“The Eagle Shooting Heroes” (射鵰英雄傳之東成西就) – 2022 Busan Film Review

Tony Leung Chiu-wai in a rare moment when his face is not destroyed in Jeffrey Lau’s 1993 Chinese New Year mo lei tau comedy, “The Eagle Shooting Heroes.” (still courtesy of the Busan International Film Festival)

Tony Leung Chiu-wai was asked to choose six films for his In the Mood for Tony Leung retrospective at the 2022 Busan International Film Festival.  This proved to be a more difficult task than expected, considering that he has acted in 101 films and counting.  Three Wong Kar-Wai films – “In the Mood for Love,” “2046” and “Happy Together” – made it, as did two films about corrupt cops, “Infernal Affairs” and “The Longest Nite.” Leung had hoped to add Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “A City of Sadness” but no print was available.

That’s when he realized that he needed to balance out all the drama with a comedy.  When asked at his press conference why he didn’t choose, say, “Chungking Express” over “The Eagle Shooting Heroes,” he didn’t really answer the question, although he noted that he already had three Wong Kar-Wai films in the lineup.  But actually…this one involves Wong Kar-Wai in a bizarre way.

“The Eagle Shooting Heroes,” at first glance, is a Chinese New Year (read: big Hong Kong box office dollars in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s) mo lei tau (read: more box office dollars for “nonsense” local comedy films made popular by Stephen Chow, the Hui Brothers and even Wong Jing at his best) film with an all-star cast.  Aside from Leung Chiu-wai, this included Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Veronica Yip, Carina Lau, Jacky Cheung, Joey Wang, Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Ka-fai and Kenny Bee.  But the Jeffrey Lau-helmed slapstick oeuvre had one notable executive producer: Wong Kar-Wai.

Wong was in the middle of shooting his epic “Ashes of Time,” which featured all the aforementioned names save Yip and Bee.  However, Wong’s now-famous ways of shooting without scripts, scrapping numerous scenes and taking copious amounts of time during every stage of the production process were catching up to him. He was running out of money.  So, the whole group took a break from filming a dramatic adaptation of Louis Cha’s / Jin Yong’s Legend of the Condor Heroes and shifted over to a parody of that same work in the Chinese New Year mo lei tau style to make some quick cash.

A lovelorn Jacky Cheung, a man-loving and man-hating (you have to watch the film to understand) Joey Wang, and a clumsy sorceress in Maggie Cheung. (still courtesy of the Busan International Film Festival)

Jin Yong will forever be turning over in his grave regarding this version of his famed wuxia novel…or perhaps not, given the hilarious convoluted results.  Much luck to the viewer who has to decipher a plot where everyone is out to get each other for various reasons; stupid conversations lead to even stupider confrontations; and slapstick entertaining wire-fu fight scenes are made possible thanks to the action choreography of Sammo Hung (yes, they dragged him over too).  The Busan 2022 Man of the Hour, Leung Chiu-wai, plays Ouyang Feng. He and his cousin the queen, played by Veronica Yip, plan to run off together to take over the land after forcing the king to hand over the Imperial Seal. The problem? He doesn’t have it. Instead they have to combat his daughter, Third Princess (Lin), and her off-and-on brand of kung fu to get it.

Meanwhile, numerous other lovelorn and/or maudlin characters get in their way with agendas of their own.  Highlights include an extended fight sequence between Leung Chiu-wai and Jacky Cheung in a tit for tat situation reminiscent of the gut-busting chemistry that they shared in the 1993 film “Days of Being Dumb” (which itself was somehow a parody of Wong’s “Days of Being Wild”).  There are hallucinations.  There is cross-dressing.  There are musical numbers.  There are level-ups gone wrong thanks to an amateur sorceress (Maggie Cheung).  Most of all, there’s Leung Chiu-wai more than willing to destroy his image in front of an audience outside of Hong Kong that may be unfamiliar with the mo lei tau genre.  For that, and for what appears to be an absolute trolling of Wong Kar-Wai, we salute him for selecting this film.