Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate (WHOG) draws on a number of sources for inspiration. I watch a lot of wuxia movies and TV shows, and these have had a big influence not only on Ogre Gate, but on Sertorius and many of my d20 campaigns. I am hoping to share some of my favorite movies and shows in the genre here as we work on WHOG.

Note: I am writing these as a fan of the genre. I am not a movie expert or an expert in asian cinema. These are my own observations based on what I have learned by watching wuxia and kung fu movies, and by reading about them through interviews and books. But my knowledge is quite limited and I am an English speaker. So understand that my commentary comes from this perspective. 

This review contains many spoilers.

Wing Chun is a 1994 martial arts comedy directed by Yuen Woo-Ping (Tai Chi MasterDrunken Master and Iron Monkey). It stars Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Kingdom Yuen and Norman Chu. Chen Pei-pei also makes a brief cameo appearance as Ng Mui. 

Wing Chun tells the story of the legendary founder of the eponymous martial art style. If you look up the film Wing Chun, you will find many different reactions and interpretations across the internet. It sometimes gets criticized for being too corny or not as well crafted as some other Yuen Woo-Ping efforts. I just reviewed his film from the previous year, Tai Chi Master, and that is often compared in a more favorable light to Wing Chun. However I think is a very good film with a simple but smart storyline, witty dialogue and sharp visual puns. It is also interesting in its focus on female characters. This too has been a source of some division among reviewers and critics. While most see it as a feminist piece, some have drawn negative conclusions about the film's treatment of sex and gender roles. There has in fact been an entire book written on the subject by Sasha Vojkovic called Yuen Woo Ping's Wing Chun

I am inclined to agree with those who see it as a feminist film. I do think it needs to be understood in the context of the culture it emerges from, so it is a bit different from what we might be used to in the states, but comparing it to other Hong Kong action movies, this definitely seems to be trying to make the point that women don't have to choose between power and love. I think it is also important that throughout the movie the male characters are all pretty secondary (with perhaps the exception of the villain, Flying Chimpanzee), with the bulk of the dialogue and action focusing on the female characters. I encourage readers to decide for themselves though by watching the movie. I've also linked several articles, blogs and book previews that discuss the topic from different points of view. 

The movie opens during a beach festival where the local townspeople have gathered to (it appears) honor the spirit or deity of the river. Scholar Wong (Waise Lee) arrives in town to find Yim Wing Chun, a famous martial hero of the region. Wong is a wealthy official and explains in a discussion with one of his men that he wants to recruit Wing Chun to help protect his mansion, which is vulnerable to a growing scourge of bandit attacks. A frugal man, he says he will save money by marrying her (so he can forgo giving her a salary and only have to pay for her food expenses).
Wing Chun (left) and Scholar Wong (right)

Scholar Wong comes to a tavern where he finds Wing Chun's aunt, Abacus Fong (Kingdom Yuen), conducting a transaction for her tofu shop and advising local men on business matters. Abacus Fong is a shrewd and explosive woman, rumored to have bad breath from years of eating stinky tofu (at least according to Scholar Wong). They soon find Wing Chun herself (Michelle Yeoh), dressed as a man. Wong remarks that she looks sharp in men's clothing and before he can introduce himself, bandits attack the tavern. 

The bandits threaten to abduct Scholar Wong, then give him a hefty beating. Wing Chun helps Wong fend off the attackers by directing his movements with a stick, humiliating the bandits. Wong, nose dripping blood, expresses his gratitude and promises to thank Wing Chun and Abacus Fong at their home in person later. 

Wing Chun, with Abacus Fong, and her father, discusses the upcoming marriage of her sister, Wing Chow. This leads the sisters to talk about marriage in general, where it becomes clear Wing Chun has chosen to devote her life to martial arts and believes that is incompatible with domestic life. 

On the riverside, where the festivities are happening, a beautiful woman named Charmy (Catherine Hung) drifts on a raft toward the local shaman requesting the river's divine waters to heal her dying husband (also on the raft). The Shaman refuses saying "the waters are not for outsiders" and pushes her raft away. 
Wing Chun (Left) and Abacus Fong (Right)

Bandits once ride to the scene on horseback and try to kidnap Charmy. As Wing Chun strides forward to stop them, The Southern Masters (a local sect of martial heroes) intercept her, telling her father that they are tired of her trying to overshadow them. She holds back until the Souther Masters become outmatched, and then wades into the battle. With both fist and sword she easily drops one man after another (but not killing them). She chases after Charmy and the other bandits on horse back, rescuing her and bringing her back to the town. 

Later when the father prepares to depart for the wedding with Wing Chow, Scholar Wong attends and brings musicians, and speaks of his desire to marry Wing Chun. After Wing Chow and her father leave for the marriage, the Southern Masters bring a great martial arts expert, Master Wong to her Tofu shop to prove that men are better at Kung Fu than women. Master Wong looks confident and says "woman are [only] good at child bearing". 

Wing Chun places a tray of tofu on a table and tells Master Wang that she will concede defeat if he can smash it. They trade blows and slapstick ensues as he struggles to stay on his feat while Wing Chun destroys him. 
Wing Chun (Left), Abacus Fong (Center)
and Charmy (Right)

After the match, Wing Chun and Abacus Fong find Charmy in the streets, her husband now dead and wrapped in linens. She has no money so begs to pay for the funeral rites, even offering to sell herself. Abacus Fong convinces Scholar Wong to pay the sum to save her. He gives the money to Wing Chun who pays for the expenses and then invites Charmy to stay with them and work in the Tofu shop. 

Because she dresses as a man and assumes a rugged demeanor, the Southern Masters read her kind treatment of Charmy as an effort to seduce her. They go to the fortress of the bandits, and speak with one of their leaders, Flying Monkey (Ah-Fai Chui), telling him that Wing Chun bought Charmy's company. Flying Monkey is furious over the news, saying her behavior is outrageous and "she dares to be so salacious with both genders and dares to compete with me for chicks". He then vows to kill the "adulterous bandit" Wing Chun in the name of justice. 

Back in town, Abacus Fong decides to use Charmy's beauty to help them sell tofu, replacing Wing Chun as the server. This proves effective as the local men line up and crowd the stall. On Charmy's first day, a former friend and admirer of Wing Chun, Leung Pok-To (Donnie Yen) returns but because Wing Chun is dressed in men's clothing he mistakes Charmy for Wing Chun, and Wing Chun for her lover. By this time Scholar Wong has also taken an interest in Charmy
Wing Chun kicking Flying Chimpanzee

Jealous Leung Pok-To tries to spy on Charmy later that night. As he is watching her in the courtyard from the Yim villa wall, Flying Monkey comes and tries to kidnap Charmy. Leung Pok-To stops the bandit and runs after him. This begins a chase through the streets, with Flying Monkey escaping. Wing Chun arrives, mistaking Leung Pok-To for the attacker and beats him up. 

Back at the villa, Abacus Fong, Charmy and Wing Chun discuss their lives. Abacus Fong reprimands Charmy for having two lovers so soon after her husband's death and asks if she can live without a man. Charmy explains that she lacks Fong's business sense and Wing Chun's martial skills, making it hard for her to survive without a husband. 

Soon after, Scholar Wong comes to Abacus Fong for advice to help him win over Charmy. She agrees to help him for ten taels, promising he will be married and have children. When he pays, she tells him to meet Charmy in her chambers that night. He goes as instructed and makes love with a woman, but it turns out to be Abacus Fong disguised as Charmy (in an attempt to force him to marry her). 

Away from town, Wing Chun tracks down Flying Monkey and the two battle on horse back. He wields two axes against her staff and the fight ends with Wing Chun throwing a burning stick at his groin, effectively castrating him. 

Flying Monkey seeks out the help of his brother, Flying Chimpanzee (Norman Chu), who vows revenge and concocts a plan to lure Wing Chun to the bandit fortress. 
Flying Chimpanzee

In town, Flying Chimpanzee confronts Wing Chun in her villa and they spare. He takes Charmy, telling Wing Chun that if she beats him in a fair match he will let her go. Leung Pok-To tries to stop Flying Chimpanzee as he flees with Charmy but is nearly killed by the Bandit leader, forcing Wing Chun to tend to his wounds. She gives him her masters' Nine Magic Pill and the two set out the following day to recover Charmy. 

Leung Pok-To still believes Wing Chun is a man, and that Charmy is Wing Chun, but talking with her in camp, he realizes her true identity and is overjoyed to have found his former love.  

Back at the bandit fortress, Flying Monkey tries to marry Charmy but when he realizes he is castrated and cannot consummate the ceremony begins to despair. His brother reprimands him and the other bandits, saying the only reason they kidnapped Charmy was to force Wing Chun to fight him. 

When Leung Pok-To and Wing Chun arrive at the bandit fortress, Flying Chimpanzee takes an enormous spear and sticks it into the stone wall, telling Wing Chun if she can pull it out in 3 rounds, she can leave with Charmy, but if she fails, she must sleep with him. She agrees and the two fight over the spear, exchanging innuendo-laden banter. She does eventually succeed, and Flying Chimpanzee releases Charmy, but demands another contest in three days. As they are leaving the fort, Wing Chun coughs up blood, having suffered bad internal injuries. She goes to her Sifu Ng Mui to seek advice and healing. 
Wing Chun tries to take the spear from the wall

Sifu Ng Mui tells her to take a Nine Magic Pill, then bites into walnut breaking her tooth, saying "the soft tongue endures but teeth break from misuse", suggesting that Flying Chimpanzee's strength can be defeated by soft Kung Fu. She also tells Wing Chun to marry. 

Leung Pok-To awaits news from Wing Chun at the Tofu shop, wear Abacus Fong tells Scholar Wong that she was the one he slept with. At first he is angered by the deception, but then he calculates her net worth on an abacus and is happy to marry her (she reveals that she has already calculated his net worth as well). 

A message arrives telling Leung Pok-To to meet Wing Chun. They meet in the woods and decide to marry one another, going to an inn to consummate their relationship. The next day, they leave for Wing Chun's final battle with Flying Chimpanzee. This time she is dressed in women's clothing. 

Before the fight, Flying Chimpanzee agrees to call her mother if she wins. Flying Chimpanzee takes another long spear (it takes four men to carry it) and Wing Chun selects to fight with two short butterfly swords. In a continuation of their previous banter, Flying Chimpanzee says "You cannot use such short weapons against my long spear...the longer the better" to which she replies "the shorter the sharper". 
Wing Chun in her final battle with Flying Chimpanzee

Unlike their previous engagement this is a straight forward match between armed experts. They cut through the camp, trading blows, but Wing Chun deflects his attacks with ease this time. She directs the battle into a small structure that looks like a kitchen where his spear is too large to use. The playful dialogue continues and she eventually disarms him. The last portion of the match is fought open-handed and she defeats him by using his strength against him (and with a handful of flying kicks). 

Flying Chimpanzee bows and calls her mother and convinces the other bandits to do so as well. She bids them farewell telling them "don't be thieves anymore". 

The movie ends with Wing Chun and Leung Pok-To departing as husband and wife. 


Michelle Yeoh's performance is effortless and athletic. She always seems in total command of her movement and her flexibility is unmatched. The comedic elements wouldn't work without an action star of this caliber and the action sequences absolute demand it. 

Cheng Pei-pei's cameo is nicely done, if brief. It seems like a passing of the torch moment and I cannot think of many more deserving of her 'Queen of Swords' title than Michelle Yeoh. 
Wing Chun keeps the tofu away from
Master Wong

The supporting cast is strong as well. Kingdom Yuen is delightful as Abacus Fong and really sells the larger than life character. Norman Chu also convinces as Flying Chimpanzee. Donnie Yen is good as always, but his character is so overshadowed by Michelle Yeoh's Wing Chun, you don't really notice his performance. 

The choreography is quite good in my opinion, but I have seen some complain about it. I think this has something to do with Yuen Woo-Ping's resume. He has a lot of great movies, and it is natural to compare Wing Chun to Tai Chi Master or Drunken Master. I think these are quite different films, and this one serves a different aim than either. It is funny like Drunken Master, but it takes its characters and its point a bit more seriously. It is less serious than Tai Chi Master, but in some ways more meaningful in the end. I don't want to overstate things, I do believe Tai Chi Master to be a better quality production and film. I just think this one stands quite well on its own. One thing I appreciate about Wing Chun is how much of the action really does revolve around the central theme. 
Leung Pok-To (Right)

The verbal exchanges between characters during fight scenes adds nice flavor. Translation of dialogue is always an issue in movies like this, and I do not know how much the humor was diminished or enhanced by the process. In some instances it was unclear to me if humor was intended or not. For example when Flying Monkey declares in anger that Wing Chun"competes with me for chicks" that made me laugh but I don't know what it sounds like in the Cantonese. The innuendo during Flying Chimpanzee and Wing Chun's fight seemed quite deliberate and spot on, however. 

Some people criticize the lack of actual Wing Chun in the movie. Not knowing much about Wing Chun, I cannot say either way. I can say I've seen this sort of thing happen often enough in Hong Kong films when other styles like Taekwondo end up being kung fu with no punches. I did see several iconic Wing Chun stances. In particular Wing Chun uses one with knees pressed together to tease Leung Pok-To when they are about to sleep together for the first time. 

The music is a bit dated and probably one of the things that takes away from the film. It is somewhat standard for the time, but it never quite feels appropriate to the action. 

I think for gamers there is a lot to take from this movie. One of the major things is it highlights what a female PC might be in a wuxia style campaign. The genre is very egalitarian in terms of action and combat, with women being the martial equals of their male counterparts. This is a good example of that. The bandits and their swaggering leaders are also good fodder for any GM in need of foes for players. 

Articles on Wing Chun: 

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