Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)


While this did play at the International Film Festival Rotterdam as part of a whopping 18-film Johnnie To retrospective, this isn’t one of my “reviews from IFFR”. The reason is that by chance I wasn’t able to be at that screening but got to see the recent DVD-release later instead. And while the movie is one of those typically Chinese first-half-Comedy, second-half-Drama efforts which seem jarring to most of us Westerners, the DVD had a couple of surprises for me.

The Bare-footed Kid DVD can be ordered here.

A lot has been said on this site about Hong-Kong director Johnnie To’s recent triple-whammy of “Election”, “Election 2” and “Exiled” (deservedly so I might add), but I had never seen any of his earlier works. Therefore I was very interested in this one. Well, maybe not specifically this one, but you know what I mean.

“The Bare-footed Kid” was released in Hong-Kong cinemas in 1993, one of five movies directed by Johnnie To that year. It stars Aaron Kwok as a naive country bumpkin centuries ago in China, who moves to a city to find work after his parents have died. He moves in with one of his father’s old friends (seventies kung-fu veteran Ti Lung) who now works in a cloth-dyeing factory owned by a kind lady (a radiant Maggie Cheung). When an evil gang wants to take over the profitable factory the boy turns out to have some neat martial-arts skills.

So far, so cliché. The plot thickens however when the boy, sick of being poor, joins the other side! Of course in time he realizes his mistake and turns back from the Dark Side of the Force, but will he be too late?

In 1993 Aaron Kwok was foremost a dancing pop-singer, not a kung-fu artist. Fancy moves are fancy moves though, and helped by above average choreography, camerawork, editing, a stunt team and a wire or two he really looks like a superhero. Don't expect any death-defying stunts of the Jackie Chan variety here, but where Kwok shines is in comic delivery. His clumsy oaf act is pleasant to watch, whether leaving footprints all over his adversaries or when accidentally pissing over his love-interest.
When the movie turns darker in the second half his character plays second fiddle to the romance between Maggie Cheung and Ti Lung, and both are in form although they do not need to stretch themselves in any way. It's a romance for Chinese audiences though so you get tragedy, laid on pretty thick, including songs and flashbacks.

All in all this is exactly what you'll expect of a Hong-Kong comedy kung-fu drama. Do not expect the style or overall level of quality of "Exiled", it's not a classic by any means but it's a fun movie that definitely has its moments. Fans of either Aaron Kwok, Ti Lung or Maggie Cheung won't be disappointed.

Now for the recent R3 DVD-release by Intercontinental Video:

First, the sound is the original mono, so no fancy stuff, but also no remix trickery there (purists rejoice). Thankfully the soundtrack doesn't wobble like with so many other productions.

But then we get to the picture. Ho-lee shit.
Intercontinental Video boasts this release is digitally remastered in anamorphic 1.85:1 and they're not kidding: I've never, including in the cinema, seen the Shaw Brothers logo look this vibrant and clean. I almost got the feeling that they should have left a cable or three in there just for authenticity's sake. The image is razorsharp, one of the best I've seen in months. No softness, no artifacts, no telecine wobble. It looks gorgeous.
The colors are so incredibly bright I assume Johnnie To shares a gene or two with Wisit Sasanatieng, as sometimes this movie is halfway into "Tears of the Black Tiger" territory. In fact it's a shame I didn't see this at IFFR, as I could have told you if these colors are correct or the result of excessive boosting. Combined with the sharpness my guess is that it is indeed meant to look like that (which scores the film some extra points for originality). As there are lots of contrasting colors in a cloth-dyeing factory this makes for very pretty images. I saw this on a television and am afraid to watch it on my computer as I'm sure this will hurt my LCD-screen.

Extras are of the pictures and text variety. Let it be known I frown on a selected Johnnie To filmography which claims to be published in 2007 but doesn't feature any of the Holy Trilogy mentioned above!
There are also some trailers for other recent DVD-releases, including "The Mad Monk", another Johnnie To film from 1993 which looks like it got the same excellent treatment picturewise.

So there you have it: a workmanshiplike historical kung-fu actioner gets a nice and cheap release which has so-so extras, decent sound and mindblowingly excellent video. Fans of the movie should look no further.

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