The Prodigal Son: Movie Review (1981)

Cast:
Yuen Biao
Lam Ching Ying
Sammo Hung
Frankie Chan
Peter Chan Lung
Chung Fat
Dick Wei
Wai Pak
Lee Hoi San
Chin Yuet Sang
James Tien Chun
Baan Yun Sang

Director:
Sammo Hung

Action Director:
Billy Chan, Sammo Hung, Lam Ching Ying, Yuen Biao

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When it comes to the best kung fu movies ever made, The Prodigal Son has certainly got to be up there with the very best. This movie has everything, great fight scenes, great characters, great comedy and top notch choreography. This movie is regarded as one of Sammo’s best and i would have to agree. He as made many kung fu classics, but this as always remained one of my favorites in the genre.

PLOT
Leung Jan (Yuen Biao) is a young man in a wealthy family living in Foshan in the mid-19th century. He is a martial artist trained by two instructors in his father’s employ. He has fought over three hundred times in Foshan and won every fight, but unbeknownst to him, his father has arranged for his servant Yee Tong Choi (Chan Lung) to bribe Jan’s opponents to lose to him in order to protect him. This has caused Jan to believe that he is a world-class fighter, but in truth he hasn’t even mastered the basics of kung fu and any real fighter could easily defeat him. Everyone knows this but him, giving him the nickname “The Prodigal Son” behind his back.

Yuen Biao then comes face to face with the leading opera performer Leung Yee Tai (Lam Ching Ying), a very skilled Wing Chun fighter, when he challenges him, he is easily defeated and left wondering if his family have indeed gone behind his back and paid others to lose. Afterwards Leung goes along with the opera group, hoping that one day Yee Tai will train him to become a great Wing Chun performer.

The Lok Fung Lin troupe travels to Canton. There, Yee-tai’s Wing Chun skills are witnessed by Lord Ngai Fai (Frankie Chan), the son of a Manchu duke, who is also a martial arts master and is hunting for a worthy opponent. Ngai forces Yee-tai to fight him. Ngai and Yee-tai are evenly matched until Yee-tai has an asthma attack. Ngai stops the fight and postpones it until Yee-tai is healthy and fit for it.

It is revealed that Ngai is also a “prodigal son;” unbeknownst to him, his father has ordered his bodyguards to protect him from anyone who might beat him in a fight. However, their methods are more ruthless and brutal than the bribery employed by Jan’s parents; they resort to assassination.

During the night, Ngai’s bodyguards and a team of assassins infiltrate the Lok Fung Lin theater, massacre the troupe, and burn down the theater. Yee-tai is having trouble sleeping because of his asthma, and he sees light reflected off an assassin’s blade through his eyelids and reacts in time to escape along with Jan. The assassins think they died in the fire, as does everyone else.

Yee-tai takes Jan to the home of his martial brother Wong Wah-bo (Sammo Hung). With Wah-bo’s help, Jan finally convinces Yee-tai to teach him Wing Chun. Jan trains under both Yee-tai and Wah-bo; Yee-tai trains him in Wing Chun and Wah-bo trains him in freestyle fighting.

Over time, Jan achieves proficiency in martial arts, but Yee-tai’s asthma is worsening. Jan takes Yee-tai back to Foshan to see a doctor. There, Ngai learns that Yee-tai is still alive, and he visits him. Yee-tai reveals that Ngai’s bodyguards have been assassinating everyone who might beat Ngai. The bodyguards murder Yee-tai. Ngai, horrified, has his bodyguards executed.

Jan challenges Ngai to a fight. Using everything that Yee-tai and Wah-bo taught him, he manages to beat Ngai.

OVERALL
This movie is one of the best traditional kung fu movies ever made, Sammo certainly knows how to portray Wing Chun on screen and in my opinion he is the best at doing so. As a director on the movie, he set’s up some shots brilliantly, the fight when Frankie Chans character is faced with an old foe (He broke his arm years ago), feels like a western movie, with the wind blowing, dust flying about everywhere and close up shots make it a great scene.

There are so many things I could speak about on this movie, apart from the great fights like the ninjas taking on Lam Ching Ying and the final battle, the comedy is also on point. There is one scene when Sammo is teaching Biao the art of Wing Chun, but he is really taking the Micky out of him, teaching him the toilet technique and also to use any part of your body as a weapon (IE, Headbutts and attacks to the groin), if it wins you the fight, by all means do it.

Lam Ching Ying was a great actor, he really could show any kind of emotion on screen, he played the part of Leung Yee Tai very well. Sammo Hung pops up half way through the movie, but when he does, he delivers in a big way. Also what can we say about Yuen Biao that hasn’t been said in the past? The guy is just to damn good, basically performing any move needed for the movie, also doubling a few times for others and also doubling for Frankie Chan in the end fight against himself.

This movie is a must for any Kung Fu fan, if you do not own this or have yet to view it, I would suggest buying it or borrowing it.

1983 Hong Kong Film Awards:
Won: Best Action Choreography:
Nominated: Best Director (Sammo Hung)
Nominated: Best Picture

Source:Wikipedia,sammohung.co.uk