Monday, August 24, 2009

Movie Monday - Operation Scorpio

Movie Monday continues with more kung fu madness. This week's feature is "Operation Scorpio" from 1991. And although this week's movie is not adapted from a comic, comics do play a part.

"Operation Scorpio" starts Chin Kar Lok as Yu Shu, an aspiring comic artist. He idles away his time in class doodling battles between kung fu masters and daydreaming about being a hero, or at least telling stories about them.

His aspirations receive a cold dose of reality when he rescues Mei, a pretty girl who is being sold into slavery as a prostitute. Unfortunately for him, when he tries to set her free, Mei decides to become his servant to express her gratitude. He hides her out in his father's house.

One night, Yu Shu goes to spy on the slavers. The gang is led by an old man in a wheelchair; his will is enforced by his son (known only as Sonny and played by Korean Won Jun Kim), a master fighter who uses an unusual scorpion style.

Watching from outside the window, Yu Shu sketches Sonny's various techniques with an eye toward using them in his comics someday. When Yu Shu then asks his father if he can study kung fu, his father tells him to be realistic and gets him a job at an old friend's noodle shop instead.

From there on, things get really complicated. Fleeing from the slaver's men, Yu Shu meets Jean Paul, a Chinese proto-bodybuilder who has studied abroad and adopted Western methods of diet and training (so instead of eating rice and practicing Chi Gung, he advocates eating meat and lifting barbells).

Yu Shu begins to live a double life with Mei's help, working in the noodle shop and training his strength with Jean Paul.

Of course, eventually his duplicity is discovered when it causes a disaster. Yu Shu is forbidden to train with Jean Paul anymore, which is when his noodle-making "uncle" (played by Hong Kong movie legend Lau Kar Leung) reveals that he is a kung fu master and has been training Yu Shu all along. Like the "wax on, wax off" scenes in "The Karate Kid," all the work Yu Shu has been doing lifting and tossing huge, burning-hot woks has been training his strength, toughness, and reflexes. His uncle also begins to teach him a special deceptive kicking technique that he says is even more powerful than the Scorpion Tactic. Yu Shu becomes so enthused by his training that he even studies live eels to develop his own personal Eel Technique.

Eventually Mei is discovered and captured again, and Yu Shu sets out to rescue her. Jean Paul battles Sonny, but is beaten. The Noodle Master then battles Sonny, and is on the verge of beating him when he is shot in the leg by Sonny's father. So it is all up to Yu Shu, who must combine Jean Paul's strength training, his uncle's Noodle Fu and Southern Shadowless Kick, and even Eel Style (which looks a bit like combat break dancing), coached by his uncle, who throws Yu Shu's comics pages into the air during hte fight, so that Yu Shu can see and anticipate Sonny's techniques.

It's amazing just how much of the free-for-all plot finally gets tied together in a final battle that lasts only a few minutes.

"Operation Scorpio" is the quintessential 90's kung fu movie. The furious fight scenes are bursting with wire work, which is obvious and unbelievable, but also dazzling if only because it's so crazy. The plot wanders all over the damn place, crams in all kinds of random shit, yet ties it all up and pays it off at the end. Compared to this whack-a-doo mess, an American film like "The Karate Kid" is a model of brutal simplicity.

Overall, I'd say "The Karate Kid" is a better film. But "Operation Scorpio" is way more fun, and given the choice on an average Friday, I'd much rather watch it again.

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