Film Reviews

Odd Couple (1979) – Blu-ray Review

Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-wing (credited as Bruce Lau) star as martial art masters the King of Sabers and the King of Spears. For fifteen years these now aged rivals have met annually to duel, and every time it has been a draw. Far better, they decide, to each recruit a student, train them for ten years, and let them try to kill each other instead. The rather nice twist is that Hung’s student, Stubborn Wing, is played by Lau, and Lau’s student, Ah Ho, by Hung.

When fans talk about Odd Couple they will praise – at great length – the unbridled skill shown during the fight scenes, especially the weapon work. Rightly so. Both the stars and the main villain Laughing Bandit, played by Bryan Leung Kar-yang (credited as Leung Kar-yan) are given ample opportunity to show off the differences in technique of the two main weapons – saber and spear – as well as their jaw-dropping abilities with them. As Kar-wing also directed, he deserves praise not just for his ability with the camera, but also in not hogging the limelight.

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What fans don’t so often talk about is the plot, or the scenes between the mind-blowing fights. That’s because, like many ‘wuxia’ films – films set in ancient China and focusing on martial art heroes – the plot is cliched and most of the scenes have not aged all that well. As times change, so do tastes, and the comedy here mostly relies on slapstick, and secondary characters who are grotesques to the point of cartoonishness, possibly even offence. Outside of the action only two actors really stand out. Dean Sheck’s Master Rocking must be commended simply for the completely off the wall, almost unhinged abandon he brings to the part. Then there is Sammo Hung. Always watchable and genuinely funny, his charisma sadly outshines that of his co-star.

For this special edition, Eureka Entertainment have produced a new 2k restoration. There is some marked visual improvement on the previous DVD release from Hong Kong Legends, which for a movie like this is the main thing. Yet it’s the sound quality that is most notably better. Bluntly, if you own the DVD, this improvement alone might make this Blu-ray worth buying.

There are additional special features. We are presented with two new commentaries, the first featuring Frank Djeng and Robert “Bobby” Samuels, the second with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. These are enjoyable and packed with information and opinion, but old fans of the Hong Kong Legends series might find themselves missing the effortless informativeness of Bey Logan. Sadly it’s hard to escape comparisons with the earlier releases, seeing as the two other main special features, interviews with Lau Kar-wing and Bryan Leung Kar-yan, are taken directly from that DVD. Rounding out the special features are two trailers.

The set also contains a collector’s booklet. Half of this is the usual background to the film being presented, which we’re used to, and is a nice addition which will help pass the time if you really can’t be bothered with the plot. The other half is mostly stills from the movie. One page is worth noting though: a gorgeous art tribute to Shek Tin (Dean Shek), who sadly died of cancer in October 2021. A lovely touch and most welcome.

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This latest release is a difficult one to pin down. Despite it having some of the best weapon choreography ever filmed, the obvious plot and overly broad comedy probably means that this is not the movie to use to introduce someone unfamiliar to the genre. As condescending as it may sound, if you’ve not already dipped more than a toe into the wuxia pool and learned to enjoy its more stylised type of film making, this isn’t an advisable purchase. But to a fan it serves as a reminder of a type of film now no longer made. Acting, comedy, fight choreography, and incredible stunts, these performers did it all, and here it’s done to near perfection. Odd Couple reminds us that the Eureka Classics range is well named, but the truth is it’s the quality of the film, rather than the value of the special features, that justifies its purchase.

Odd Couple is out now on Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment.

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