A trio of cat burglars, including ridiculously-named acrobat Thongs (Jackie Chan), skilled safecracker Landlord (Michael Hui) and smooth womaniser Octopus (Louis Koo) are willing to take on any perilous job, so long as the financial rewards are enough to help ease their troubled lives. While Thongs has a serious gambling addiction that disgraces his hard-working siblings and Landlord struggles to cope with a wife (Teresa Carpio) driven crazy since the loss of their child, Octopus is a gigolo sponging off rich girlfriends who callously suggests his young, pregnant wife Yin (Charlene Choi) should have an abortion.
These seemingly amoral criminals get more than they bargained for when they accept a mysterious assignment from an eccentric underworld tycoon. Their target turns out to be a cute infant (Matthew Medvedev) who steals their hearts transforming the hitherto hardened crooks into matronly protectors of their fragile but troublesome charge. What at first seems to be simple kidnapping spirals out of control as the trio dodge debt collectors, mob enforcers and a specialist police unit led by Thongs’ childhood friend-turned-kung fu kicking cop Inspector Steve Mok (Yuen Biao). Eventually, they must choose between the biggest payout they’ve ever had and the safety of the baby, which looks increasingly in doubt as the real reasons behind his kidnap begin to emerge.
Rob-B-Hood proved a much needed Hong Kong hit for Jackie Chan. At the time his inebriated antics at a local pop concert, coupled with some ill-advised remarks about the political situation in Taiwan and public antipathy towards the increasingly execrable Rush Hour movies saw the once-beloved clown prince of kung fu on the verge of becoming a hate figure in his native land. Thankfully, the public embraced this kung fu twist on Trois Hommes et un Couffin (1985) proving that, like politicians, troubled movie stars can rely on cute babies to rescue their careers. Benny Chan includes all the usual gags about crying fits, dirty nappies and late night bottle feeds, but this being a Hong Kong movie, he ups the ante with all manner of outrageous scenes with the frail little guy trapped in a washing machine, dangled from a tall building or attached to a runaway van.
Young Matthew Medvedev is a genuinely adorable child. Chan milks his cuteness for all its worth, but counterbalances the sentimentality with an unexpectedly tough streak of drama. The film has a depth of characterisation rare in Hong Kong action-comedies and things grow remarkably poignant at times as Thongs faces his stroke-ridden father (Shaw Brothers veteran Ku Feng) and army of poverty stricken siblings, Octopus admits he’s a no-good husband to long-suffering Yan and Landlord struggles to console his bereaved wife. Making a return to the big screen legendary comedian Michael Hui musters a great deal of sympathy for his downtrodden ne’er do well.
On top of Hui, there is the added pleasure of seeing Yuen Biao kicking butt alongside Jackie after more than twenty years. Still one heck of a martial artist, he convincingly lays waste to armies of triads, though the standout scene remains a series of farcical confrontations at Thongs’ apartment between loan sharks, kidnappers and weepy Yen while Mok remains clueless almost throughout. There are cameos from Hong Kong stars including Daniel Wu (as a gay security guard in a gag reference to Brokeback Mountain (2006)), but Gao Yuan-Yuan adds little as Jackie’s mainland love interest and the film grievously wastes Charlene Choi and her sprightly comic skills in a nothing role.
Serving in his usual, multiple capacities as producer, co-screenwriter and action director, Jackie Chan shows no sign of slowing down. As he approaches sixty, it remains astonishing to watch him leap off an apartment block, fight on a trampoline or narrowly sidestep a massive car crash with baby in tow. Despite a handful of lapses, the action builds to a cracking finale with the baby trapped in a cryogenic freezer while Thongs battles a pair of lethal triad fighters and Landlord struggles to crack open the high-tech door. The scene where Jackie runs electric volts through his own body and tries to revive the comatose child is so startling even the villains are in tears.
Available on region 2 DVD under the title Robin-B-Hood. I stuck with the original Chinese title because I'm hopelessly pedantic.