Odd Couple, The Odd Couple
Running Time: 92 minutes
UK Certificate: 12
Country: Hong Kong
Once a year two elderly warriors, the King of Sabres (Sammo Hung) and the King of Spears (Lau Kar-Wing), meet at Wulin Sacred Place to see whose martial art is superior – but as neither of the constantly bickering pair ever wins and both know one another too well, each agrees to take on a student, and let a younger generation fight it out. The King of Sabres tricks watermelon-seller Stubborn Wing (Lau Kar-Wing) into becoming his student, the King of Spears persuades boatman Fatty Ah Yo (Sammo Hung) to learn his craft, and after a period of training, the stage is set for both young men to clash – but Laughing Bandit (Leung Kar-Yan), a battle-scarred enemy from the old men's past, has returned to wreak his deadly revenge. It will take the skills of all four to defeat him – if only they can stop fighting each other.
The conflict in this film is not just between long sword and short spear, but between young and old, between Kar-Wing's Southern and Hung's Northern fighting style, between Hung's training in operatic performance and Kar-Wing's more practical technique – and because each also plays the pupil of the other, either actor must demonstrate his mastery of both styles and both weapons – not to mention the bare-fisted kung fu which they use in the climactic battle, before reverting in the coda to operatic tumbling. Such versatility makes for extraordinary spectacle, and the fight choreography (often filmed in long shot without cuts) is breathtaking.
'The Odd Couple', however, is a martial arts comedy. For those unfamiliar with the subgenre, this means that the film is brimming with knockabout slapstick broader than any sword – which can work well when it combines with fighting to create daft acrobatic stunts, but is just plain irksome when it stands on its own in combat-free scenes of dialogue (unless the viewer happens to be a fan of the Jim Carrey school of laughs). Equally amateurish is the throwaway nature of the plot, where a range of ill-integrated characters are introduced without warning and dispatched just as suddenly – like the agonisingly unfunny comic playboy Mr Rock (Dean Shek in yet another of his 'whacky' rôles), or Leung Kar-Yan's archvillain who is not so much as mentioned until his appearance in the last third of the film.
So if you like tight plotting, sharp lines and rapier wit, watch Neil Simon's 'The Odd Couple' instead – but only on the understanding that for all their hostility, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are never literally at each other's throats. For with its relentless and inventive kung fu sequences, using a variety of techniques and weapons, Lau Kar-Wing's film more than makes up for what it lacks in subtle repartee or solid characterisation.
It's Got: Mistaken identity; bickering heroes; a variety of weapons and breathtaking fights; some very over-the-top make-up (huge eyebrows, mobile ponytails, bucked teeth, hairy moles etc.); a fight styled on Chinese opera that is choreographed entirely to operatic music; the most unpalatable sequence involving the comsumption of raw eggs since Cool Hand Luke.
It Needs: Tighter plotting; jokes that are funny.
DVD Extras Digitally remastered/restored, 2.35:1 anamorphic enhanced for widescreen TVs; Dolby digital 5.1; choice of Cantonese or English dub; optional subtitles (English/Dutch/SDH); full audio commentary by Bey Logan giving exhaustive background information on both principals and extras; Master and Student (26min) interview with director/lead Lau Kar-Wing about his early education in martial arts, his father and brother (acclaimed film martial artists Liu Chum and Lau Kar-Leung), forming Gar-Bo Film Company with Sammo Hung and Karl Maka, and the differences between filmmaking in the 1970s and today; Natural Born Killer (21min) interview with lead villain Leung Kar-Yan about learning kung fu on-set, and the pains and dangers of 1970s Hong Kong martial arts ("making those films was like being tortured"); trailers (original/UK promo). Version reviewed: title="R2 from Amazon Uk">Odd Couple from Hong Kong Legends (not available on DVD from Amazon.com) DVD Extras Rating: 7/10
Alternatives:Legendary Weapons of Shaolin, Warriors Two
Extraordinarily versatile fight sequences and weapons work – if only Neil Simon had written the script.