A Book Of Heroes (1986)

Directed by: Chu Yen-Ping
Written by: Sit Hing-Kwok
Producer: Raymond Wong
Starring: Pauline Lan, Woo Gwa, David Tao, Elsa Yeung, Yasuaki Kurata, Yukari Oshima, Eugene Thomas & Fong Ching

After a decade that up to this point included comedy hits and lovingly derivative Dirty Dozen-style action adventures, Chu Yen-Ping joined up with Hong Kong's Cinema City for this comedy that also shares the spotlight with the creative and very hard notion of putting the actors and stunt team to work. Meaningless nonsense in the best possible way, Chu Yen-Ping (Golden Queen's Commando, Island Of Fire) unleashes cops, conmen, children, Japanese gangsters, Yukari Oshima and game stuntmen on each other in the hunt for a treasure map with gold at the end of the rainbow. Decidedly different in feel compared to a broad Hong Kong product (this is a Taiwanese production with the director's cartoony stamp on the proceedings), Chu Yen-Ping may not bring the belly laughs but he keeps annoyance far away from A Book Of Heroes. So, decidedly funny in bursts but more so when the terrific action kicks in.

In a way Chu's work comes off as quite random as he uses a manic pace to transfer himself in and out of scenes, contrasting and random elements and to be able to craft an entertaining thread out of that takes skill. But Chu feels very comfortable indulging himself. Whipping us quickly around from an opening shootout with bloody squibs, into Pauline Lan's drinking games and subsequent fight scene to Woo Gwa's cop (with a 100% failure rate) ending up in an actual bike race while pursuing criminals, he ends up winning and is put on the podium with price in hand. Opening carousel Chu Yen-Ping style. Throwing much at the screen hoping it sticks it sure sounds like (and it's a recipe for failure in the making usually) but Chu, while not making original comedy, balances his two filmmaking aspects well against each other.

Because the banter between any pairing, including in David Tao's and Elsa Yeung's scenes, is not laugh out loud funny and relies more on the volume and pace to the back and forth. But this largely works despite because Chu isn't letting the performers cycle through this too many times in scenes and even if it looks like it's on the verge of it, action director Lam Man-Cheung's work explodes onto the screen and we realize all elements get on well with each other.

With an array of stuntmen taking falls, going through walls (mostly on a Project A replica set) and ready for intricate exchanges, adding a slapstick element within the expertly choreographed fights pays off. Involving the actors (even the non-fighting ones) to a hugely admirable degree with only select and spot on doubling, it's Yukari Oshima in her debut year as an action performer that brings the jaw dropping as Yasuaki Kurata's henchwoman (despite being doubled at select points). It's a massive mystery that the comedy isn't grating but with a tone mixed with rather extensive choreography that will take several viewings to fully appreciate, it's somehow a sound, packed product from a director who sometimes seemed to love movies so much that all of them (and their music) were rammed into one 90 minute chunk. When the attitude pays off, it pays off beautifully.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson