Dir: Ho Yuhang. Malaysia/Hong Kong/China, 2016. 96 mins
The star of numerous 1970s and 80s Shaw Brothers martial arts actioners, Hong Kong actress Kara Wai continues a career revival which started with a previous collaboration with director Ho Yuhang, the 2009 revenge drama At The End Of Daybreak.Mrs K sees Wai cast as the eponymous housewife, mother and bun-baking domestic goddess. She has settled into low key family life, only to find herself pulled back into her past when unsavoury characters from Macau’s underworld finally track her down.
There’s a satisfying absurdity to the juxtaposition of Mrs K’s coiffed and pristine new persona and the killer martial arts skills left over from her old one
The cult appeal of Wai’s name, plus some high profile, if eccentric, pan-Asian casting (playing Mrs K’s husband, ponytailed Taiwanese popstar Wu Bai is the world’s least convincing gynaecologist), should generate some interest in this film. Its prospects outside of die-hard martial arts fans and Wai completists however will be limited by the fact that the plotting is a little incoherent and the action sequences lack the propulsive thrust and tension one might hope for. Still, there is some lurid fun to be had here, and the film should play well in festival midnight movie slots.
A blood-soaked opening sequence promises pulpy thrills and excess which is only partially realised by the rest of the film. A grisly montage depicts a trio of chubby men in loud shirts with big cleavers meeting their makers in a variety of ways (Hong Kong directors Fruit Chan and Kirk Wong Chi-keung cameo as two of them).
And then, in one of the film’s most successful scenes, Mrs K, clad in an immaculate tangerine-coloured silk blouse and with a becoming smudge of flour on her nose from her cooking exploits, deftly thwarts a home invasion by a pair of inept wannabe criminals. “How did you know it wasn’t a real gun?” whimpers one. “How do you think?” purrs Mrs K, having delivered an ass-kicking, a self-improvement lecture and a baked goods sample in short order.
There’s a satisfying absurdity to the juxtaposition of Mrs K’s coiffed and pristine new persona and the killer martial arts skills left over from her old one. So when she sheds her chic, colour-blocked silk shirts and pulls on a hoodie and trainers, she may be better dressed for action, but the comedy swiftly dissipates.
The main antagonist is a former underworld colleague (Simon Yam Tat-wah) who has been driven mad by grief and insomnia after his family were slaughtered by pirates. His sidekick is an imposing scar-faced Malaysian heavy (Faizal Hussein). But the film unpeels endless onion layers of evil: a whole new batch of bad guys (and a girl) are chucked in during the final act, presumably to provide more bodies for kicking.
There is an eighties electronic twang to much of the soundtrack, perhaps in homage to Kara Wai’s earlier career. Ho also uses some spaghetti western-style music to pre-empt each fresh encounter between Mrs K and her numerous foes. Those encounters, however, tend to disappoint. The fight sequences are inelegantly edited scuffles. There is lots of crunch on the soundtrack but the bouts lack the clean, balletic clarity of first-rate martial arts.
Production company: Red Films, Paperheart
International sales: Emperor Motion Pictures firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Lina Tan, Albert Lee, Lorna Tee, Ho Yuhang
Screenplay: Ho Yuhang, Wai Keung Chan
Cinematography: Gay Hian Teoh
Editor: Mun Thye Soo, Sharon Chong
Main cast: Kara Wai, Simon Yam, Wu Bai, Li Xuan Siow, Faizal Hussein, Fruit Chan