Director: Stephen Chow
Starring: Stephen Chow, Christy Chung, Ng Man Tat
I still remember reading the buzz about 'the new kid" as far back as 1990 (in an issue of M.A.M.A.). Stephen Chow was reportedly as clever as they come and had quickly taken over the Hong Kong box office with his debut comedy, 'All For the Winner'. It was a spoof of the gambler/triad films that were flavor of the month. Well, I never cared much for that genre and as it turned out, I was lukewarm toward Chow's spoof. I felt similarly underwhelmed with the followup, 'God of Gamblers 2' and just plain disliked Fist of Fury '91 (which as the title suggests, was a goof on the Bruce Lee classic). I figured that Chow's brand of comedy simply wasn't for me. Still, I did find myself watching more of his movies just out of curiosity and found a few that I actually liked quite a bit (God of Gamblers 3: Back to Shanghai', 'Hail the Judge', 'From Beijing With Love' and the more recent 'Shaolin Soccer' and 'Kung Fu Hustle') and a few more that I didn't care for ('The Sixty Million Dollar Man', 'A Chinese Odyssey 1 and 2'). O.K. so Stephen Chow films run hot and cold for me. Some I don't care for and some I I liked, but none quite living up to his 'genius' reputation... with one huge exception...
Released in 1994, 'Love on Delivery' features Chow as a timid delivery boy who falls for a beautiful woman (Christy Chung) who's path he crosses as she attempts to fend off the advances of a sleezy judo instructor. Too physically and mentally weak to properly stand up for her, Chow seeks martial arts tutilage from a crippled kung fu master (Ng Man Tat) who unfortunately, turns out to be a no-nothing swindler who takes the naive delivery boy for all he has while teaching him utterly useless martial arts moves (including riffs on everything from 'The Karate Kid' to 'Ultraman!'). Ultimately donning a Garfield mask (one of the most hilarious images ever captured on celluloid) he challenges and defeats the Judo instructor by basically outlasting him. Wishing to reveal himself the next day, Chow is foiled when he finds every single man in town 'owning up' as the mysterious Garfield hero. Making matters worse, Chung as it turns out already has a beau, a nearly invincible karate expert. Finally making his feelings for Chung known, Chow challenges his rival to a ring match.
It was hard for me at first to pinpoint exactly why this particular film worked so well for me when so many other Chow vehicles didn't. Aside from the brilliant superhero riffs, what it seems to really come down to is heart. Chow's delivery boy was a likeable character (whereas I found many of his other portrayals in previous films annoying) and I found myself actually caring about this guy's plight and wanting him to succeed. Chow is actually a very good actor and here he shows that with a well drawn character placed in well thought out situations (ridiculous as they may be) he can be a compelling presence. It certainly didn't hurt that I found the constant stream of sight gags a riot (perhaps this was in part because they were less specifically Cantonese than usual?). Again, seeing Chow appear and do battle in an oversized Garfield mask has to be seen to be fully appreciated. The final boxing match also featured some unusually funny and clever gags (a highlight here is the two announcers with nothing in the ring to comment on are reduced to reading from a Playboy book, substituting the two ring opponents names with those of the two lovers in the book!). I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the mid film office brawl (where the Karate master first shows what an imposing martial artist he is). The choreography in this sequence as well as it's sheer impact, easily rivals anything I have seen in Hong Kong cinema and shows Chows affection for that genre as well.
'Love on Delivery' is far and away, my favorite Stephen Chow comedy. Admittedly, I haven't seen all of his films, but I can't imagine any being as funny, touching, exciting and clever as this one. It's one of my favorite Hong Kong movies.
**** / ****