|Right off the bat, Choy Lee Fut attempts too much. Directed by Law Wai-Tak (The Wife from Hell, among other irrelevant films) and stunt coordinator Sam Wong Ming-Sing, this kung-fu drama immediately tries to glorify Choy Lee Fut, one of kung-fu’s most widely practiced styles. The main characters in Choy Lee Fut talk glowingly about the kung fu style, plus there's opening and ending titles explaining in fast, dense and uninteresting fashion the history of Choy Lee Fut. And that’s all we get. Maybe there’s a philosophy to Choy Lee Fut that should make it resonant to the average person, but other than some droning text, all the film can offer is that it’s the martial art that the “good guys” practice. Meanwhile, the “bad guys” train in dimly-lit gyms while grunting menacingly - so yeah, they don’t deserve Choy Lee Fut! Or something. If Choy Lee Fut is awesome, then Choy Lee Fut doesn’t convince us that it’s true. Ip Man this is not.
Grander ambitions aside, Choy Lee Fut does possess positives – though they’re scattered throughout a marginally diverting tale of a boy, his father and the kung-fu tournament he simply must win. Sammo Hung offspring Sammy Chen stars as Jie, who leaves the UK (doubled by UK-themed China development Thames Town) to return to his family’s Choy Lee Fut school in China. However, the school’s future is uncertain: the mega-conglomerate Pan-American Group has closed a deal to buy the school, with the apparent consent of the school’s master and Jie’s father Chen Tien-Lai (Sammo Hung, in little more than an extended cameo). Sadly, Tien-Lai is not around to clear things up, so Jie can only protest while his uncle Chen Tien-Hong (Yuen Wah in a hilarious and knowing performance) looks on inscrutably. But Jie gets his chance anyway; Pan-American offers Jie control of the school if he triumphs in a martial arts tourney. Can Jie win for the glory of Choy Lee Fut?
Of course he can, and that’s exactly what he does! That sounds like a spoiler, but really, what would you expect from your average commercial film, especially one so obviously mediocre as Choy Lee Fut? In terms of creativity or originality, the film has zero going for it. The rousing kung-fu storyline and father-son dynamic work only in a perfunctory fashion – though both are stronger than the movie’s cheesy romance, between Jie and Pan-American exec Xia Yu-Fei (Wang Jia-Yin). Their courtship consists of secret glances, flirtatious sparring and a laughable day-long date where the two engage in more activities than most couples do in a year. Making their date even funnier are the frequent cutaways to Jie’s romantic and martial arts rival Zuo Zhang-Hong (Steven Wong Ka-Lok of L For Love, L For Lies), who sits in Yu-Fei’s office for about eight hours checking his watch. The rampant homoeroticism, laughably evil bad guys and Yuen Wah’s bemused, self-aware performance only add to the film’s inadvertent laughs. This could be a candidate for comedy of the year.
Choy Lee Fut is so lamely put together that it barely qualifies as C-grade moviemaking. Lousy dialogue and bad dubbing (Kane Kosugi, who plays Jie’s Japanese pal Ken, inexplicably switches between English and Cantonese) only enhance the low-budget early-nineties feel of the film. Thankfully, the fighting is decent. Five out of the six featured fighters in Choy Lee Fut have real martial arts training, among them Kane Kosugi, co-director Sam Wong, and martial arts actor Ian Powers (playing a character named, uh, “X-Man”). Sadly, the climactic fight between Sammy Hung and Steven Wong is a letdown because Wong is not a martial artist and is only made to appear like one through doubling and editing. Wong is the best-looking actor in the film, so it’s easy to figure out why he was cast. It’s likely that some producer or investor wanted an actor who could sell a spiky hairdo and boy band goatee to female audiences. This sort of filmmaking via marketing is commonplace, but it may have been poor judgment for Choy Lee Fut, as mainstream crossover was a pipe dream anyway. Better to just amp the fighting to make the fanboys happy.
Choy Lee Fut is still somewhat watchable, though mostly for genre fans who dig fighting and can forgive the routine or substandard quality of everything else. The added bonus for fight fans is the film’s martial arts legacy, starting with Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah and extending through much of the cast. Co-director Sam Wong has worked with Jackie Chan numerous times (Wong’s fight with Chan in Supercop is famous), though he never really hit the big time on his own. Veteran action director and actor Lau Kar-Wing also makes an appearance, and his son Lau Wing-Kin plays one of Sammy Hung’s elders at the Choy Lee-Fut school. Rising martial arts star Dennis To (The Legend is Born – Ip Man) even gets a green screen-assisted cameo. All this martial arts talent may seem wasted on a movie like Choy Lee Fut, but hey, at least they’re working. Given the moribund state of the martial arts genre, it would be bad form to hold Choy Lee Fut against any of them. So we won't, and will choose to enjoy it for what it is. (Kozo 2011)