You are currently displaying Big5
ѮaJ (1981)
The Prodigal Son

Reviewed by: Masterofoneinchpunch
Date: 09/12/2008
Summary: If an opponent is hurt, go for his wounds.

Sammo Hung Kam-Bo's first film on Wing Chun and one of its important experts Leung Jan was the exquisite treatise named Warriors Two (1978). His second movie, The Prodigal Son (1981), would be a much more box-office successful and less didactic prequel to that film and would be his biggest hit until his next movie Carry on Pickpocket (1982). It should be noted that Sammo's importance to the action and martial art genre cannot be overstated and his 1980s directed efforts are still some of the supreme examples of Hong Kong entertainment. This movie is one of his best and among several of the Golden Harvest produced action classics that I have seen many, many times.

In Warriors Two, the important Wing Chun practitioner Leung Jan was an elder gentleman brilliantly played by Leung Kar-Yan. He is now portrayed by Yuen Biao (Knockabout, Project A) as a protected somewhat spoilt kid whose hubris is directly related to the fact that he has won all his fights, unbeknownst to him though they were thrown. He keeps on his fraudulent winning ways until he tries to fight the brilliant and effeminate Peking opera female impersonator star Leung Yee-Tai (Lam Ching Ying: Mr. Vampire (1985), Painted Faces (1988)) who stars as Lotus Poon, is a master in Wing Chun and unwilling to take a bribe. This defeat along with the realization that all his wins were faked (and the help of another defeat by two "mole" people) leads him to seek a sifu in Leung Yee-Tai. He refuses and Leung Jan has his dad buy the opera so he can take a job there and hopefully get Yee-Tai to acquiesce.

Meanwhile, Ngai Fei (played by the composer Frankie Chan Fan-Kei in his second acting performance) the son of royalty sees Yee-Tai fight and feels he must challenge him to a battle. This is analogous to the earlier story of Leung Jan; both are prodigal sons, except that Ngai Fei can actually fight. This leads to an awesome fight on a junk between Ngai and Yee-Tai that is interrupted by Yee-Tai's asthma attack. Ngai being honorable will not take advantage of his sick opponent. However, his two of his cronies employed by Ngai's father are not so exemplary. They see Yee-Tai as a threat and later try to off him in an overly violent attack by hired ninja-like assassins. This is one of the few scenes in the film where compared to the tone of the film was a bit excessive (though still quite cool).

To escape from these assassins and to allow Yee-Tai to heal, they go to Yee-Tai's Wing Chun brother Wong Wah Bo's (director Sammo Hung) house where he is not teaching his overweight daughter Twiggy (Ho Wai-Han) how to fight he is doing calligraphy (one of the funniest and impossible to describe scenes; also shows his interest in this art form analogous to the calligraphy fighting scene in The Magnificent Butcher (1979)). He is a master of the long distance form (masculine) of Wing Chun while his comrade Yee-Tai knows only close fighting. Leung Jan must get both of these masters to teach him so he can become a stalwart in martial arts and take part in the ubiquitous training scenes.

As normal in biographic cinema, Sammo Hung takes some dramatic license in its portrayal of these real-life characters (which he also did in Warriors Two). Leung Yee-Tai and Wong Wah Bo did in fact teach Leung Jan. Leung Yee Tai was in fact in an opera troupe "Red Junk" (also known as the King Fa Wui Goon troupe) and was known for his "Six-and-a-half point Long Pole" technique which was not addressed in this film. Leung Yee-Tai was known for playing a female lead (female players were illegal at this time) which his portrayer Lam Ching Ying also did under the tutelage of sifu Fan Fok-Fa. This helps in his authentic display and wonderful performance. Possibly his best, though he will always be known for being the thick eye-browed priest in Mr. Vampire and he has mentioned his favorite is in Painted Faces. While the history of Wing Chun is somewhat sketchy and anecdotal, the time period for this movie takes place around the 1850s.

Hong Kong action film expert Bey Logan has named this as his favorite martial art film and it is hard to disagree. While there are a few moments of brutality that seem out-of-place and many of the fights make you wish they were longer, it is a thoroughly satisfying film. Two of the fights: with Lam Ching Ying fighting Frankie Chan and Yuen Biao fighting Frankie Chan are worth watching several times. The finale is quite brutal and fits the Wing Chun mantra of "If an opponent is hurt, go for his wounds" quite well. The action is brilliant, fast paced and fits the theme of the movie quite well with gorgeous displays of Wing Chun and other styles. The plot actually helps the film instead of being inconsequential or a distraction. It is also an exquisite looking film with cinematographer Ricky Lau Koon-Wai (director of Mr. Vampire and many more kyonsi films) doing a superb job. There are also the descriptive backstage Peking opera scenes and the Cantonese comedy which works almost seamless with the action helps make this movie a most enjoyable experience. In fact it is one of my favorite martial art movies (cannot choose one though) and one I would recommend to convert others on to this genre.

I have the Fortune Star/Fox release which is uncut, has a good transfer but no extras except trailers. The biggest plus is that there are no dubtitles. However, the spelling and grammar can be atrocious at times (or quite hilarious) like "5There aren't" and "he's fate as a pig". It does not include the original mono release and the remix can sound quite bad at times. Here is another example of an R1 release Hong Kong release that does not match the Hong Kong Legends R2 release for extras. The HKL version has a Bey Logan commentary and other extras (I cannot comment on them since I do not own it).

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 08/05/2005
Summary: Lam Ching Ying steals the show...

Sammo Hung directs The Prodigal Son, about a rich man's son who has been passing himself off as a great martial artist, but gets in over his head when he challenges a real master. Yuen Biao plays Leung Jan, who thinks he is the toughest fighter in the city, but has no idea that his servent has been fixing the matches for him, paying off the competitors in order to make his master look good. One day, he challenges Leung Yee Tai (Lam Ching Ying), a member of the Peking Opera that has stopped in town, and gets thoroughly whipped. After being abandoned by his trainers and told the truth about the fight fixing, Jan goes to Yee Tai and begs him to become his teacher. After turning him down multiple times, Yee Tai finally agrees and takes Biao along on the road to teach him. Along the way, Yee Tai is challenged by Lord Ngai (Frankie Chan), who is also a vicious fighter, and after a first fight draw, Yee Tai (who suffers from sever asthma) refuses to fight again. This leads Ngai's henchmen to slaughter the troupe, except for Jan and Yee Tai, who manage to escape. They go to Yee's brother (Sammo Hung), who agrees to tend for his ailing brother and teach Yuen Biao the Wing Chun style. After months of training, Yuen returns to challenge Lord Ngai in a final battle.

The Prodigal Son is a truly entertaining film, with good acting, great comedic scenes, and probably some of the most authentic fighting and training you'll see in a movie. All of the martial artists are top-notch, with Lam Ching Yam and Yuen Biao standing out as especially skilled. The fights are incredibly choreographed and use great camera angles to accentuate the action (Sammo Hung won Best Action Direction at the Hong Kong Film Awards for this film). In addition, the plot is quite interesting and not overly compicated, which tends to draw away from the action in other films. The fights alone are reason enough to see and even own the film, so the addition of other positive elements make it a very good movie.


Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 01/13/2005

The Prodigal Son is regarded by many as Sammo Hung's best directorial work. In a career that has spawned over thirty years and encompassed classics like Pedicab Driver and Dragons Forever, that's no small praise. The film certainly has an abundance of well-crafted action -- in fact, it's some of the best old-school stuff I've seen. But, in my opinion, The Prodigal Son is let down a bit by a somewhat pedestrian plot and dopey comedy.

In the movie, Yuen Biao (in his second starring role) plays a bored rich kid who spends his days getting into street brawls. He wins every fight, but it is only because his father pays off the opponents. When an opera troupe comes to town and its' star (Lam Ching-Ying) beats up his friends, Yuen challenges Lam to a duel. After he is defeated, Yuen wants Lam to teach him Wing Chun, but Lam wants nothing to do with the cocky youngster. However, after the troupe is killed by officials trying to protect a duke (Frankie Chan) who Lam almost humilated in a fight, the master, along with his brother (played by Sammo Hung), take Yuen under their wing so revenge can be taken.

The power of The Prodigal Son's fight sequences cannot be denied. In this day and age of computer-fu, it was really refreshing seeing people who can actually do the moves without the aid of special effects. Even scenes that seem simple on the surface (like Sammo practicing his calligraphy) take on a whole new level via the martial arts prowess of the stars. One wonders after seeing this film why its' stars didn't attain bigger success in the world of action movies. I guarantee that if you ask a group of western people that condsider themselves kung fu movie fans who Yuen Biao is, most of them wouldn't know -- but they probably would know who Jeff Speakman is, and that's a shame.

Sadly, though, for how good the action is, The Prodigal Son falls prey to some of the genre's shortcomings. The film's tone is very uneven. One scene will have (at least for its' time) graphic violence, and the next will have broad comedy, complete with cartoony sound effects. The characters are not fleshed out very well. In particular, I would have like to seen more development of Lam Ching-Ying and Frankie Chan's characters. In a genre where heroes and villains are often painted in shades of black and white, there was some sublety to those characters which I wish Sammo would have explored more. At any rate, these are fairly minor quibbles -- if you are a fan of classic kung fu action, you can't do too much better than The Prodigal Son.

Reviewed by: SteelwireMantis
Date: 08/19/2003
Summary: Groundbreaking Wing Chun-fest!!

Samo Hung, Yuen Biao and Lam Ching Ying team up to bring some of the most inspiring Wing Chun fight scenes ever committed to screen in this prequel to Samo Hung's 'Warriors Two'.

Yuen Biao plays a younger Leung Chan (played by Leung Kar Yan in W2), the most undefeatable fighter of Fatshan. In a battle of arrogance against Lung Yee Tai (Lam Ching Ying) - a Chinese Opera Singer/actor and expert in Wing Chun, Leung Chan discovers that his parents had paid all his opponents to lose. After realising the truth, Leung Chan forces his father to buy the Opera troupe so he may tag along and force the reluctant Lung Yee Tai to teach him Wing Chun. In an attack that burns the Opera Troupes camp and killing everyone except Chan and Yee Tai by the Governors men, they flee to Lung Yee Tai's hometown. There Leung Chan meets Wong Wa Ho (Samo Hung) Yee-Tai's older brother. After a long era of dispute, Yee Tai takes Leung Chan as his student. Then Yee Tai tricks Wong to teach Leung Chan.

Thats all I can tell you in the synopsis, otherwise it'll ruin the end of the story. Many people hail this film as the greatest film directed by Samo Hung, I cannot really say, I haven't seen all of them yet, only most. But this movie is one of my all-time favourites, it is a todd better than 'Warriors Two' because the fights are faster, Lam Ching Ying proves himself as a martial artist (in a short duel with Frankie Chan) which I badly wanted to go on for longer.

A lot of good fights with Samo Hung's trademark humour, this is a true calssic and it mustn't be missed by anyone.


Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 08/16/2003
Summary: I am in the minority again..........

I thought the movie was ok. WAtching Lam Ching Ying act as a female really puts you off your food. The action is good but it felt slow paced. There was a laugh here and there but the movie only really gets going when Sammo Hung comes into the picture. It really turned the movie around for me.

I wont' say anymore other than its worth a viewing but i wouldn't call it a classic like others have


Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: bkasten
Date: 07/28/2003
Summary: Great by definition

Although this isn't my favorite period action flick, it is among those movies that by definition are great: I watch and get utterly immersed. I feel like I am right there and I can relate to the situation.

This movie is beautiful at all levels: the story, the beautifully fluid action, the dialog, the humor, and the singing! I love it, and I could watch the movie repeatedly and not tire of it.

This is Biao and Hung of the seven fortunes at the very top of their game doing what they do best: period old-school martial arts.

Not to be missed!

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: balstino
Date: 05/27/2003
Summary: Very good, but requires multiple viewing.

When I first watched this, I did get cheesed off with all the campness and the cacky music. However, I have to say now, it is definitely a masterpiece. Some of the Wing Chun is a bit slow but at other times the fighting is rapido! Sammo's midway entry is absolutely hilarious! I'd recommend buying it and watching many times to gain full appreciation.

Reviewed by: danton
Date: 12/30/2002

Ahead of its time and lightyears better than similar Shaw Brothers fare from those days, this Golden Harvest classic remains immensely enjoyable. I'm not a big old school fan and have always preferred new wave action, but this period film stands out. It adheres strictly to genre conventions, and could have used an infusion of romance, a more evil villain as well as better fleshed out historical/political context to make the overall storyline more gripping, but that doesn't diminish the achievement this film represents.

I'm not into Martial Arts myself, so I cannot judge the Wing Chun skills on display here, but I did think that Lam Ching Ying completely stole the movie. Frankie Chan, Yuen Biao and Sammo himself were great, but they were overshadowed by Lam's truly fantastic performance and display of fighting skills. There's little to no wirework in the fight scenes, and the choreography avoids the mechanical back and forth that I normally find so annoying in old school films.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 11/15/2002
Summary: Great movie

The Prodigal Son is definitely a movie that's well above average in the kung fu genre, though I don't understand how anybody could claim it to be the best kung fu movie ever (which people do). It's good, but it's not better than WARRIORS TWO, THE VICTIM, MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER or ENCOUNTERS OF THE SPOOKY KIND - all of which were made before it.

Still, it seems miserly to hold this against the movie - the fact that it still ranks up along with those all time classics shows that it's definitely a must-see movie for martial arts fans!

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 01/13/2002
Summary: CLASSIC

This is an excellent movie in all respects. I must say though, it did seem to drag at first, but it does pick up. Then about half way through the movie, Sammo arrives on the scene, and is hilarious with his 'caligraphy kung fu'! This looks way ahead of it's time I must say (I agree with someone else who reveiwed this), you would never beleive it was 1982 when this was done, it is so well put together. To me, this is the best Sammo Hung kung fu movie, although Yuen Biao is the main character here.

WATCH IT! Even buy it, it's a martial arts/comedy movie, sort of the way Jackie Chan used to do.

Rating :4/5

(This rating is based on the year & genre, so don't think it's based as a comparison on new releases etc.)

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 08/03/2001
Summary: truly groundbreaking

Rewatching this classic brought me back to reality - this is indeed one of the best movies in the genre ever made. Before rewatching, though, I had forgotten most about it, but now it's all clear again.

one of the most authentic to the wing chun style fighting (and to old school kung fu in general) films with good acting, nice narration of characters, excellent humor all around, and of course, purely decent action. The plot was less than perfect, but the fights and humor more than make up for the incompleteness. I have never been fond of or appreciated old school, wirefree, fist-to-fist fights, but the ones presented in Prodigal Son are so authentic and realistic that it will completely make you forget about the gap between old school & new wave action. Plus the brilliant script, this is a once in a decade gem that came out way before its time (just think, it came out one year before some awful 1983 Shaw Bros productions, i.e. Roving Swordsman. Prodigal Son looks 5 or 6 years ahead of those.)


Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: nomoretitanic
Date: 02/12/2001
Summary: Great movie

Good acting, splendid splendid choreography, the characters are complex as is the story and relationsips. My only complain is the voice-over scenes--Sammo does great closeups and the actors have already expressed whatever through nonverbal facial expressions--but then Sammo has to go back to dub what they're thinking, kinda redundant. But remember, art without imperfection wouldn't be art.
Still it was a great movie (be better with a babe in it, but oh well.)

Reviewed by: Ash
Date: 02/04/2001
Summary: Greatest wing chun movie ever period.

This movie has all: kung fu, comedy, a good story,chinese opera, sammo hung doing calligraphy, trainings... The fight scenes of this movie are jaw dropping!! The fight between Lam ching ying and Frankie Chan is simply wonderful. The end fight is good also but Yuen Biao's wing chun is not as good as Frankie chan's. Overall, amasterpiece.....................................10/10

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: SUPERCOP
Date: 12/27/1999
Summary: A martial arts classic.....

Considered to be the finest Wing Chun movie ever made, this Golden Harvest production remains a firm classic with martial arts fans worldwide. Although Yuen Biao and Frankie Chan star and deliver worthy performances of their own, it is the late, great Lam Ching-ying who totally steals the show. His performance as the asthmatic Peking Opera performer is incredible, and is one of the best roles he's ever taken in his long and illustrious career. Hung again delivers fantastic martial arts to the mix, and the final reel, pitting Yuen Biao against Frankie Chan is considered by many to be one of the best fight finales ever filmed. It takes no genius to figure out that I highly recommend this gem, which deserves all the recognition it gets.

Reviewed by: Rindge
Date: 12/09/1999

The prodigal son did star Samo and I think Yuen. It has been yearssince I saw the movie, but it portrayed historical wing chun practitioners. In short the movie was about a young guy, I think Yuen who attempts to learn wing chun. He learns from one master who is somewhat sickly throughout the film. The master is a classmate of Samo's and they constantly are trading barbs as well as fists. The master somehow pisses off an eagle claw practitioner and the normal duel to the death occurs where the student revenges his master's death. This is not the best movie description but like I said it has been years since I saw this film. But this is the best wing chun film ever!!!

Reviewed by: hokazak
Date: 12/09/1999

A great kung fu classic, with interesting characters, good acting, and a decent plot. Some of the most realistic Wing Chun kung fu that you'll see on the silver screen (or the boob tube), as well! Yuen Biao plays the spoiled son of a fairly wealthy man who wants to protect him from getting hurt in a street fight, and so ends up paying half the people in the town to "play possum" when challenging his son to a fight. Consequently, Yuen Biao builds a reputation and an ego on the basis of 300 street fights (all of which have been "thrown" by the opponent). His bogus undefeated streak comes to an end when he tries to get tough with a traveling Peking Opera performer (the always wonderful Lam Ching Ying - increasingly one of my favorite HK actors) who plays the female role in their show, and who manages to beat up Yuen Biao and all his friends, simpering around and speaking in falsetto all the while! Yuen Biao is sobered by the knowledge that his vaunted martial arts "skill" is all show and no substance, and he decides to make a pest of himself until Lam Ching Ying will agree to take him on as his pupil. Comedy, drama, fantastic training sequences, and a bunch of great, realistic and stylistic fights ensue. Recommended!

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Definitely one of the better kung-fu films of the 1980s. Solid fights, characters, and some interesting twists on the usual cliches, right up to the ending. Fans of the genre will recognise many faces, and will find some sequences genuinely funny. Well worth a look.

[Reviewed by Iain Sinclair]