The Scorpion King (1992)

It’s an atypical Hong Kong action film that puts you in mind of Dario Argento’s Inferno more than anything else, if only in terms of its use of lighting and colour (something about the blues and yellows), but then this really isn’t quite a typical HK actioner. Bey Logan’s book characterises it as an “arthouse kung fu movie”, which is one way of looking at it, I suppose. Our “hero” is a young man whose primary talent is drawing what I presume passed for manga in the 1920s, when the film is set; he gets kicked out of school for basically not doing anything else, and also for bringing trouble upon himself when he rescues a young girl—sold into slavery when she was little—from being swallowed up by a prostitution ring being run by the local police chief. They take refuge at a noodle restaurant run by Lau Kar-Leung’s kung fu master in seclusion Master Yat, who gives them a place to live as long as Yuk-Su works in the kitchen. Which he agrees to do, but he’s also prone to buggering off and learning kung fu elsewhere; when the time comes, though, he’s going to need the old man’s help to fend off even more trouble. Logan’s commentary notes that it was a notorious flop upon its eventual release nearly a year after shooting wrapped, and I can kind of understand why; I can see that director David Lai was trying to do something a bit different, particularly with the extraordinary look of the thing (if I didn’t know it was meant to be that dark, I’d have thought the DVD transfer had been severely fucked up), but I’m not sure how successful it actually is, and I fear part of that is down to Chin Kar Lok in the lead role; Yuk Su isn’t actually that interesting a character and he doesn’t seem that interesting a lead actor. A nice experiment, but I’m not sure it’s much more…

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