AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: 23RD OCTOBER, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
The Man With The Golden Gun [but not the one from 1974] steals the cranium of China’s largest dinosaur fossil, killing Agent 002 in the process. The person sent to retrieve it is Agent 007, but not the one we’re most familiar with. This 007 is a heavy drinking, rural butcher who sometimes moonlights as a rather awkward secret agent, and his name is actually Double-O-Sevin, so not quite the sane. In Hong Kong he meets Lee Heung-kam, who proposes to help him in his endeavour, but she’s actually turns a subordinate of The Man With The Golden Gun, while masquerading as the government official who ordered 007 to find the skull. He instructs Heung-Kam to send Sevin on a false lead, and tells him that the skull may have been stolen by a smuggler named Lau Yau-Wai…
Stephen Chow eventually became fairly well known in the west with Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, but he’d been making similar films in Hong Kong for some time and most were hits, his brand of mo lei tai [nonsense humour] instantly appealing to local audiences, though many said that his movies wouldn’t work very well for western audiences because they contain a lot of verbal humour which would only be understood by Chinese folk. Well, I saw a few, and I was kept chuckling for the most part. Likewise, From Biejing With Love generally hit my funny bone; if it did contain such verbal humour as I’ve just mentioned [I’m sure Frank Djeng, who’s particularly strong on things which westerners probably wouldn’t pick up on, will say yay or nay in his audio commentary that’s on this disc], I must have missed it. Eureka Entertainment have obviously decided it’s time to treat Hong Kong movie fans to some prime Chow [there’s more to follow after this release], and begin with a James Bond spoof. You’d think that such things wouldn’t generally work too well seeing as they’re spoofing what’s essentially a spoof anyway, but many 007 mickey takes have been good, and here’s another one. It’s not quite one of the best; some gory violence somewhat jars with the overall tone, the plot is nothing to really speak of, and some comedic sequences don’t quite come off, but there’s a hell of a lot that does, the rather cheap seeming comedy cramming in loads of laughs which are clever, absurdist, dirty, just plain stupid etc, and one wishes that it were longer. Sometimes it even seems to mock government bureaucracy and even the Chinese government itself. Was this actually allowed to be released in China?
The opening shot has the camera pan down a red flag to reveal an army airbase. The music score unmistakably copies those four notes that make up the basis of the James Bond film as we survey the base and a red lorry drives in with the words “Extra Strong Phallus Pills” [so the English subtitles tell us] on it. Yes, some of the humour is schoolboy level, but sometimes that does it for me. The container is opened and, after some birds have flown out and startled the captain, is found to be empty, and the dinosaur skeleton in the same room has to stay without a head. Another red lorry is stopped, but in the back in Agent 002, who guns down a lot of the soldiers, and swings and jumps about in heroic fashion. Then a guy in a robot-like suit shows up and seems impervious to gunshots while wielding a golden gun himself, though one tht’s not mch like the one Francisco Scaramanga used. 002 is no more and this villain now has the skull. “This organisation’s top spies are pretty much dead already so the investigation is proving somewhat difficult” says Commander Chen to his irate boss down the phone. Then he sees somebody taking some documents to be shredded, and one that catches his eye is a file of an old agent who’s “mentally and physically different” and “descended from a martyr, sound politics, very reliable”. Now we get a pretty decent imitation of James Bond titles, with silhouetted women doing handstands and caressing missiles, and a silhouetted man shooting one of the women. The music is just more run of the mill stuff above the same James Bond Theme notes though. Surely we could have had a song?
Our introduction to our hero is quite a memorable one, with a woman giving him exaggerated compliments as he’s behind his butcher’s counter while quick closeups enhance the mocking tone. She’s actually a hooker who he hasn’t paid. Then along comes his friend Vinci – or “Da Vinci” as he likes to be called [yes it’s one of the film’s lesser jokes] to tell him that he has another mission to go on. It’s actually been some time since he last embarked on such a thing, ten years to be exact, which explains why he mistakes the current secretary as her mothee, a repeating of a gag from the 1967 spoofy version of Casino Royale. One of the comedic highpoints [well, for me anyway] of many of the older Bonds is when we see demonstrations of Q’s often daft gadgets. We get that here too, but it’s not as funny as many of the actual Bond movie versions except for a solar powered torch which only works when it picks up light – so another torch being shone on it will do the trick then – and some poles being taken out of a suitcase which are then attached it to so that Sevin now has a chair “used for sitting on for long periods while observing the enemy”. The Quatermaster, who’s busy working on something called the Super Weaponater which combines lots of weapons into one, then sends Sevin on his way, telling him to “buy some new clothes”, so he’s soon looking nice and slick except for maybe his multi-coloured tie. But he doesn’t know that his boss is really s bad guy and has a female aide who kills Commander Chen with a pencil, nor that his contact and supposed ally Lee Heung-Kam is working for him. Seven is soon off to try to find evidence that smuggler Lai Yau-Wai stole the skull while Heung-Kam has to find the right time to kill him, something that’s hard when, for example, she uses a gun improperly fitted by Sevin and ends up damaging both her shoulders. But Sevin’s incompetence surely has to allow for some success, while could Hueng-Kam be beginning to like the fool?
Goofiness is often the order of the day. Sevin, who initially seems to be totally incompetent a la Inspector Clouseau, pretends he knows all about gadgets and gets his comb stuck in his hair when the batteries in his hairdryer, to which it was connected, run out. Hueng-Kam’s boss makes contact with her via a screen on the inside of a toilet lid. Hueng keeps getting gorily injured,- which is sort of funny, yet which also brings me to the amount of blood and brutality in this film which in a way doesn’t really go with the rest of what we see, though some may say that, in a way, it does. After a lot of blood squibs and Heung-Kam getting repeatedly injured, we get to a shopping mall where robbers, assassins, police, Sevin and some passersby all get caught up in mayhem, and we witness finger severing, innocent bystanders getting shot and a little noy being grabbed and threatened. Later on kneecaps are injured and an arm is shot off. Suddenly it’s all got serious, but for some of us who discovered Hong Kong cinema 30-odd years ago, largely via videos and a shop of dubious legality, this kind of tonal shift is one thing that we liked about some of these movies, it was nice to be surprised and be a bit confused as to where things were now going. And right from early on From Beijing With Love is hardly for kids. Maybe the highpoint [or maybe the lowpoint] in a very lengthy sequence where Seven has been shot and Hueng-Kam has to get a bullet out of him. The amount of the red stuff on display will impress horror fans, if they’re able go stop laughing at the fact that, as an anaesthetic, Sevin uses a porno movie and “something” gets in the way of Hueng-Kam’s nursing. But what’s perhaps most surprising is that by now we really care, due to a maybe cheesy but unashamedly romantic scene [such moments seem to populate Chow’s work which often emphasises romance] where him singing a song makes her melt; Anita Yuen is able to make the scene work.
Perhaps surprisingly, screenwriters Chow, Roman Cheung, Vincent Kok and Lee Lik-Chi who also directed alongside Chow don’t give us much in the way of references to individual Bond films unless they were two subtle for even this 007 fan to pick up on. ?Aside from the name of the main villain and his gun, there’s a variation on the scene in The Spy Who Love Me where Jaws lifts up the front of a van and possibly a recalling of big from For Your Eyes Only but, that’s just about it, though of course generic Bond references abound such as Sevin finding himself at a pool party full of pretty women. And parodies of other films are often to be found, from E.T. The Extra Terrestrial to The Terminator to Days Of Being Wild, with a comedic version of the final scene in the latter film where Tony Leung’s character prepares to go out, with even tbe music being the same. A cigarette being stamped out on a hand was reused in Kung Fu Hustle. A lengthy firing squad sequence doesn’t really come off, while the femme fatale, while she she does end up sporting extendable breast poles, just isn’t given enough scenes within which to make an impression – surely we could have had Sevin having a fling with her? One really does wonder why the running time was so short, though there’s room for what seem like some digs at the Chinese government, or government propaganda in general, such as the slogans in the airbase such as “Happily Go To Work For The Country To Merrily Come”. Sevin’s heroism, not to mention his prowess with a meat clever, ends up being rewarded with a cleaver emblazoned with the calligraphy of revolutionary figure Deng Xiaoping, though it’s Vinci who’s rewarded with promotion. Bribery, favouritism, incompetence and exploitation of civilians are the orders of the day.
As often with Chow, things conclude with martial arts movie-style confrontations. A really nice touch is that the end credits seem to show two deleted scenes and an alternate ending. Wai Lap Wu’s musical score doesn’t stray much from its James Bond Theme mimic piece, though a variation on the title theme from Ennio Morricone’s music from The Untouchables is heard a few times. Generally From Beijing With Love should appeal if you enjoy stuff like the Naked Gun and the Pink Panther movies. Chow has charisma to spare and one can see why he became so popular to Chinese audiences.
Limited edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Grégory Sacré (Gokaiju) [2000 copies]
1080p HD presentation on Blu-ray from a restoration of the original film elements
Eureka are probably using the sane transfer as this year’s French release from Spectrum but giving it a new encode. The picture has its soft moments but is generally very pleasing with very vivid colour.
Original Cantonese mono audio
Optional English dubbed audio
Optional English Subtitles
Brand new feature length audio commentary Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival)
Djeng seems absolutely delighted to be reviewing a Chow film and contributes a truly excellent track which is a really handy aide in appreciating the film; in fact I’d say it’s virtually indispensable. This movie is funny and entertaining enough anyway, but as I expected Djeng does a lot of describing of jokes which would go over the heads of most westerners; sure, those great at remembering dates may well have realised that Sevin’s date of birth is the same as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, but not many will have picked up on the fact that the way the name Vinci is said in Cantonese sounds like the the words “smelly vagina”, or when characters speak in an antiquated fashion. Djeng was also able to get to good production information on this one too; Chow made another actor do a take 17 times because he addressed as his martiak arts master than his director, then used the first take. Apparently some lines from the film are still really well known in Hong Kong. And I’ll leave it for you to check out why From Beijing With Love was initially banned in the USA.
Wong Kam Kong on “From Beijing With Love” – new interview with actor Wong Kam Kong about his role in the film [21 mins]
Kong’s reminiscing of the “not normal” Chow is amusing; on their first meeting he asked him if he was having fun farming[?] He also says how one scene was done without a script, and mentions a deleted scene with the secretary that was raunchy; apparently it was posted by somebody online but Eureka have clearly been unable to find it, which is a shame.
Wong Kam Kong in conversation – actor Wong Kam Kong discusses his career [54 mins]
Kong does talk a bit about his early career, and says how in Hong Kong movies you’re often hired not on the basis of what you’ve done but if you can be trusted to do the job, but spends most of the time talking [to Frank Djeng] about Burning Paradise where he played the chief villain. Well, I seem to recall something about an interview with Wong not being ready for that release. So here it is, and Kong seems to relish talking about a movie and a role which he clearly regards highly, and where he enjoyed a fulfilling collaboration with it director Rango Lam. We learn that the final fight was rushed and therefore rather short because the lease for the studio was finishing; Lam wasn’t present. Kong also says how sex in the film is “used to express other themes“, and says to Djeng, “you really know your stuff, how many times have you watched it”? A long but most definitely worthwhile interview.
Archival interview with Lee Lik-chi [21 mins]
The frequent Chow collaborator, who briefly appears in this film because the original actor wasn’t quite right, discusses working with the man in this old interview, beginning with being an executive producer on Legend Of The Dragon. He says that he and Chow didn’t really invent anything but just continued a tradition of comedy, regrets having an S and M gag in Flirting Scholar so much that he’d cut it out if he could, and comments on his falling out with Chow on the set of Shaolin Soccer, where Chow wanted to do more and more.
A Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver [2000 copies]
With a lot to make westerners laugh despite odd deviations into violence, “From Beijing With Love” was a good choice for Eureka to put out as their first Stephen Chow release. Highly Recommended.