Two Wonderous Tigers



Reviewed by Yves Gendron
 

Old school k-f comedy from the seventies cannot be exactly described as fighting woman friendly, or even friendly towards the whole gender for that matter. If you would put together the length of all the female fight scenes found in the kung-fu comedies of Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and Yuen Woo-ping  (the major contributors of this sub-genre) the total amount of time would be less than fifteen minutes. There are thankfully a couple of exceptions here and there; martial comedies that do indeed feature woman fighters in a major way. One of them would be LEG-FIGHTERS (80) starring the impish, leggy Hsia Kwan-li paired with boot-master Tang Tao Liang. Another would be this following film TWO WONDEROUS TIGERS (1979) whose two lead stars are male: John Chang and Phillip Ko-fei but which showcase two fighting women in a major way and one in peculiar: Sharon Yeung Pan Pan nicknamed the female Jackie Chan for her handful of contributions into this sub-genre.
Dapper-suited American Chinese Robert Ko (Phillip Ko Fei) pays a visit to his native land. While on the road he crosses the path of a mischievous hobo nicknamed ďTigerĒ (John Chang) whoís hot-temper quickly leads the both of them into a friendly rivalry where each tries to best the other with his k-f skills. They come to a truce however when they see the two cute feisty fighting Yeung sisters (Kitty Meng, Sharon Yeung) being harassed by the lecherous spoiled son of a powerful boss (Gam Saan). Not having learned his lesson, the spoiled son tries his luck again a couple of days later coming to the Yeung household with a cartload of gifts and an irrefutable proposal of marriage (or so he thinks) for the youngest of the girls, Ah Mei (Sharon). The Yeung brother (Charlie Chan) replies however that he will consent to any marriage only if one is successful in beating all three of the Yeung siblings in a fight. The spoiled son canít manage it of course, so he sets an award to whoever will accomplish the deed instead. Soon enough a score of candidates show up in front of the Yeungís door and joining the fray are none other than Robert Ko and Tiger themselves who have taken a liking to Ah Mei too. What both they and the Yeungís donít know however is that the spoiled sonís father (Tiger Yeung) is waiting in the wings to claim Ah Mei as his own and he has more than the fighting skills necessary to rise-up to any challenge.
A k-f movie canít get any spottier than this, as instead of a firm plot TWO WONDEROUS TIGERS narrative rests on a couple of gimmicks which are played out mostly as burlesque-oriented jousts. Itís as if two ten minute sketches had been patched together and stretched out to make a 90-minute film. Somehow despite itís sketchy nature the film does manage to sustain itself pretty well thanks to the genial performers and some colourful choreography. Chang and Ko have great chemistry together and the verbal banter as well as their acrobatic k-f jousts over a bun or pieces of silver money are quite amusing. The fighting girls Sharon and Kitty are as cute as buttons and in their own fights confront quite a quirky bunch (including Sammo Hungís porky regular player Lung Chan as the blindman). Especially note-worthy in the film are the extended and imaginative use of props in the choreography: besides the already mentioned use of a bun and money there is also use made of a drum, cane, spear, a carrying chair and even the ever favourite bench.
Other aspects of the film also help make it feel especially fresh when compared to other k-f comedies. There is of course the aforementioned showcase of a couple of women fighters, usually a rarity in k-f comedies. Also there is no revenge oriented plot twist rearing its ugly head at the end, and although the film does indeed feature a naughty kid there is no loony sifu and so for once a k-f comedy doesnít turn to one of itís more prevalent, familiar and redundant formulas

TWO WONDEROUS TIGERS original Chinese title is THE TIGER THAT GETS OUT FROM THE LOCKED GATE a likely reference to the predatory like lead villain. The English title feels more satisfactory although itís still a bit inaccurate and should have had added something like ďand the Pretty/fierce Feisty Tigress.

By the time, Sharon Yeung started her movie career in the late seventies the era for the cinematic woman warrior had been long gone, (well in H-K made martial art cinema anyway) so she never became as famous as the likes of Cheng Pei Pei or Angela Mao although the continual development in fight choreography did mean that she often performed moves more outlandish than her predecessors. In time, she established herself as one of the rare certified H-K stunt- women and acquired some level of fame for her regular appearance at an annual telethon TV special performing daring acrobatic stunts.
Of the two titular players Philip Ko-Fei, is the best known. In the nineties he became especially notorious as hack producer/ director for a string of cheap, cheesy actioners many of them starring fierce fighting female favourite Yukari Oshima (they were married briefly). Back in the old-school days, however he was one of the best screen fighting heavies around making usually a brief but thundering showcase. In time, though he did find more substantial roles such as Wong Fei Hungís evil kung-fu rival in Yuen Woo-pingís DREADNOUGHT (1981), the stern k-f patriarch in LEGEND OF A FIGHTER (1983) still by Yuen and the pole fighting abbot in grand-master martial filmmaker Lau Kar Leungís EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER (1984).
In sharp contrast to Ko-fei, the other tiger John Chang (or Cheung in Cantonese) is little known. Like Ko-fei he has come from an opera trainee turned stuntman background, part of Lau Kar-leungís fighting stunt men stable. He along with fellow Lau crewís stunt-mate Wilson Tong joined for a time in the late seventies a small film company named Goldlit. In the handful of movies they made there Chang played the lead while Tong acted as the villain and handled the fight choreography.   TWO WONDEROUS TIGERS was their third Goldlit film. Shortly afterward Chang would leave while Tong stayed on, graduated to fully fledged director; making a handful of uneven, but quirky k-f movies.

In TWO WONDEROUS TIGERS Tong played only a henchman leaving the lead villainy to a fellow named Tiger Yeung. A towering figure with great kicking abilities Tiger Yeung looked formidable indeed so itís quite surprising to learn that he made only a handful of k-f movies. Playing the second Yeung sister is Kitty Meng, who was taught at the same H-K Peking Opera academy as Sharon Yeung, along with her own brother the elfin Sammo Hung regular player Meng Hoi. A minor k-f starlet she played in less than ten movies and TIGERS was her next to last film.

Except for Tiger Yeung, all of the WONDEROUS TIGERS action players; Chang, Ko-Fei, Tong, Sharon Yeung, and Charlie Chin (who played the Yeung brother) had an evident Peking Opera background.  Peking Opera male performer-turned-stuntman have always played an essential role in martial art cinema - stunt man, stunt-double, fight choreographer and screen-fighting heavy. Yet in the first dozen years or so of the genreís classic modern era (from the mid-sixties to mid seventies), they were never given any starring role. These went to more screen savvy trained actors (like Ti Lung and Fu Sheng) or genuine martial artists (like Bruce Lee or Chen Kwan Tai).  All the sweat, blood and guts, none of the glory. Things were different with female Peking Opera performers but thatís another story.

Things changed rapidly however in the second half of the seventies and the door opened for them not only for stardom but for fully fledged filmmaking as well. Sammo Hung, Yuen Woo Ping and Jackie Chan became the leading figures of this new generation, while martial art cinema master filmmaker Chang Cheh began making films showcasing a new team of acrobatic fighters extraordinaire: the Venoms, three of which had opera backgrounds. Even Lau Kar Leung (who was the first k-f choreographer to rise to directing), promoted an acrobatic stuntman named Hsiao Hou both in front and behind the camera (as fight choreographer) giving to his films an acrobatic dimension they had never seen before. In the wake of these major figures, many other minor players found their way to shine. John Chang, Ko Fei, and Wilson Tong, were among them. They never became big stars but still found occasional leading parts in minor k-f films entries, like TWO WONDEROUS TIGERS.

This new generation pushed physical virtuosity and fight choreography to a new exiting level. Acrobatic outlandishness isnít the only thing these newcomers took from Peking Opera, they also drew upon itís burlesque theatre tradition which gave k-f comedy itís fanciful slapstick routines, archetypical comic characters and farcical irreverent spirit all of whom are wonderfully represented in WONDEROUS TIGERS.

TWO WONDEROUS TIGERS is not quite up there with the major k-f comedy fare from Sammo or Yuen Woo Ping, and remains a fairly lightweight piece of work. Also perhaps it does disappoint a bit when one of the tigers is actually dropped from the filmís last act (to say who would not be very sporting).  Still WONDEROUS TIGERS feels wonderfully fresh, sparkly and inviting, good enough for any who have a taste for K-F comedy and female fighters.

My rating for this film: 7.0