Gaining a film find on DVD at this young age, Judge Joel Pearce must be a good omen.
"Losing a husband at this young age, you must be a bad omen."—Jing-Cheun
Fresh off my review of 36th Chamber of Shaolin, I've been watching another classic Lau Kar-Leung flick, My Young Auntie. It's amazing to watch the roots of so many martial arts films that came later. It's yet another groundbreaking, entertaining blast of martial arts, but one that also offers a healthy dose of comedy.
Facts of the Case
Not that the story matters much, but an aging martial arts master marries his young, attractive student named Dai-Nan (Kara Hui, A Chinese Tall Story) to protect his estate from going into the hands of his evil relative Wing-Sang (Johnny Wang, Invincible Pole Fighter). Dai-Nan is instructed to take the money to Jing-Chuen (Lau Kar-Leung, Seven Swords), where she also meets his son, Ah-Tao (Hou Hsiao, Iron Monkey). There's sexual tension between Dai-Nan and Ah-Tao, which is a problem since she's technically his aunt. Much silliness ensues, but it doesn't take long before Wing-Sang's cronies show up looking for the will.
While My Young Auntie didn't get much fanfare when it was released beside the long-awaited 36th Chamber, it is at least as good. I've often lamented the tendency of martial arts films to rely on silly humor and sight gags, but this film has taught me two things: where that humor came from, and how incredible it can be when handled right. My Young Auntie is full of the usual favorites, after all, including mistaken identities, sexual overtones, and slapstick violence. Like the best martial arts comedies, though, there is something dangerous and edgy lurking under the surface.
There also weren't many serious female martial arts heroes in movies made by the Shaw Brothers. Although Dai-Nan needs to be rescued several times by the men, she can also hold her own, and delivers some great fighting. Her duality is also the basis for much of the humor in the film as well. She is a woman, but she is also a great martial artist. She is a young, attractive girl, but she's also the most senior family member. She has been given a massive, challenging mission, but we learn when she goes shopping that she is still a young woman at heart, who would rather be dressing up and hanging out with college students than fighting over control of the family inheritance. She is also a woman stranded in a world of men; indeed we never see another living female family member on screen. What happened to them all? We don't know, but she has to do enough talking and fighting for all of them. It's heartbreaking when she doesn't even factor into the conclusion.
The lighter touch here also allows for one of the best martial arts sequences ever filmed. When the bad guys arrive to the masked ball that the college students put on, they dress as musketeers, and the battle is truly spectacular. It begins as a playful joke that quickly spirals out of control in a flurry of fighting and swordplay. There are great fights towards the end, too, though, and the showdown between nephew and third uncle is a stunning display of arm-driven martial arts. The family is symbolic here, too, as we see son and godson looking on and emulating styles. In this world, to fight means to bring the whole family with you. If you're fighting against family, well, that's when things get really messy.
I have few criticisms of My Young Auntie. It runs a bit long at times, and some of the humor gets a little too belabored, but not much considering how much I usually dislike that kind of stuff. As well, it's often obvious that stunt doubles are being used for Kara Hui's more exciting stunts. They could have at least found a woman to do the stunts.
Of course, we wouldn't be able to tell the difference if it wasn't for the awesome new transfer served up by our new best friends at Dragon Dynasty. My Young Auntie looks awesome for a film this old, and I have no complaints whatsoever about the video transfer. The sound is decent as well, with a fatal flaw. The original Cantonese track hasn't been included, only Mandarin and English dubs. The English dub is tolerable for the genre, as is the Mandarin dub, but it would have been nice to have the original as well. I preferred the Mandarin with subs, but not because of the quality of the dub work. Rather, with so much verbal humor, subtitles are able to paraphrase the jokes better.
There are quite a few extras on the disc. We get a commentary from critics Andy Klein and Elvis Mitchell, who have a good time getting together to chat about a classic film. We also get some interviews, including one with star Kara Hui, who hardly looks any older. I don't know how they preserve their actors over there, but it's impressive. The interview itself is impressive, too, as we learn things from behind the scenes. We also get an interview with Andy Klein and critic David Chute, which also contains an impressive body of insight.
If you like martial arts movies, you have no excuse to avoid My Young Auntie. While the language snafu is an issue, it doesn't really detract from this remarkable action/comedy achievement. It's a film that belongs in every action fan's collection.
Not guilty! I will overlook the original language thing this time, but Dragon Dynasty is warned to keep up its usual level of quality.
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