Forbidden City Cop (1996)

Reviewed by: Hyomil
Date: 04/07/2011

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 03/24/2008

The Emperor is guarded by an elite group of heroes known as the Forbidden City Cops. The title is hereditary, so when hapless Ling Ling Fat (Chow) also qualifies to be a guard, he is kept out of the way with menial tasks. One day, the heroes are killed by a group of martial arts masters who are out to kill the Emperor, and only Ling Ling Fat remains. He has no martial arts skill, but he alone must protect the Emperor against his enemies, and find him a beautiful new concubine.

First impressions of FORBIDDEN CITY COP indicate that Chow was recycling some of his gags – the opening titles are a rehash of the Maurice Binder spoofery from FROM BEIJING WITH LOVE, and Chow’s character’s name is a pun on the Cantonese for “007”. However, the similarities more or less end there. FORBIDDEN CITY COP is a pretty funny film, it has to be said, and it is more a parody of the period Wuxia films of the 70’s and early 80’s than another James Bond send-up. In fact, the Wuxia elements are surprisingly inventive and convincing, and if you were to walk in on this film at certain points, you would be forgiven in thinking you were watching the real thing.

The character of Ling Ling Fat is introduced (after a pre-title sequence where he breaks up a duel between two legendary swordsmen) in typical Chow style. The Forbidden City Cops display their immense martial arts skill in front of the Emperor one by one, and then Chow comes running out, crouches down and does a couple of extremely lame forward rolls. It’s hilariously naff, and gets the viewer onside for the rest of the film. He’s a frustrated inventor who comes up with lots of ingenious (but ultimately pointless) gadgets as well as a bored and inept gynaecologist – a job he is given to keep him away from the Emperor’s palace for as long as possible.

Chow’s character is a little different from usual in this film, and unusually for a film that has rom-com aspirations, the two lovers are married even before the film begins and are blissfully happy. Carina Lau is Chow’s wife and sparring partner, and does a decent enough job of it. Chow regular Law Kar-Ying is featured heavily and is his usual crazed self, although he does seem to be unable to keep a straight face at times. What seems like a sub-plot is introduced about halfway through the film where Chow is sent to woo a concubine on behalf of the Emperor. This actually has more of a bearing on the plot than you would realise (for what that’s worth) and introduces Carman (sic) Lee’s concubine character – whose encounters with Chow create much of the humour for the second half.

Like a lot of Chow’s films, the tone is somewhat uneven, but this can be overlooked in FORBIDDEN CITY COP as the changes are never as jarring as in, say, FROM BEIJING WITH LOVE or KING OF BEGGARS. As with all of Chow’s films, though, a strong knowledge of the language is necessary to get the most out of the mo lei tau (makes no sense) dialogue and Cantonese wordplay. However, even without such knowledge, the film’s a hoot and most of the sight gags are universal, making this one of Chow’s more accessible films of the ‘nineties.

The version on review here is one of the old Mei-Ah straight-from-VCD travesties that they were so keen on producing (maybe they thought DVD wouldn’t take off?). It’s rubbish on all fronts and has the old burnt-in subtitles, but there are a load of howlers that mangle the English language to within an inch of its life.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 05/21/2006
Summary: all about non-stop laughter

Producer Wong Jing gets excellent value for his money creating a wild wuxia parody starring Stephen Chow Sing-Chi and Carina Lau Ka-Ling. Co-directed by Chow and comedian Vincent Kok Tak-Chiu from a screenplay they wrote with Edmond Lo, the movie is all about non-stop laughter.

Funnyman Chow continues playing the wacky Chinese James Bond action hero who is the ancestor of the character he played in his first directorial effort, From Beijing with Love [1994]. Look for Cheung Tat-Ming as the feared Emperor and Law Kar-Ying playing a character I couldn’t begin to describe, you’ll have to see for yourself. For Chow’s newer fans who enjoyed Shaolin Soccer [2001] and Kung Fu Hustle [2004], this is a rainy day must-see.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 06/03/2002
Summary: Another solid Chow movie

In reading some other reviews for Forbidden City Cop, I saw the reference to this being Chow's first "modern" or "mature" work. I'm not exactly sure of what that means -- there is bit less toilet humor in here than his previous movies (especially those directed by Wong Jing, who just sticks to producing this one) and there are fewer outright parodies, though there are a couple of really funny ones of Fox television's horrible Alien Autopsy show and the Hong Kong Film Awards. I believe it refers more to the fact that Chow's character himself seems more mature than his past ones.

In Forbidden City Cop, Chow doesn't seem as buffoonish or cocky, and thus more likeable from the start. Also, even though female characters have in Chow's films always been the yin to his yang, the ones featured here (especially Carina Lau) have fully changed into the bedrock, the person that Chow truly depends on -- a trend which continues to this day, with Vicky Zhao in fufilling the role in Chow's latest film, Shaolin Soccer. It is refreshing to see this kind of characterization for women, instead of the whiny, useless or just plain bitchy mode they are portrayed as in many other comedies (a notable example is Maggie Cheung's insufferably annoying May from the Police Story films).

Getting back to the movie itself, Forbidden City Cop's first half is extremely funny. The jokes come at a rapid-fire pace, and the supporting cast is excellent (especially Law Kar-Ying, who plays the one person in the emperor's court who likes 008). It's classic Stephen Chow all the way, with lots of rubber-faced mugging, over-the-top humor, and a good deal of action. However, near the midway point, the film takes a violent turn -- I'm surprised that Forbidden City Cop only got a IIA (about the equivalent of a PG-13 in the US) rating with all the spurting blood -- and stacks on another layer into a already fairly dense film.

As the threat from the Gum Kingdom seems to have been solved, a new story about 008 being sent to check on a new concubine (Carman Lee) for the emperor is introduced. So, at this point, Forbidden City Cop seems to change gears into a totally different plotline. While things do come together at the end, perhaps some foreshadowing of this second story (so to speak) would have made the transition smoother for the viewer.

As 008 begins to fall for Carman, the plot seems to get a bit too convoluted -- the character's actions don't really make much sense -- and the jokes fall a bit flat. Thankfully, things pick up near the end, where the ambiguous plot is wrapped up and there is a really good action sequence, which again shows that Stephen Chow could be a "regular" action star if he chose to. Even though Forbidden City Cop ends nicely, the events in the last half of the movie feel a bit dull, and the movie suffers overall as a result.

Still, even a "lesser" effort from Stephen Chow is much better than many other comedies from both the US and Hong Kong. I think it is because Chow is so good that we expect near-perfection from him. Like Jackie Chan for kung fu or Chow Yun-Fat for gangster movies, Stephen Chow is undeniably the king of comedy in Hong Kong, which is both good and bad. Chow's personailty and style is more than enough to make an average film a good one, but the problem is that we expect all of his movies to be great, and when (like Forbidden City Cop) they don't fully deliver, the viewer feels a bit disappointed. At any rate, even though it has its' share of flaws, Forbidden City Cop is still a very enjoyable comedy that should please fans of Stephen Chow.

[review from www.hkfilm.net]

Reviewed by: danton
Date: 01/03/2002

In From Beijing With Love, brief reference is made to a famous ancestor of the Bond-type character played by Stephen Chow. I'm pretty sure this movie picks up on that by showing us more of this ancestor, a secret agent operating in the Forbidden City under the service of the emporer. Chow plays Ling Ling Fat (which kind of sounds like 008, or so I am told by Cantonese-speaking friends), who makes up for his incompetence in Martial Arts with intelligence and some wacky inventions.

Right from the opening credits (imagine a Bond-like sequence with all the requisite elements such as psychedelic colors and dancing girls, but the girls all dressed in period costumes with the elaborate hairdos and all - has to be seen...), this movie is a no-holds barred attack on your laughing muscles.

If you like wuxia films, this parody will have you in stitches. It sags a little in the middle portion, but picks up steam again towards the end. Carina Lau plays Chow's wife, and the gorgeous Carmen Lee plays a mysterious beauty Chow is investigating.

This movie ranks right up there with Stephen Chow's best work for me. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: xiaoka
Date: 06/22/2001
Summary: good, not great, but good.

Not one of Stephen Chow's best, but like most of his films, entertaining and has some good laughs.

It really is disjointed between the first half and the second half, almost two entirely different movies, but both work reasonably well.

Carina Lau and Carmen Lee both work well in their limited rolls.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: alienlord
Date: 05/03/2001

This movie is the standard for which all comedies should be set. A cop is fired from his job and takes up his old job as a doctor. But when a group of killers come to his town he uses everything he can to kill them. The fight scene in the jungle is definetly the highlight of the movie. ***/4

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: RLM
Date: 04/23/2001
Summary: Stephen Chow's best film

I agree with Sydneguy - This is really two movies in one. I found both parts enjoyable and the women who were watching the film with me laughed the entire way. I think they found the relationship between the leads effective. However, there is one point where the violence/comedy doesn't work well (ala alien scene).

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: rolandyu
Date: 04/16/2001
Summary: It's OK

As a Stephen Chow fans, I know what to expect. I've watched it several times and I still laugh in a couple of scenes. I think he is the master of comedy. All of his comedies seems spontaneous and unpredictable.

Forbidden City Cop consists of less funny scene, but some are memorable. The martial art presentation to the Emperor in the early scenes are quite funny. The dance with Kam (Carmen Lee) also catched me to laugh.


Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 04/04/2001
Summary: Martial Arts/slapsticks/nonsense

This is one of Stephen Chow's unfunniest movies. Compared to Royal Tramp, this isn't even a comedy any more. There is a total laugh of a minute or two, as opposed to an hour or so from that of Royal Tramp II. While the first half provided excellent action, awesome wire stunts and a straight-forward plot, the second half was almost like a different movie, with little understanding, stupid slapsticks, and sickening behaviors. I have the 2-sided VCD version. If you also get this version, I think it is to your benefit that you completely avoid side 2. It is horribly overpacked with immoral stuff. [7/10]

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 02/28/2001
Summary: Good

Two movies in one.
The first part is easily the best, with very good comedy and action, while the 2nd part was slow and boring, until the ending where it picked up!!


Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/21/1999

This film just doesn't work. Not only does it fall apart into two completely different halves, but neither is satisfactory in itself. There is too much violence in the first part of the film (even some die-hard fans of HK cinema will disapprove of a multiple throat-slashing that's supposed to be funny), and not too many genuine gags. Carman Lee, thankfully, is around to save the day, and her scenes with Chiau are not only funny but quite touching and poignant, too. The second half has one or two inspired scenes - the most memorable is surely a comedic Hong Kong Awards ceremony held at a local brothel, but these only made me focus on the movies' many weaknesses: Chiau's inadequacy to flesh out both the humorous and melancholy aspects of his character, Kok's lack of guidance and generally wooden direction (a big disappointment after ONLY FOOLS FALL IN LOVE), and an uninspired photography that lacks any kind of style. This has won much accolade as Chiau's first "mature" film, but sadly, he fails to live up to the challenge.

[Reviewed by Thomas Muething]

Reviewed by: hktopten
Date: 12/21/1999

Did I write on this already? First Half was classic Stephen Chiau, like Justice My Foot, Flirting Scholar, and Hail the Judge, Second Half was ok, like its precedessor From China with Love. Carina Lau surprisingly handed in a pleasant performance as Ling Ling Fat's wife. Cheung Tat Ming, fresh on stealing the show on the HKFA ceremony, is decent here and probably would have stolen the show if it wasn't for Tats Lau Yi Tat (partner of Anthony Wong Yiu Ming in Tat Ming). All and all, a decent effort and good for a laugh. One of the better Stephen Chiau film of late.

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

I LOVED it!!! Stephen is back to his usual, goofy and harmless self. No stupid plots involving ghosts and flying beanies. No nasty scatalogical jokes. No nothing that ain't the Stephen I love. It is an amuzing, fast-paced and wacky bit of film -- with perhaps better editing than a Wong Kar Wai film! -- and the supporting cast is a total scream. Stephen is adorable and sweet, as well as funny and insolent, by turns. He plays his character, Ling Ling Fat, with incredible agility and moves the story right along with his timing and acting. Carmen Lee and Carina Lau are precious in their roles and make the film an extra joy. Go see this film!!!

[Reviewed by Tsuzi]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Imperial agent 008, who knows little martial arts but has an inventive mind, must save the emperor from the faceless villain of "Gum Kingdom". A typically overdone Stephen Chow comedy, this time Chow seems to have found a director who can bring out his potential. It's tightly scripted, smartly edited, has some great genre parodies, and even the special effects are handled well. Another attraction is the supporting cast, which includes the Taoist granny (Yuen Cheung-Yan?) character, straight out of the cultish "Miracle Fighters" films - one of many amusing references.

[Reviewed by Iain Sinclair]

Reviewed by: spinali
Date: 12/08/1999
Summary: NULL

Continuing his role of 007 (Lung Lung Fat) he made infamousin From Beijing With Love, Stephen Chow goes back several centuries to play a cop in the ancient capital. It starts off with a hilarious parody of the opening animated sequence of the James Bond movies, and from here, there's no turning back. Like most movie comedians, Chow is largely dependent on his material to make his movies work; where the sudden burst of creativity came from in an otherwise stagnant HK movie scene, we'll never know. But he plays the comedy better than ever. Turns out that an evil outlaw with no face has designs on taking over the empire. He invites all of the doctors in the land to a convocation in order to dissect a magical fairy. Lung, however modest in his skills, crashes the meeting with his wife Yip Koo Shing (Carina Lau) after being snubbed by the emperor. The fairy turns out to be a ringer for the so-called alien they showed on Fox TV last year, and that the recently kidnapped emperor is inside. Meanwhile, the faceless man's henchmen have killed nearly all the physicians, the first step in his somewhat confused plan for a takeover. The remainder of the film revolves around Lung's ef forts to secure a bride for the emperor, a legendary beauty from the Gam Kingdom (soon-to-be legendary beauty Carmen Lee), and his desperate attempts to remain true to his wife. Carina Lau is a real charmer here, the first time Chow has had somebody this good to bounce his lines off of. It's the funniest Chow comedy yet (which is saying something), and shorn of the obscure HK references that make most of these comedies so baffling for domestic audiences. Fu, fun, babes, Chow...this one may not have it from start to finish, but it definitely has it all.


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 7