According to our sagely narrator, the most commonly asked question is what was the most beautiful place in the world? The answer is Yi Hua Palace, a heavenly locale somewhere in ancient China. Apparently, the second most asked question is who was the girl with the best kung fu? I have no idea who conducted this survey but will wager it was the good folks at Shaw Brothers, producers of The Proud Twins which was adapted from an oft-filmed novel by prolific wu xia author Gu Long. Anyway, the answer is the Princess of Yi Hua (Kitty Meng Chui) who is in love with a handsome scholar. Unfortunately, he only has eyes for her pretty handmaiden. Their secret love is discovered when a traitor leads the enraged princess to their mountain retreat, where she poisons the pair and abducts one of their twin baby sons to raise as her own. She abandons the other boy with his uncle, heroic swordsman Yin Nan Tien (Wong Yung), who sets out to find the man who betrayed his brother - the elusive Jiang Chin.
Unfortunately, Master Yin is ambushed by a gang of nefarious kung fu rascals known as the Ten Villains - who have names like Sex-Starved Bai Hai Sin (Lam Fai-Wong), Old Devil Yin Jiao Yau (Yuen Bun), Maneater Li Da Jue (Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, future director of Robotrix (1991)!), Fat Dagger Ha Ha Er (Lun Ga-Chun) (yes, he is a fat bloke), and Transvestite Tao Jiu Jiu (Lee Ging-Fan) (yes, he is an outrageously camp drag queen). With Master Yin trapped and incapacitated by a seemingly incurable poison, the gang decide to adopt his poor little nephew and teach him all their wicked ways, so he will grow up to be the worst villain of all time! This involves subjecting him to some painfully rigorous kung fu training then locking the terrified tyke in a room with a rabid dog. However, the brave boy comes up trumps and grows up to be happy-go-lucky hero, Jiang Xiao Yu (Alexander Fu Sheng). Having learned all their dirty tricks he promptly traps, trips and beats up all his wicked uncles then heads out into the wider world.
On his travels, Xiao happens across Tieh Sin Nan (Candy Wen Xue-Er), a lovely swordswoman in flowing white who can thrash a dozen men single-handed, but is on the run with a stolen treasure map. Hot on her trail is Green Fairy (Au-Yeung Pui San), an equally lovely, even more powerful martial arts maiden who aims to return the treasure to its rightful owner: her long-lost father, Yin Nan Tien. Xiao stumbles into the middle of this mess and learns a whole array of kung fu clans are following their own maps in search of the elusive treasure. Meanwhile at Yi Hua Palace, his long-lost brother Hua Mu Juet (Ng Wai-Kwok) has grown into a swordsman of unparalleled skill and sworn to kill a man whom he does not even know, for reasons his mother will reveal only when the victim is dead. That man is Jiang Xiao Yu...
When Jackie Chan broke new ground with his smash hit Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978) he established a new kind of kung fu hero. One who triumphs more through wit and guile than unstoppable martial arts prowess. Consequently, The Proud Twins feels like a Shaw Brothers’ response to this new trend, a more humorous wu xia than usual from genre veteran Chu Yuan, befitting the fast-talking, lovably roguish screen persona of its star: Alexander Fu Sheng. At the time, Fu Sheng was the only actor among the Shaw stable whose popularity rivalled that of Jackie Chan. Born into a rich family in 1954, he bucked their trend in academics to pursue an acting career and broke into the big leagues with Police Force (1973). Thereafter Fu Sheng and revered director Chang Cheh collaborated on a string of successful martial arts films at Shaw Brothers still beloved by fans to this day. These include Heroes Two (1974), The Chinatown (1977) which brought him fame in the west, and the bizarre time travel/musical/martial arts/fairytale/gangster/anti-drug/horror/morality play Heaven & Hell (1978), though he also diversified into romantic comedy with Hong Kong Playboys (1983) and took a stab at co-directing the period action comedy Wits of the Brats (1982) with Wong Jing and Lau Kar-Wing. But at the height of his fame, Fu Sheng was tragically killed in a hit and run accident in 1983, leaving behind a fleeting appearance in the last great Shaw Brothers movie, the embittered masterpiece Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984).
Almost the martial arts movie equivalent of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1968), the amusingly immoral message at the heart of The Proud Twins is how tricks and scams can help a cocky little so-and-so rise to the top. It is the comical flip-side to Chang Cheh’s The Brave Archer (1977) wherein Fu Sheng rises through the ranks by learning all the proper stances over the course of four movies. In a genre that so often stresses stoicism and valour above all else, this irreverent attitude proves refreshing. Styled like a Looney Tunes cartoon with frenetic slapstick, witty wordplay that anticipates later kung fu comedies like Fong Sai Yuk (1993) and a soundtrack heavy on the “wah-wah, waaah” brass, the film became one of Fu Sheng’s highest grossing hits. Although Chu Yuan stresses that both brothers come to understand there are holes in their respective points of view, he also unmasks their self-righteous elders as having less than noble motives.
Equally, the talented director upholds his tradition of providing strong roles for women and draws three distinctive characterizations from his female leads. He also plays around with gender roles as when a bizarre twist has Xiao find a secret passage inside a tree leading him to the fabulous underground palace of Siao Mi Mi (Lau Wai-Ling), a gorgeous nymphomaniac martial arts mistress who corrals fey young men in her harem of sex slaves! After fending off her amorous advances (only martial arts movie heroes are never disinterested in gorgeous, wealthy nymphomaniacs!), Xiao escapes alongside a shifty young man named Jiang Yu Long (Goo Goon-Chung). It soon transpires that Yu Long and his father (former Shaw spy movie star Tang Ching) are responsible for all the fake treasure maps leading various characters astray, and the old man turns out to be none other than that elusive traitor Jiang Chin.
Typically for a Gu Long adaptation, the plot leans towards the episodic with almost a dozen major characters to keep track of, but Yuan draws all the threads together with aplomb as everyone converges on the villains’ hideout and the old man sets Xiao up as his fall guy. Soon brother is pitted against brother but crafty Xiao has one last trick to play. It ends with an amazing swordfight choreographed by veteran Tang Chia, a sweetly romantic coda and a cheeky wink to the audience from the late, lamented Alexander Fu Sheng.