The current release of Stephen Chow’s hit The Mermaid, is the occasion to look back at 5 lesser-known films starring the Cantonese King of Comedy. Before achieving international (occidental) stardom with the terrific Shaolin Soccer in 2001, followed three years later by the equally funny Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow Sing-Chi was already a major and prolific star in Hong Kong. A specialist of the Mo Lai Tau (nonsense comedy) he starred in more than 40 films (most of them being colossal commercial hits) over the 90s. The now 53 year old star has also directed 10 films.
So, a few short suggestions:
Fight Back to School (1991- Gordon Chan)
In this action-comedy, Chow plays a detective who goes undercover as a high school student to find his Commissioner’s lost gun. It was a broken-record success upon it’s release and the occasion for Chow’s to explore his famous Mo Lai Tau (nonsense comedy), with his usual sidekick Ng Man-Tat, at full-speed. The film also spawned two (funny but inferior) sequels.
Justice, My Foot! (1992- Johnnie To)
Chow starred in many period comedies during the 90s (Royal Tramp 1 and 2, Hail the Judge, A Chinese Odyssey series to name a few) but none were as smart as this delicious film that follows the tribulation of a quick-witted and sharp-tongued lawyer in some undefined period of Chinese history.Director Johnnie To adds some surprisingly effective drama that he mixes with Chow’s flair for comic timing and the cinematography by Peter Pau is well above-average. Playing Chow’s pregnant kung fu fighter wife, Anita Mui steals many scenes.
From Beijing with Love (1994- Lee Lik-chi, Stephen Chow)
This was the first film that Stephen Chow co-wrote and co-directed and also one of his best. This irreverent James Bond-spoof, made earlier, is much better than any Austin Powers movies. Chow’s starred as a retired spy now working as a pork vendor who is brought on to investigate the disappearance of a dinosaur’s skull. This belly-laugh riot is one of Chow’s most accessible film to date.
Love on Delivery (1994- Lee Lik-chi)
Maybe one of his silliest and most hysterical Mo Lei Tau comedies of the 1990s, Chow stars a charming but bullying-victim delivery man who accepted a series of challenges after falling in love with a judo queen student (played by Montreal-born Christy Chung). The film was based on a Japanese manga thus the wacky situations and over-the-top comic-style humor.
Out of the Dark (1995- Jeff Lau)
One of the most atypical film in Chow’s filmography, this supernatural (and sometimes gory and creepy) comedy about a mysterious and mentally-ill ghostbuster joined by a brigade of security guards in order to fight the forces of evil in an Hong Kong apartment building. Chow’s persona is a parody of Leon’s character from Luc Besson’s The Professional. The film is fairly unpredictable, unusual and darker compared to Chow’s typical comedies of the period.