This movie is available from www.amazon.com
Year of release: 1982
Images courtesy of Hong Kong Digital
The Prodigal Son
The Prodigal Son is regarded by many as Sammo Hung's best directorial work. In a career that has spawned over thirty years and encompassed classics like Pedicab Driver and Dragons Forever, that's no small praise. The film certainly has an abundance of well-crafted action -- in fact, it's some of the best old-school stuff I've seen. But, in my opinion, The Prodigal Son is let down a bit by a somewhat pedestrian plot and dopey comedy.
In the movie, Yuen Biao (in his second starring role) plays a bored rich kid who spends his days getting into street brawls. He wins every fight, but it is only because his father pays off the opponents. When an opera troupe comes to town and its' star (Lam Ching-Ying) beats up his friends, Yuen challenges Lam to a duel. After he is defeated, Yuen wants Lam to teach him Wing Chun, but Lam wants nothing to do with the cocky youngster. However, after the troupe is killed by officials trying to protect a duke (Frankie Chan) who Lam almost humilated in a fight, the master, along with his brother (played by Sammo Hung), take Yuen under their wing so revenge can be taken.
The power of The Prodigal Son's fight sequences cannot be denied. In this day and age of computer-fu, it was really refreshing seeing people who can actually do the moves without the aid of special effects. Even scenes that seem simple on the surface (like Sammo practicing his calligraphy) take on a whole new level via the martial arts prowess of the stars. One wonders after seeing this film why its' stars didn't attain bigger success in the world of action movies. I guarantee that if you ask a group of western people that condsider themselves kung fu movie fans who Yuen Biao is, most of them wouldn't know -- but they probably would know who Jeff Speakman is, and that's a shame.
Sadly, though, for how good the action is, The Prodigal Son falls prey to some of the genre's shortcomings. The film's tone is very uneven. One scene will have (at least for its' time) graphic violence, and the next will have broad comedy, complete with cartoony sound effects. The characters are not fleshed out very well. In particular, I would have like to seen more development of Lam Ching-Ying and Frankie Chan's characters. In a genre where heroes and villains are often painted in shades of black and white, there was some sublety to those characters which I wish Sammo would have explored more. At any rate, these are fairly minor quibbles -- if you are a fan of classic kung fu action, you can't do too much better than The Prodigal Son.