House of Fury Review
Owner of the ‘House of Fury’ medicinal shop is Chinese Physician Siu-Bo (Anthony Wong), a widowed father of two who likes nothing more than telling stories about his work as a special intelligence agent. While he entertains both customers and his teenage daughter’s friends both his eldest Nicky (Stephen Fung) and youngest Natalie (Gillian Chung) find his tall tales tiring and more to the point, embarrassing. Yearning for a normal family their lives and opinion of their father will be put in perspective when Siu-Bo is taken hostage by Rocco (Michael Wong), an evil man seeking revenge on one of the agents their father is protecting. Left with no other choice than to seek out the truth and save their father Nicky and Natalie must fight to protect each other and bring their family back together.
Part family-drama, part action-fantasy Stephen Fung’s second project as director excels when concentrating on the latter or a combination of the two. From the stories Siu-Bo tells depicting himself as a fantasy superhero taking on hordes of ninja while employing a variety of wire tricks to the extended action sequences which punctuate the film’s latter half the action choreography from Yuen Wo-ping is always exciting and captured well by the director. The genres are also expertly combined when Nicky and Natalie are seen in the home fighting as brother and sister do, be it over the television remote or a remark made at the dinner table the martial arts passed down to them by their father are brought into action to not only confirm their abilities prior to the main plot progression but to entertain with some close-quarters hand and leg combat which offer some great visual and comedic flourishes. The family-drama aspects revolve around the relationship held between Siu-Bo and his children, with Anthony Wong asked to converse on more than one occasion with his character’s departed wife via a photograph he cherishes. A real treat in this role Wong is an actor with the dramatic chops to pull this off while these scenes go some way to elaborate on the family’s background, but they often come across slightly laboured thanks to musical cues that wouldn’t appear out of place in your everyday soap opera.
As Natalie Gillian Chung is both beautiful and deadly, taking on a fair quota of the action choreography and performing it with some genuine talent. In particular the adaptation of Tai Chi into her character’s fighting repertoire is executed with a graceful finesse complimented further by Fung’s direction and use of camera angles and techniques. In contrast her efforts on the dramatic side are somewhat mixed, occasionally heavy handed and overly sentimental though I’m willing to bet this is not entirely her fault with some blame to be handed to the writers and director who in the role of Nicky is often guilty of the same melodramatic acting choices. One such scene and another example of where the family drama aspects are prone to dragging the film down involves Nicky and Natalie on a rooftop in the pouring rain, waterworks turned on and musical accompaniment cranked up to the max as they and the characters around them are caught up in the moment attempting to grab the audience’s heartstrings and give them a bloody good yank.
It’s easy to criticise though and despite having the concerns shared above while viewing the film my enjoyment was very rarely hindered. This is not high-art and I daresay Fung was shooting for any such heights, instead the young director, someone who through his music and acting careers is no doubt on the very pulse of Hong Kong pop culture has made a film that will pull in the crowds and satisfy their dramatic needs while also going a long way to recapture the golden-days of eighties and early nineties martial arts pictures.
He does this in a variety of ways, one is to mimic Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle and bring a respected actor/director with dozens of films under his belt out from retirement and place him in a relatively prominent role here as Uncle Chiu. Wu Ma is said actor, a man in his sixties and someone familiar to martial arts movie fans through his work in numerous films from Shaw Brothers classics to contemporary work from the likes of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Jet Li. Given the chance to fight amongst the many youngsters Wu Ma acquits himself well and proves that he can still move when asked, and in doing so brings a fine sense of nostalgia to fans of the golden age of Hong Kong cinema. Elsewhere Fung employs the concept of bringing in a foreign martial arts expert to challenge the heroes, a trick often seen in films of the eighties to spice the action up, and one that Fung uses well and puts his own intelligent spin on. Jake Stickland, a 16-year old kid from America who looks a hell of a lot younger in the film portrays Nelson, Rocco’s son, a character who makes little sense for a good deal of the film’s running time and features very little until the final third when he picks up a pole and uses it like an extension of his arm. The kid is good, and the fight sequence between him and Stephen Fung is superbly executed and one of the most successful action and comedic set-pieces in the film.
Michael Wong, often a curse to any film does little to further his cause here but for the most part is used quite well. Wheelchair bound and sporting a shaved head Wong is the central villain, Rocco, seeking revenge on the Chinese agent that left him in the crippled state we see. Doing little more than clearly delivering the lines of this straight talking character better suited to a comic book world Wong is never menacing but through costume design is eccentric enough to form some credibility as a debilitated yet powerful leader of the underground. Casting him as an American character suits his preference towards English dialogue, and is a smart move by Fung who uses Daniel Wu’s similar American origins and less than perfect Cantonese to good comedic effect in his role as Jason (the comedy is also simple enough that subtitles capture it well). Elsewhere amongst the cast are several other familiar faces including Charlene Choi, the other half of the twins act in a supporting role here as the cheeky temptress schoolgirl Nicky dreams about and can often be seen encouraging the stories from Siu-Bo that his children so despise. Josie Ho also turns up in a solely action-based role as one in a four-part team of martial arts expert assassins under the employ of Rocco. A good actress in her own right she’s asked little of here other than to look commanding and sexy in black, which she does with consummate ease.
The real impresario though is Stephen Fung, someone who never made a great impression upon me in his early acting roles and as a result is someone whose films I generally steered clear of. Until now that is. As both director and one of the leads his dedication and vision genuinely impress, boasting good screen presence and the necessary look and acting skills required for action roles his efforts to train and develop his martial arts skills are to be commended. Furthermore he appears to understand how to direct, capture and edit the choreography of skilled masters like Yuen Wo-Ping, showing the audience extended takes with the appropriate insert shots for impact so we can see for ourselves the training and effort that has gone into the production. From the multi-layered action set-piece on a building site in which Nicky and Natalie take on separate foes to the all out brawl which marks the action finale the use of camera angles, lighting and the talents of the cast and crew make for some truly thrilling and visceral action set-pieces. That he combines this with effective comedy both within and outside of the action and an accomplished score that makes you sit up and take notice almost makes up for some of the aforementioned weaker aspects such as the perfunctory storyline, penchant for melodrama and slightly weak central villain. As such Fung is definitely one to watch, and seems to be one who likes to watch and learn from others with hints of dare I say it, John Woo’s The Killer to be seen here. Note the similarities in atmosphere and the tracking shot used to capture Anthony Wong’s character in contemplative thought as he prepares for the enemy just prior to all hell breaking loose at the House of Fury to the famous sequence tracking Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee’s character symbiosis as they sit, cigarettes in hand, deep in thought.
Joy Sales continue their partnership with JCE Films and present House of Fury as a two-disc set packaged in a double amaray case held inside a very solid glossy card slipcase. Using some of the eye-catching promotional imagery created for the film with the characters in matching outfits striking a pose the amaray features variations on the same theme as do the bundled character stand-up cards (x4) and postcard (the latter also features a great shot of Charlene Choi smoking a cigar as seen in the film). Also included is a key-ring and exclusive to YesAsia customers a set of 4 coasters featuring glossy photos of the characters from the set.
Unusually for a Hong Kong DVD release the menu system on both discs is completely unfriendly to non-Chinese viewers, with very little in the way of English language to be found leaving you to work out what’s on offer as you navigate your way round the selections. The actual menu design on disc one is rather dull beyond the fun Bruce Lee homage of the main screen, while disc two features more of those attractive promotional images to decorate the screens. A strange note is how poorly framed these were on my TV, with all four-sides cropped through over scan.
Picture and Sound
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen the transfer on this film released earlier this year to Hong Kong cinemas is nothing short of stunning. Detail levels are pleasingly high across the board while colour depth and black levels satisfy with gentle gradients and deep hues bringing out the wonderful production design and cinematography. With no signs of artefacting or even any edge enhancement that I could detect this really is an effort worthy of full marks, with only a lighting flaw inherent in the production showing any flaws in the transfer (on just a few occasions the lower part of the frame has a slight glare).
The audio also impresses, with the original sync-sound Cantonese language track available in neighbour-upsetting Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Surround audio options. Selecting the latter you will hopefully be as impressed as I with the rumbling bass and active use of the surrounds while the engaging score sounds particularly good across the soundstage. The only slight flaw – though one which could be inherent to the production – was found in the scene between Nicky and Ella (Charlene Choi) where she first asks him if he is ‘bored’. Here I found the audio to be rather hollow, possibly deliberate suggesting a dreamlike situation but one that sounded more harsh than it should with a definite echo in place.
Optional English subtitles are placed within the picture frame which are easy to read and appear to offer a good translation. Aside from a few spelling and grammatical glitches these are very good.
A Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also present, as are optional Chinese subtitles (both simplified and traditional).
Like the menu system the extra features are not tailored for English viewers, with no English subtitles or English options on text-based extras. This is a genuine shame, as there are a few interesting features on offer. Chinese viewers may be happy to note that all bonus features offer traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles.
Disc one is reserved almost exclusively for the main feature, with the only extras consisting of a glorified scene-selection option which allows you to jump to the action scenes, and both Teaser and Trailer for House of Fury. Presented in Letterbox and Anamorphic Widescreen respectively, the Trailer is the first and only extra to include optional English subtitles.
Disc two is where the real extras can be found, starting off with Top Secret Files, a series of text biographies (Chinese only) for the characters found in the film.
A series of Interviews with Daniel Wu (11:42), Gillian Chung (10:30), Josie Ho (8:57), Michael Wong (6:54) and Stephen Fung (17:37) are all in Chinese with the exception of Wong who speaks about his character and working on the movie. Of the lot he’s the last person most will be interested in hearing from, spot the irony if you dare.
A Behind-the-Scenes Documentary runs 45-minutes and takes us from the opening ceremony with cast and crew to the wrap party with Jackie Chan. Presenting us solely with fly-on-the-wall footage taken over the course of the production the lack of subtitles here won’t really affect non-Chinese viewers, but the lack of narrative does occasionally slow things down due to a lack of focus. The majority of time is fortunately spent on the action scenes with Fung showing his talents and patience both in front of and behind the camera. Working with Yuen Wo-Ping we see the scenes develop with Fung, Gillian Chung, Josie Ho, Anthony Wong and the stunt-team bringing the action together and picking up the occasional bruise along the way. Despite some lapses my interest was held for nearly the complete 45-minutes, making this for me the best extra on the set.
Leaders and Supplementary Info are text based single-screen affairs in Chinese only, the former looking at Stephen Fung and Yuen Wo-Ping and the latter, well, it could be commenting on anything for all I know. The disc is rounded out by four excellent stills galleries covering production, promotion, poster designs and the premiere but sadly hindered by poor menu design which results in the images being presented via a tiny window.
House of Fury was both a genuine surprise and pleasure, offering a simple story that is carried by the sum of its parts with attractive and (mostly) engaging actors delivering a combination of comedy, drama and then stepping things up for the numerous action set-pieces which are delivered in a high-class package by the director.