In 1994 Stephen Chow, now arguably most famous for his films Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, was relatively unknown outside of Asia but already had a decade of film and television success behind him. And so he was able to not just star in but also write and direct his own comedy: From Beijing With Love. Like so many others would if given the chance, Chow decided to cast himself in the role of James Bond.
Humour, much like beer, does not travel well, and this film comes from Hong Kong and thirty years ago. Nothing about this movie is subtle, from the the title in China translating as “the domestically-produced 007”, to the near indestructible, gold-toothed Jaws pastiche. To call the jokes broad is to miss the opportunity to use the phrase ‘bawdy, all boys, sixth-form review’. There are a few gems. The opening credits are a Maurice Binder inspired piece of lunacy, and the superfluous gadgets will at least raise a groan, if not a laugh, with the reveal of the Super Weaponator 3000 being a genuinely funny moment.
Something that often feels incongruous with Hong Kong comedies – especially older ones – for an audience unused to them is the levels of violence you often see. From Beijing With Love is no exception. With frankly gratuitous levels of violence cropping up frequently between the comedy, there’s far more red claret on display than dry martinis. The dissonant style of Asian cinema comedy is often jarring. For example, two brothers screaming and begging for their lives against a wall in front of a firing squad before being shot repeatedly and then brutally beaten is not usually conceded great comedy fodder; yet here it is.
The plot, though far fetched, is at least clear and makes sense in its own special way, with Chow’s Ling-ling-chat (a pun on ‘Double-Oh-Seven’ for those who don’t speak Cantonese) setting out to rescue a stolen dinosaur fossil because not doing so would make China bad. Alongside Chow is a decent cast, headed up by Anita Yuen, then at the height of her popularity. She plays a double – possibly triple – agent, in the classic Bond Girl vein. Wong Kam-kong puts in a decent showing as the villain Golden Gun (yes, really) and there are a few cameos that fans of Hong Kong cinema can look out for.
This was the first time Chow directed, and while there are hints of what was to come, especially during the fight scenes, there is clearly the work of an inexperienced hand at the rudder. Coupled with the budget, to many this will have the feel of television as opposed to feature film. This TV feel is only enhanced by the restoration. The clean-up gives it a gloss that makes the whole thing feel like it’s trying to look like it’s had money spent on it that it hasn’t. This isn’t the fault of Eureka Entertainment; simply put, there’s only so much you can do when restoring.
There are some nice special features here. An interview with Kam-kong which is split into two features is of the most interest to film historians. Perhaps the best moment is when he describes Chow, saying “He’s not interested in politics”. This is particularly amusing as in 2013 Chow was elected a member of the 11th Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The audio commentary with Frank Djeng is an absolute geek-fest, with Djeng being an obviously huge fan with a broad knowledge of the subject, but his delivery is so rapid fire it can be hard to keep up with. Additionally, there are some other archival features included, as well as an enjoyable collectors booklet, with plenty of more information and facts to enjoy.
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In all honesty, this film is more of a curiosity than anything else. It’s not clever enough to make it a great Bond parody, nor is it funny enough to make it a great comedy. But Eureka have at least put some leg work in with the special features. They manage to elevate this release above the movie itself, but whether or not it’s going to persuade you to part with £20 for what is at best an average release from a fledgling director, is another question entirely.
From Beijing With Love is out on Blu-ray on 23rd October from Eureka Entertainment.