Thursday, 7 August 2008

King of Beggars


Directed by: Gordon Chan
Screenplay: Gordon Chan & Kin Chun Chang
Starring: Stephen Chow

An earlier offering from Kung Fu Hustle and Shoalin Soccer mastermind, Stephen Chow, King of Beggars is a harmless action comedy that never really gets going and while watchable, never threatens to become memorable. I guess one’s enjoyment really depends on their tolerance for zany Hong Kong action comedy. King of Beggars is definitely toned down in part, compared to a lot of Hong Kong comedies, but still features enough zaniness alongside kung fu and a bit of seriousness meaning the tone is often flip flopping all over the place.

Chow plays the spoiled, though ultimately kindly, son of a local rich man who has plans to become a master of kung fu in order to woo the heart of his lady love. He does this by attending a prestigious kung fu school, much of where the zany comedy comes into play. However, an evil general in the Emperor’s army doesn’t like Chow becoming top dog and instigates the fall of him and his family. Cast out on the street, Chow and his father become beggars and after much striving to find food, coming to terms with their new lifestyle and a bit more zany comedy, they join a clan of beggars who are hatching plans to stop the evil general and the mistreatment of beggars. Fighting, mystic mumbo jumbo and some more zaniness ensue.

If you love this type of Hong Kong action film, then you will probably love King of Beggars. It doesn’t touch Kung Fu Hustle or director Gordon Chan’s Fist of Legend but, as mentioned, its harmless fun that never whips up enough charm or action to be wholly satisfactory. Chow seems somewhat subdued here and to be honest, plays a bit of annoying git. Once the film switches to the whole beggar/kung fu theme things do pick up with some lavish sets and a big battle sequence at the end making some amends for all the comedy mugging beforehand. The fighting isn’t bad but definitely of the wire-fu brand with folks zipping about left, right and centre. There is a neat gag where Chow uses a sleeping style of kung fu, falling over and dozing off while performing kung fu and kicking the butt of his opponent. Similar in tone to Jackie Chan’s drunken style from the Drunken Master movies.

Both star and director have gone on to bigger and better things but King of Beggars is worth a watch for some neat wire-fu action, a few laughs and to see what Hong Kong stars were doing before they gained worldwide fame.

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