The Great Pretenders


Year of release: 1991

Genre: comedy

Director: Ronny Yu

Action director: Chris Lee

Producer: Clifton Ko

Writer: Raymond Wong

Cinematography: Sander Lee

Editor: Ronny Yu

Music: Violet Lam

Stars: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Raymond Wong, Simon Yam, Amy Yip, Teddy Robin Kwan, Leung Tin, Lee Lung-Gei, Lok Wai

Rated II for mild violence and crude humor

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Hong Kong comedies are normally a dicey proposition for western audiences. The heavy use of Cantonese wordplay, liberal dosings of cultural and historical references, and showcasing of acting that could be poliety called "over the top" usually add up to releases that aren't digestable for those from across the pond. These elements certainly show up in The Great Pretenders, but it still manages to be a surprisingly entertaining picture, mostly due to its' star power.

The Great Pretenders' plot relies heavily on twists and double-crosses, so the description here will be brief. Bascially, Wong Seung Chin (Raymond Wong) is Hong Kong's top con man. Along with his proteges, Leung (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), Yip (Amy Yip), and Yam (Simon Yam), Wong fleeces Hong Kong's top criminals, and then gives the money to charity. After Wong and his team swindle the loanshark Lung (Leung Tin), they are confronted with their toughest test yet in the form of Mr. Giant (Teddy Robin Kwan).

Raymond Wong's script certainly does not employ sublety to get its' point across. Viewers can be forgiven if some of the intended humor not only falls flat, but generates groans. Most notably, Simon Yam mincing it up as a "queenie" homosexual is virtually guaranteed to offend a lot of people out there, instead of producing the intended laughter. But Wong's admittedly pedestrian approach to the story affords us lots of jokes about Amy Yip's big boobs, which of course leads her to appearing in various skimpy and tight-fitting outfits. Now that's what I call production value.

All kidding aside, The Great Pretenders does come off at times like it's shamelessly pandering to the audience, trying to cram as many jokes into the running time, hoping at least some of them stick. Despite this, there is a sort of dopey charm to the proceedings which begins to come out as the movie progresses that allows the viewer to just switch off their brains, relax, and enjoy the antics. The Great Pretenders certainly isn't an example of great cinema from Hong Kong, but it is good enough to set aside ninety minutes of your life for, especially if you're a fan of the actors involved.