Friday, April 19, 2013

Odd Couple (aka Eternal Conflict)

Director: Liu Chia Yung
Starring: Sammo Hung, Liu Chia Yung, Liang Chia Jen, Dean Shek, Mars

Easily one of the best kung fu comedies of the late '70s, it's also one of the cleverest that I have ever seen.

Two aging kung fu masters, The King of Sabres (Sammo Hung) and The King of Spears (Liu Chia Yung) have a yearly encounter to decide who is the er, greatest in all the land. Unfortunately for them, each duel ends in a draw. After years and years of this, the two of them decide to recruit and train young pupils to continue the battle for them. In a brilliant move, Liu's student is played by Sammo and Sammo's by Liu. After rigorous (and largely unappreciated) training, the two students prepare to face off, only to be kidnapped by a gang led by Old Yellow Dog (Liang Chia Jen). Seems Old Yeller (sorry, couldn't resist) was previously defeated by both 'Sabres' and 'Spears' and has been looking to get even with them ever since.

Starting with 1977's 'He Has Nothing But Kung Fu', Liu Chia Yung has proved to be an excellent director of kung fu comedies. He never quite reached the level of excellence in this department as his older brother Liu Chia Liang, but he was able to carve quite a niche for himself in his own right. 'Odd Couple' is one of his best, maybe his very best. It is one of the few from this time period that can stand alongside the work of his elder sibbling as well as those directed by Sammo himself (the film to be honest, more resembles Sammo's work than Liu's causing me to question if this weren't actually a joint directing job), not to mention those of Jackie Chan.

Both Sammo and Liu look to be having the time of their lives here. The enthusiasm each shows in their dual roles is infectious and permeates the entire production (though it must have caused some major headaches for the editor when 'all four' of their characters are required to share the same sequence). Liang Chia Jen is intimidating as the scarred (both externally and internally) villain, showing he can play this type of role with equal intensity to his more common heroic turns. If you're looking for a sour note here, then look no further than Dean Shek. Watching Shek is akin to sitting through a Jim Carey comedy. You realize that the talent's there, but he plays each of his comedic roles so far over the top, that it becomes eye rollingly awful.

From the amazing opening credit sequence (which suspiciously resembles that in big brother Liang's masterpiece, 'Legendary Weapons of China', made three years later), to the well timed comedy to the absolutely incredible weapons and hand to hand duels, 'Odd Couple' is about as good as kung fu comedies get.

Rating: 8/10