Dragon Dynasty / 1992 / 111 Minutes, 98 Minutes / Rated R
Currently Available at Amazon.com
Pak-cheung Chan … Duran
Vivian Chan … Nam
Ka Sang Cheung … Imperial Guard
Man Cheung … Lone-er
Stephen Chow … Wei Siu Bo
Paul Chun … King Ng Sam Kwai
Damian Lau … Chan, Master of the Heaven; Earth Society
Lan Law … Single Hand Nun
Brigitte Lin … Lone-er / Mr. Dragon No. One
Elvis Tsui … OBai
Man Cheung … Empress Dowanger / Lone-er
Man Tat Ng … Hoi Tai Fu
There’s a special brand of humor that Jackie Chan has brought to Martial Arts cinema for years. Perhaps the most gifted physical comedian Hong Kong has ever produced, Jackie has made movies for decades that thrilled audiences by combining furious action with his slapstick antics and good-natured fun. Unfortunately with time Jackie has lost a step or two, and audiences in the West have finally started to gravitate to a new star with many of Jackie’s same tricks: Stephen Chow. Audiences who have discovered Chow’s last two films, the awesome Shaolin Soccer and the hilarious Kung Fu Hustle, seem to have accepted Chow as the new king of Kung Fu pranksters, and are probably highly anticipating his newest project, CJ7, with relish.
What many of these fans may not know, is that Chow has been one of the biggest stars in Hong Kong for some time, wowing audiences there with his ridiculous gags and special effects laden action since the early ’90s. Now, Dragon Dynasty is breaking out two of the actor’s most popular offerings in one set entitled The Royal Tramp Collection. Made in the early ’90s and lacking any of the CGI effects that Chow has now made his bread and butter, these films still show Chow’s amazing comic timing and his genius as a physical performer. Fans that are looking for the same kind of spectacle featured in Kung Fu Hustle will find some of it here, but don’t expect the same visual polish that one has come to expect from the Actor/Director these days. Still, both these films go to painstaking lengths to entertain its audience, and really what more could you really ask?
Disc 1: The Royal Tramp
Introducing you to Stephen Chow’s lovable scoundrel Wei Siu Bo, The Royal Tramp is a movie that is very high on ambition, but has shortcomings due to technical limits and overly complicated plot developments. Unfortunately, the film’s first fault is quite evident, even in the film’s opening moments. For instance, the movie’s main villain Obai (Elvis Tsui) is attacked by the heroic Heaven and Earth Society in an early sequence and dispatches them with awesome ferocity, but film makers Chow and Co-Director Wong Jong utilize some of the most obvious wirework imaginable. This is actually one of the worst examples of not hiding the wires that I’ve ever really seen, and actually takes away from an otherwise exceptionally shocking sequence. Examples likes these do tend to run through the film a bit, luckily the movie’s energy more than makes up for them in most instances.
The bigger problem most people will probably have with the film and Wei Siu Bo are the alliances throughout the picture are really tough to follow at times. At the film’s outset we’re given a decent introduction to Bo as a character, as he spins a ridiculous tale in a brothel, wearing a goofy tiger hat while wowing a gaggle of on-lookers with his stories. Then, as fortune would have it, he actually shows some heroics by saving the life of Chan (Damian Lau), the heroic leader of the Heaven and Earth, and as a reward he is a given a mission to spy on the Emperor, who Chan is trying to help overthrow.
The thing is, you never actually get the sense that Wei Shu Bo is actually on some sort of mission at all throughout most of the movie, because once he is within the confidence of the Emperor, he seems to actually be enjoying himself, sleeping with maidens and trying to make himself rich. Not only that, Bo also gets embroiled in political plots pertaining to trying to stop Obai’s power struggle for the throne, as well as trying to quell an uprising of the rebellious Divine Dragon Sect. All this really seems to leaves Bo’s initial mission merely a side plot that is basically thrown out until the movie’s inevitable sequel.
Happily, none of this really matters that much in the end. The real reason to watch this film is for Chow’s over-the-top showmanship, doing whatever it takes to make you laugh. Wei Siu Bo is such a lovable coward, often taking credit for other’s heroic deeds, and then when he is actually called into action, most of the time he screws it up royally. One uproarious sequence has Bo planning the capture of Obai, the plan going off in his head splendidly and violently, with plenty of unnecessary blood-spurts along the way for comic effect. Bo and other advisors actually plan several ways of capturing the villain, and then decide to use all of them at once, making for an absolutely hilarious Looney Tunes style sequence of fight scenes and huge cages that fall from the ceiling.
A big surprise to the uninitiated will be the film’s huge helping of blue humor, as genitals and other sexual jokes are quite frequent throughout. One shot of the film even features a point of view that could only come from a man’s penis, reminding me of a similar and more vulgar shot from the Japanese Exploitation film Hanzo: The Razor. Chow and Co-Director Jing do manage to find a nice balance between these risqué laughs and the heavy doses of slapstick making The Royal Tramp a complete winner, even with its problems.
Disc 2: The Royal Tramp 2
Those that didn’t really like the hi-jinks of the first movie won’t be likely to change their opinion this second time around with Wei Siu Bo, but on the whole I think I enjoyed this second picture quite a bit more than the first. First all of all, the political portions of the first film’s plot are thankfully whittled down in this sequel. Much of the film’s intrigue revolves around the emperor promising the hand of his sister to a potential rival, when Bo has already impregnated the Princess and must figure a way out of the mess.
Just as with the first film, this seemingly important plot point is readily disregarded as the Divine Dragon Sect, who is trying to get revenge for Bo’s involvement in the first film, fervently tries to put the coward under their thumb. Doing the best it can to thread the two plots together; the movie makes great use of Actress Bridgett Lynn, who plays an agent for the Divine Dragons trying desperately to knock Bo off while also acting as a bodyguard for the Princess’ betrothed. The results end up playing against logic for the most part, but are surprisingly satisfying when all is said and done.
Thankfully, Chow and Jing seemed to have learned from their mistakes in the first entry and simply wanted to make a great Action/Comedy with this film. The action is more frequent and impressively staged this time, with none of the visual flaws of the original Royal Tramp. Lynn has a terrific history in Martial Arts pictures, such as her work in the Bride with White Hair films as well as the second two Swordsman films, one of which she starred opposite Jet Li, and her role here is substantial as she makes a nice counterpoint to Stephen Chow’s on screen imp.
Really, the overriding factor in this film’s success is that it is just plain funny. My favorite sequence shouldn’t work, as it involves Wei Siu Bo bound, with two women behind a sheet acting as his arms while the jealous Princess is interrogating him about sleeping with other women. The gag is an old one, but as the two women start to pound Bo as a means of punishing him until he starts coughing up blood, Chow manages to never lose the deadpan of his ruse and the sequence ends up absolutely hysterical. The movie is full of the same cartoonish comedy from the first picture, but overall should satisfy fans of Chow’s newer films more than the first entry did.
Overall, these Royal Tramp films show the same energy and comic brilliance that newer fans of Stephen Chow have come to enjoy, but do have to deal with the burden of the time period they were made. You could say that Chow hasn’t really had to change with the times much, as movie visuals have actually just caught up with his ideas. Still, a film could have way worse problems than just over-exuberance, and the bottom line is that both Royal Tramp films are never anything but fun and entertaining to watch.
The print on these films looks marginally cleaned up and I would venture these are the best transfers that can be found of these films on DVD. Both film’s look grainy, but this could really be attributed to the movie’s film stock that it was shot on as much as the transfers themselves. The movies are presented in Widescreen, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
The audio tracks, both in Cantonese and English, are both featured in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sound pretty decent. Though this film should be experienced while listening to the Cantonese track, the English isn’t a horrible one. Overall, the sound on this disc is quite good and really outdoes the visuals.
Feature Length Audio Commentary By Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan – This is probably the best commentary track I’ve ever heard on a Dragon Dynasty disc. Logan again outdoes himself, packing the tracks of both films to the brim with info and trivia about the movie’s stars and the film’s source material. Logan even knows things such as the fact that the opening sequence of the first movie is even a parody of a Marlboro ad that ran during the Chinese New Year, something that few in the West would ever know or find out. Other things like this follow on both discs, and I don’t see how he can even pack this much information into two whole movies.
An Interview With Writer/Co-Director Wong Jing – This is a nice interview with Wong Jing, who knew a lot about the books these films are based on before starting to tackle this material. It’s nice to see Jing, who has directed some of the zaniest Hong Kong films I’ve ever seen, get some exposure in the West. Hopefully, the release of this disc could lead to some of his other films get a release.
Trailers – You get a ton of trailers on these discs. You get both the Theatrical Trailers for these movies as well as a number of other Dragon Dynasty titles.
|The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for The Royal Tramp Collection
(NOT AN AVERAGE)