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Sunday, February 17, 2008

ROYAL TRAMP Collection Review

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During James Bond's trip to Japan in Ian Fleming's YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, "Tiger" Tanaka tells a joke about a woman walking up to a tollbridge. She hands the attendant some coins and starts to walk across when the man stops her, saying that she paid only half. She replies that she's walking only halfway across because she intends to jump off [and kill herself]. To me, that pretty much summarizes the Asian sense of humor. Whether it's a Korean monster movie or a Hong Kong martial arts film, they can be damn dark at times. Stephen Chow's ROYAL TRAMP I and II are heavy on goofball comedy, but I think it's the genital mutilation jokes that I will remember most.

The movies, filmed back-to-back, break up the overall story arc in half, a la the MATRIX sequels or KILL BILL, unusual for a comedy, moreso I would think for what is essentially a parody of martial arts movies. The plot concerns the early days of the Ching dynasty. Con-man Wei Shu Bo (Chow) is recruited by a secret society still loyal to the preceding Ming dynasty to find a book that is key to overthrowing the new emperor, whom he ends up befriending. From there, the films amble back and forth between kung fu fights and eunuch jokes to a happy, polygamous, misogynistic ending with an ample helping of penis-grabbing and nipple-pinching. Don't get me wrong. They're funny movies, but I was squirming when the princess went Lorena Bobbit on a guy with a big smile on her face, too. It's a different aesthetic from JUNO is what I'm trying to say. It's probably a good thing, then, that the movie does a good job of making the characters likable despite conflicts of interest. Stephen Chow's performance never crosses the line into annoying ***hole. The kung fu fights are a mixed bag. There are some impressive acrobatics and visuals (the master controlling his disciples like puppets comes to mind), but I thought they were overly reliant on wire work and magic powers. I had the same problems with KUNG FU HUSTLE and SHAOLIN SOCCER, however, and that's a matter of personal taste.

The video presentation has solid colors and no noticable compression artifacts or film defects, but the image is surprisingly soft. I suppose it's a source problem, but is there really no better film print out there? The audio is clear and effective. The discs are light on the special features, but what's there is OK. The audio commentary does a fine job of filling in the culture gaps when the jokes would be otherwise lost on American viewers. It becomes less interesting, however, when going into obsessive biographical detail about the actors and actresses. That makes for better reading material than listening material. Also included is an short interview with the director of the second feature and trailers.

You might be able to make a drinking game out of all the times you'll instinctively shield your batch. Even without liquor, the ROYAL TRAMP collection makes for an enjoyable 3 hours.

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