Review for Odd Couple
Earlier this year, I had got my Odd Couple and Warriors Two mixed up, both Sammo Hung movies from the same period, and had encountered a sense of disappointment, when Warriors Two turned out not to be this film. On the other hand, it does mean that I have ostensibly saved the best till last; that is if the film still holds up after all this time. I first saw it when I reviewed the Hong Kong Legends DVD for this site back in 2005. I was quite impressed with that disc, but naturally a Blu-ray should be an essential double-dip, right?
Sammo Hung stars as the King Of Sabres, Lau Kar-Wing as the King Of Spears, aged martial artists peerless in their chosen fields, and who nurse a long standing rivalry with each other when it comes to just which discipline is the better. Once a year, they face each other in a battle to prove who is the most skilled, and each time the fight results in a draw. Feeling that their familiarity with each other is restricting them from fighting with absolute skill and freedom, they alter the conditions of the contest. Each will take a student, and impart their knowledge. These students, unfamiliar with each other will be able to fight without restraint, proving once and for all which is better, the Sabre or the Spear.
The King Of Sabres finds a headstrong market trader, one who shows promise with a blade, but who is reluctant to take instruction. He has to use his wits and a hefty dose of reverse psychology to convince young Stubborn Wing, also played by Lau Kar-Wing, to learn how to wield a sabre. Meanwhile the King Of Spears has found a willing student in ferryman Ah Yo (a youthful Sammo Hung), and pretty soon is converting his skill with a pole to mastery of the spear. Now it’s just a matter of engineering a contest between the two. Trouble lies ahead though, for while Spear and Sabre are engrossed with training their students for the competition, a sinister figure from the past stalks them both, eager for vengeance.
Odd Couple gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, which is clear and sharp, with rich consistent colours, bringing the period kung-fu comedy action across without any issue. There are plenty of quirky characters to fill the screen in this film. You get the choice between PCM 1.0 Mono Cantonese and DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. The Cantonese audio was fine for me, clear, and free of distortion. It was a bit strange seeing only an English surround track with the film though, given the effort Eureka usually expend in sourcing different versions and multiple soundtrack options. An English mono dub track is missed here. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos.
The disc boots to a static menu.
You get what now seem to be the standard audio commentary tracks that Eureka supply with their Hong Kong cinema releases. One audio commentary features Frank Djeng and Bobby Samuels, and one commentary has Mike Leeder and Arne Venema.
These are the new extras with the film, otherwise the featurettes will be familiar from that Hong Kong Legends release.
Master and Student: Archival Interview with director Lau Kar-Wing lasts 26:55.
Natural Born Killer: Archival Interview with actor Leung Kar-Yam lasts 22:22.
Finally there is the Theatrical Trailer (4:28), and Home Video Trailer (1:39).
The first run release will get a 28 page booklet with writing on the film from James Oliver, plenty of stills and production imagery, and a dedication to the late Dean Shek.
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate Odd Couple more as I’ve seen more kung-fu comedies to compare. Note that this Eureka release drops the definite article from the HKL title. Odd Couple has a rather special place in Hong Kong cinema, in that it’s the pinnacle, as well as an utterly effective subversion of a long running genre. Films like Odd Couple did for the period kung fu movie in a way that pretty much ensured that the genre would have to be completely reinvented, or supplanted by films with more modern settings.
Odd Couple distils the rival kung fu schools genre to its essentials, and then turns it all on its head with a comic flair that pervades the whole film, instead of just added as a garnish; with Lau Kar-Wing and Sammo Hung donning the old-age make-up and fright-wigs to play the two masters of their rival schools, both aided by comedy henchmen, fighting each other regularly to determine the supremacy of sabre or spear. They both play their respective roles for laughs, particularly Sammo Hung. The film kicks off with the traditional opening credit sequence with the actors demonstrating the various styles of kung-fu that will play in the film, but then we get introduced to the two masters, and you know full well that this is a comedy, as they certainly don’t approach their respective specialities with any of the po-faced seriousness that you’d see in other films in the genre.
When their most recent confrontation once again ends in a draw, they decide to try something different, teach students to act as proxies in the next fight, with none of the baggage that the two masters have. And both Sammo and Lau play double roles in the film, young upstarts recruited by the old masters and trained up. The cheeky ferryman Ah Yo (Sammo) takes his oar skills and turns into a spear master thanks to old Lau, while Stubborn Wing (Lau) reluctantly learns the sabre from old Sammo, if only to eventually kill him. Of course neither of the two masters tells their young students that they will eventually be fighting for their honour. So the masters’ henchmen have to engineer a confrontation. Which is where the traditional villain of the piece appears, a warrior from the protagonists’ past, who has returned for revenge, and naturally it will fall to their students to uphold their honour.
Odd Couple is a great kung-fu comedy, a film with some spectacular action, and some great comedy too. It has my favourite Dean Shek appearance as a would-be lothario who falls foul of Ah Yo’s playful kung-fu; although it might put you off eggs for a while. Odd Couple showed that you could make the traditional period kung-fu film, with the usual rival schools of kung-fu, in a wholly untraditional way, and it does it so much better as well. Why would you go back to the old way of doing things after Odd Couple?