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The prodigal son - a Martial Arts Movie review


The prodigal son


Release date:  1981             Original title: 敗家仔
Director(s) Sammo Hung                         Original language:  Cantonese
Actors Yuen Biao
Lam Ching-ying
Sammo Hung
Frankie Chan


The prodigal son is one of the best martial arts movie and without a doubt, the best wing chun movie filmed. It has both coherent philosophy (in other words, doesn't have any of the cheesiness and fortune cookie wisdom) and the fight scenes are varied and entertaining.


Characters (with martial arts backgrounds)

Leung Jan (梁贊) - played by Yuen Biao (元彪)

Leung Jan is the son of a rich Foshan (佛山) merchant. He is a martial arts fanatic who never hesitates to show his skills in challenges. Unbeknown to him, his father had ordered the butler to bribe his opponents and fix all his fights in a attempt to keep Leung Jan out of harm.

Leung Yee Tai (梁二娣) - played by Lam Ching Ying (林正英)

An actor in an opera troop, Leung Yee Tai is also a Wing Chun master. Played by Lam Ching Ying, the movements displayed by Leung Yee Tai are sharp and representative of genuine Wing Chun.

Wong Wah Bo (黃華寶) - played by Sammo Hung (洪金寶)

Although big in size, Sammo Hung, playing Wong Wah Bo is numble and agile. His character doesn't care much for customs and theories, but is noneoftheless a formidable fighter.


Through a series of events, He finally meets Leung Yee Tai, a wing chun master, who unlike other "master" Leung Jan had encountered, refuses the bribe money offered by the butler and serves Leung Jan a lesson in humility. Beaten and humiliated, Leung Jan decides to seek instruction from Leung Yee Tai.

The movie allows us to witness how the master/ disciple relationship forms between Yee tai and Jan.


Historical value

Both Leung Jan and Leung Yee tai are historical figures in wing chun lineage, Leung Jan being the teacher of both of Yip Man's (葉問) teachers (Leung Bik (梁壁) and Chan Wah-Shun (陳華順)). A great deal of liberty have been taken with the story to a point where the only historical fact from this movie may be the master/disciple relationship between Leung Yee Tai and Leung Jan.


Training scenes

Training sequences are plentiful in this movie. Wing Chun main philosophy and fighting principles are well explained and developped in this movie. Exercises are credible and have the potential to improve one's martial arts skills.

Exercises include a basic 2 people punch/block exercise performed by Leung Jan and the neighbors daughter. The same exercise is shown solo, using a wooden arm as training partner.

Training on a wooden arm

Other training scenes include Leung Jan's teachers explaining to him, the fighting principles of Wing Chun. More often than not, such theoretical lectures are followed by sparring, which seems to be the primary way of teaching throughout the movie.

Training methods are realistic, and perhaps with the high amount of quality, full contact sparring, more efficient than what we can see in modern schools. Different methods are used to train different aspects of Wing Chun. One such scene include sparring on a small table, to improve on footwork and body positioning during close range confrontations.



Fight scenes

There are quite a bit of fight scenes in this movie. The fights use no discernable wirework and as such, are as realistic as a wing chun demonstration can be. The movements are crisp and and accurately portray Wing Chun techniques and footwork.

The gruesomeness is medium-low. There is one somewhat cruel scenes, but on a whol;e, fights results in no more than a few scratches and bruises.



Teaching (and learning) martial arts

Before martial arts became a commercial exchange, martial arts master would only select a handful of students. Small number allowed the master to spend more time correcting each students. Also, depending on the ruling office, some crimes were punishable by death to the convict along with his whole family, which includes the martial arts teacher.

Master Leung Yee Tai initially did not want to accept Leung Jan as a student for fear that Leung Jan will use his martial arts to stir up trouble. Jan's point of view is quite different.


At 01:10 in the movie.

[Leung Yee Tai]: Sit down, little brother. My kung fu is difficult and I don't teach it to anyone.

If you know it, you'll use it to fight. If you do you will be challenged and if challenged, you could lose your life. It's better not to know. Why don't you go back and learn your father's business?

[Leung Jan]: Big brother, sit down. Listen. People will fight whether or not they know kung fu. Challenges in life are unavoidable. Everyone dies sooner or later. If all kung fu masters thought like you, kung fu would quickly be lost. I'm not forcing you to take me in but I have to tell you, your way of thinking is wrong.


Relationship between teacher and student

The relationship between the master, leung yee tai and the student leung jan is not much different any other likewise relashionship in other movies, in which the relationship is akin to a father son relationship.

At 01:18:39 in the movie

[Leung Jan]: Fatty is always showing off. Lucky I didn't learn from him.
[Leung Yee Tai]:You're wrong. He has true ability. He could teach you the true nature of Wing Chun.
[Leung Jan]: What is the true nature?
[Leung Yee Tai]: Close and long-quarters combat. I can only show you close-quarters. He can use both close and long-quarters combat.
[Leung Jan]: Long or close, I can't learn it.
[Leung Yee Tai]:Do you want to learn?
[Leung Jan]: You won't let me learn from him.
[Leung Yee Tai]: That's not true. If I teach you, I want you to know it all.

What sets this movie apart is the openness and goal of Leung Yee Tai, the teacher: he wishes for his student to become the best possible, even setting aside his ego and striking aside with his long time rival to teach his student.

Striking a deal

The emotion that should fuel martial arts training

When Master Leung Yee tai first meets the antagonist, he says that the core of wing chun, the emotion that fuels it is "tolerance". Yet when he teaches leung jan and asks him what the core is, the answer of "tolerance" is no longer the correct answer, instead, the answer is "vengefulness". The feeling of anger associated with vengefulness help generate the necessary power to take on opponents.

What we can decode from that message is that there is a duality in the message of martial: to outsiders, martial arts are for health and individual growth, but to insiders, martial arts are primarily practiced to efficiantly dispose of attackers.


The Value of sparring (in the form of challenges)

When the antagonist challenges Master Leung yee tai for a dual, master leung replies that there is no such word in martial arts vocabulary.

What master leung means is that martial arts aim is to be lethal. Each strike must be executed with the true intent of the art. As such, one should weight the consequences of needlessly using it.





Last Updated on Monday, 07 November 2011 21:47  

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