But it sucks.
The movie opens with a text scroll which is un-subtitled. So whatever context it provides was lost on me, but it doesn’t seem to be terribly important. We then see the attractive young lady Fan (Zhao Cong) hanging out with her old friend Jerry (Young Jung). She has recently returned from Taiwan, tasked by her grandfather, Chen Gorbon (Leung Kar-Yan) with returning an antique scroll to the village where it was made. Jerry is being annoying. He annoys Fan the character, and the audience, and likely the actress playing her. This will be a recurring theme. Some guys try to steal the scroll she’s carrying on her person, so she chases them in split screen (not kidding here), and they end up getting beaten up by a beefy construction worker. This action scene is not a great start.
Fan hasn’t even contacted her sister or her boyfriend just yet. So she gives them a call and they agree to meet up the next day. Her sister, Xing (Shen Fangxi) whiles the time away hanging out with Fan’s boyfriend, Young (Jerry Liau), who practices Wing Chun and break dances in the park with a guy named Bozzy.
Fan is staying in a hotel for her first night back in Hong Kong, apparently paid for by the town committee to whom she is returning the scroll. She gets attacked, again, by a bunch of random thugs, awaking with just enough time before they barge in to put a robe on over her underwear. Sadly, this is not a straight up cheesecake fight.
The person sending the thugs to steal the scroll is Boss (Tong Zeng Ye) who looks like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers and collects antiques. Why he’s so obsessed with stealing the scroll is kind of beyond me. He appears in interminable comic relief scenes with his right hand man Fei (character actor Wong Yat Fei). These scenes are just awful and will not be mentioned again; they exist solely to provide a reason for why some random thug has come to fight Fan or Young.
So the movie proceeds. Fan, Xing, Young, and Jerry all hang out together, acting silly and flirting. Young and Fan have been a couple for seven years and haven’t gotten married yet, while Jerry and Xing obviously like each other but can’t be arsed to just get together and be done with it. Fan repeatedly remarks that the two are immature, but there’s little difference between their behavior and Young and Fan’s. The whole thing eventually leads to a weird moment where the four track down Grandpa Chen’s long lost love, Jen (Cheng Pei-Pei), and she tragically cries to him over skype. No joke. This lights a fire under everyone to take their relationships seriously.
So its getting closer to the day where the scroll gets handed over, and Fan has it hidden really well, so now the people who want to steal the scroll are just outright attacking. Xing gets kidnapped, and Jerry chases down the van they pack her into on his bike. It conveniently runs out of gas, and Jerry attempts to intimidate the thugs with some Bruce Lee-ish nunchaku play. He and Fan are saved by that same beefy construction worker, who then performs mouth to mouth resuscitation on Jerry after he hits himself with his own weapon. Lame.
Then Fan gets attacked by a big group of thugs, which she takes out handily and without any tension to draw the audience in. Finally, Young gets attacked by a white guy (Roberto Gilabert), and they have a drawn out, really decent fight scene. It’s easily the highlight of the movie.
It ends with a photo montage of the four handing over the scroll, then a final scene of them acting silly. This time they have “old makeup” and a couple of cute kids to join them, letting the audience know that everyone ended up together and apparently grew really old before they finally decided to reproduce.
So why does this movie suck? Based on the above summary, it sounds like fight scene after fight scene. But, in the same tradition as 2011’s Choy Lee Fut, there’s a lot of talking, a lot of pouty faces and flirting and nonsense. This is another attempt to marry some lightly delivered romance with typical kung fu. This has happened to the genre before; in the 70’s and 80’s there was concerted effort to make kung fu comedies. Some of these were great, most of them really kind of sucked.
I’m still waiting for the good examples of kung fu romantic comedies coming out of China and Hong Kong. Recommendations are entirely welcome here. The Scroll of White Crane Wing Chun is unfortunately much heavier on the romantic comedy than Choy Lee Fut was. And that romantic comedy is painful. I’ll say this: the four leads are all terribly cute. Obnoxiously cute. I want to say rude things to Shen Fangxi and hear her squeak out “ewwww.” Instant.
But you can only take so much annoying and not especially well acted flirty behavior. It wears thin so fast, and the only thing that keeps you watching is the fights, but before every fight, you get an even more annoying sequence with the Big Boss and Fei. These are even worse. I don’t fault Young Jung for his performance; he’s playing the material he’s given and he isn’t obnoxious himself. He even manages one or two funny expressions, and his dancing (as well as Jerry Liau’s) is amusing, shades of Mismatched Couples. I have similar thoughts about Wong Yat Fei’s performance. The problem is the writing here.
It takes a really strong script to merge such disparate genres. Think something like Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004), which has characters that are so well drawn (and acted) that they’re interesting whether they bicker about relationships or are getting mauled by zombies. The whole kung fu romantic comedy idea could work, if the characters are as interesting when they flirt or bicker as when they bust out the kung fu. The characters in The Scroll of White Crane Wing Chun aren’t even interesting when they fight because there’s so little to them. They’re endlessly cheerful and silly, and that’s it.
Jerry Liau does get to bring some personality to his character in two fight scenes. The first is a fight with a Japanese fighter who wears a gi and fights with karate and katanas. Liau’s character is drunk during their confrontation and is cocky and obnoxious. Then in the climax against Roberto Gilabert, He rips off his shirt, busts out some dance moves, Bruce Lee screeches, and a cocky attitude. This is great, and the movie needed more of it. A lot more, and for the other characters too. The only thing that impressed me about Zhao Cong as Fan, for instance, was that she looked pretty good in her panties.
Anyhow, this was awful. Watch it on YouTube, if you must.
The one thing that I do think was good about this movie, with its tv-serial cinematography, weird weepy scene with Cheng Pei-Pei, and obnoxious script and characters, was Jerry Liau. He was a contestant on Jackie Chan’s reality show, which looked for new talent for making action movies. He’s got a really good look to him, and he can move. If he can get into a real movie, he’ll have people following him pretty closely, I would be willing to bet.