Shot back-to-back with its predecessor, Fong Sai Yuk II maintains the high standard of riotous comedy and gravity-defying kung fu but injects a subtle, yet welcome layer of sociopolitical commentary in line with the better New Wave actioners from this period. The sequel opens with a semi-comical, though actually rather sweet, Cantopop duet between kung fu superhero Fong Sai Yuk (Jet Li) and his doting mom, Miu Chui Fa (Josephine Siao), whose skills are no less deadly. She’s home alone, missing him, while he rides off on his next adventure. And evidently straight into trouble. Sai Yuk and his beautiful new bride, Ting-Ting (former Miss Hong Kong Michelle Reis) are alarmed when a fortune-telling monk predicts the high-flying hero “will be loved by two women.” Sure enough, Sai Yuk is swiftly pursued by a flirty young lad (another former Miss Hong Kong, Amy Kwok) whom, in time-honoured martial arts movie tradition, he somehow can’t tell is really a gorgeous girl in disguise.
The stuff really hits the fan shortly after Sai Yuk’s mentor, Chen Jia Lo (Adam Cheng, who is to Chinese swordplay movies what John Wayne was to the western) inducts him into the Red Flower Society (a fictional group of Han patriots featured most prominently in the wu xia novels of Louis Cha a.k.a. Jin Yong). Having earlier saved Chief Chen from an ambush by dragon-dancing killers, Sai Yuk foils yet another assassin. This time a seemingly innocent old lady who flings her baby aside to take a sword-swipe at the chief. Thus Sai Yuk unwittingly earns the enmity of would-be usurper, Master Yu (Ji Chun-Hua), a respected Red Flower member secretly scheming to steal the throne. However, Chief Chen harbours his own secret: he is the Emperor’s brother, born of Manchu blood but devoted to the Han people that raised him. Upon learning a band of samurai have stolen the sacred box holding his secret identity, Chen sends Sai Yuk on a secret retrieval mission.
In the midst of an epic riverboat battle, Sai Yuk discovers the chief culprit is his mystery admirer, now back in feminine guise and none other than the daughter of Emperor Chien-Lung (subject of a series of Shaw Brothers films in the mid-to-late Seventies). Smitten with Sai Yuk, the Princess promises to hand over the sacred box only if he triumphs in yet another mind-blowing martial arts bout to claim her hand in marriage! Which naturally causes no end of problems with an enraged Ting-Ting. Fortunately, Sai Yuk’s high-kicking mother returns to lend a helping hand.
As before, screenwriter Jeff Lau includes enough comical misunderstandings, false identities, witty wordplay and slam poetry duels to leave this somewhat akin to a Shakespeare comedy with kung fu. This is the one where Sai Yuk accidentally kisses a nun (who begs for more!), his mother impersonates legendary sword hero Musashi Miyamoto and a chicken falls victim to the deadly paralyzing touch! Meanwhile, the acrobatic wire-fu action choreographed by director Corey Yuen Kwai and former actor Yuen Tak is even more off the wall: e.g. the opening where a multiple pole wielding Sai Yuk fends off a dozen-assassins in a fire-breathing dragon costume; a scene where hero and villain cling onto spinning wood panels; samurai surfing on bamboo rafts while Sai Yuk flies twirling a giant umbrella with the princess on his back.
However, beneath all the craziness lurks some surprisingly subversive political content satirizing the Red Flower Society’s devotion to doctrine at the expense of basic humanity. Their ultimate fate mirrors that of their real-life historical counterparts, who gradually devolved into small criminal organizations, or triad societies, that linger to this day. “A true hero weighs the circumstances before he makes a move”, argues Chief Chen, but like several other characters in the film he hides his selfishness behind high-minded rhetoric whereas Sai Yuk is always first to risk his life whenever an innocent is in danger. The message is further underlined by Corey Yuen himself in a rare acting role as Li Guo Bang, a closet kung fu master whose self-serving motto runs: “safety first”, but who proves his heroism when it counts. He also shares a secret past with none other than Sai Yuk’s mom, revealed via an hilarious in-joke, black and white pastiche of the old Buddha’s Palm films that first made Josephine Siao a star. For the record, the celebrated actor-director also does his only nude scene when Miu Chui Fa ambushes him in the bathtub.
This time around the scene-stealing Josephine Siao has stiff competition from charismatic beauty Amy Kwok, who displays a fine flair for comedy in one of her too few film roles. She remains best known for her work television, though fans rate her dramatic turn in the Ringo Lam thriller The Victim (1999). Given Fong Sai Yuk is celebrated as that most patriotic of heroes, it is tempting to interpret his mother as a metaphorical symbol of the Chinese nation. She endures all manner of indignities until he can stand no more. The frenetic finale has mother literally propelling her son to greatness in a dynamic duel atop dozens of high-stacked benches - staged like a huge game of Jenga. So which of the two beautiful, spirited women does Fong Sai Yuk finally choose? Well, the closing scene implies he is either due for a heap of trouble or just might be the luckiest martial arts hero who ever lived.
In the nineties, he directed Jet Li in films like The Legend, The Defender and The Enforcer, which led to work as action choreographer on many of Li's Hollywood films, including The One, Kiss of the Dragon and Cradle 2 the Grave. Most recently, Yuen directed the Luc Besson-produced action hit The Transporter.