Where's Officer Tuba? (1986)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-02-18
“Where’s Officer Tuba” is a movie that tells the story of an ordinary man who gets thrown into the middle of some extraordinary situations. Much of its charm is that Sammo Hung, as Tuba, remains a very reluctant hero even while his sidekick Cheung, played by Jacky Cheung at his least annoying, is rushing into danger and the supercop Sergeant Rambo is taking on gangs of armed thugs. Tuba does what makes sense when confronted with a cleaver wielding maniac. He hides behind a car and tries to compress his substantial bulk into a very small space in trying to stay out of sight. He doesn’t want to shoot back when fired upon by bad guys since it will just make them more angry with him. Tuba takes the sensible approach to fighting crime—why bother getting hurt, there will always be plenty of crime to for everyone to deal with. The movie goes back and forth between violent police action movie and romantic comedy but is so perfectly paced and with such engaging characters that we are happy to go along for the ride.

Tuba is a musician in the police band. He spends time at the local supermarket where he harasses the manager through the closed circuit security system and tries to pick up a young cashier. He has a bunch of goofy friends who set him up with women he doesn’t like and who try to use him as a cover for their own philandering. His flat mate is just back from the Police Academy. He likes playing in the band, likes to cook for his friends and generally has an uneventful but not unsatisfying life. Until someone blows up the Chairman’s Bentley and he meets Joanne, the new manager at the supermarket. Since Joanne is played by the then 20 year old Joey Wong, one smile from her (which Tuba doesn’t get until late in the scene in which they “meet cute”) is worth a fleet of flaming automobiles.

Tuba falls hard for Joanne and is unwittingly drafted into the police plan to disrupt an extortion attempt against the Chairman on the same eventful evening. He has only one qualification for his assignment, that he looks nothing like a police officer. His superiors think so little of him that they don’t tell him he is part of sting operation—he believes he is doing a favor for another officer and delivering a suitcase to an unknown person on the ferry dock at midnight.

Three scenes on the dock that night are tiny masterpieces. In each of them Tuba thinks he has met the person getting the suitcase—the first is a guy waiting for his girlfriend who Tuba approaches, telling him he is cool. The guy becomes very angry very quickly but his girlfriend shows up and they leave with the audience allowed to make up its own mind why he was so quick to anger.

The second happens behind Tuba—a couple is taking photographs of each other and Tuba hears someone telling (he assumes) him to stand still, not move and not look over here, which he doesn’t. Now following orders exactly, he also smiles, fixes his hair and acts sexy at the unseen photographer’s command.

The last of the three is with a guy in phone booth who needs change for a call. Once again Tuba thinks he has met his contact and once again he has simply encountered a member of the public. In this case, however, before the person who needed change can make his call the phone rings and he is told to give the phone to the fat guy holding the suitcase.

These scenes take place in two and one-half minutes and each is paced perfectly, always ending to end a beat before they need to and blending perfectly into the next. They are quick throw-aways that are hilarious in themselves and which take the plot from point A, with Tuba on the ferry dock, to point B, with Tuba dealing with armed gangsters in the shadows of a warehouse. It also moves from comedy with suspense to murderous action in a flash when Sgt. Rambo intervenes into the unequal fight. He literally shoots one criminal out of the sky and is faring well in hand to hand combat with tough enforcers when the head of the gang arrives armed with a shotgun. Tuba, always true to his nature, has found a good place to hide, keeping well away from the fists and flying lead.

His problems really begin when he tries to return to his former safe and slow-paced life. Having been involved in, however reluctantly, the heroism of Sgt. Rambo he is forced to avenge him. His instrument becomes enchanted, deciding to play what it wants to and he is haunted by the ghost of his Rambo after he reneges on his promise to avenge him. He finally gets the courage to ask Joanne for a date only to have the ghost show up as an uninvited and most unwelcome extra guest, visible only to him.

Everything is a disaster during the scenes with Joanne and her parents since the ghost makes it clear he will make Tuba’s life miserable until he keeps his vow. Joanne’s mother is ready to like her daughter’s suitor and her father shows the patience and forbearance of St. Francis of Assisi as Tuba insults him, smashes furniture and throws a cake at him. We are sufficiently taken with Sammo’s depiction of this character that we share his joy when Joanne assents to the date and are devastated along with him when she throws him out, handing back his gift of oranges as she slams the door on him. Some of these scenes drag a bit when watched at home on DVD but they may have been perfectly timed for a doubled over with laughter audience in a crowded cinema.

What has to happen, of course, is that this ordinary—or even unworthy—man must prove his courage to win the girl and placate the ghost. He has to do what earlier he wouldn’t even think of—he puts himself in danger and acts courageously and selflessly in the face of peril.

Highly recommended
Reviewer Score: 9