'Righting Wrongs' - Movie Review

In the 1960s, three men who were to become famous (for two of them, all over the world) attended the China Drama Academy. Their names are Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao, and all three made their way into Hong Kong cinema - particularly stunt work - after their childhood stint learning Chinese Opera. Almost everyone knows the name of Jackie Chan, and anyone who knows anything about martial arts movies knows of Sammo Hung. Not many people outside Hong Kong know of Yuen Biao. But these are the three "brothers" who formed a strong bond in their school and helped each other through the industry and into good careers. Yuen Biao is the most acrobatic of the three. If you've ever seen a Jackie Chan movie, that statement may seem improbable - but truly, he's more agile than Chan (or at least he was in the 1980s).

15 or 20 years ago I wrote myself a note to watch Biao's movie "Righting Wrongs" sometime, as the trailer looked good. I got around to that today, having found that Toronto Public Library actually had a copy(!). It opens by establishing that Biao's character Jason Ha Ling-ching is a prosecutor. We see him on the courthouse steps politely pointing out to a lawyer(judge? not at all clear which) that he admires that he may be endangering himself by prosecuting/convicting gangsters ... and within about two minutes the man is gunned down. Biao beats up a bad guy, grabs the big gun that was dropped, shoots people, has a car chase, and blows shit up. Then he goes back to the quiet life of a prosecutor. Wait, what? And after that opening we're supposed to understand he's a by-the-books prosecutor who never takes the law into his own hands and it's an incredible change in his world view and behaviour when he does precisely that 20 minutes later. He's impelled to this new course of action by the murder of multiple witnesses and innocents.

And just to remind me of what 80s imported HK movies were like - the subtitles are absolutely atrocious.

But what am I saying? We don't watch martial arts movies for logic, we watch them for fights! And the fights are ... mediocre. Cynthia Rothrock starred in a fair number of HK movies in the 80s, including this one (where she plays a police inspector trying to catch our vigilante protagonist). The only other couple movies I'd seen her in prior to this, she was speeded up - at least they didn't do that in this movie. But I'm still not a fan, and the editing was choppy. One of the saving graces in Jackie Chan movies are relatively long cuts: the cheap way out if you don't have the time for multiple takes (Chan would sometimes do up to 100 takes to get a shot right) is cutting together two seconds of moves from multiple other takes. This choppiness also significantly diminishes any chance of seeing Biao's incredible balletic grace in action.

To add insult to injury, everybody dies. (Oh, wait, was I supposed to say "SPOILER ALERT?") Justice is served, but every single major character dies - sometimes quite gruesome deaths.

And then there's the humour. This is a movie about vigilante justice that ends as a tragedy, and yet it's full of the same kind of humour as Jackie Chan's movies. Corey Yuen (who also directed) plays "Bad Egg" (really - that's the character's name), a bumbling cop working with Rothrock's character. He and his father, also a police man, squabble constantly: I didn't laugh once. And then, when Bad Egg dies valiantly saving a witness from being killed (don't worry, the witness dies later), they try to draw laughs from the father's pain.

I admit to a certain fascination with this clumsy form of humour I associate with HK martial arts movies (mostly Jackie Chan, which I've seen so many of - but it shows in Sammo's movies as well). I'd love to know if it's A) Chinese Opera humour, B) Hong Kong humour (don't think so - I've seen a fair number of non-martial arts movies from Hong Kong, and this wasn't in evidence), C) Three brothers humour (Jackie, Sammo, Biao), or D) something else entirely. In the Chan movies (notably his older ones - American producers mostly got rid of it) it's often mixed with blatant sexism - happily, that isn't evident here.

At best mildly interesting to the hardcore fan of HK action cinema - and then only if you feel the need to see one of the very few starring vehicles for Biao that made it to North America in any form. A better course of action would be to rewatch or find a copy of "Wheels on Meals" (yes, that's the title) which stars all three "brothers." The plot, logic, and HK humour are appalling in that one too, but it includes several of the best martial arts fights ever put on film - and shows off Biao's skills to much better effect.