After my review of “The Prodigal Son”, I thought I'd continue in a similar vein and review “Odd Couple”. No, this isn't the 1968 US comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau; it's the 1979 kung fu classic starring Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-Wing (aka Liu Chia Yung).
The film starts as it means to go on, with a short explanation of the eighteen weapons of Chinese martial arts; nine long, and nine short, with the Sabre being the king of the short weapons, and the spear being the king of the long. These two weapons are skilfully demonstrated in this opening scene first by Lau Kar-Wing (Sabre), and then by Sammo Hung (Spear). Each shows his expertise in solo demonstrations with their respective weapons, followed by the two of them engaged in combat with each other. Cue some wonderfully acrobatic choreography, with both men spinning and jumping to avoid or parry each other's attacks. The skill on display here is brilliant; tightly choreographed, with superb timing from both stars.
After this introduction, the story begins proper; Hung stars as the King of Sabres, and Lau as the King of Spears, each a master of his weapon of choice. Each year, the two ageing masters fight each other, to see who can prove that their kung fu is more powerful than the other. For fifteen years, they have been doing this, and each time a victor cannot be found and each match ends in a draw. They blame the fact that they know each other so well, that it's impossible for either one of them to overcome the other, so they agree to each take on a student, and teach them all of their kung fu, and arrange to have them fight each other in ten years time, proving once and for all which master is the best.
Sammo's student Wing is played by Lau Kar-Wing, and Lau Kar-Wing's student Ah Yo is played by Sammo Hung. This helps the movie overcome any shooting issues with the principal actors, and also allows for some excellently choreographed interplay between the two stars. We see them both executing some great moves as they progress with their training alongside their Sifu.
Like I've said in my previous review, the plot isn't exactly the most important aspect of these films. In the case of this one, it's quite a simple idea, but one that sets us up for some great fight sequences involving both masters and their students, as well as matching them up against the inevitable bad guy of the movie. Enter Leung Kar-Yan, who plays the part of Laughing Bandit, a man who has previous history with the two masters, and is looking for a fight! And a fight is what he gets! We are treated to some more fantastic kung fu, adding up to about twenty minutes of almost non-stop action, including a scene involving our heroes battling their foe with magnets!
One criticism I would level at this movie is that the addition of the bad guy feels a little tacked on, with his back-story seemingly added at the last minute so that a final showdown can take place. However, like I said before, the plots of these movies are generally not all that important, and it's the fighting that really matters. The fight scenes in this film do not disappoint, and in my opinion, feature some of the finest weapons choreography seen.
Another thing is the comedy; while it can be amusing, it can also seem a little out of place, especially some of the sillier moments involving characters such as Master Rocking. I quite like it, but some of my friends in the past have said they don't get it. I often think that Chinese comedy doesn't translate so well to a Western audience, but if you can get over that, then there's much to enjoy here.
Anyway, the comedy is secondary, and like I said before, it's the fight scenes that really matter. I sometimes miss those fight scenes of old; nowadays they seem to be over so soon, and the choreography doesn't seem as impressive as some of these old-school kung fu movies. Perhaps it's because the actors are less skilled these days; actors like Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Lam Ching-Ying, etc., those who are are highly skilled, and come from a martial arts background, are sadly becoming fewer.
So let's be thankful then that there are films like “Odd Couple” that showcase the immense talents that these guys have. Hong Kong's back catalogue has a wealth of great action films such as this, and I urge you to check them out!