luck and a bevy of bizarre gadgets provided by Mansi (that's DA Mansi!), including a gun that fires backwards, then forwards, then backwards again, and a cell phone that's really an electric razor, an electric razor that's really a hairdryer and a hairdryer that's really an electric razor, Siu finds it harder to kill the bumbling agent than she originally thought it would be. "The Man With The Golden Gun" dispatches two rogue agents to make sure the job gets done, a beautiful but deadly female whose flame throwing breasts would put "Austin Powers' " fembots to shame and a goon with massive metal teeth a la Jaws from the "James Bond" franchise.
Siu Kam almost succeeds in her mission, but in the end can't go through with it and she even helps to extract a bullet lodged deep in Ling's leg (aided only by a porno video which he uses to take his mind off the pain). Realizing that she betrayed him, Ling returns to agency HQ and reports to the Commander, who as "The Man With The Golden Gun" has been pulling the strings from the very beginning, stealing the dinosaur skull to sell on the black market. Ling is put before a firing squad as the rogue agents kidnap Siu and try to turn the tables on the Commander and make off with his stolen treasure.
From Beijing With Love lacks the polish of Chow's most recent works, but is still a great showcase for his considerable comic talents. He is a master of both the spoken gag and the visual gag, coupled with the impressive displays of both action and, surprisingly, gore, From Beijing With Love gives the "Austin Powers" series a run for its money as the preeminent "Bond" spoof. Apparently Chow's 1996 film, Forbidden City Cop is a sequel of sorts, but if it's anything like From Beijing With Love, I know what my next purchase is going to be.
Picture: The film is presented in a 16:9 widescreen format. The transfer could have been better, with some minor dirt and grain present on the film.
Audio: There are both a Cantonese and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Track (w/English subs). The Cantonese audio track sounds as good as can be expected, but the "Bond"-esque score by composer William Woo is fantastic.
Extras: The only Extras included are profiles of Chow and Yuen and the Original Theatrical trailer, which has definitely seen better days.
Conclusion: With Chow rapidly gaining fans in this country, these early DVDs couldn't have come at a better time. While a majority of Hong Kong comedies are so broad or so alien as to turn off Western viewers, Chow has that indescribable something that just comes across so effortlessly. Whether he's delivering a particularly well versed Cantonese line or performing some physical shtick, he captivates and entertains audiences all around the world. Look, the bottom line is that it's Stephen Chow who, in my book, is always Recommended.