The Prodigal Son [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (30th August 2023).
The Film

Born into a wealthy family and obsessed with martial arts, Leung Tsan (Dragons Forever's Yuen Biao) has earned the unofficial titles of "King of Kung Fu" and "Street Fighter" by picking fights with and beating locals. What he does not realize is that his parents (The Rape After's Chan Yau-Hau and The Sword of Swords' Lin Jing) have entrusted servant Yee Tung-choi (The Big Boss' Peter Chan Lung) to make sure no harm comes to their son, which he does by bribing his master's opponents to lose their matches (some of whom exploit the practice for higher payouts).

When three of Leung Tsan's friends attend a visiting Peking Opera troupe's performance, they are taken with the lead actress and force their way backstage. When she rebuffs them, they try to rape her, and she triply humiliates them with a savage beating, literally painting their ringleader as the clown he is, and revealing that she is in fact a man: Leung Yee-Tai (Mr. Vampire's Lam Ching-Ying). When Leung Tsan turns up to avenge his friends, he too is humiliated; first by the actor revealing the sham of the other man's fighting skills and his secret nickname of the "Street Briber", and then proving it by easily besting Leung Tsan in fighting. Leung Tsan receives further devastating proof when he challenges his private instructors (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin's Chin Yuet-Sang and The Invincible Armour's Lee Hoi-Sang) and they decide not to hold back since they are likely going to get fired.

A contrite Leung Tsan goes to Leung Yee-Tai and asks to become his student, but the actor rejects the frivolousness of his request. Determined, Leung Tsan has his father buy the opera troupe and he attempts to show his sincerity and dedication by working in the troupe. Unfortunately, a case of mistaken identity puts Leung Tsan on the receiving end of an attack by a Kung Fu master (Millionaires' Express' Lee Man-Tai) whose wife was bedded by the troupe's charismatic lead actor (Five Deadly Venoms' Wai Pak), and Leung Yee-Tai's on-stage fight with the man is witnessed by the audience including young Lord Ng (Carry on Pickpocket's Frankie Chan), a martial arts enthusiast who has had to travel beyond his home town in search of a worthy opponent. He invites the troupe to dinner and is insulted when Leung Yee-Tai refuses to spar with him and forced the match. When Leung Yee-Tai has an asthma attack, Lord Ng postpones their match until the actor recovers.

What Lord Ng does not realize is that his father (The Super Inframan's Wang Hsieh) also does not want him to hurt; however, in order to protect his son's ego, he orders his son's attendants – including Dick Wei (The Seventh Curse) – to kill anyone who might best his son. Under cover of night, Lord Ng's attendants and twenty recruited ninjas massacre the troupe and set the theater on fire. Leung Yee-Tai is rescued by Leung Tsan and they escape the fire, with only Lord Ng believing them to be dead while his attendants secretly scour the countryside in search of them. The pair recuperate on the farm of Leung Yee-Tai's pompous brother Wong-Wah Bo (She Shoots Straight's Sammo Hung) and his plump daughter "Skinny" (Ho Wai-Han). Although Leung Tsan gets off on the wrong foot with Wong-Wah Bo, it is the older man who convinces his brother that Wing Chun will disappear if it is not passed on and Leung Tsan has demonstrated his loyalty and determination. Upon returning home, Leung Tsan arranges for Leung Yee-Tai to found a school. Visiting Lord Ng is surprised to learn that the two are alive but is as in the dark as the they are about the real cause of the fire as well as the lengths to which his attendants will go to protect his ego and their own lives.

A prequel to Warriors Two, The Prodigal Son only runs eight minutes longer than the former film but feels more epic in terms of narrative and production and even a somewhat nuanced look at the foibles of human nature. In spite of Hong Kong cinema's treatment of gay characters and some of Wong-Wah Bo's slurs at his brother, the film surprisingly makes little of the question of Leung Yee-Tai's sexuality – other than the perception of his opponents being doubly offended by being bested – in that it refreshingly does not feel the need to "redeem" the masculinity of either character or actor as a male who just plays female roles because that was how it was done in Peking Opera (and still is in certain types of roles).

Leung Tsan and Lord Ng are similar and similarly deceived; the only thing distinguishing the two is not the extent of their servant's covert machinations but the fact that Ng has no qualms about seriously crippling his opponents while Leung Tsan is content for them to run off supposedly with their tails between their legs. Leung Yee-Tai seems to resist becoming Leung Tsan's master not because he fears the younger man will misuse his abilities so much as out of how he views him (and Lord Ng) as spoiled sons of wealthy lords as voiced in his head. Ng's explanation that he had no knowledge of what his servants had done as well as his attempt to make amends by punishing them is not enough to quell Leung Tsan's anger.

The film verges into dark territory earlier than the first with the truly grisly and mean-spirited opera troupe massacre before a lighter middle-half – the whole of Hung's onscreen time – before the finale of multiple stabbings, a two-for-one decapitation, and a bone-crushing climax. Although the Leung Tsan of this film presumably matures into the one of Warriors Two, Hung undercuts the dramatic power of a defeated and dying foe's acknowledgement that Leung Tsan is the "Kung Fu King" by giving him a petulant retort that is as jarring in tone as the freeze frame of the former film. With The Prodigal Son bookended by the likes of Knockabout and Encounters of the Spooky Kind on one side and Winners & Sinners and Wheels on Meals on the other, this film out of the duo better demonstrates Hung's increasing ease with larger scale productions not just of the comic variety like Millionaires' Express but also the action drama of Eastern Condors.


The Prodigal Son was released in the UK theatrically in 1982 although not on VHS until 1998 on the iconic Made in Hong Kong label while the US got a Tai Seng laserdisc the same year and DVD in 1999. Fortune Star's anamorphic remaster turned up in the UK from Hong Kong Legends in 2002 and in the US from Fox in 2004. A reportedly poor upscale debuted on Blu-ray in Hong Kong in 2013, and that was followed by a Scandianavian edition as part of a boxed set (once again dropping all audio but the English dub option).

Last year, the film was released in a double feature with Warriors Two in the U.K. by Eureka from a 2K restoration of the original 35mm camera negatives. Arrow's Blu-ray utilizes the same master, and the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray is very revelatory of the film's higher production values from the controlled conditions of the Shaw lot to the location work. The heightened resolution also makes more apparent that some of the character make-up is as "theatrical" as that worn by the Peking Opera performers. The same master is utilized for both the theatrical and home video versions which are presented on the disc via seamless branching since the only difference between the two are onscreen credits for the main characters as they are introduced in close-up on the theatrical version while the home video version features the same shots without text.


The Eureka edition featured Cantonese and English LPCM 1.0 while Arrow includes Cantonese, Mandarin, and English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 options for both versions of the film as well as optional English subtitles for the Cantonese track and English SDH subtitles for the English dub. The English dub latter includes song lyrics in Cantonese for the "musical" fight scene between Leung Tsan and Leung Yee-Tai (either export prints had subtitles for this bit or it was trimmed).


Extras are identical to the Eureka disc with variances in running time due to the different editions' handling of the PAL framerate of the older video pieces. First up is an audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival) and martial artist/actor Robert “Bobby” Samuels who discuss the returning actors from Warriors Two in different roles, warm memories of Lam Ching-Ying who was extremely knowledgeable about Wing Chun by the time Samuels met him, the actor's Peking Opera training (as well as the usual remarks about how Hung and Jackie Chan's recollections about their childhood training is tantamount to child abuse), the scarcity of lead roles for Yuen Biao who was dubbed by the same dubber used for Jackie Chan here – as well as noting that he fights himself by doubling for Frankie Chan during their fight scene – while Djeng also provides background on the Peking Opera, the war god Lord Guan – worshiped by police and the triad alike – and some of the wordplay lost on western viewers.

Next up is an audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema who touch upon some of the same points but also note that actor/composer Frankie Chan was actually the "music selector" of appropriated film scores to use as library tracks and that the British Made in Hong Kong label emerged when a British music label contacted Golden Harvest about an illegally-used track and they resolved the issue by giving them the British rights to the film. They also discuss the difficulty of filming Wing Chun, Yuen Biao's apparent lack of charisma in traditional genre fare with some exceptions, other credits of screenwriter Barry Wong – who died on the set of Hard Boiled – including Crazy Safari which is better known as "The Gods Must Be Crazy III" and the two subsequent sequels that brought star N!xau to Hong Kong, as well as Mr. Vampire and Golden Harvest's attempted English-language remake "Demon Hunters" with Wah Yuen replacing Lam Ching-Ying and featuring American actors Jack Scalia and Michele Phillips that was shut down during production.

The disc also features "Wing Chun 101" (30:01), an interview with Sifu Alex Richter who founded a Wing Chun school in Manhattan and gives Djeng a tour of it while recalling his love of Hong Kong martial arts movies and getting to meet Hung on a trip to Hong Kong with his parents as a teenager.

"The Heroic Trio" (26:54) features Hung, Yuen Biao, and Frankie Chan. Hung discusses the difficulty of filming Wing Chung as well as working on films as both director and action director while Biao recalls his Peking Opera training and doubling for Chan in their climactic fight scene in reverse angles, and Chan discusses working with Hung as a director.

In "Life Imitating Art" (27:14), producer and Wing Chung consultant Guy Lai discusses the style, its one-to-one teaching style, and the variations on the origin story in between demonstrations by Sifu Austin Goh and Jude Poyer.

The disc also features alternate English credits (1:46) – these are entirely in English for the export version while the credits on the Hong Kong prints are bilingual – a stills gallery, the film's Hong Kong theatrical trailer (4:38), the international trailer (2:15), and the U.S. home video trailer (1:48).


Not provided for review were the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Joe Kim, the first pressing's double-sided foldout poster, featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Joe Kim, or the illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing by Peter Glagowski.


The Prodigal Son demonstrate director Sammo Hung's increasing ease with larger scale productions, not just of the comic variety like Millionaires' Express but also the action drama of Eastern Condors.


Rewind DVDCompare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to,,,,, and . As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.