Film Review: ‘Full Strike’

Hong Kong sports movie "Full Strike"

A goofily enjoyable badminton-themed comedy from Hong Kong helmers Derek Kwok and Henri Wong.

A ragtag badminton team of ex-cons and washed-up champs jump-smash their way to the grand prix in “Full Strike,” a Hong Kong comedy that’s more acrobatic caper than motivational sports film. Co-helmed by Derek Kwok and Henri Wong, this kooky laffer riffs on Kwok’s kung fu homage “Gallants” (co-helmed with Clement Cheng) while channeling the nonsensical Canto-humor of Stephen Chow, especially “Shaolin Soccer.” Though less polished or inventive than its antecedents, the pic is still goofily enjoyable, and makes marvelous use of its ensemble cast of B-list and been-around stars. Perhaps too offbeat to become a big hit, it could nonetheless make flick serves into genre festivals and ancillary.

From his 2007 debut, “Pye-dog,” to last year’s firefighter blockbuster “As the Light Goes Out,” Kwok has shown a fascination with outsiders and underdogs that sometimes reaches fetishistic levels in his bluesy evocation of being down and out. So it’s no surprise that “Full Strike” closes with a dedication to “beautiful losers.” Poised between absurdity and pathos, the film concludes with the insight that life-changing decisions can be made anytime, for no tenable reason. Less steeped in nostalgia and retro aesthetics than “Gallants,” it still boasts vital local color, set as it is in the backwaters of Yuen Long, and deploying the indigenous Hakka dialect to side-splitting effect.

Seven-time Hong Kong badminton champion Ng Kau-sau (Josie Ho) was once a torpedo on the court, but got disqualified professionally for her volcanic temper. Ten years on, she’s reduced to serving tables at the restaurant owned by her brother, Kau-chun (Tse Kwan-ho). Flashbacks of Kau-sau slugging opponents and teammates alike prove she deserves to be in a funk, yet when her former minder/rival (Grace Yip) turns up to humiliate her, you can’t help but pity the frowzy hag she’s become.

Dashing out during a raging thunderstorm, Kau-sau catches a glimpse of a shuttlecock-shaped meteor, before being assaulted by what could be an alien or a homeless man in a cyberpunk outfit. Taking cover inside the One Spirit Badminton Club, she gets another scare when she bumps into what looks like three ax murderers having a bad hair day. As if that weren’t preposterous enough, the plot merely gets more gung-ho and the characters more bizarro.

The threesome — Dan (Ekin Cheng), Chiu (Edmond Leung) and Kun (Wilfred Lau) — turn out to be vicious bank robbers fresh out of jail. Now, all they want is to turn over a new leaf. You’d think community service would earn them more brownie points, but Dan insists that badminton is their road to redemption. Handily enough, Kau-sau interprets the meteor as a sign to pick up the racquet once more.

The team is rounded out by the proverbial drunken master, Champion Chik (comedian and music-industry veteran Andrew Lam), and Aunty Mui (Susan Shaw), a silver-haired matron who jogs as if on steroids. Stirring up more hysteria is “Suck Nipple Cheung” (Ronald Cheng), Kau-sau’s cousin and a local bully, who’s so bent on beating Dan & Co. at a grand contest held in Macao that he hires Kau-sau’s ex-teammate Lung (Eric Kwok) as his coach.

With a motley crew of leads each doing their own schtick in a different comic register, and countless actors popping up in cameos, it’s not easy to keep up with the basic story arc, which is often upstaged or sabotaged by boisterous sight gags and wacko props. The resemblance to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along attitude of Stephen Chow (with whom Derek Kwok co-helmed “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons”) is further underlined by Lam’s intentional likeness to Chow favorite Ng Man-tat.

Thanks to a jerky narrative rhythm that gives the protags little downtime to reflect or interact, the characters remain strictly superficial, their friendships and animosities perfunctory. A romantic spark lights up out of the blue, but with no prior buildup, it sputters as soon as it starts.

The final showdown, which reps a third of the film’s duration, is packed with slapstick and far-fetched twists, but with Jason Kwan capturing the game’s extreme velocity with kinetic camerawork, the moves look surprisingly pro. Ho, who claims to have been a collegiate badminton champion, displays raw power and agility in these scenes.

Ekin Cheng and Ho step up to the physical demands of their roles, but it’s the supporting cast that runs away with the movie. Helmer Kwok (“The Pye Dog,” “As the Light Goes Out”), who has a knack for bringing performers out of obscurity, again reinvents his unconventional combination of singers and veteran actors, furnishing them with edgy personas and coaxing gonzo performances all around. One-time pop idol Yip is given a fearlessly bitchy role, while Kwok’s muse Shaw, a ’70s queen of erotica, fires off wisecracks with deadpan aplomb.

Lauded for intense Method acting on stage, Tse is unrecognizable as a loud-mouthed yokel whose blunt yet tender demonstrations of brotherly love attain the most emotional heft. Ronald Cheng and Lam seize every moment to one-up each other with their loony antics, the combined impact of which is exhausting.

Craft contributions are competent on a reportedly moderate budget of around $3.9 million. Wong (“Hardcore Comedy”) who has supervised the visual effects on some 20 productions, including two of Kwok’s films, ensures that images have a high-gloss sheen, while the action exudes hyper-stylized dynamism. Yusuke Hatano’s playfully groovy score makes ironic references to old Cantopop songs.

Film Review: 'Full Strike'

Reviewed at Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, April. 6, 2015. (Also in Osaka Asian Film Festival, competing). Running time: 107 MIN. (Original title: "Chuen lik kau saat")

Production

(Hong Kong-China) A Gala Film Distribution (in Hong Kong)/Inlook Vision (in China) release of a 852 Films, Big Honor Entertainment, Inlook Vision presentation of a 852 Films production, in association with Fox Intl. Channels, Why Entertainment, Xamax Development, Start Entertainment and Production, Salon Films (H.K.). (International sales: Distribution Workshop, Hong Kong.) Produced by Conroy Chan, Tang Wai-but, Weldon Fung Wai-yuen, Peter Fung Wai-cheung. Executive producers, Josie Ho, Peter Lam, Chen Xiangrong. Co-executive producers, Andrew Ooi, Ao Pou-ian, Wang Chaohai.

Crew

Directed by Derek Kwok, Henri Wong. Screenplay, Kwok, based on the story by Joe Chien, Yim Ka-yee, Yan Pak-wing. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Jason Kwan; editor, Matthew Hui; music, Yusuke Hatano; production designer, Li Tsz-fung; costume designer, Una Wang; sound (Dolby 5.1)/re-recording mixers, Phyllis Cheng, Ip Siu-kei; supervising sound editors, Viola Chan, Mandy Kwan; badminton consultant, Ling Wanting; visual effects supervisor, Alex Lim Hung-fung, Eric Lai, Jules Lin; visual effects, Free-D Workshop; action choreographer, Jack Wong Wai-leung, Chan Siu-wah; assistant director, Jonathan Li Tsz-chun; second unit camera, Jimmy Kwok Chun-ming.

With

Josie Ho, Ekin Cheng, Ronald Cheng, Tse Kwan-ho, Andrew Lam, Wilfred Lau, Edmond Leung, Susan Shaw, Eric Kwok, Grace Yip, Philip Keung, Vincent Kok, Bob Lam, Kabby Hui, Michael Tse Tin-wah, Wang Lin, Bao Chunlai.  (Cantonese, Hakka, English dialogue)

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