Lee Chak Sing (Stephen Chow Sing-Chi) is a pampered playboy living it up at his mansion in Hawaii while studying biology at a college funded by his billionaire father (Wong Yat-Fei). His exalted status means students and faculty must tolerate his mean pranks and bad boy behaviour. Only homely, bespectacled Chung Chung (Gigi Leung) has the guts to let Chak Sing know what a jerk he is. Newly smitten with the bikini babe next door (Pauline Suen Kai-Kwan), Chak Sing takes her out for a night on the town but is horrified to discover she is already married to a tiger-striped zoot-suited yakuza boss named Fumito (Joe Cheng Cho). When Chak Sing sees Fumito execute an underling, the mobster arranges for him to be blown up in his mansion. Only his lips remain intact - inexplicably still able to talk! Luckily, Professor Jiang Shi (Elvis Tsui), Chung Chung’s crazy Einstein-haired uncle, is able to resurrect Chak Sing as a cut-price cyborg with extendable eyeballs and the ability to transform into a wacky array of household objects.
Although its title riffs on the much-loved Lee Majors television show from the Seventies, this Stephen Chow comedy is actually more a cash-in on the then-recent Jim Carrey hit, The Mask (1994), coupling retro-Forties visuals with an emphasis on cartoony special effects. In fact, one of the original Hong Kong posters featured Chow in a yellow zoot suit identical to the one Carey wore, although the film itself opts for a zebra-striped outfit. Even without The Mask references, The Six Million Dollar Man ranks as Chow’s most derivative comedy, lifting gags from an array of American sources alongside his trademark anime-styled visual humour and machinegun paced verbal tomfoolery. Co-scripted and produced by indefatigable schlockmeister Wong Jing, the film has a ramshackle, thrown-together feel about it even though big money was flung at the screen.
Shot on location in Honolulu, with ample footage of beach bunnies cavorting around picturesque locales, cinematographer Andrew Lau - future director of Storm Riders (1998) and Infernal Affairs (2002) - drenches the film in vibrant cartoon colours while the special effects, though more primitive than those conjured by the boys at ILM, are quite eye-catching and ingeniously conceived. Although initially the joke is that our cyborg hero is somewhat less than state of the art, sporting a waterhose in place of his missing penis and unreliable rubbery limbs, an upgrade from Professor Jiang turns Chak Sing into a “super superman” able to transform into such outlandish items as a giant tube of toothpaste, a toilet bowl and a microwave oven. The film’s anything-for-a-laugh, mile-a-minute pop culture references prove inevitably hit-and-miss with an extended Pulp Fiction spoof, with Chow and Pauline Suen Kai-Kwan dressed as John Travolta and Uma Thurman dancing to the same Chuck Berry song, among the more amusing moments.
However, the plot - such as it is - takes a whopping fifty minutes to get going, before which the film finds itself bogged down in episodic antics and a soap opera subplot wherein Chak Sing discovers his long-suffering manservant, played by frequent co-star Ng Man Tat, is his real father. Following his reconstruction as a cyborg, the story picks up two years later where Chak Sing starts a new job as a biology teacher at a school in Hong Kong notorious for its badly behaved students. Suddenly, the film isn’t aping The Mask any more but classic HK children’s comedy Happy Ghost (1984) as Chak Sing uses his bionic superpowers to bring his classroom of hooligans into line and win the heart of Chung Chung, who having ditched her braces and thick specs is now a comely schoolteacher dating the playboy son (Johnny Dang Siu-Jen) of the school director (Guy Lai Ying-Chau). Although the crux of the plot would appear to be Chak Sing’s gradual transformation into a less self-centred, more altruistic guy, he never actually uses his powers to do anything other than avenge himself, steal Chung Chung away from his rival and humiliate a stage magician for no other reason than because he can. All of which suggests he has not really changed that much. With ten minutes to go, the film brings back the gangsters as Fumito has his top henchman transformed into a more powerful cyborg, setting the stage for the silly, effects-laden climax. Lifting an idea from his nearest box office rival Jackie Chan, Chow includes outtakes over the end credits, though these aren’t anywhere near as exciting. The theme music is an instrumental version of that kitsch Barry Manilow classic “Copacabana.” Somehow it fits.