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The Teahouse
Year: 1974
Director: Gwai Chi-Hung
Producer: Runme Shaw
Action: Ching Siu-Tung
Cast: Chen Kuan-Tai, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Lau Ng-Kei, Tung Lam, Yeung Chi-Hing, Chan Shen, Kong Yeung, Ha Ping, Lee Pang-Fei, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Yu, Lee Sau-Kei, Shum Lo, Ching Siu-Tung, Sai Gwa-Paau, Kok Lee-Yan, Chan Laap-Ban, Keung Hong, Fung Ging-Man, Danny Lee Sau-Yin
The Skinny: This Teahouse may not live up to its cover blurb ("a tough and tender landmark of the kung fu genre"), but this is an effective social drama nonetheless.
by Kozo:
     Chen Kuan-Tai is Big Brother Cheng, a former refugee who now makes Hong Kong his home. He runs a teahouse along with a bunch of his fellow refugees, and they pass thier days serving dim sum and tea to the HK locals. Despite his name, Cheng is not a triad figure. He's just a pretty swell guy, who manages the teahouse and the lives of his neighbors with a righteous hand. He gets drawn into a pseudo-criminal world when the triads come calling. However, despite Cheng's attempts to handle things within HK's laws, the criminals are never given the proper punishment. That's because the culprits (who rape, steal and act generally surly) are all underage minors, who get kid gloved by the HK legal system. Left defenseless by the very same laws they abide by, Cheng and his friends must find their own solution to this growing problem.
     Celestial Pictures' DVD cover proclaims that The Teahouse is "a tough and tender landmark of the kung fu genre." Well, tough and tender the film very well may be, but the film is not part of the kung fu genre. Not much action really occurs in the film, and when it does its usually of the triad-beating variety. Nobody rips off their shirt and breaks out a tiger, mantis, duck and/or elephant stance, as the film isn't concerned with kick-ass action. The Teahouse has something else on its mind, which is what are these working class people going to do about the damn lawless kids? Since the legal system is such a joke, Cheng resorts to all sorts of tricks to get the triads to back off and/or do his bidding. None of what he asks is for his own profit; he merely wants to live in peace. And even though his schemes seem to work, the criminal element never seems to go away.
     The Teahouse may not work as an action fix, but it's actually a pretty effective social drama. Low budget and wacky seventies sensibilities aside, the film does paint a fairly affecting portrait of average Hong Kong citizens. It also eschews any sort of fantastic mega-mega happy ending for something far more realistic. Cheng may have the best intentions in mind, and his attempts to ward off the triads may be somewhat effective, but he can only do so much. In the end, society's ills are bigger than one man and the teahouse he runs. That uncompromising edge makes The Teahouse better than what it appears to be: a loosely-plotted drama with only sporadic bursts of excitement. Despite its failure to deliver on its explicitly-stated action promise, The Teahouse is never uninteresting. (Kozo 2003)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video Ltd. (IVL)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English, Chinese, Thai subtitles

image courtesy of Intercontinental Video, Ltd.

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