The Prodigal Son Blu-ray Review: Sammo Hung Meets Wing Chun

Continuing their series of Sammo Hung Blu-ray releases, Arrow Video’s latest entry is this 1981 gem. Sammo directs and co-stars in this tale anchored by an action-heavy lead performance by Yuen Biao. He plays a wealthy young man named Tsan who believes himself to be a martial arts master only because his family has paid for his protection, hiring easily defeated lackeys who compliment him on his underdeveloped skills.

When a traveling Peking opera troupe rolls through town, Tsan confronts their effeminate lead actor, Leung Yee-Tai (Lam Ching-Ying), and is shocked and humiliated when he immediately loses their fight. Finally discovering the truth about his family’s deceit and his lack of talent, Tsan begs Leung to train him to actually have fighting skills, particularly in the discipline of Wing Chun. That’s where Sammo comes in, entering late in the game as a lumbering, goofy master named Wong who is equally skilled in Wing Chun and comedic pratfalls. 

The film has a decent story, and Sammo keeps it on track, at least until his Wong character enters the fray and immediately sucks all of the oxygen out of the room with his dominating presence. He’s introduced with an extended stunt sequence set in a small hut that grinds the plot to a complete halt while he dazzles with amusing stuntwork, showboating to such a degree that the rest of the film pales in comparison. There’s a bad guy (Frankie Chan) who serves as their ultimate destination and foe, and the film is peppered with plenty of impressive action sequences, but its flow never fully recovers from Sammo’s entry.

As with the other releases in this Arrow series, the film looks and sounds great, featuring a 2K restoration from the original elements by original HK studio Fortune Star. Sound is presented in original lossless Cantonese, Mandarin, and English mono options. Color maintains original grading, a bit washed out and subdued but suitable for its ancient setting. No defects are noticeable in image or sound.

Extensive bonus features are included, the best of which is a lengthy archival interview segment with Sammo, Biao, and Lam. Another archival feature has interviews with a Wing Chun expert talking about the art with demonstrations, and Wing Chun is featured again in a recent interview with another master. Commentary tracks by action cinema experts and martial arts experts are also included, as well as original theatrical trailers. 

If you’re a fan of Sammo, Bien, Wing Chun, or martial arts movies in general, the film is well worth watching. It’s also filmed well above average, with superb cinematography and crisp action direction. It’s fun watching the rich boy get his comeuppance, as well as his redemption, and while I wouldn’t rate it as an all-time classic of the genre, it’s filled with enough showy action scenes to make it a fully worthwhile diversion.

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Steve Geise

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