Champions (2008)
Reviewed by: Gaijin84 on 2009-03-10
Summary: Excellent kung fu, mediocre remains...
Champions from director Tsui Siu-Ming tells the story of a group of Chinese athletes before the start of the 1936 Olympics. Two plot lines run throughout. The first involves Cheung Fung (Dickie Cheung) and the altercations that occur between his martial arts school and the Eagle Claw school run by Master On Yung (Xu Xiangdong). China has been invited to put on an exhibition of martial arts to start the Olympics, and there is much disagreement on how the representatives should be chosen. Master On believes a no-holds-barred tournament should determine the participants, while the head of Cheung Fung's school, Cheung Chi Kong (Yu Rong-Guang) believes that a cross-section of different styles should be shown, no matter their relative effectiveness in combat. Meanwhile, Ngai Ling (Priscilla Wong), the girl who Cheung Fung is in love with, is battling rival Lee Sum (Debbie Goh) to see who represents China in mid-distance sprinting. Personal ambition vs loyalty to the team issues inevitably arise. There is also a sub-plot involving a shady pawn shop owner that eventually brings all the characters together at the end.

Champions is not a bad movie, but its nationalistic and sappy storyline leaves a lot to be desired. Obviously looking to cash in on the high current of national pride, Champions was released about a month after the Beijing Olympics. The entire first part of the movie is dominated by rousing speeches of everyone, regardless of income, should pitch in to help send the athletes off to competition, all for the good of the country. There are also a few scenes with modern touches to them, like one where future scenes from the Olympics are recreated, using the style seen in the Japanese television talent show Kasou Taishou. It's a strange and out of place addition to a film that takes place in the 1930s. Champions has a fair bit of comedy involved, and Dicky Cheung does a good job in his scenes. Unfortunately, he is in the same vein of comedic shtick as Stephen Chow, and he (and most likely no one) can hold a candle to Chow when it comes to nonsense and Mo lei tau comedy. You end up thinking he's just trying to act like Chow, which detracts from his performance. The two female leads are a little too sweet and innocent to take for longer than 10 minutes at a time. The real standout scenes in Champions are the action sequences. Its been quite awhile since someone tried to incorporate animal forms into modern action choreography, but Tsui Siu-Ming and Benz Kong do an admirable job. Yu Rong-Guang looks very good, as does Dickie Cheung in their scenes. The real stand out though is former wushu national champion Xu Xiangdong and his Eagle Fist style. Even in his mid to late 40s, Xu is still very fun to watch. There is a minimum of wire-fu (when its used its not bad looking) and the action looks very hard-hitting. The final fight scene in a burning warehouse incorporates great use of the set to deliver an excellent 15 minute action sequence. Unfortunately, a cheesy final scene leaves a bad taste in your mouth after great choreography has lifted the movie's spirits. More time should have be taken to pace the movie better. Champions should probably be seen for the kung fu sequences alone, but don't expect much from the rest of the film.

Reviewer Score: 7