He Has Nothing But Kung
Reviewed by Yves Gendron
In the west Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and Yuen
Woo-Ping are the best known names associated with k-f comedy, but there
were many others involved with this sub-genre; such as Wong Yu, kung-fu
comedy’s original naughty kid or actor/action choreographer Lau Kar-wing
(also known as Liu Chia-yung). Besides Lau’s fruitful association
with Sammo and zany director Mak Kar (a.k.a. Karl Mak) in such films as
DIRTY TIGER CRAZY FROG (78) and KNOCKABOUT (79), he also directed a string
of movies of his own. HE HAS NOTHING BUT KUNG-FU (1977) was his directorial
debut in which he paired Wong Yu with his own adopted brother Lau Kar-fei
(better known in the west as Gordon Liu).
Sha-Shan (Wong Yu) is a small time conman who
earns a living swindling people or through pick-pocketing. One day he crosses
the path of a young amnesiac wanderer (Gordon Liu) who he soon discovers
is gifted with remarkable kung-fu skills. Naturally he takes great advantage
of the situation by manipulating the unfortunate follow but in time as
Sha-Shen picks-up some fighting moves from the wanderer he also develops
a friendship with him. It turns out that the amnesiac is actually the lost
son of a respected admiral who has gone searching for Liu himself. He is
not the only one looking for him however, as a powerful local boss and
his cronies (Chiang Tao, Chan Shen Lee Hoi-sang, and Wilson Tong) who have
lost much money thanks to Sha-Shan and the Wanderer’s meddling would like
to settle some scores too.
HE HAS NOTHING BUT K-F is a lively burlesque farce
full of slapstick, pratfalls and k-f fights. Wily comedian Wong Yu and
straight-man Gordon Liu have great chemistry together and are an excellent
pairing; the perfect foils for each other. Young cutie Hui Chin as
a feisty slap-prone inn-hostess is also delightful eye candy. The film
direction is rather rough but remains nonetheless efficient. It has to
be said however that the film brand of broad burlesque humour may not be
to everyone’s taste. Some may find it just plain stupid. A big part of
the problem lies with the bad dubbing. It’s quite clear that a bad dub
in a k-f movie often creates unwarranted comedy in a highly dramatic movie,
or can make a comedy even sillier and more inane that it actually is in
its original language. Here’s an example. At one point Sha-Shan and the
amnesiac Gordon Liu cross the latter’s father who is looking for him.
THE FATHER: You’re my son.
GORDON: (confused) what does he mean?
SHA-SHAN: He’s implying that he sleeps
with your mother.
GORDON: WHAT! (suddenly enraged he attacks
Needless to say that short interchange would
work much better within the scene’s context in it’s original language.
The overall effect feels as bad as having a Steven Chow comedy done in
badly dubbed English.
Thankfully k-f displays are unaffected by bad
dubbing: Gordon Liu is in top shape and the fight choreography is of the
old school’s un-enhanced variety as we would expect from a Lau movie, with
Gordon thrashing left and right. Wong Yu is obviously not quite as seasoned
a martial artist as his partner is but as a finger agile swindler he is
very good and his facial mimicry is priceless. This said, the best
fight display is between Gordon and director Lau Kar-wing himself, who
plays an aide to the admiral. He is quite sharp and funny too as he has
to hold himself back so as not to hurt the Admiral’s son while the latter
has no such restraint… ouch. The final showdown that unravels partly
on a rooftop is also very good, as it makes excellent use of its environment
of awkwardly leaned tile tops and wooden beams. It has to be said however
that in the film’s last quarter the script falls apart to some degree as
Gordon retrieves his memory and the film finishes in one of those typical
k-f movie abrupt endings leaving a lot of plot threads in the air. But
heck, since these last ten minutes are so full of relentless fighting how
could one complain.
Lau Kar-wing is the younger brother of famed martial
art filmmaker Lau Kar-leung who in 1975 with his own directorial debut
SPIRITUAL BOXER created the first real k-f comedy starring Wong Yu, in
the lead role. This is a three full years before Jackie Chan’s k-f comedy
combo of SNAKE IN THE EAGLE SHADOW and DRUNKEN MASTER (erroneously viewed
by many as k-f comedy’s starting point). Lau Kar-wing followed his brother’s
footsteps two-year after him, in a similarly spirited burlesque farce also
starring Wong Yu and the addition of his other (adopted) brother Gordon.
Not as gifted or as successful a director as his older sibling or as Sammo
Hung and Mak Kar (the other K-F comedy lead figures of the time) he never
became a groundbreaking force as they did, but he still made a string of
enjoyable, lively if slight k-f comedies. The best known: THE ODD COUPLE
where he paired himself with Sammo, arguably his best effort, as well as
TREASURE HUNTERS starring Shaw Brother player Fu Sheng, the ill fated star
in one of his last films before his premature death. Once the k-f comedy
trend was over, Lau Kar-wing recycled himself by directing action comedies
or potboilers. The best known was SKINNY TIGER and FATTY DRAGON in which
he paired his old partners Sammo and Mak Kar.
Wong Yu can be deemed the unsung k-f comedy’s
prototypical mischievous kid as not only does he remain largely unrecognised
in the west, but the little information that is available about him is
often inaccurate. Indeed he has been described in many sources as Shaw
Brother’s reply to Jackie Chan’s naughty kid while in fact he preceded
Jackie’s emergence by years. While not quite actually the first modern
k-f naughty kid, (that would be Fu Sheng), he was the first to really do
fully-fledged comedy. Wily and a bit scruffy looking, he was far from the
conventional ideal of a stoic hard-boiled martial art hero but had a quirky
comedic flair, which made him perfect for burlesque farce. He seemed to
have developed some amount of popularity in H-K but never made a big impression
in the West. His best role was in Lau Kar-leung’s EXECUTIONER OF SHAOLIN
and DIRTY HO where he was once again paired with Gordon Liu, but he also
starred or had major supporting roles in many minor comedic vehicles. After
the closure of the Shaw Brothers studio, he remained a bit player for a
while (he can be glimpsed briefly at the beginning of the classic ghost
story ROUGE (87)) then left the movie business and when last heard actually
worked as a street vendor in H-K
An attentive viewer can recognise a lot of
faces while watching the movie: such as Lam Ching-ying, Meng Hoi, Chung
Fat, Peter Chan Lung , Lee Ho-sai and Wilson Tong. It seems that Lau Kar-wing
borrowed a lot of people from the Golden Harvest/Sammo Hung stunt crew.
Mak Kar can also be briefly seen as a sheriff at the film’s beginning.
He had been the one who cast Lau Kar-wing as one of the leads in the watershed
k-f spoof THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE LOSER (1976) and would do cameos in
a good deal of Lau Kar-wing’s k-f comedies. It’s widely acknowledged that
Lau Kar-wing also received some behind the scenes fight choreography help
from his elder brother Lau Kar-leung who would actually always give a helping
hand on many of his younger brother’s early movies. Some bits of the fighting
do indeed appear to be a lot sharper than the rest, particularly the Gordon/Lau
Kar-wing fight as well as the final showdown.
HE HAS NOTHING BUT K-F is a give or take movie,
depending on one’s acceptance of Hong-Kong burlesque. If one considers
this brand of humour just too dopey than he’s better skipping this movie.
On the other hand, if one wishes to explore k-f comedy beyond the more
familiar territory of Sammo, Jackie and Yuen Woo-ping then HE HAS NOTHING…would
be a very worthwhile film to pick. Not only for the laughs and thrills
it provides of course but also as an introduction to one of k-f comedy’s
great under-appreciated stars: Wong Yu.
My rating for this film: 7.5