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AKA: Justice My Foot

Year of release: 1992

Company: Cosmopolitan Film Productions

Genre: comedy

Running time: 102 min.

Director: Johnnie To

Script: Sandy Shaw

Action director: Ching Siu-Tung

Producer: Mona Fong

Cinematography: Peter Pau

Music: Wu Wai Lap

Stars: Stephen Chow, Anita Mui, Carrie Ng, Ng Man-Tat, Paul Chun, Eddy Ko Hung, Leung Kar Yan

Rated II for crude humor

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Justice, My Foot!

Justice My Foot

Stephen Chow and Anita Mui. Image courtesy of Universe.

1992 could be seen as the last true year of Hong Kong's filmic "golden age": the juggernaut of Jurassic Park had not hit local cinemas, and HK film-makers were still riding the wave of success that A Better Tommorrow had ushered in. The year was especially fortutious for Stephen Chow -- all of the top five films in HK were ones that he appeared in, with Justice, My Foot! being the top draw for the year. Ironically, though, it is probably the reasons why the movie was so popular with local audiences that it often fails to impress western viewers -- this one included.

Chow stars as a lawyer known for his fast-talking ways and ability to win any case regardless whether his clients are really guilty or not. His wife (Anita Mui) doesn't like all the bad karma that might become of this, so she persuades him to retire (or, as the subtitles put it, "seal his brush"). Of course, this doesn't last very long, as he is drawn into a case featuring a widow (Carrie Ng) who is accused of murder.

Though this is a pretty simple plot, it really doesn't translate well to western viewers. Enjoyment (or even just understanding) of the film is fairly dependent on one's knowledge of Chinese law, both old and new. When you thrown in Chow's usual Asian pop-culture/historical references, along with a heavy dose of Cantonese wordplay (even moreso than most Chow movies) and poorly translated subtitles, it can be a bit confusing to say the least. I will admit that a lot of the jokes probably went straight over my head due to lingustic and cultural differences; an instance where even an admittedly "fanboy-ish" attitude towards Stephen Chow's usually hilarious body of work could not cut through the barriers Justice, My Foot! presents to the gweilo (foreign) viewer.

Justice My Foot

Stephen Chow. Image courtesy of Universe.

This is not to say that there is not anything to enjoy in a viewing of Justice, My Foot!. As with most Stephen Chow movies, the supporting cast really shines, and manages to ursurp Chow in parts. Ng Man-Tat is funny as a beleagured (and very flatulent) judge, and Anita Mui steals the show at points with her portrayal of Chow's wife. Though best known for playing solemn and dour characters, she puts in an excellent performance and really shows a flair of comedy. Aided by Ching Siu-Tung's usual strong stunt work, she looks fairly formidable during the film's action bits as well.

Technically, Justice, My Foot! is also a well-done movie. Under the direction of cinematographer Peter Pau, the movie looks really good, and the sets and costumes are also very nice. Johnnie To's direction meanders in parts (he seems better suited to the more under-stated comedy featured in his later films), but for the most part, it's solid, with good pacing and decent performances from even the most minor actors.

However, all of this still cannot overcome the basic barriers the story presents. This is not really the fault of anyone involved with the movie -- I doubt a story about a lawyer in New England in the 1800's would translate well to Asian audiences -- but, still, I cannot give Justice, My Foot! anything other than a mild recommendation, just for the simple fact that most westerners wouldn't "get it". You can say what you want about how films translate across languages and cultures, but there are simply some that do not and cannot be truly enjoyed by everyone. Justice, My Foot! does generate a few laughs, but the average western viewer would probably be better off sticking with something like Royal Tramp or Forbidden City Cop if they want to check out a period Stephen Chow movie.

Justice My Foot

Stephen Chow and Anita Mui. Image courtesy of Universe.