I bought this a while ago and it’s been gathering dust on my shelf since because of my prejudices towards Hong Kong comedy but after eventually seeing it last night I’m almost a Stephen Chow convert!
King of Beggars is the story of the cocky but lazy So Chan (Stephen Chow) who, after falling for a beautiful woman (Cheung Man) in a brothel, must enter the imperial Kung Fu Scholar competition to win her hand. Needless to say he wins the competition but a newly appointed general (Norman Tsui), who bears him a grudge, exposes him for cheating in the written exam. This greatly angers the Emperor who sentences him and his wealthy father (Ng Man Tat) to hand over all their worldly possessions and live as beggars for the rest of their lives. After suffering many humiliations and hardships they eventually meet up with Cheung Man again who, it turns out, is a high ranking member of the Beggar Clan which they promptly join. Chow also meets up with an old beggar he had previously helped out who teaches him the supreme Lo Han Sleeping Kung Fu and encourages him to compete to win the position of King of Beggars which has been vacant for some time. In the meantime Norman Tsui is planning to kill the Emperor and usurp the throne with his unmatched kung fu skills, luckily the Beggars clan has caught wind of his schemes but is there any one powerful enough to stop him?
As I mentioned before I’m not a massive fan of comedy in my kung fu films but in King of Beggars Chow manages to get the balance of humour, drama and action just about right -admittedly some of the verbal humour doesn’t translate into english too well but the more physical stuff certainly made me laugh a few times. I was also surprised by the high quality of the production values and the direction of Gordon Chan. I wouldn’t have pegged King of Beggars as being made in 1992 if I hadn’t read it on the cover - it almost looked as if it had been made as recently as Kung Fu Hustle, a compliment you couldn’t give to many new wave films from that period.
The action stood out as being particularly well executed - as you would expect seeing as it was choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping’s brother Yuen Cheung Yan who also worked on such classics as Iron Monkey and Legend of a Fighter. The presence of Norman Tsui lent some credibility in the action department although it must be said that Chow managed to bust out some crisp shapes himself. The highlights for me were the opening fight in the brothel where he demonstrate his crane, tiger and locust styles, his tournament fight (with a bit of Bruce Lee parodying) and especially his fights towards the end when he had mastered the sleeping style (which was very similar to what Chin Yuet Sang demonstrated in Last Hurrah For Chivalry) - all good stuff.
I don’t really know if King of Beggars is typical of Stephen Chow’s period films because I haven’t seen any others but I’ll probably be seeking a few more of em out from now on. With the exception of some of the verbal humour, which doesn’t translate too well, I thoroughly enjoyed it thought it was strong in every department.