Review: Prodigal Son (1982)



Starring Yuen Biao, Lam Ching Ying, Sammo Hung

Fight Choreography and Direction by Sammo Hung

Prodigal Son stars Yuen Biao as Master Leung Jan, a young nobleman who loves kung-fu and practices at it every day. The problem is, his ass sucks at it.

The story opens as Jan goes to his local restaurant, the only one in town with Kung-Fu insurance, as it is the prime place for random, senseless kung-fu fights, and finds himself in a fight nearly the moment he shows up. To understand, Jan is a world class dick, calling himself the Kung-Fu King , which would rightly get him an invite to an  ass kicking from every corner of the world. Of course he wins his fight easily, but not for the reasons you think. It turns out that his servant, on orders from Jan’s parents, hires guys to challenge and get their butts kicked by Lam in order to keep him safe. This alone makes them the DUMBEST PARENTS EVER. They never really thought ahead to what would happen when someone who really can kick ass comes into town to do just that. Fear the country bumpkin, people!

Soon, Jan attends a show by a travelling troupe. Of course Jan and his buddies are turned on by the star, but if not for the fact that he hit on the last starlet Jan just narrowly misses a Crying Game moment, so his friend goes to hit on the star of the show they think is a girl. Since the star is actually Yee-Tai, a martial arts master who hears the call of the stage more than anything else, turns Jan’s buddy down. So of course in true kung-fu (or western) film cliché, they have to try to forcibly take her/him, and in a small taste of the great kung-fu to come, Yee-Tai straight-jacks him and his two buddies. So of course Jan finds out, and being the Kung-Fu King and all, goes to get some payback, but he’s in for a shock when Yee-Tai sings and whups his ass at the same time, which I can’t make up my mind whether it raises the bar on Badassery or not. Imagine Placido Domingo singing the Barber of Seville as he goes all Wing Chun on your ass. (hmm…not a bad idea…) It’s kinda like that. Now Jan sees that he never really knew shit, and tries to get Yee-Tai to teach him real martial arts, but Yee-Tai doesn’t want to teach him.

Soon a real badass arrives from another town named Master Ngai Fai. He and his two servants show up to challenge the Kung-Fu King, so you can tell what’s about to happen. Meanwhile, one of Yee-Tai’s buddies in the troupe, a gigolo who comes to Yee-Tai for help as he in in danger of losing his life after sleeping with the wife of another dude who is looking for him. Yee-Tai then tells him not to worry, and in a total dick move has Jan dress in his buddy’s costume as General Kwan, and once in costume cannot speak, which is cold since the husband shows up, and not knowing that the guy in the General Kwan costume is not the one he’s looking for (since Jan can’t speak) and proceeds to have his boys kick Jan’s ass, which they do until Yee Tai goes off and beats the tar out of all of them, which brings him to the attention of Master Ngai Fai, who is in the audience.

As he and his posse leaves, Ngai Fai gets challenged by a guy he had beaten before, crippling his right arm, so the dude has practiced with his left and wants to fight, but he soon learns that crap only works in Shaw Brothers films, not Sammo Hung ones, as Ngai beats him down again, this time crippling his left arm as well, and tells him to piss off. The next night Yee Tai alog with Jan and the entire troupe, arrive for dinner on an invite from Ngai, and soon turns into a friendly duel. The fight between Yee-Tai and Master Ngai is well done, but short, and ends disappointingly when Yee-Tai reveals that he is a sick man, and succumbs to his illness.

Afterward in an interesting turn of events, it turn out that Master Ngai isn’t much different from Jan, but his parents pay Ngai’s servants to do what ever it takes to keep the young master safe, even kill if necessary. So, in a supreme act of overkill the Ngai Posse hires ninjas to kill the entire troupe in the middle of the night, which they do except for Yee Tai and Jan, who, in a suspensful scene involving a burning tent and flipping around burning flags waving around, make their escape. Great kung-fu here mixed with acrobatics. Jan is injured in the escape, and Yee-Tai takes him home.

The best parts of the film occur here, as we meet Yee Tai’s brother Wong Wah-Bo (Sammo Hung) who lives with his daughter, who looks like her father, for better or worse. In a homage/spoof to Magnificent Butcher we are treated to Wong trying to use Kung-Fu with his calligraphy, and the scene is pretty funny. Classic Sammo Hung acrobatics here. The relationship between Yee-Tai and his brother Wong take center stage here, one of the most un-pc relationships you’ll see, which is a good thing, and makes the film all the more fun for it. What follows are great scene after great scene of Jan being taught Wing Chun by both Yee-Tai, and some other forms (Choy Lay Fut included) by Wong. The scenes are a mixture of comedy, great kung-fu, and amazing acrobatics and stuntwork.

Soon Yee-Tai’s illness is too much, and so Jan takes him back to his home where he rich parents can pay for medicine, but Master Ngai finds out they are back, and pays them a visit, and his two lackeys, who I will christen Over and Kill, knife Yee-Tai, killing him, which was not cool at all with Ngai, who has both men beheaded later. Jan must still have a measure of revenge, however, and the best fight of the film comes at this moment. Incredibly fast and complex, this is a fun back and forth fight between two men who may be of equal skill, and there are many good moves and even cringe-worthy falls. At the end Jan finally earns the moniker of Kung-Fu King, and a great movie comes to a close.

On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Every fight scene was done well, and all of then became better each time, culminating in the amazing final fight. Sammo Hung had everyone ready, and had good imagination in showcasing the fights.

STUNTS: (8) Good stuff here, and the falls were convincing, especially at the end. Also impressive was the tent fire scene. Jumping over those flags on fire could not have been easy.

DIRECTION: (9) Sammo does a good job once again, balancing the fighting with the comedy, not letting one or the other go too far. His camera work and editing are as good as always, and he really let everyone have their room to do what they do best.

STAR POWER: (8) Yuen Biao doesn’t quite have the charisma of Sammo or Jackie, but does have a playfulness that shows onscreen. Lam Ching Ying is a veteran of many kung-fu films and does well here as Yee-Tai, a different kind of Kung-Fu Master, and Sammo brings a fresh personality late in the film.

FINAL GRADE: (9) A classic martial arts film that has good comedy and showcases the art of Wing Chun very well. One of Yuen Biao’s best.

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3 Responses to “Review: Prodigal Son (1982)”

  1. That end fight is definitely something to behold, while its finale is perfect – as Jan hobbles away, Ngai, lying on the ground, accepts his defeat and acknowledges Jan as the better fighter: “Leung Jan! Kung Fu King!”

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  2. This is a fantastic film andf I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am fascinated by Lam Ching Ying’s performance as the Chinese Opera star – most interesting. It is interesting to reflect that Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao and Lam Ching Ying all trained in Chinese Opera as youngsters. Like you I love the section of the film featuring Sammo’s character interacting with his daughter and the other 2 main characters. That calligraphy scene is a cracker.

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  3. […] NEXT: Yuen Biao returns home as the Prodigal Son. […]

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