The Bare-Footed Kid

Reviewed by: PJ

August 21, 2004

Rating: four-point-five

Directed by Johnnie To

Action by Liu Chia Liang

Aaron Kwok Fu Sing as Kuan Feng-yao
Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk as Miss Ho
Ti Lung as Tuan Ching-yun
Wu Chien Lien as Huang Lien
Paul Chun Pui
Kenneth Tsang Kong
Cheung Siu Fai

One of the few films I saw when I was a kid in China. I thought it was quite good back then, having seen only a portion of it. Now 7 years later, I get to watch it in its entirety on DVD. What did I think of it?

Quite frankly, I was trying to find some imperfection in the movie. I mean, there has to be at least a couple of flaws, right? WRONG! This movie is free from flaw and carelessness.

Plot (Spoilers):
Kuan Feng-yao (Aaron Kwok) is a bare-footed young man who, upon his father's death, travels to the city to find Tuan Ching-yun (Ti Lung). Tuan is a retired martial artist who has been hiding from the officials and works at widow Miss Ho's fabric shop. Ho and Tuan have a mutual understanding of their love for each other, but they have not talked about it up-front.

When Kuan first meets Huang Lien (Wu Chien Lien), she was dressed as a man. But when Kuan pees in front of her, he realizes her identity. Later, when Kuan steps in her school to learn how to write his name, she tricks him into writing bad words, but later she realizes his sincerity and befriends him.

Kuan, whose kung fu is good, gets into trouble after beating up local villains who threatened Miss Ho. He realizes that only fame can make him happy. So he uses his kung fu to win a contest, which impressed a local villain (Chun Pui). He hires Kuan to be his kung fu instructor, which guaranteed Kuan fame. With fame and fortune, Kuan returns to his former friends, who are all disappointed with him. In addition, he accidentally got involved in the murder of Huang's father.

The officials have secretly learned of Tuan's identity, and they are publicly seeking him. Tuan feels that he must leave, but not before he spells out his passion for Miss Ho. The next day, he is poisoned at a restaurant, and when Kuan arrives, it is too late. Just before he dies, Tuan performs a kung fu style that Kuan's father asked him to teach Kuan.

Kuan finally realizes that the villain who hired him is responsible for all the deaths. He is also remorseful for his mistakes, so he makes a trip to see the dangerous villain, who tricks Kuan into believing that he has been wronged. When all becomes clear, a bloody fight begins. The villain throws money in the air and yells that he will pay anyone who kills Kuan. Finally, both Kuan and the villain die. In his last breath, Kuan reaches for his shoe but cannot reach it.

As far as the acting, the cast is superb. Aaron Kwok has always been criticized for being a bad actor, so his performance here will surely be one of his best. Maggie Cheung and Ti Lung are excellent as usual. Paul Chun Pui is also great as the villain.

Action/Fight Scenes
If there is one element not perfect in this movie, it is the action. Although choreographed by veteran Liu Chia Liang (who is one of the best known action choreographers), the action is rather mediocre. Wire and slow motion are used extensively.

The pace is perfect, the story is dramatic and effective -- and quite emotionally captivating, the unforgettable music supports the sentimentality, the acting is first-rate... I could go on.

This movie is slightly reminiscent of a Shaw Brothers production -- especially when Liu Chia Liang is the action director. But I thought it felt more like Once Upon a Time in China and Iron Monkey. Although, when compared to Liang's classic "8 Diagram Pole Fighters," all kinds of similarities arouse, including the dramatic story and the music.

Fortunately, this movie is not to be judged solely on its action. I was a bit surprised how great it was. Its story-telling surpassed that of Iron Monkey, its music that of the Tai Chi Master, its character development that of Fire Dragon, and its pacing that of Once Upon a Time in China. This is a story of symbols and messages (you can't miss them), and I love it.

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