Forbidden City Cop (Daai Laap Mat Taam 008)
Directors/Screenplay – Stephen Chow & Vincent Kuk, Producers – Charles Heung & Wong Jing, Photography – Lee Kin Keung, Music – Yee Tat Lau, Production Design – Kim Hung Ho. Production Company – Win’s Entertainment Ltd
Stephen Chow (Ling Ling Fat), Carina Lau (Kar-Ling), Carmen Lee (Gum Tso), Tat-Ming Cheung (Emperor), Kar-Ying Law (Fat-yan)
Ling Ling Fat is one of the emperor’s guards in the Forbidden City. He is banished from the city after some of his inventions go wrong during a demonstration before the emperor. He and his wife Kar-Ling travel to the provinces, where Ling Ling sets up practice as a gynaecologist. He learns that a (possibly alien) Flying Fairy has been found and travels to examine it. There he ends up saving the emperor from abduction by martial arts masters and is granted a pardon and allowed to return to the Forbidden City. The emperor then presents Ling Ling with an assignment to investigate the stunningly beautiful courtesan Gum Tso and appropriate her as one of his wives. However, while undercover Ling Ling starts to fall for Gum Tso himself.
While attention in the West has focused on Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow has come to be one of the great underappreciated geniuses of Hong Kong comedy. Indeed, Stephen Chow’s films as writer/director/star are usually far more sophisticated than Jackie Chan’s are. Chow appeared as an actor in various Hong Kong comedies and martial arts films, beginning with a supporting part in the screwball comedy Faithfully Yours (1988). He then made his directing and starring debut with the hilarious James Bond spoof From Beijing with Love (1994) and went onto direct/star in the likes of The God of Cookery (1996) about rivalry between television chefs; The King of Comedy (1999), a sharply observed spoof of the Hong Kong film industry; Shaolin Soccer (2001), which combines completely over the top flying martial arts moves with soccer; the hugely successful Wu Xia parody Kung Fu Hustle (2004); the children’s film CJ7 (2008); Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013); and The Mermaid (2016), as well as producing Dragonball: Evolution (2009) and writing/producing Journey to the West: Demon Chapter (2017).
Forbidden City Cop is Stephen Chow’s follow-up-of-sorts to his earlier From Beijing with Love. From Beijing was a joyous parody of the James Bond films and in Forbidden City Cop Chow plays essentially the same character – an agent of the Chinese Empire – with nearly the same name, although this time the film is set in dynastic China rather than the present. Stephen Chow’s love of the James Bond films shows up in the hilarious credits sequence, which is a take-off of the familiar Maurice Binder credits sequences for the Bond films – a silhouetted girl dances on a male figure’s arm, his head turns and licks her, she turns and kicks him in the face; a figure twirls a sword but loses his grip and something glass shatters off-screen. This time Chow’s satiric targets are more wide-ranging than simply the James Bond films. He manages to send-up everything from the gadgeteering of the Bond films – there is an hilarious display of useless gadgetry in the opening few minutes – to the fantastic martial arts sequences of Hong Kong’s Wu Xia cycle to Saturday Night Fever (1977), the Alien Autopsy video and even the Academy Award ceremonies.
From Beijing with Love was extremely funny but Forbidden City Cop is (perhaps only by increments) a better film. Certainly, its sense of humour is more sophisticated. Chow’s gadgets – from his display at the beginning to his vibrating bed and the dippy devices he invents to save labour for his wife – are charming. The martial arts sequences are fun, although never quite achieve the dizzying visual acrobatics of the Hong Kong counterparts they parody. However, the action sequence with Chow firing the cannon out of his mouth and using magnets to draw and repel an opponent around the room are a great deal of fun. He and Carina Lau, the actress playing his wife, have a wonderfully naturalistic screen rapport. The scene where he manages to outrageously lie to get around his wife and family’s suspicions about what he was doing at the brothel is extremely funny. The singularly most hilarious sequence is the one where the charade that was put on to fool Gum Tso is revealed and in a gloriously surreal moment of meta-cinema Carina Lau and her father step up to receive awards for their performances and poor Chow demands to know why he did not receive one, only to have his performance taken apart and criticised.
Stephen Chow’s films tend to be a little weak when it comes to overall story – and Forbidden City Cop suffers somewhat from having what feels like two stories, one concerning the journey to find the Flying Fairy, the other about the seduction by Gum Tso. It is otherwise hilarious.
(Winner in this site’s Top 10 Films of 1996 list).