Review for From Beijing With Love
I haven’t had the most edifying of experiences watching Stephen Chow movies. I loved Shaolin Soccer to be sure, but perhaps his biggest hit in the West, Kung Fu Hustle left me completely cold. The one other film of his I have seen, King of Beggars made me a little ambivalent about his brand of deadpan, nonsense comedy, and I haven’t been in the mood to try another Stephen Chow film since. But 2023 has seen something of a rediscovery by the UK boutique labels. 88 Films has released the Fight Back to School trilogy, and now Eureka Entertainment are bringing this heavily disclaimered James Bond pastiche to Blu-ray, From Beijing with Love. It looks at first glance like one of those films that won’t be seen again by audiences any time soon in its country of origin.
The reputation and standing of the People’s Republic of China is threatened when the heavily armoured Man with the Golden Gun makes off with a precious cultural artefact, a dinosaur skull. With all of their active agents out of commission, the secret service will have to reactivate Double-Oh-Sevin, who has spent the last ten years side-lined, and working as a street butcher. Now he’ll have to get his suave back on and head to Hong Kong, to investigate the potential sale of the skull. But The Man with the Golden Gun is one step ahead, and has sent an assassin to stop Sevin.
From Beijing With Love gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with the choice between PCM 2.0 Mono English and Cantonese with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. The image is sourced from a restoration of the original film elements, and it looks a treat on this disc, clear and sharp with good colour, detail and contrast. There is no sign of compression or the like to my eyes. The audio is adequate; although a little odd to see a mono track from a film dating from 1994. The dialogue is clear throughout, the subtitles accurately timed and free of typos. As you might expect, there is a heavy hint of Bond in the film’s score, although it does sound even more monotonous than John Barry’s more tedious Bond efforts.
The disc boots to a static menu screen where you get the audio options and an extras listing.
Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng
Wong Kam Kong on From Beijing With Love (21:57)
Wong Kam Kong on His Career (54:07)
Archival Interview with Lee Lik-Chi (24:57)
Original Theatrical Trailer (2:59)
The first run release of the film will come with o-card packaging and a 20-page booklet on the film with writing from James Oliver, limited to 2000 copies.
When it comes to deadpan humour, the master of the genre in my eyes was always Leslie Nielsen, who unfailingly kept a solemn visage, but somehow always had a mischievous twinkle in his eyes to telegraph all the best lines. Stephen Chow has no twinkle in his eyes. From Beijing With Love is the film where I realised that Stephen Chow isn’t my cup of tea; Shaolin Soccer was just an outlier and generally speaking I just don’t get the joke.
James Bond isn’t immune to spoofery. The first Casino Royale was a spoof, just 6 years into the Bond series, so From Beijing With Love was playing to a crowded field, a field that would be dominated just a few years later by the Austin Powers franchise. The one thing that could mark this film out could have been a preponderance of kung fu; but martial arts action is surprisingly light in this Hong Kong movie. Instead, it’s really playing off the usual Bond clichés and tropes.
For me, this film takes the approach of throwing everything at the screen, in the hope that something will stick. This scattershot comedy, wordplay, slapstick, sight gags, and so on rarely worked for me. Then again, elements of it would work. So it was an odd viewing experience, where for much of the film I’m sat there as deadpan as the main character, then suddenly something would happen that would tickle my funny bone, and I’d laugh out loud. But then I’d be back to deadpan until the next successful gag would turn up in ten or fifteen minutes. There would be twenty gags in the interim that would fall flat, or the film would just tonally misstep completely, and I’d be back to deadpan again. There was never any momentum built up in the comedy, no goodwill from the successful gags bleeding into the next.
The weakest aspect of the film is the story. Given it’s a pastiche, you’d expect story to play second string to the comedy, but it would help if the story made sense. Here we know the villain’s identity right from the off, which does for any sense of drama, and if you dare think about it, you realise that the story has no narrative logic, unless the villain is actively fighting himself.
It’s here that I pull out the reviewer’s fall back staple, “if you like this sort of thing, then you’ll like this”. I may have very little positive to say about From Beijing With Love, but if you like the other Stephen Chow movies, then you’ll like this. It’s consistent with his style and sense of humour. The Blu-ray presents the film to solid effect, and once more Eureka source a decent set of extra features.
From Beijing With Love can be had direct from Eureka, from Terracotta, and from mainstream retailers.