My Young Auntie (1981)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-11-24
“My Young Auntie” is an energetic action comedy that is full of delightful characters, none more so than Jing Dai Nan played to perfection by Kara Hui. Hui manages to be loving, imperious, tough as nails and fiercely loyal and make it look natural—and her kung fu is better than most. There is plenty of interesting thematic material including the effects of Western culture on China in the early part of the last century, how seemingly inviolate family traditions can be used or misused and how different generations of a family approach their obligations. It is intriguing to see the almost obsequious show of respect by Yu Jing Cheun for his auntie. Even if she is much younger than he, she is still his uncle’s widow and therefore entitled to all the rights and privileges of the senior member of the family. And Dai Nan takes his deference as no more than her due—in her world as in his it is simply what one expects. This changes of course when the next generation of the Yu clan, Cheun’s son, arrives.

We first encounter Dai Nan as a trusted servant to the dying patriarch of an extended southern Chinese family. She marries her employer to keep the family fortune from falling into the hands of the evil Yu Yung Sheng. It is obvious from the very first that Yu Yung Sheng is not someone who should inherit—he urges his older brother to hurry up with his dying so that he can get on with disposing of his legacy. Later on we discover that he uses his kung fu to bully people, so he is a dastardly person indeed.

Jing Dai Nan, deeds to the property in hand, travels to the home of her nephew, Yu Jing Chuen who is a generation or so older than she. There she encounters her grandnephew, Yu Tao who has become so westernized (or effete) that he now calls himself Charlie. Charlie thinks that Jing is a country mouse who has come to the city while Jing thinks that Charlie is a lazy poseur with no future. Each of them are both correct and incorrect in how they see the other which is the basis for much of the conflict that propels the story.

One excellent bit happens when Dai Nan goes shopping. She winds up tottering about on her first pair of high heels and wearing a skirt that is slit far enough up the side seams to be immodest—especially since she runs into a bad of toughs. Every time she launches a kick she has to stop and pull her skirt back together. Another situation, one that has more of vicious edge to it, is when Charlie and his school buddies decide to “teach Auntie how to dance”. They surround her, pushing her back and forth between themselves—what she does learn is completely inappropriate and ridiculous for the masquerade ball that evening.

Hui and Hsiao Ho as Charlie engage in a lot of well written and well acted aversion/attraction, avoidance/response, push/pull byplay with both of them testing the limits of their odd relationship. One scene in which Charlie tries to catch a glimpse of Dai Nan while she is getting dressed while pretending to help his father hang a banner shows how Charlie, for all his Western cool or Chinese reticence is still a young man very aware of just how desirable his great aunt is. While they are trying to figure out how to deal with each other, reality in the form of the evil Ah Tak, godson of Third Uncle Yu shows up. He firmly believes the inheritance should be his and has brought along some muscle to make sure everyone agrees with him. They almost carry the day by simply stealing the deed to the family property.

“My Young Auntie” is almost a classic. It falls short because the energetic and charismatic Karla Hui is essentially left behind during the last couple of reels. A rag tag bunch of uncles, all quite elderly, are the ones who break into Ah Tak’s place to regain the deed and set matters right. There are some funny scenes as Dai Nan tries to train the old men into a credible fighting force but they are no substitute for what the audience has been waiting for, the lovely and deadly Dai Nan upholding the family honor by defeating the evil Third Uncle.

Reviewer Score: 8