An ailing martial arts master marries dutiful student Jing Dai-Nan (Kara Hui Ying-hung) so as to prevent the family fortune falling into the hands of his no-good younger brother Yu Yung-Sheng (Johnny Wang Lung Wei). Entrusted to pass the fortune to her master’s beloved nephew, Dai-Nan journeys to Canton where Yu Jing-Chuen (co-writer, director and fight choreographer Lau Kar-Leung a.k.a. Liu Chia-liang) is shocked to discover his “auntie” is a beautiful kung fu genius barely out of her teens. She clashes with his son Charlie Yu Tao (Hsiao Ho), whose westernized ways keep getting him into trouble, but the pair learn from each other and develop a grudging respect as, young and old, the family face down Yung-Sheng’s assassins.
Lovely Kara Hui Ying-hung won the Best Actress award for this movie at the very first Hong Kong Film Awards held in 1981. Her amazing kung fu skills, combined with co-star Hsiao Ho’s jaw-dropping acrobatic prowess, and veteran Liu Chia-liang’s ingenious fight choreography make My Young Auntie a showcase for some of the most amazing martial arts you will ever see. Chia-liang has scores of Shaw Brothers classics under his belt yet, aside from the spectacle, what makes his films so special is they open a window into Chinese culture.
A series of knockabout gags poke gentle fun at filial loyalty, morality, traditional etiquette and the ongoing tensions between “modern” and “old-fashioned” values. Chia-liang flirts with seeming conservative by caricaturing Charlie’s western ways, which include an impromptu pop number featuring hilarious cameos from Gordon Liu and Robert Tak as his long-haired, guitar strumming best friends (sort of a kung fu answer to Simon & Garfunkel), but ultimately lambastes both ignorance and insensitivity on both sides of the age divide. Out to show off his kung fu skills, hot-headed Charlie inadvertently trashes the family shrine. A pair of dimwit detectives suspect him and his friends of trafficking opium, largely because they dress and talk funny (Charlie speaks a mishmash of English and Cantonese). While Jing-Chuen pays lip-service to traditional values, he can’t bring himself to administer forty lashes as punishment for his son’s misbehaviour, and fools Dai-Nan by padding Charlie’s buttocks.
Eventually, the film settles on a pleasing mix of “traditional” decency married to a progressive outlook, as embodied in Dai-Nan. Though Dai-Nan quotes rigidly from her book of “family law”, she can’t resist the allure of lipsticks, dancing, Italian shoes and fancy frocks. Her youthful exuberance is constrained by a need to adhere to traditional values. Mocked as a “bumpkin”, she undergoes a Cinderella transformation, and emerges gorgeous in heels and an figure-hugging dress slit to the thigh - which then leads to the astonishing set-piece wherein she fights off a gang of lechers in full evening wear. Similarly, Charlie initially comes across as a spoiled brat used to getting his own way, but loves his dad and proves a capable, dutiful son.
The turn of the century setting stretches Shaw Brothers’ costume department and imparts a strangely winning surreal flavour, which culminates in a fairytale costume ball that finds Charlie dressed as Robin Hood and Dai-Nan in a bubbly blonde wig. Amidst a pop culture mishmash, ransacked from bits of Romeo & Juliet, The Three Musketeers and Carmen (?!), characters tango and jitterbug across the dance floor with infectious abandon, until the night erupts into an amazing swordfight where Hui Ying-hung wields her Chinese sword against western foils. The star actually takes a backseat during the last thirty minutes, wherein Liu Chia-liang and a gaggle of elderly relatives (amusingly, the old guy who specializes in “controlled breathing”, is always out of breath) storm the bad guys hideout. It’s a riot of exploding mines, flying missiles, killer scarecrows, villains with supernaturally strong stomach muscles, and Liu unleashing his trademark mad monkey kung fu. “Hey kid, this is real kung fu.”
Chinese director and actor and one of the most influential martial arts film-makers of the 1970s. Kar-Leung joined the Shaw Brothers studio in 1965 where he worked as an actor and fight choreographer, before making his directing debut in 1975 with the kung fu comedy The Spiritual Boxer. A series of martial arts classics followed, including 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Shaolin Mantis, Dirty Ho, Mad Monkey Kung Fu and My Young Auntie. Kar-Leung was a strong believer that fight sequences should be shot in single, wide shots to showcase the natural skill of the martial artists, which was at odds with those directors who prefered wirework and fast editing.
Kar-Leung continued to direct throughout the eighties, with period films like Shaolin Temple, starring a young Jet Li, and modern-day action flicks Tiger on the Beat and its sequel. In 1994, worked as fight arranger on Jackie Chan's Drunken Master II, but was controversially sacked from the production when his methods clashed with Chan's. In retaliation, he directed his own Drunken Master 3 later the same year. Kar-Leung's last film was 2002's old-fashioned Drunken Monkey, once more for Shaw Brothers.