reviewof the movie the prodigal son

Review of the movie The Prodigal Son

As one of the first theatrical productions to feature Wing Tsun (Wing Chun) as a martial art, the movie won the 1983 Best Action Choreography at the Hong Kong Film Awards and was nominated for best picture and best director. Herewith is my review of the movie The Prodigal Son…

This review of the movie The Prodigal Son was first posted on this site on October 16, 2011.The Prodigal Son, an action comedy made in 1981, is one of the few movies using the martial art of Wing Tsun (Wing Chun) as a key part of the movie. The entertaining Prodigal Son follows the formula of the 1980s Chinese kung fu movies with the classic over-acting and outrageous (but real!) stunts. The difference is Wing Tsun and the presence of actors Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung, both childhood friends of Jackie Chan in the real Chinese opera. Yuen Biao plays the historical descendant of the system, Leung Jan. This is a fictionalized account set in 19th century Fatshan, southern China describing the circumstances under which Leung Jan became a student of Wing Tsun. In the account written by late Grandmaster Yip Man, Leung Yee Tai and Wong Wah Bo became acquainted with each other aboard a red junk, a flat bottomed boat which transported people and things along the shallow coastal waters of southern China. The boats commonly transported opera troupes.  The people on board often were both crew members and opera troupe performers. Wing Tsun practitioners were said to be rebels against the Manchu government and the opera troupes gave them the excuse to wear heavy make-up to hide their identities. Leung Yee Tai was a sailor aboard the junk with the pole for steering the boat and a master of the long pole techniques of the Shaolin system. They eventually taught each other their individual martial arts styles.

The movie does not address this part of the legend however because events in the movie came later. In the movie, Leung Yee Tai, played by the late actor Lam Ching-Ying, plays the part of a woman in the opera performances, a common thing in those days. Yuen Biao was a spoiled son in a wealthy family.  His parents paid for his martial arts lessons with prominent masters who were also paid to make him believe he was invincible. In addition, fighters were paid to lose in fights with him. Eventually he discovered this ruse in an altercation with Leung Yee Tai.

The role of Wong Wah Bo is played by Sammo Hung with great flair and comedic talent. His role as Wong Wah Bo can be described as an ill tempered recluse, always critical of his Wing Tsun colleague and rival, Leung Yee Tai. He takes over the training of Leung Jan as it seems, Leung Yee Tai was ill suited to teach this spoiled young man.

Prodigal Son is entertaining and amusing and Wing Tsun techniques are displayed throughout although certainly not according to our way of fighting in Leung Ting WingTsun®! It was the best of the Wing Tsun movies until Ip Man. Choreography is done with the usual skill of Sammo Hung, whom incidentally, played in the sequel to Ip Man.

The movie was obviously made for Chinese audiences in 1981. I still recommend this comedy, particularly for kung fu movie fans and Wing Tsun followers! Excellent locations, sets, actors, genre fight sequences.

I recommend using the English subtitles.  The English dubbing on the remastered DVD is hard to understand.  It is rated “R” for Martial Arts Violence.

Prodigal Son does not rise to the level of today’s big budget American-made films or modern Hong Kong films but I give it a kung fu movie genre rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

Link to the Internet Movie Database for Prodigal Son: