Thursday, May 26, 2011

Goose Boxer

Director: Ming Chin
Starring: Charles Heung, Lee Hoi Sang, Kao Fei

This is one of my favorite independently made (non Shaw Bros., non Golden Harvest) kung fu films of the 70's.

Goose Boxer was released in 1979, right at the height of the kung fu comedy craze which had started with the Jackie Chan/ Ng See Yuen hit, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and cemented with the duo's followup smash , Drunken Master. It was one of seemingly hundreds that popped up at the end of the decade. I personally have something of a love/hate relationship with kung fu comedies. Most of the comedy in these films felt forced and unfunny, sometimes eye-rollingly so. But I tolerate it because the martial arts in the best of these is so great. However, once in a while I'll come accross one that's actually clever and funny. Chan's The Fearless Hyena and Sammo Hung's The Victim are two such examples. Goose Boxer is a third. While still plenty goofy, much of it's humor is derived more from the characters' situations than cheap mugging. There's some truly hilarious stuff going on in this picture which seemingly goes to show how much more successful this type of thing is when the filmmakers pay half as much attention to character and story development as they do the combat.

The story follows the plight of a hapless goose roster (Charles Heung) who one day witnesses a murder at the hands of a mysterious White Crane master (Lee Hoi Sang). While later immitating the Crane master's style, the goose roster inadvertently helps a loser martial arts teacher wannabe win a fight. The goose roster is then hired to teach the wannabe's school. The White Crane killer comes upon the school and sees the goose roster as a perfect patsy to lure out his enemy (another Crane master played by Kao Fei).

The previous paragraph only scratches the surface of what goes on in this wild and creative farce. The film perfectly balances it's many characters and situations so that it never seems as convoluted as it actually is. Much of the credit must go to director/choreographer Tommy Lee (here listed under his Chinese name, Ming Chin). Lee has only directed a handful of films (usually serving as actor/choreographer) and none of his other directed efforts were as sharp and precise as his work here.

The cast all handle their roles perfectly. Star Charles Heung had spent the early part of his career in serious roles in various bashers (The Big Showdown aka Kung Fu Massacre is a highlight). Here he shows good comedic range. He's no Jackie Chan, but he makes for a personable and believable put upon hero. He is perhaps best know for his role as a bodyguard in the chow Yun Fat vehicle, God of Gamblers. Lee Hoi Sang gets the gets the choice part of the evil Whie Crane master. It is probably his best role as he gets to be alternately menacing and amusing (more the former). Lee had a good career, starting out as a Shaw Bros. heavy and graduating to roles in films like Chan's Project A series. The ubiquitous Kao Fei is perhaps the best known here among kung fu film enthusiasts. He has appeared in countless period martial arts films of the 70s and modern action films of the 80s, almost always as a villian. His bout with Lee Hoi Sang in this film is one of the better ones you'll see from this period.

Goose Boxer is great fun. It's plot is consistently involving and it's characters interesting and well drawn. It's also one of the most creatively silly kung fu movies I've ever seen. How creatively silly? Well. I'll leave you with this example: For the film's climatic battle between Charles Heung and Lee Hoi Sang, the goose roster mistakes a sex manual (titled The 108 Techniques) for a kung fu instructional manual and bewilders the White Crane master (as well as himself) with maneuvers that somehow don't seem quite right...

                                                       ***1/2 / ****

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