Saturday, January 03, 2004

REVIEW: License To Steal (Long feng zei zhuo zei)

* * ¾ (out of four)

Seen 2 January 2004 at Coolidge Corner #2 (Midnight Kung Fu Madness)

I will miss the Weekly Wednesday Ass-Kicking at the Allston Cinema, but the Coolidge Corner theater isn't much further away (indeed, I think it took me the same amount of time to walk home as it did to wait for and ride the T to the theater last night) and the screen is better. Indeed, the main difference is that the Coolidge has that snazzy marquee and plays cream-of-the-crop boutique movies; the environment isn't quite as underground as Allston, where the next screen over was some wacky Bollywood musical. I swear, the Allston Cinema probably had the same floor-plan as one of the lesser Showcase Cinemas I worked at in Worcester, MA, but it had that underground vibe, like something out of an eighties movie. The type of place that had to be saved before The Man shut it down and made it into a parking lot, or Starbucks, or something similarly soulless. (Like a Staples, or a multiplex, or, if you believe the sour-grapes crowd at Boston Sci-Fi, the Coolidge itself)

But the movie's the thing, right? And, truth be told, I'd been kind of let down with the November/December edition of the WWAK. There was gore, and nakedness, and camp, but the most important element - people punching and kicking at each other with brilliant choreography - seemed to be missing. And without the punching and kicking, what's the point?

Fortunately, License To Steal delivers the goods, most of the time. Sammo Hung is listed as a producer and was probably involved in the fight choreography (the star, Joyce Godenzi, later became his wife). And fights can break out at the drop of a hat. The main plot, such as it is, features Hung (Godenzi) in a fierce rivalry with her foster sister Ngan (Agnes Aurelio) - they'd both been part of a band of theives, but Ngan had betrayed her to take control of the gang. They'll fight. They're being pursued by the police, and the senior policeman has a crazy nephew who thinks he's some sort of mythical Swordsman (Yeun Biao). And since the main characters are thieves, there's guards and gang members (including Billy Chow). The plot makes almost no sense whatsoever, but you can hang six or seven fights off it.

The movie also has a charming sense of absurdity. "No. 1" and his partner stake out Hung and her other sister, but do it from a brightly colored camp tent, complete with fire. And as Hung's gang prepares for the BIG HEIST of the "Napoleon Mask" from a moving truck, they do so by (1) moving a container truck into place, (2) unsheathing a chainsaw, (3) preparing a suitcase full of dynamite, complete with an analog clock face, and (4) putting on gas-masks. I was deeply disappointed not to see what the actual plan was, because it must have been a doozy. The ensuing big fight in an uncompleted building with all sorts of pipes lying around (construction sites in Hong Kong have a lot of pipes lying around, if kung fu movies are to be believed) mostly made up for it, but, man, don't show me a chainsaw unless you intend to use it.

So, I'm feeling better about this series as it returns to the Coolidge after five months in Allston. People are punching and kicking each other - all is right with the world.

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