Royal Tramp (1992)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-12-14
There is a lot to like about “Royal Tramp”. What distinguishes it for me from other movies both written and directed by Wong Jing is that there isn’t all that much to actively dislike. It begins with on target parodies of martial arts movie conventions, ends with a delightful and surprising final shot. In between it has Chingmy Yau being cute and attractive, Sandra Ng being funny and not unattractive (except where called for in the script) Cheung Man being gorgeous and a bit crazy and Stephen Chow being Stephen Chow. “Royal Tramp” escapes being damned by that faintest of all faint praise, “not bad for a Wong Jing movie”. It is actually pretty good.

Before the opening credits we are treated to a hilariously choreographed satire of the scenes of massed kung fu warriors in perfectly serried ranks marching while swinging flags. This battalion of fighters can’t quite stay in unison, are unable to get their red flags swinging in time with each other and can’t stay in formation—or even relatively straight lines. There is plenty of hopping around, lots of grimacing and enough missed cues to stock a large pool hall. The cinematography is perfect for such seemingly amateurish carrying on, since the camera swings away from developing action key points, pulls close-ups when long shots would work and generally misses anything that might be important or even interesting.

Immediately after the credits there is a scene between the Emperor and a confidant which, while setting the scene for this movie, also sends up the complicated and wordy expositions that are featured in so many of the movies that we love. The two of them take turns describing every bit of palace intrigue and double-dealing that has led to the present situation, volleying lines back and forth like tennis players. The scene ends with the Emperor admonishing his aide to remember that anyone who knows about their plans, with only a few exceptions, must be killed.

While Stephen Chow as Wilson Bond is introduced as a long winded and unwelcome storyteller in his sister’s brothel—apparently listening to Bond lie about adventures he has never had is part of the price of admission—some of his best scenes specifically reference other movies and other heroes. One in particular occurs as he balances on top of a teetering stack of chairs, recalling a lot of scenes in which the hero either had to rescue someone on a deadly scaffold or has to fight while perched on a makeshift apparatus, the type of thing that Jet Li or Jackie Chan do regularly. Putting it inside and using chairs rather than the more usual railroad tie sized timbers or forty foot long ladders domesticates the image and makes it a bit ridiculous.

Elvis Tsui is all but unrecognizable as the super villain O’Brian. The wig and make-up people must have had a great time transforming him with white hair and beard that looks as if it had been spun from steel wool and shaped into a spiky frame for his face. With such a get up he had to play everything over the top and he looked as if he was having a good time doing so. The luscious Cheung Man has the pivotal role of the Divine Lady of the Dragon Sect disguised as the Dowager Empress. Wilson Bond discovers the subterfuge—it must have been one hell of a disguise, since both her son and daughter, the Emperor and Princess King Ning (Chingmy Yau) were fooled. Bond’s discovery and disclosure of the true identity of the imposter (the fate of the Dowager Empress isn’t revealed or if it is I missed it) makes possible the last sequence which wraps up all the loose ends of the story—yet another satiric glance at a very common device in Hong Kong film. It also creates the basis for the sequel and does so more creatively than the more typical “end it in the middle of things” fashion of a lot of movies. After the Divine Lady escapes she is shown one last time, looking seductively over her red cape—but she has become Bridgette Lin. It took a beat to realize that there had been a switch.

“Royal Tramp” works on a lot of levels and the typical Wong Jing excess—there are a lot of penis jokes—are easy to ignore.
Reviewer Score: 7