PETALING STREET WARRIORS - More Spoof than Kungfu
PETALING STREET WARRIORS (comedy in Mandarin and Cantonese)
Cast: Mark Lee, Yeo Yann Yann, Chris Tong, Namewee, Frederick Lee, Henry Thia, Ramasundran Rengana and Alvin Wong
Directors: James Lee and Sampson Yuen
Screenplay: Lim Boon Siang & James Lee
Time: 106 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: With a title like Petaling Street Warriors, many local movie fans and the media have imagined it to be James Lee's version of Stephen Chow's Kungfu Hustle. They had expected it to be another kungfu comedy but that is not what it turns out to be.
'PSW' is a spoof on Hong Kong's martial arts/gangster movies and on Malaysian foibles. Pirated merchandise could not have been on sale at Petaling Street in 1908, yet there is a standing joke about piracy in the movie. The same goes for that "looks like me, sounds like me but it's not me" gag.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Shi Duyao (Mark Lee) and his wife Zhung Lichun (Yeo Yann Yann) operate a Hokkien mee stall in Petaling Street, circa 1908. As hawkers trying to eke out a living, they face oppression by the colonial government as well as extortion by local gangs who demand all sorts of protection money.
One day, Duyao encounters a mysterious but beautiful kungfu exponent, Xiaoju (Chris Tong), who seduces him because she believes that Duyao is a descendant of the fugitive Emperor Jianwen of the Ming Dynasty. To stop a group of Qing warriors and Japanese ninjas from getting their hands on a treasure map that Duyao doesn't even know he has, Lichun and her cousin, Liu Kun (Namewee), must reveal their true identity and kungfu prowess, turning Petaling Street into a battleground. Is Duyao really who they think he is?
HITS & MISSES: The film has a cast comprising Singaporeans and Malaysians - augmented by Hong Kong's Yuk-Sing Ma (of Storm Riders 2 fame) in martial arts choreography. I wouldn't expect too much of the kungfu sequences here, though, as it is more a comedy than action flick. Shot in the town of Siputeh (near Batu Gajah) in Perak, the production values and location are rather credible in masquerading as Petaling Street of one century ago.
With Singapore's Mark Lee in the lead, the movie maintains a tongue-in-cheek mood, as its plot delves into the controversial legend of dethroned Ming Emperor Jianwen who was rumoured to have fled to Southeast Asia in 1402. (Some historians have gone on to argued that the real purpose of the voyages of Admiral Zheng He - which began three years after Emperor Yongle's ascension to throne - was not just for trade or national pride, but to seek out Jianwen who was believed to be hiding in the Malay peninsula). Fast-forward five centuries later, the descendants of Jianwen can be anywhere and everywhere and thus the narrative is moot.
While Singapore stalwarts like Henry Thia and John Cheng have cameos as a money lender and gang leader, respectively, Malaysia is aptly represented by Namewee, Chris Tong, Alvin Wong and Ramasundran Rengan. Namewee, starring in his first full-length movie (Nasi Lemak 2.0 is the second), has rather few lines ostensibly because his Liu Kun has speech problems due to his short tongue. Chris Tong provides the sex appeal - and a touch of enigma in her role as seductress. Alvin Wong and Ramasundran provide the laughs in the same way they do on TV. It is not fair to lump PSW with Stephen Chow's mo-lei-tau comedies. At least PSW has an engaging narrative and some hearty laughs. Also watch out for an uncredited appearance by Jack Neo in drag.
THE LOWDOWN: Interesting local popcorn flick.