Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Old School Kung Fu ’17: My Young Auntie

Martial arts talent definitely runs in this family. Cheng Tai-nun married into it, but she has as much chops as anyone. She is also surprisingly young and pretty, but she is the still the elder in Lau Kar-leung’s My Young Auntie, which screens during this year’s Old School Kung Fu Fest at the Metrograph.

To prevent his wastrel criminal brother Yu Yung-sheng from inheriting his estate, a childless landowner marries Cheng, a trusted servant and martial arts champion, to insure his nephew Yu Ching-chuen becomes his rightfully beneficiary. Immediately after his death, she quickly brings him the will and deeds for safe keeping. Of course, the genial, older middle-aged Yu is not expecting an auntie like her, so miscommunication and misunderstandings inevitably ensue. It is even more so the case with Yu’s son Charlie, a westernized college student.

He definitely thinks she is hot, but hopelessly square in her traditional ways, so he and his jerky pals try to teach her a lesson in Hong Kong hipness. Unfortunately, while they having their fun, Yung-sheng’s colorful cast of henchmen steal the estate documents. Naturally, that means Cheng and Charlie will have to take them back, but they might need an assist from his father (her nephew) and his skilled brothers.

Auntie is definitely a comedy with the emphasis on physicality. Frankly, some of the jokes will strike contemporary viewers as rather boorish. However, there is no denying Kara Hui’s chops and presence as the titular Auntie. Trained as a professional dancer, she was clearly blessed with tremendous grace and flexibility. You can definitely see how her experience with one sort of choreography laid her in good stead for another.

There is a lot of “Tiger Claw” kind of Kung Fu going on that looks absolutely insane, but Lau totally sells it as director, fight choreographer, and co-star, playing Old Nephew Yu. In fact, he takes over the big climatic match-up with Yu Yung-sheng, which is likely to produce mixed emotions in fans. As much as we want to see Kara Hui settle accounts, there is something satisfying about watching the grey-haired veteran throw down with authority.

Within the Shaw Brothers filmography, Auntie is also notable for addressing issues of evolving gender roles and the culture clash between modernized and westernized Hong Kongers and traditional country residents. It has all kinds of energy but the gags tend towards the shticky side of the spectrum (Gordon Liu wearing a blond Musketeer wig? Yes, it’s in there). My Young Auntie is definitely recommended for Kara Hui and Shaw Brothers fans, but King Hu’s Shaw-produced Come Drink with Me is even more entertaining and visually impressive. For your Shaw Brothers fix, My Young Auntie screens this Saturday (8/19) and Come Drink with Me screens Sunday (8/20), as part of Old School Kung Fu 2017 at the Metrograph.