Sammo Hung is a hero of mine. When I first witnessed the man at work, I loved the portly acrobatics and the doe eyed charm, and the more of his films I have seen since an offhand rental of Encounters of the Spooky Kind
, the more I have realised the sheer hard work, skill, and intelligence he brings to action cinema. I would go as far as saying that you could take away all of Jackie Chan's work and the best of Jet Li or Bruce Lee, as long as you made sure that Sammo's films survived. There's a kind of ethic and spirit behind Sammo's films that pleases my soul - that the socially uncomfortable, the shy and the unpopular ones can kick ass, win beautiful women's hearts and ensure right wins out. For all the tenaciousness of Jackie Chan or the spiritual discipline of Jet Li, I can't help cheering the little fat man who could.
Where's Officer Tuba
stars Hung as timid policeman, Matthew Chan. Chan has found a cushy number as lead tuba player in the police band and his quiet single life is only disturbed with the emergence of rookie cop and flatmate, Cheung, played by Jackie Cheung. No sooner has his eager roommate moved in than Chan finds himself helping out undercover cop, Magnum, in a sting on some potential kidnappers. Soon Chan is watching Magnum die in front of his eyes and promising to avenge the fearless cop. Back in his cozy existence, Chan soon discounts the idea of hunting down the criminals and is romancing new supermarket boss, Joey Wong. Magnum's spirit won't be still though and soon Chan finds himself haunted and press-ganged with his keen fellow cop to chase Magnum's killers down.
Opening up with an excellent chase sequence and the frankly nutty stunt above, Officer Tuba
kicks off with some great action. The film soon introduces Hung as a charming simpleton who gets into a number of social scrapes due to his ineptitude such as when he greets his soon to be love interest with gestures that are meant to be an innocent mime but almost lead to sexual harassment charges. We go headlong back into a gritty gunfight and get Magnum's demise which begins with a lightning quick dose of kung fu and ends with a brutal execution. Next thing you know, the foul killing is succeeded by some fantastic slapstick sequences with Hung meeting his prospective father in law whilst being haunted by the playful Magnum. Finally the flatmates unite and Matthew Chan becomes the man he can be as a kickass cop and a sincere lover.
The amazing thing about Officer Tuba
is that despite the huge changes of mood from violent cop film to physical comedy, and from pathos to fart gags, it all works. Hung plays down his fighting and operates mainly as the shy man becoming empowered; his key assets here are his fine timing and his obvious warmth. In fact without Hung the film would have been difficult to believe in, what other lardass could win the heart of gorgeous Joey Wong, and what other cowardly Tuba player could finally become an Asian Dirty Harry? Somehow with Sammo's persona front and center these unlikely situations work out fine, and the violence and the comedy never end up in opposition. Alongside him is a fine supercop and puckish ghost courtesy of the great David Chiang, and even Jacky Cheung shows some action moves that raise his usual contribution to comedy above the usual warm puppy performance he normally gives.
Hung's presence aside, what makes the nonsense notions of Officer Tuba
work is the fact that the film is funny and thrilling with extreme stunts and a few belly-laughs along the way. The changes in tone fail to jar because the different kinds of scenes are successful in their own context, and weak humour doesn't expose poor drama or mediocre action compromise the humour. That one film can be a romantic comedy, an odd couple piece, a ghost story and equal parts slapstick and John Woo is a real reach, but that this all works is one hell of an achievement. If you like Hung's Dragons films, you should love this and if you just are gagging for action comedy that works rather than Pirate retreads or Rush Hour
rubbish then this will please you. Embrace the Fatman once again.
The Joy Sales Legendary collection offers the film on a single layer disc with the usual cutout dustsleeve around the disc case. The transfer is a poor standards conversion again and you can see from the screenshots here the sheer amount of lines, grain and marks on the original prints. Visually, contrast is rather uniform and the colour balance suffers from bleeding reds and dull greens along with fleshtones with a minor purple tint. The amount of noise in the transfer is distracting in the night time setpieces and conversion issues of motion shake and ghosting are again a problem. The overall visual quality is definitely watchable and sharp, but it would be great if this fine film got picked up by Hong Kong Legends or the like to improve on this presentation.
The sound comes in two mono tracks which have not been restored. The original Cantonese track is preferable obviously and both tracks exhibit their age in terms of hum, pops, and crackling along with some distortion in the higher and lower ranges. Dialogue is always clear and the new English subs are sensible if not A1 in some of their translations. The disc itself features static menus and the picture gallery is the same format as the one on The Island
disc that I reviewed here, with large stills from the film with smaller stills within them.
Bar a few dubious moments in his career, Sammo Hung has an amazing track record for entertaining films which work bloody hard to please their audience. Where's Officer Tuba
is a particularly good example of one of the more crazy movies he's made that works pretty much because of his commitment to good work and his special charm, this new DVD is not flawless but it is a bargain.