NYC Happenings: "Stephen Chow: The King of Comedy," An Appreciation of the Popular and Versatile Hong Kong Actor-Director

Featured Critic; New York City, New York
NYC Happenings: "Stephen Chow: The King of Comedy," An Appreciation of the Popular and Versatile Hong Kong Actor-Director
Hong Kong actor and writer-director Stephen Chow has been an immensely popular figure in Asia since first appearing on TV and in films in the late 1980s. 

He is best known in the West, however, for his two breakout international hits of the 2000s: Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004). These two films, in which Chow exercised a great deal of creative control as lead actor, producer, and writer-director, introduced audiences outside of Asia to his considerable comedic and visual talents. Despite his great success with these films, though, Chow remains under-appreciated in the West beyond Hong Kong cinema aficionado circles. Even though his most recent film, last year's big-budget CGI spectacle Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, was his biggest hit yet in Asia, especially mainland China, it barely made a dent in the U.S. box office.

BAMcinematek's eight-film retrospective "Stephen Chow: The King of Comedy," screening from October 6 through 12 at BAM Rose Cinemas, seeks to broaden our appreciation of this remarkable comic talent. This series concentrates mostly on Chow's films of the 1990s, his most prolific period, in which he starred in well over 40 films, directed by himself and others. Selections include Johnnie To's Justice, My Foot! (1992), Jeffrey Lau's two-part comic epic A Chinese Odyssey (1995), as well as two of his best films, The God of Cookery (1996) and King of Comedy (1999), both of which Chow co-directed with Li Lik-chi.

Full details on the retrospective are below. For more information, visit BAM's website.

From Monday, October 6 through Sunday, October 12, BAMcinĂ©matek presents Stephen Chow: The King of Comedy, an eight-film retrospective of the Hong Kong actor, writer, and director. Chow's audaciously anarchic comedies combine surreal sight gags, non sequiturs, extensive pop culture quoting, and gravity-defying martial arts to sublimely silly effect. Endlessly inventive, the reigning king of Hong Kong mo lei tau ("nonsense comedy") yields unfiltered cinematic pleasure. 

Initially prominent as a children's television star, Chow became synonymous with mo lei tau, a style of film comedy in which traditional melodramas and kung fu tales are peppered with rapid-fire, fourth-wall-breaking slapstick bits and corny puns. A bigger box-office draw in his homeland than Jackie Chan or Jet Li, Chow--who cites Spielberg and Kubrick, along with Jim Carrey, as influences--has used his clout in recent years to fashion himself as an auteur, scripting, editing, and directing a series of high-budget, homage-filled blockbusters. 

Typical of Chow's earliest hits, Johnnie To's Justice, My Foot! (1992--Oct 8) casts the actor as a fast-talking lawyer whose mouth gets him into trouble, and whose kung fu-fighting wife gets him out of it--one of many tough, smart heroines Chow uses as foils for his feckless alter egos. In King of Beggars (1992--Oct 7), his cockeyed tribute to Bruce Lee, Chow plays a fraudulent martial arts master, hobbled and reduced to penury, who fights his way to redemption--using the unorthodox "Sleeping Fist" style. 

Epic in scale but still utterly goofy, Jeffrey Lau's A Chinese Odyssey: Parts One and Two (1995--Oct 12) adapts Wu Cheng'en's famous Ming Dynasty novel as a fantasy saturated with visual effects and elaborate wire fu. Before the world had ever heard of Gordon Ramsay or Top Chef, The God of Cookery (1996--Oct 6) featured Chow as an arrogant celebrity chef who bests his rivals with a masterful meatball. Rife with inside jokes, including a dead-on parody of John Woo's balletic action choreography, King of Comedy (1999--Oct 9) stars Chow as the world's worst extra, who nonetheless catches the eye of an action movie heroine (Karen Mok)--and a call girl (Cecilia Cheung) who studies acting to better conceal her disgust for her lecherous clients. 

One of the most rousing sports movies in recent memory, Chow's solo directorial debut Shaolin Soccer (2001--Oct 11) postulates that specialized kung fu skills like lightning kicks and air walking have little use in the modern era--except, maybe, in the hands (and legs) of an underdog soccer team. Kung Fu Hustle (2004--Oct 10) pits 1930s gangsters against a dusty town full of tougher-than-they-look hicks, with Chow working the middle as a woefully inept thug--but the ensuing showdown is more Wile E. Coyote than Yojimbo, and there's always time for a musical interlude. Kicking off with an amazingly detailed Rube Goldberg battle between a demon fish and a rickety seaside town, Journey to the West (2013--Oct 12) is Chow's biggest spectacle yet, a re-imagining of A Chinese Odyssey that features delirious CGI, ever more audacious leaps between comedy and horror, and an unforgettable star turn by The Transporter's Shu Qi as a fierce, sexy demon hunter. "...Might be the craziest thing he's done yet. You may wonder, afterwards, if you dreamt it all" (Bilge Ebiri, New York magazine). 

Co-presented with the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York.

Stephen Chow: The King of Comedy Schedule

Mon, Oct 6
7:30pm: The God of Cookery

Tue, Oct 7
7, 9:15pm: King of Beggars

Wed, Oct 8
7, 9:15pm: Justice, My Foot!

Thu, Oct 9
7:30, 9:30pm: King of Comedy

Fri, Oct 10
2, 4:30, 7, 9:30pm: Kung Fu Hustle

Sat, Oct 11
7, 9:15pm: Shaolin Soccer

Sun, Oct 12
4pm: A Chinese Odyssey: Parts One & Two 
8pm: Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

Film Descriptions
All films in Cantonese with English subtitles and 35mm unless otherwise noted.

A Chinese Odyssey: Parts One & Two (1995) 188min with intermission 
Directed by Jeffrey Lau. With Stephen Chow, Man Tat Ng, Karen Mok.
This zany two-part epic--a huge cult sensation in China--stars Chow as the reincarnated Monkey King who journeys back in time to reunite with his master, Longevity Monk. A nutty spectacle of Chow's nonsense antics, high-flying action choreography, and a fabled character who can transform into grapes, A Chinese Odyssey is Hong Kong cinema at its wildest and most unrestrained. Two films for the price of one! HDCAM.
Sun, Oct 12 at 4pm

The God of Cookery (1996) 95min
Directed by Stephen Chow & Li Lik-Chi. With Stephen Chow, Karen Mok, Vincent Kuk.
Chow is at his wild and woolly best as a celebrity chef charlatan who is exposed as a fraud and must claw his way back up from the bottom to reclaim the title of "God of Cookery." Culminating in a side-splittingly absurdist Iron Chef-style kitchen battle, this riotous kung food comedy is a bonkers blend of cooking, martial arts, and slapstick mayhem.
Mon, Oct 6 at 7:30pm

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013) 110min
Directed by Stephen Chow & Derek Kwok. With Wen Zhang, Shu Qi, Huang Bo.
Chow's latest is this delirious take on an ancient Chinese legend, which chronicles the exploits of a rookie demon hunter (Zhang) as he tangles with a host of evil spirits--including a man-eating fish, a cannibalistic pig-man, and the fearsome Monkey King. Journey to the West is one of his most thoroughly over the top, nutso, totally enjoyable comic fantasias yet. DCP.
Sun, Oct 12 at 8pm

Justice, My Foot! (1992) 102min 
Directed by Johnnie To. With Stephen Chow, Anita Mui, Man Tat Ng.
Chow teamed up with the late Canto-pop superstar Anita Mui and fellow Hong Kong auteur Johnnie To for this deliriously freewheeling farce. He's a crooked lawyer and she's his butt-kicking, kung fu-fighting wife who's unable to have a child because of a karmic curse brought on by her husband's unethical ways. Among the ensuing insanity: a barrage of rude, crude fart jokes and a Silence of the Lambs parody.
Wed, Oct 8 at 7, 9:15pm

King of Beggars (1992) 101min
Directed by Gordon Chan. With Stephen Chow, Sharla Cheung, Man Tat Ng.
The spoiled son (Chow) of a Qing dynasty-era nobleman sets out to become a martial arts master in order to win the love of a courtesan--and winds up becoming a beggar in the process. This goofball "chopsocky" spoof is highlighted by one of Chow's most brilliantly hilarious set pieces, in which he kung fu fights an opponent...while dozing off!
Tue, Oct 7 at 7, 9:15pm

King of Comedy (1999) 89min
Directed by Stephen Chow & Li Lik-Chi. With Stephen Chow, Karen Mok, Cecilia Cheung.
Unable to cut it in the movie business, a hapless aspiring actor (Chow) has significantly more luck giving acting lessons to a call girl (Cheung)--and eventually finding romance. This manic showbiz satire is Chow's most personally revealing, autobiographical work and boasts a dead-on John Woo spoof, a cameo by Jackie Chan, and a surreal finale involving a copious amount of Pringles.
Thu, Oct 9 at 7:30, 9:30pm

Kung Fu Hustle (2004) 99min 
Directed by Stephen Chow. With Stephen Chow, Yuen Qiu, Yuen Wah.
Martial arts meets Looney Tunes in Chow's dazzling 1940s-set action-comedy, wherein a dimwitted wannabe bad guy (Chow) gets caught up in a furious battle between a slum town and a mob of ax-wielding gangsters. Among its eye-popping wonders: a Road Runner-style chase; a chorus line of tap-dancing villains; and a kung fu master landlady whose scream reduces her opponents to dust.
Fri, Oct 10 at 2, 4:30, 7, 9:30pm

Shaolin Soccer (2001) 87min 
Directed by Stephen Chow. With Stephen Chow, Wei Zhao, Man Tat Ng.
This dizzyingly daffy sports comedy follows a Buddhist martial arts master (Chow) as he assembles a group of fellow monks to take on the nefarious Team Evil in a million dollar soccer match. Complete with flaming soccer balls, musical numbers, and a Seven Samurai send-up, Chow's breakout international hit--which also broke box office records in Hong Kong--reaches transcendently absurd heights.
Sat, Oct 11 at 7, 9:15pm
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