I don’t exactly know what is a bigger surprise, the world didn’t end in 2012 or Wong Jing have managed to pull off two good movies in a row. After the above average “The Last Tycoon”, prolific Wong Jing goes back to his comedic roots in the ridiculously titled “Princess and Seven Kung Fu Masters”. The good news is that this is Wong Jing’s funniest comedy in years and lest rejoice.
Packing a steady pack of veteran comedians in Ronald Cheng, Eric Tsang, Sandra Ng and Wong Cho Nam, the film already have the comic appeal and winning presence. What Wong Jing does well in this film is that he manages to put together some decent kung fu sequences (thanks to the sharp action choreography by Phillip Ng) and plenty of good kung fu prowess in Sammo Hung, Dennis To and Phillip Ng. The result is easily winning the audience attention through some truly funny gags and quality kung fu on display. It’s been long overdue, but Wong Jing finally deliver what he does and can do best, in making good commercial cinema.
This is really an ensemble cast performance. Ronald Cheng continues his good streak of form in yet another welcoming comic display. As usual, Sandra Ng is funny with a welcoming presence, Eric Tsang gets an extended role and is already wonderful to witness alongside longtime TVB partner in crime Wong Cho Nam. Sammo Hung flairs well with some good kung fu chops, as does up and coming martial artists Dennis To and Phillip Ng. As usual, what Wong Jing film can be completed without a flower glass and Kimmy Tong (who has been a regular in Wong Jing’s films for the past year) fits the bill without being demeaning.
All in all, I know I haven’t been the nicest of critics of Wong Jing in recent years, but as the old saying goes, you are only as good as your last film. Then Wong Jing career have seem to revive in both “The Last Tycoon” and now this film. Credit should always be given when due and this is no exception as “Princess and Seven Kung Fu Masters” is easily Wong Jing’s funniest and best comedy in years and a fine return to form. I don’t know how long this streak will last, but for the sake of the weeping and dwelling Hong Kong cinema fans, let’s hope that this is the beginning of a new chapter in Wong Jing turbulent career. (Neo 2013)
If “The Last Tycoon” proved one thing is that Wong Jing still can produce a decent picture, if he can be bothered. Sure, the latest Chow Yun Fat/ Francis Ng / Sammo Hung starring flick isn’t exactly cinematic gold, but it is by far the best Wong Jing’s best directing effort for almost a decade (2003’s “Colour of Truth”). “The Last Tycoon” produced by Andrew Lau (“Infernal Affairs”) is filled with lavish production sets, plenty of big budget explosions and gun fights and some adequate acting display. This is certainly not magic, but in terms of anything from Wong Jing, this is probably as good as it will ever get.
For once, we get a serious Wong Jing without any of his usual annoying antics and cheap commercial. This can be attributed to the long overdue reunion between Wong and Chow Yun Fat as the pairing last made the now cult classic “God of Gamblers”. While “The Last Tycoon” will never be anything as good as the aforementioned film, it possess enough good points to justify at least a viewing. What I particularly enjoyed about this film, is the manner Wong goes about his business and even when Wong is alluding to other clearly better film-makers (John Woo, Wong Kar Wai, Johnnie To and Wilson Yip), it feels more like a homage than a cheap shot for once. That’s not to say the film is entirely a fun ride, as there are areas that remains constantly hampered by a dragging script that lack a key focus for the audience to dwell on. At the end, the film relies heavily on its main star being the extremely charismatic Chow Yun Fat to carry the film with his smirk and his much missed trademark gun fights. This is especially evident, when the film falls flat in the final quarter as Francis Ng uses all his acting depth to get his paper thin character through by being outright menacing, but like the film remains rather empty.
Perhaps the film is not really about how one rises to power, as “The Last Tycoon” seems to be more concerned with its romantic sub-plot and regretting undertones. That’s not necessary a bad thing, but it feels far too uneven for the audience to feel the everlasting impact. For the first third of the film, we see rising Mainland star Huang Xiao Ming playing the younger Da Qi (Chow Yun Fat), where he gets into a fight with some small time triads and rises through the ranks after a chance encounter with his master Hung (played by Sammo Hung). This portion of the film feels extremely like Wilson Yip’s “Ip Man 2” and if you must be pedantic, Sammo Hung seems not only to be playing the same character, but also wears the same black dress. Moving on the middle portion, we get a scene directly from any John Woo movie and more prominently the famed gun fights and unlimited ammos during the church scene in “The Killer”. To see Chow Yun Fat with a gun is almost like going through a moment in the memory lane where almost all die-hard Hong Kong cinemas will agree in delight. In the final quarter, Mr. Wong even manages to release a preview of Wong Kar Wai’s “The Grandmaster” (releasing in Hong Kong a couple of weeks later) with the black umbrellas, slow motions and raining backdrop. In actually fact, it is also a scene from Johnnie To’s “Sparrow”. Just when you think that the allusion and homage is over, Wong Jing comes up with an absolute gem of a finale, a star crossed lovers, unrequited love, everlasting regrets and quite frankly “In the Mood for Love” car scene. Still, despite the obvious carbon imaging, Wong Jing manages to remain serious and the undertones is clearly a homage rather than a cheap imitation of his usual sorts. That alone is worthy of a complimentary gesture.
In terms of acting, Chow Yun Fat “The Assassins” is most probably the coolest actor on earth and with two guns on his hands, he is simply a match made in heaven. I cannot recall the last time, he hold a gun in a Hong Kong film (strictly this is a Mainland co-production), but with his trademark two handed gun fights, Chow is truly at home. When Huang Xiao Ming (who plays the younger version of Chow) tries to apt his idol, the best he can do is reminding the audience exactly how much cooler the older Chow really is. Sammo Hung is Sammo Hung and that’s not an understatement, but the story fails to explore more into his character and the underlying relationship and brotherhood between Chow and Hung. Hung has physical presence is always a welcome on the big screen, even if his role is insanely “Ip Man”-like. As for the young Huang Xiao Ming, he spends far too many scenes trying to mimic Chow that he lost his own style and character. Nonetheless, Huang remains a likeable character and there is an air of coolness in the way he goes about the task on hand. As usual, Francis Ng steals the show whenever he appears on screen, however, despite his menacing outlook and obvious over the top acting, Ng is unable to extend or extract something special from his paper thin role. Monica Mok (who was wonderful in “Ocean Flame”) does well and even manages to leave the audience wanting in the final few sequences.
All in all, “The Last Tycoon” is a decent attempt at recreating a Shanghai triad epic and while the film lacks originality, it is made up by a good cast of actors, some interesting gun fights and some throw-in Wong Jing’s homage to other directors. It is most certainly Wong Jing’s best effort in years and for that alone, we should really celebrate. In terms of entertainment value, you can certainly do a lot worst than “The Last Tycoon”, just don’t expect too much and a decent time can still be had. Then again, when a film allows Chow Yun Fat to hold more than two guns on his hand, it is alone worth the price of admission. (Neo 2013)
I rated it 7.5/10
Writing about Asian and World cinema since 2004 (Member of Film Critic Circle of Australia and Australian Academy Cinema Television Arts)