You will be able to enjoy this, but it won’t be over quickly – from Tai Chi Zero / Tai Chi Hero director Stephen Fung…
I don’t get to spend that much time on films that star Anthony Wong. He’s one of those actors in Asian cinema whom I don’t want to know anything about off-screen. I’m just happy when he turns up in a film and grabs my attention. There’s just something about how he holds himself and presents his performance that makes me stop and listen and look. He is very chameleon-esque in his characters, working from psycho (Hard Boiled) to world wary (Infernal Affairs trilogy) to “hey why the hell not?” (The Twins Effect). Here we see him trying to straddle that fine line between comedy and drama and going for comedy more than anything else. In House of Fury, he plays Yue Siu-bo, a middle aged man who runs a traditional medicine and bone clinic. He has two children, Natalie and Nicky (not going for many letters of the alphabet, huh?), who don’t really like who their father is. He isn’t a bad person but like all teenagers, they feel he’s not cool and not what they want to be. Of course, he tells them whenever he can that he was a international man of mystery and of course, they don’t believe him. Everybody thinks their dad is like that, right? Trouble is, Yue isn’t lying: he really was a secret agent and now a person from his past has come looking for him. Once Yue is taken out, the main bad guy’s attention turns to Natalie and Nicky.
If you’ve ever seen a Jackie Chan or Stephen Chow produced movie (in other words, they don’t star in it), there’s a certain tone that is always set. They never take themselves seriously, never show a hint of scandal and somehow work. Really, if a Western filmmaker tried to get away with anything like that, I’d laugh and change the channel. But here you come for the absurdity and stay for the characterizations. Note I didn’t say characters because for the most part, they are paper thin and woefully underplayed. Which is why I like House of Fury but I suspect not many other people will. The film’s main problem is that everything is presented in a kind of two-unit director fashion. When Rocco (the chief villain) is initially presented he gets information out of a man by threatening his family with death. As soon as he gets the information, he drops the man of a sheer height and kills him. Wallop! Here is a badass. Then the film proceeds to make him into the most poorly executed villain since Mr. Han in Enter the Dragon. He literally spends the movie threatening the heroes with death, etc. etc, from his wheelchair. Oh, I’m not spoiling anything by telling you he’s in a wheelchair because they mention that fact loads of times. If they had held back that he was wheelchair bound until about halfway into the movie, it would have made Rocco pay off as a villain. The way it’s filmed here, I kept waiting for him to reveal that it was all sham and that he really could walk and then set up a spectacular fight between him and Yue. But no, they keep him in the chair and make his ten year old son more menacing. Ye Gods. It’s almost like the drama was handled by one director and the action and pathos by another.
There are traces of Jackie Chan’s film DNA in this project. The laugh out loud moments were the cast let loose and try their hand at free styling dialogue and action work despite a lack of acting chops on some people’s parts. The action itself is standard and neutral (with a suspicious Martial Arts Advisor title for Yuen Woo-Ping) with writer/director Stephen Fung (Tai Chi Zero/Tai Chi Hero), and Gillian Chung (of Twins fame) doing most of the heavy lifting but Anthony Wong does have a spectacular opening title sequence where he takes on two sets of bad guys complete with weird but effective CG. Wong spends most of his time nattering around his kids almost, and I stress almost, pretending to really be out of it. But he never breaks character as a bone setter until the last minute when Rocco’s people come for him. Even when he’s alone and talking to a picture of his wife, he never breaks his facade. Gillian Chung works as an uptight daughter who really just wants her dad to be her dad and not have to live up to an ideal. Anthony Wong and she have a wonderful moment together while he’s driving her to school and they bring up the subject of their absent mother who had passed away. I don’t know where in the scene it started but you can see Natalie getting more worked up about her father coming to school and embarrassing her and then she mentions her mother and they both stop and look at each other and she relaxes with him and he stops trying to be codger-y around her. Stephen Fung works in a sea park and trains with dolphins. He also likes to warn boys off dating his sister for their own sakes and not his own. That’s what passes for the leading hero as a backstory. But then, as the story unfolds we see that he too wishes his father was less of a fussy parent and more like he was when they were younger. I think the implication is that he was a better parent in their eyes when their mother was alive but neither child wants to hurt his feelings by saying this. All of this shows that director Stephen Fung (pulling double duty here) is trying to walk a fine line between absurd and serious. But his script is letting him down elsewhere. Also the other half of the Twins, Charlene Choi, appears as a friend of Natalie’s who turns up the heat on Nicky daring him to kiss her and when he sputters, she drops him like a stone. It’s a nice role, albeit a minor one for Choi.
Don’t get me wrong: when the script and the actors work, they really do work well. But when it’s bad, it’s really bad. The good parts happen when they come out of the blue. When Yue is attacked by Rocco’s goons, they trash his place and him with it but he fights for every square inch. The next day, Uncle Chiu ( a regular patient of Yue’s) and Nicky walk through the destruction and inadvertently discover his secret sterile room with his old equipment from his days as a G4 agent. Here Fung overlaps the footage from the opening credits sequence with Anthony Wong with his footage of he and Uncle Chiu (Wu Ma) and it comes together. The other good bit is where the two children take a drumming from Rocco’s agents in a park but then overcome and beat their opposite numbers senseless. You can see as their father’s training kicks in and they route the enemy. The ending is good if only because I finally watch someone do the whole “Focus your mind and punch insert-immovable-object (pressure glass here) so hard it cracks and breaks” thing properly in modern cinema. Plus Fung finally beats that insufferable child, Rocco’s son, till he cries. Hey, I like my villains dry roasted, what can I say? But when the script is bad, good God it’s atrocious. For no good reason, they decide to make Jason, Natalie’s new boyfriend, not just a talented audio expert (it helps the kids find their father) but make him have a hidden agenda. There’s no need for the second part to his character and it really grinds the start of the final third act to a halt. The character of Rocco is one of the most squandered in the film. Michael Wong (who is more fluent in real life in English than Chinese) jumps between English and I guess Cantonese and that’s fine because everyone knows he’s playing an American. But Nicky and Natalie can totally understand him whenever he switches languages without a blink. Are they also that fluent? In addition, as I’ve said, Rocco goes from a Michael Caine-esque portrayal to Hanna-Barbera villainy by the end of the film. I’m not making that up. In fact, the only way you know your soul hasn’t left your body and that’s why everyone in the film seems to accept this lunacy is whenever they share the screen with Anthony Wong. He literally throws everyone, with the exception of Wu Ma, into sharp relief as they grasp to come up to meet him. The best example is when Rocco meets Yue in his clinic for the first time. After dancing around Rocco’s questions, Rocco leaves an unsubtle threat in his wake and director Fung hangs on Anthony Wong. The look on Wong’s face sells the enormity of having his cover blown without looking upset.
In the end, House of Fury isn’t what you’re hoping for. It’s not a relentless action romp and it’s not a thriller in any shape or fashion. But for what it is, it’s entertaining and you can get by with it.
Sadly, the news that Cine-Asia has gone into administration means that the 2-disc DVD and single Blu Ray release will get rarer as time goes on. If you can, pick it up on disc. If not, then watch the film like I did on Netflix UK/Ireland.