Prodigal Son, The (1981)

Reviewed by Steven Neal
August 14, 2014


Yuen Biao • Frankie Chan • Lam Ching-Ying • Sammo Hung • Peter Chan • Dick Wei • Wai Pak • Lee Hoi-Sang • Wu Ma
Sammo Hung
Sammo Hung • Yuen Biao • Lam Ching-Ying • Billy Chan Wui-Ngai
Version reviewed was in widescreen format. English Dubbed.
Purchase & Info
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Leung Chang is a spoiled but good-natured rich kid who foolishly believes that he’s the ‘Kung Fu King’ of the martial arts world. Unbeknownst to Leung Chang, his opponents have lost to him on purpose at the behest of his father, who fears that Leung Chang will get hurt if he participates in real fights as Chang is the only male heir to their family’s position. When Leung Chang has an encounter with Peking Opera performer Leung Yee Tai, Jan is instantly awakened to the truth that he has no real martial arts abilities. Humiliated and honorless upon learning this painful revelation, Leung Chang is determined to be a real kung fu expert and he needs Yee Tai’s help to do so. Yee Tai however is reluctant to take Leung Chang on as his student as he feels the boy has no humility, yet Leung Chang is determined to become his pupil no matter what. When Ngai Fei, another wealthy but fierce fighter challenges Yee Tai to a duel, Yee Tai may have to consider taking Leung Chang on as his pupil…especially when Ngai Fei’s guards have been given orders to kill any of his opponents should they display better skills than him. Now it’s up to the Prodigal Son and his new found master to teach these adversaries what real kung fu is!
thoughts on the movie

When I started collecting digitally remastered movies from 20th Century Fox, this movie fell into my list of treasures to purchase after reading a couple of reviews online. I had heard lots of wonderful things about Yuen Biao’s fighting expertise and after seeing him perform a little bit in ‘My Lucky Stars’ I was intrigued to know more about him. I gotta say, I couldn’t stop grinning at this comical kung fu tale as it was just phenomenal. Everything about this movie hit right on point: the filming locations and cinematography was beautiful, the actors all played their position and they played it extremely well with their performances and the fight scenes were breathtaking. There’s lots of good philosophy mixed in with the fighting elements as director Sammo Hung shows us the roots and elements to what makes the style of Wing Chun such an efficient and wonderful martial art. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if Ip Man and Leung Chang ever met at the same time in a film like this. The possibilities would be endless.

was it funny?
You better believe it was funny! There’s so many funny moments in this movie, your sides will be aching with laughter. After all, this movie stars one of the 7 Little Fortunes (Yuen Biao) and is directed by one of the 7 Little Fortunes (Sammo Hung). That in itself makes Prodigal Son a comical masterpiece to behold.
How was the Action?

The action in this martial arts masterpiece was splendid. No, I take that back…the action was wild. No, I take that back…the action was crazy fun! *sigh* I don’t know if there are any words that can really describe just how astounding the fight scenes in this movie were. Since it’s partly based around the story of Leung Chang learning Wing Chun, we get an inside look at how Leung Chang goes from ‘zero to hero’ through the wise teachings of Leung Yee Tai and later on Wong Wa Po, played by Sammo Hung himself. We have fights at a restaurant, at the opera troupe theater … there’s even a scene where Sammo is doing all kinds of crazy acrobatics while doing calligraphy. And Frankie Chan shows he’s not to be messed with when he breaks out his Eagle Claw technique on any challenger that he comes across. If you don’t believe me, just check out the fight between him and James Tien earlier in the movie and you’ll agree that Frankie is the real deal…like Holyfield.

Standout performance(s)

This is Yuen Biao’s flick all the way. He’s the main attraction, the star of the silver screen with his portrayal of Leung Chang the Prodigal Son who is determined to be a real kung fu king. The scenes where Yee Tai constantly tries to test his patience to see if he’ll quit bugging him to be his master is priceless and Leung Chang keeps pushing forward no matter what kinds of humiliation he has to endure.

The late Lam Ching Ying gives a fantastic performance as Yee Tai, the feminine-acting Peking opera performer who shows that he’s more than just an actor. Yee Tai is very adept at the art of Wing Chun and he shows that he knows how to hold his own. Biao’s character and many others underestimated Yee Tai earlier on, but Yee Tai certainly shows that he’s no fool. There’s even a time in the movie where he actually lightens up on Leung Chang and the two eventually begin a student-teacher bond that makes them inseparable like father and son. This man will be greatly missed.

Sammo Hung gets in on the act too with his portrayal of Wong Wa Po, Yee Tai’s loud-mouthed swearing elder brother who also doesn’t take a liking to Leung Chang when the two of them meet, especially when he thinks that Leung Chang is trying to hit on his plump daughter Twiggy (Ho Wai-Han). Sammo doesn’t spend all of his time behind the scenes directing the cast, he shows that he can act too and the fight sequences that he, Biao and Lam Ching Ying worked on together in this film are astonishing.

Last but not least there’s Frankie Chan, a well-known fight choreographer and stuntman who had lots of recognition during the modern day action crazed of the 80s and 90s. Many people know Frankie from films such as Outlaw Brothers and even Burning Ambition, but his portrayal of Ngai Fei in Prodigal Son is one that a lot of fans remember him for the most. Ngai Fei is not a villain in any way, shape or form…he’s just a guy who enjoys a good fight. Though Fei tends to go over the top and injure his opponents when they don’t live up to his expectations, he’s still an honorable man. He won’t fight opponents if they’re sick or not feeling well and he’s not interested in killing. Ngai Fei just wants to test his limits and see how far he can push himself in personal combat, so when he see Yee Tai’s abilities, he just can’t resist challenging him to a duel. Frankie played this part to perfection and his character stands out well just like Yuen Biao and the rest.

Watch or Pass
6 Reasons Why You Should WATCH or PASS On This Movie
1. WATCH if you’re a fan of Sammo Hung’s earlier works.
2. WATCH if you love period martial arts pieces like this one.
3. WATCH if you’re a major fan of Yuen Biao (God knows I am now.)
4. WATCH if you like martial arts stories about the wonderful art of Wing Chun.
5. PASS if period pieces like this aren’t your thing.
6. WATCH if you love the mixture of comedy and kung fu in your movies.

The Prodigal Son is a treasure that every martial arts movie collector should have in their possession. This movie is like gold to me…a treasure that shows that the years of kung fu classics have not died and are still being preserved for everyone’s enjoyment. This movie isn’t just worth a rent…it’s worth purchasing. Buy it today and I guarantee you’ll never let it out of your possession.