Royal Tramp: Special Edition
R1 - America - Genius Products
Review written by and copyright: Pat Pilon (17th March 2008).
The Film

Multiple-movie stories were never new. 'The Blue and the Black' and the 'Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber' movies were all produced by Shaw Brothers, but these kinds of stories really hit their zenith in the early 1990s, with the 'A Chinese Ghost Story' and especially 'A Chinese Odyssey' movies. Instead of following the trend, though, cinematic goober Wong Jing actually produced the 'Royal Tramp' movies a couple of years before the Jeffrey Lau-directed story of the Monkey Goes West, which, more than likely, was produced as a result of the success of the 'Royal Tramp' movies.

This was also the period (1991-1994) where Mr. Wong was at his most prolific, directing no less than 27 movies, and producing and writing countless others. No matter how much or how little his movies made, his company overall made a profit, enabling him to do whatever project he wanted. Given his success working with Stephen Chow, he snagged the actor as his star. He cast his then-girlfriend, Chingmy Yau, as the princess, and a few other new and legendary stars to fill in the rest of the roles. Getting Ching Siu-tung as action choreographer was a smart move on Mr. Wong's part. The result is something very funny and very lively and one of the better movies in Wong Jing's sketchy filmography.

Talking about the plot would be somewhat of a waste of time, as the movie is really one big vehicle for Stephen Chow to goof off. It's not as nonsensical as 'Tricky Brains' and certainly not as direct as 'A Chinese Odyssey'. The movie meanders from plot point to plot point, but rarely gets there in a straight-forward manner. Given Stephen Chow's style of comedy at the time, it's really no surprise. For those who want a plot, Stephen Chow gets recruited by a rebellious group to go into the palace to steal a book that will help restore the Ming Dynasty (a very good thing, if you know anything about Chinese history). At the palace, he becomes friend of the Emperor and gets sucked into doing other things, giving the plot an increasingly convoluted air.

Many of the jokes do work and laughter is not a stranger here. The silliest jokes are the ones Wong Jing clearly wrote himself. Pandering to the lowest common denominator, there are tons of jokes involving a particular part of the anatomy of a man (including a pretty important plot point), all of which are pretty immature and most of which are simply not funny. With Wong Jing, though, he tries to hit everything, so you also get some wordplay and a spoof of the Wong Fei-hung theme song, which is pretty funny. Mr. Chow, though, seems to be having a grand old time, and it makes for a fun watch.

The movie itself is only joke after joke after joke, and talking about anything else in any more detail would be pointless. All that's left to mention is the action. Martial arts choreographer Ching Siu-tung is a master and adds immensely to the movie. His action scenes are both aesthetic and exciting, adding a nice breath of fresh air into the movie whenever the plot seems to lead nowhere.

Suffice to say that if you enjoy nonsense comedy (or, if you know Cantonese 'mo lei tau', as Mr. Logan explains in his commentary track), you'll enjoy this. Likewise, this is a good example of Stephen Chow's early comedy. For what it's worth, this is also one of the better movies Wong Jing has done.

Video

1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The one thing that stayed with me throughout the entire movie was how grainy the film looked. This goes beyond what it probably should look like but at least there's not much processing and thus no ringing or flatness. The colors seem to have been boosted a little but it's not too noticeable. On the down side, the level of detail suffers, and the contrast is a bit low. There are no real print defects, as well, making this a good transfer, if a bit grainy.

Audio

There's an English dub or the original Cantonese to choose from (both in Dolby Digital 5.1). I hate dubs, especially when dubbing Stephen Chow, so I chose the original track and it was a nice listen. The audio is good, but not great. There's no improving upon the stilted range of the original track. The mixers did try to open it up a little, but there's not much movement across the front. The back speakers are pretty much forgotten, as well. The score does carry a nice heft across the front sound stage and you do hear a few effects off-center. Overall it's an okay track considering the source.
There are English, English HoH and Spanish subtitles. These are subtitles, by the way, and not dubtitles. Annoyingly, though, signs and written information, are not translated, which is pretty important at times to understand some jokes.

Extras

The main extra is an audio commentary by Hong Kong film expert Bey Logan. One thing I greatly appreciate is that Mr. Logan explains the signs and what they mean, something with the subtitles forget to do. Apart from that, Mr. Logan is exceptionally knowledgeable about the movie and its actors. He talks about the many, many references to pop culture and literature found in the movie. He also talks about Louis Cha and the original book a bit. He also explains the context of the movie, talking about the actual history that sets up the movie. He does repeat himself a few times, but most of the time heís running off enough information for 3 commentators. Itís a fascinating track, explaining everything you can want. Mr. Loganís knowledge easily shows you he knows much more than any others when it comes to cinema, and youíll enjoy this greatly.

The Original Theatrical Trailer (4:40) is especially long, which is typical of trailers from the era. You see tons of jokes, tons of action and tons of stuff not really important in the advertising of a movie.

Some Start-up Trailers are also here: 'Robin B Hood' (2:13) and 'Millionaire Express' (1:37).

Packaging

The movie comes packaged only with "Royal Tramp 2", and they come in a 2-disc amaray case with secure clips. Read the review for the second film here.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: C Audio: C+ Extras: B- Overall: B-

 


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