Operation Scorpio (1992)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-12-18
“Operation Scorpio” has all but flawless martial arts action, an exciting story of loss, humiliation and ultimate redemption, bad guys so loathsome you can't wait to see them defeated and a hero who has to learn to be heroic through his trial and error attempts to emulate the gallant men around him. It has an unnecessarily clumsy structure, told as the fantasy of a Hong Kong schoolboy who would rather draw action cartoons than study Shakespeare but it is so involving that it is easy to miss the obvious markers and references to the cartoons.

The action choreography is done by three members of the royalty of Hong Kong films. It blends wire work with traditional martial arts practice and does it so well (and is executed so perfectly by the three main combatants) that watching Korean bootmaster Kim Won-Jin tumble over a high wall makes one think for an instant that he did the stunt on his own.

Kim is Sunny Wang, the son and main enforcer for Mr. Wang, a wheelchair bound criminal who buys young women from their impoverished families to work as maids. Since the sellers are illiterate the contracts are whatever Wang says they are and when women are shipped to foreign brothels neither they nor their families have any recourse. Wang is an especially malevolent and disgusting character even by Hong Kong movie standards where creating evildoers has become an art. Sunny is indispensable to his father; whenever a situation looks dire Sunny is summoned, being always near at hand and having unreal but credible in this context fighting skills. His joining a fight is always as decisive as the introduction of a modern armored brigade into a cavalry clash from the 19th century—his opponents simply don’t have a chance.

Liu Chia-Liang is perfect as Master Lo. He runs a restaurant and serves the best noodles for miles around. Master Lo is quietly competent and insists that Fei Yu Shu learn the most basic kitchen skills—scrub the pot, flip the noodles—and learn them perfectly. While it becomes clear that Master Lo expects his pupil to learn more than how to cook, his pride in his work shows through. There is honor in performing even simple seeming tasks correctly. We aren’t surprised when Master Lo turns out to be the last master of the Green Dragon clan, only that it took so long for him to decide to shed his disguise.

Chin Kar-Lok is also a martial-arts professional, overshadowed here only because Kim and Liu are so dominant. The movie revolves around him and his quixotic quest to learn kung fu well enough to protect Jade who is played with quiet intensity by the drop-dead gorgeous May Lo Mei-Mei. It isn’t surprising that he isn’t able, no matter how hard he tries and how much he practices, to match blows with Sunny Wang and it is when all seems lost that Master Lo takes off his shirt to show the distinctive tattoos of the Green Dragon Clan.

The fights are sublime, the action exemplary. Seeing Liu Chia-Liang wield the three section staff is like seeing Olivier do “Henry IV”—someone may do it better or even as well but it is hard to think who. Kim’s scorpion pose, solidly supported on his hands and one foot, body parallel to the ground and a few inches above it and his free leg curled forward so that his foot points at his opponent, was astounding when we first saw it, a real “What the hell...?” moment. The audience’s amazement was a reflection of how Fei Yu Shu felt and put us in the same frame of mind as our hero.

One theme that runs throughout “Operation Scorpio” is the power of imagination in the face of tyranny. The only blurring of the line between the schoolboy fantasy of saving the beautiful girl, defeating a despot and showing China the way forward and the “reality” of fear, pain and ultimate victory comes when Master Lo uses Fei’s drawings to illustrate to Fei how to counter the tornado kick and when to use the shadowless kick. Fei has been using every moment he could spare from learning kung fu, learning to cook and mooning over May to draw various stances and moves that he either witnesses or invents and he stretches the limits of his creativity in his ultimate test.

Highly recommended
Reviewer Score: 9