Scorpion King has also been released under the title of Operation Scorpio but has since been renamed for the Western market for the Hong Kong Legends release. This does appear quite short-sighted as the DVD release coincided with the Mummy spin off; Scorpion King starring WWE's The Rock (or should I say Dwayne Johnson).
One film that is consistently overlooked in the 90's both in terms of career defining performances and pervading influence is Scorpion King. The film stars one of the all time great martial artists Lau Kar Leung alongside two fresh-faced co-stars. Chin Kar Lok plays the youthful Yu Shu, in one of his largest roles of his career. His previous work included action choreography in films such as Iceman Cometh. Chin Kar Lok worked with Yuen Tak in Iceman Cometh and this lesser known member of the Seven Fortunes returns to choreograph Scorpion King along with Lau Kar Leung and another Fortune, Corey Yuen. Korean high kicker Won Jin plays the Scorpion King in what proved to be a disappointingly short film career.
Operation Scorpio fared dreadfully at the box office taking in HK $512,932
during its release. In the same year, Jet Li's Swordsman took over HK
$34,000,000! There are several obvious reasons as to why this performed
so poorly at the box office, but this does not do justice to several breath-taking
sequences within the movie.
Chin Kar Lok plays Yu Shu, the spoilt and lazy medical student who spends all of his time day dreaming and drawing the martial arts heroes in his dreams. He manages to get expelled from school and is sent off to work at his Uncle's Noodle restaurant (Lau Kar Leung). In the process of doing this he also gets mixed up with the Scorpion King when trying to rescue a damsel in distress (May Lo) from a lifetime of prostitution. Clearly Yu Shu is not good enough to save the day yet, so a Francophile bodybuilder (Frankie Chan) helps him out.
His Uncle (Lau Kar Leung) is also teaching him kung fu by showing him
how to cook. Yu Shu does not realise that he is learning kung fu by learning
the basic techniques of cooking, very much like fence painting in the
Karate Kid! Food and kung fu have always is a tried and tested formula
in martial arts movies, there has always been the trusty "you can
eat food if you are fast enough" encounters between master and pupil
(see Shaolin Rescuers and Fury in the Shaolin Temple etc). Plus who can
forgot Jackie Chan trying to get his hands on Sam Seed's rice bowl!
In case you hadn't already guessed, the whole plot is geared towards Yu Shu and his Uncle taking on the Scorpion King. It is here where the best and the worst of the film are interlocked together. The major plus of the movie is the intensity and stylishness of Lau Kar Leung's Hung Gar technique, featuring his 'shadowless kick'. His acting is superb throughout, but when the action starts he manages to steals the show with an unrivalled display with the three section staff.
The only character in the Scorpion King who can hold a torch to Lau Kar Leung, is the King himself. Won Jin is absolutely fantastic and a great deal of praise must be given to the choreographers. There are some movies that define, rather than feature a style of martial arts. This is in the same way that Drunken Master defined Drunken Boxing and Mad Monkey Kung Fu did Monkey Style, this movie gives a definitive and exhilarating version of Scorpion Kung Fu. It seems like a silly idea on paper and looks absurd for the first five seconds, but then your jaws hits the floor. Won Jin's performance is at the heart of every classic kung fu movie, it is innovative, unpredictable and completely unforgettable.
However, this movie has one very big downside, that is Chin Kar Lok. His Yu Shu is a completely forgettable rip-off of the late 70's Jackie Chan. He plays the self-absorbed, mischievous clown that we all grew to love back then. I actually spent most of the final encounter hoping that the Scorpion King would kick Chin Kar Lok's ass! I did not even register one drop of empathy, interest or respect for his character throughout. I actually ended up despising the 'hero' of the movie! The most frustrating moment in Scorpion King must be during Lau Kar Leung and Won Jin's final fight. It looks like a classic moment in kung fu cinema is brewing, then all of a sudden Lau Kar Leung is shot in the leg and it is Yu Shu to the rescue!!!
Fortunately, Lau Kar Leung teamed up with Jackie
two years later and Jackie showed once again how it is meant to be done.
The premise behind Drunken Master 2 is extremely similar to Scorpion King.
Both feature a young rogue who cannot keep out of trouble and repeatedly
bring strife upon their own family. Then the final scene serves as a coming
of age battle against a flash-kicking opponent. The difference is that
Jackie is a considerably better comical actor and also knows how to make
the audience give a damn. He also had the advantage of using Drunken Boxing,
whereas Chin Kar Lok uses his Eel Kung Fu (yes it is as bad as it sounds!).
Another superb Hong Kong Legends disc (apart from some minor cropping of the image), I am starting to run out of meaningful praise for these releases. The highlight must be the Won Jin showcase movie, which includes some breathtaking moves. I cannot believe that Canto-pop stars are getting work ahead of this Korean legend, this is SO SO WRONG!!!
A great movie? Certainly not
A movie with some spectacular and original sequences which ought to be seen? Yes
This movie has a slightly wayward plot and could
have probably done with a lot more focus on the Scorpion King. Every second
of screen time for Won Jin and Lau Kar Leung keeps the viewer glued to
the screen. The other parts of the movie struggle with a muddle of main
characters and vague motivations, and a hopeless performance from Chin
Kar Lok. For every scene you want to rewind, there is another scene worth
fast forwarding. This movie lacks the essential ingredient in Hong Kong
Cinema, and that is a great hero. This could have been a classic, but
it remains deeply flawed. Although this film has its problems, several
actors and choreographers manage to come away from this movie with their
status embellished afters some unforgettable performances.