An Eternal Combat (1991)
by: Yip Shing Hong
Yip Shong Hong only made two other movies (one other one being the less appreciated Today's Hero). He will not be hugely remembered as a director but he managed to leave behind him this entertaining mixture of martial arts, fantasy and comedy.
Lam Ching Ying plays a Taoist priest (again...) who in the Ming Dynasty gets the task to exterminate a Japanese ghost warrior. With the help of his understudies Tortoise (Gabriel Wong from Flirting Scholar) and Fung (Shing Fui On from The Killer) they manage to trap him but something goes awfully wrong at that moment. A time portal is opened and all of them are transported the present Hong Kong. Trapped and confused in an unfamiliar era they must now reunite to again try and eliminate the ghost warrior...
To review directors and directing is not always the most easy thing for me to do. Guys like Wilson Yip has a very distinguishable style that is easy to discuss and analyze but then there are guys like Yip Shing Hong who doesn't bring a lot of attention to themselves as directors. Nothing wrong with that but in there you must balance between being straightforward and interesting as opposed to straightforward and outright dull. Yip Shing Hong does well though, mostly the most during the opening montage which is intercut with the credits. What we get to see are slow and quiet shots of Joey Wong being prepared for a ceremony of some kind. We can basically add up ourselves how it's going to fit into the story but there's still a very nice sense of mystery around this very atmospheric opening. There's use of slow motion which have been seen and done before but nonetheless fits and enhances the mood quite a bit.
Unfortunately after this the main plot has trouble getting off the ground. On the plus side we get fairly good character introductions but Yip Shing Hong should've tried to get to the main plot point quicker than the 30 minutes it took. While the pacing isn't the most inspired, the movie does look very good photographically during the segments set in the past but I would've liked to experience a better sense of scope, something period pieces need to have. Even though it is a low budget production, the production values are quite high so it's a shame that an epic feeling wasn't fully there. When the film finally shifts to 1991 we've seen some lame comedy but when the situation for our characters radically changes, the comedy aspect becomes much more interesting. A whole slew of 'fish out of water' jokes are served up, which of course revolves around Lam Ching Ying and crew being totally confused about this modern world, and I'm happy to say that most of it is quite funny. Most laugh is generated when Lam Ching Ying gets sent to a mental hospital and have to deal with the severe whacked out people that inhabits his ward. Silly but fun.
The little plot that there now is flows pretty good at first but after a while it felt like it was almost forgotten by the team of filmmakers. Every scene was a small step forward but they also felt like just another comedy skit to pad out the running time with. Also the subplot involving Anthony Wong and his obsession with Joey Wong's felt really unbelievable and frankly unnecessary. Despite the negative remarks I think Yip Shing Hong did a fine job on this picture and he should feel like one of the reasons the movie does succeed on some levels.
We're also treated to action- and fight scenes courtesy of veterans Poon Kwin Gam, Mak Fei Hung and Benz Kong To-Hoi, a team that has worked together, or in pairs, on quite a number of films. You could see their names in movies like As Tears Go By, Mongkok Story and Haunted Cop Shop. There's a high number of wire work used to create the action in An Eternal Combat but you won't see anything new in terms of that. There's one aspect I think the action works well together with and that is the editing. I've seen so many movies where people are flying everywhere while the camera doesn't capture any of it and the editor further ruins it by cutting every 1,5-2 seconds (watch Butterfly & Sword to see what I mean). In this movie however the action goes on for a sizable amount of time before another angle is cut to and we still have a grasp of where we are and how the action scene is evolving. Very pleased with that considering the wire-fu craze had started to take off by 1991. In terms of fighting there's some basic swordplay on offer but nothing that really amazed me as such.
In 1997 Lam Ching Ying died of liver cancer, which came as a shock to many people. It was not just because he kept his illness secret from the industry but the fact that he was so loved by fans of Hong Kong movies. When I got the news, I had recently seen my first movie with him, which was Magic Cop, and it did affect and saddened me deeply. I think it was because Lam Ching Ying felt so interesting to watch no matter what role he took. After Mr. Vampire in 1985 he became synonymous with the Taoist priest character but even though he reprised it many times, he always made it a special experience for the viewer. As soon as he started practicing his magic on screen, the movie became good almost instantly and the same can be said for his work in An Eternal Combat. There's a sense of authority in his performance but he could tackle comedy in a very good way also. That latter aspect mostly involves his confusion with the world and situation he's in and it's a joy to watch him go through it. He's missed but lives on through the movies he made and that's a great consolation.
Joey Wong also experienced a similar thing like Lam Ching Ying after she appeared in the classic A Chinese Ghost Story. She also got typecast as basically the same character in that film in a number of other films but in this one she gets to play two parts, one in the past and one in the present. I've always thought that Joey Wong comes across better when she lets her beauty do the acting and especially in period wear she just eats up the screen. However when she gets to play the 1991-character in this movie, I have a more hard time accepting her as an actress. There's just not much talent there but nothing that brings the movie down. In supporting parts we see Gabriel Wong and Shing Fui On as Lam Ching Ying's understudies. They're not a reference example of THE great cinema comedic duo but in between the more or less unfunny scenes with them, they manage to display some chemistry and humour.
Chalk up another psychopath and rapist performance from Anthony Wong! As I mentioned, the plot involving him doesn't really work and Anthony didn't really have to be in this movie to be honest. He's strangely watchable though because of all the things he does without hesitation in movies. It's probably just work for him but he looks like he's enjoying it.
An Eternal Combat is quite entertaining but flawed in places. It's required viewing for Lam Ching Ying fans though and recommended overall.
The movies 1.85:1 aspect ratio is preserved here and the transfer looks sharp and fairly detailed throughout, especially the beginning parts of the film. Print damage is evident but not to the point of severe distraction.
Only Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks in Cantonese and Mandarin are on the disc. The Cantonese track doesn't display any range and at times sounds very distorted. Probably a good thing that Mei Ah opted not to do a 5.1 remix since it would've sounded quite bad.
The English subtitles has numerous errors but you can always follow what's going on, which is the most important thing. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
Extras consists of the Mei Ah Data Bank (consisting of a cast & crew listing and a plot synopsis). Sadly no trailer for An Eternal Combat is included.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson