Broad Outline: Chow plays Sung Shih-Chieh, a Qing period Lawyer. His quick mouth and personality ensures he wins every case, although he doesn’t discriminate and is certainly in for the money. Karma however is in full effect as every case he wins (and he wins number 13 at the beginning of the film) causes his latest offspring to die. His wife, who is a serious kung-fu ass-kicking marvel (Anitu Mui) decides enough is enough, and not wanting their latest child-to-be to suffer the same fate, forces him to retire. It doesn’t take long for pregnant widow Carrie Ng to make Madame Sung change her mind though – making her husband take on the case of this woman as it is clear that her husband was poisoned by other members of her family. However, a new Magistrate is in town (the flatulent Ng Man Tat) who isn’t fooled by Sung’s techniques. Things get further complicated by an attempt to bribe justice by the accused’s family. Can Sung overcome the corrupt justice system, whilst ensuring that his next child will survive its first year, even if “it is born without a dick”.
Stephen is a Dick Level: I am going to sit on the fence here with a 5/5. Whilst Sung is clearly in it for the money, he actually doesn’t seem a bad fellow really. And when push comes to shove, he ends up doing the right thing, and works hard to expose even more corrupt people in higher positions of power.
Mo Lei Tau Quota: Probably floating around the 8/10 mark. Whilst nothing too random goes on, much of this film is based around Cantonese wordplay, which I don’t think the English subtitles really do justice to. The Qing Dynasty legal setting could be a touch obtuse to the casual film fan. But on the other hand fart jokes, boob joke, set pieces around drinking breast milk and some fairly un-PC stuff around a gay couple are fairly easily translated. And the “Silence of the Lambs” homage works pretty well. The whole thing about 13 children dying before their first birthday seems a bit much mind you for a knockabout comedy.
Sing Girl Status: It’s probably a bit much to call her a Sing Girl, as Anita Mui was a much beloved singer and actress, certainly not needing Chows patronage at this stage in her career. But she’s magnificent here. She totally owns the film, never being overshadowed by Chow or his character. He performance makes a fairly good movie a great one. Carrie Ng has very little to do other than weep a lot.
Is it Any Good?: A tough one. The first act is totally brilliant. It’s honestly hilarious, and sets up the story well. The the story somewhat gets in the way. It’s not that is gets boring, or that the laughs stop coming, but it really seems to want to tell a consistent tale. Maybe some of this is down to Johnnie To being the director. It’s clearly several steps up from Wong Jing, and maybe a valuable learning experience for Chow in his later directing career, but knockabout comedy isn’t maybe To’s greatest strength. Peter Pau does the cinematography, which makes this one of the best looking films of this era you’ll see. I am going to give it a Recommended, but it will be Mui rather than Chow who gives the film that extra which will mean it lingers in the memory.