[Welcome to Peter’s Kung Fu Corner: a monthly column dedicated to retrospectives on the martial arts films I grew up watching. We’ll be covering all kinds of Hong Kong action films from Bruce Lee all the way to Joseph Kuo. Get ready to be introduced to some weird, wacky, and utterly badass films.]
A majority of people reading this will likely be familiar with the name Stephen Chow. World-renown for his excellent 2004 action/comedy Kung Fu Hustle, the man had been incredibly prolific in his home country for China for more than a decade prior. While not always dabbling in martial arts films, Chow clearly had a love for them that would eventually culminate in the aforementioned Kung Fu Hustle. That wouldn’t be his first time kicking some thugs around, though.
I’m not personally as well versed in Chow’s filmography as I probably should be, but the earliest film I remember seeing of his was the rather hilarious 1994 romantic comedy Love on Delivery. Produced by Shaw Brothers, of all studios, the film is almost the blueprint for Kung Fu Hustle and weaves in a ton of western pop-culture references with a clear reverence for Kung Fu films that would go on to define a lot of Chow’s directorial style. He didn’t even direct this particular film, yet it feels so steeped in Chow’s essence that I can’t imagine anyone else starring in it.
The basic plot of the film is that Ang-ho Kam (Chow), a rather lowly delivery boy that can’t catch a break, happens to fall in love with the beautiful and enigmatic Lily (Christy Chung) after a chance encounter at a martial arts studio. In an attempt to flee from her lecherous teacher, Lily whisks Kam away, but then quickly retreats and leaves him to his own devices. Not deterred, Kam decides to turn his luck around and hopefully become the kind of man she desires.
It’s certainly not the most exciting of premises, but everything else is where this film gets its charm. Our introduction to Kam isn’t from his unanticipated encounter with cupid, but rather a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s introduction in the 1991 masterpiece Terminator 2: Judgment Day. In a dark alleyway where lightning is striking the ground for some reason, Kam is kneeling down naked before the cops come up to him. He explains how he handed his clothes over to a homeless man along with his money, ID, and some food. It’s bizarre, but a complete subversion of Terminator’s intro along with establishing how ludicrous the comedy is in this film.
Love on Delivery is a love letter, of sorts, to Hollywood films and the lunacy they can sometimes contain. The action scenes, when they do crop up, are often over-the-top and see people flying through the air or spinning around in slow motion. The comedy hits on a more vulgar style than traditional Chinese comedy, mimicking that of teenage comedies and R-rated affairs. There’s also just the plain absurdist tone that Chow is known for, where he combines mundane situations with cartoonish sensibilities to exaggerate situations.
Where the Kung Fu angle comes in is when Kam meets a man named Tat, played wonderfully by regular Chow co-star Ng Man-Tat (may he rest in peace). Tat proclaims he’s an ancient martial arts master and after Kam makes a fool of himself trying to face off against Lily’s horrible Judo coach, he turns to Tat for training. Little does Tat realize, but Kam is kind of an idiot, so he’s able to sell him a bridge while giving him bogus advice. Oddly enough, that stupidity ends up paying off and Kam eventually thwarts the awful teacher. Talk about serendipity.
During all of this, the character interactions between Kam and Tat, Kam and Lily, and even Kam with Lily’s friends are simply hysterical. Kam acts all coy about taking Kung Fu, so Lily’s friend surprise punches him in the face. Kam makes up this lame excuse about donating money to needy children in China so that they can learn Kung Fu, hiding the fact that he’s just a grifter. Chow even gives Kam a bunch of scenes of physical comedy where he’s shaking hands with his foot or accidentally rubbing shit on someone’s face. It’s all so bizarre, though not unlike what Chow would go on to do in his later career.
My favorite bit is right before Kam begins his “training.” Tat explains how he’s something of a humble man and doesn’t like to brag about his mystical power. His power is so good, in fact, that he was best friends with Bruce Lee. Jackie Chan was even tussled with him and lost. He’s not bragging, though. He just wants to spread his knowledge to the less fortunate…for a nominal fee.
What makes Love on Delivery work so well is not only its hilarious character interactions but its brisk pacing that doesn’t linger on any one moment for too long. After the mid-way point, I do think the film starts to run out of steam, but even the jokes that don’t land aren’t given too much presence. We’re not talking a million jokes a minute, but Chow certainly knows how to incorporate gags to the benefit of a scene while also not focusing on gags that don’t work.
There’s also the wholesome atmosphere that the movie has. Kam isn’t a guy that is trying to bag the girl so he can have his way with her. Set up throughout the entire movie as a loser (and sometimes referred to as literal garbage), Kam just wants someone that can make him feel happy. Lily is maybe not developed much as a character, but the struggle is more about Kam learning to accept himself so that he can then accept others into his life. He’s just such a nice guy it almost hurts, at times, but that’s precisely what makes Love on Delivery so different from the typical Kung Fu fare.
When I was a teen and was just getting into martial arts films, I don’t think I truly understood the appeal that Love on Delivery had. I certainly laughed at it since Stephen Chow’s films work like Looney Toons episodes, but there’s an extra layer of depth hidden just beneath the zany surface. Under the raucous jokes and high-flying action bits is a comedy about self-acceptance and the purist form of love mixed with a love and understanding of not only eastern philosophy, but western aesthetics.
Reflecting back on the film, it’s not hard to see why Kung Fu Hustle would go on to become a highly acclaimed film when it released a decade later. Chow clearly knows how to weave a story within the hyperbole that is his comedic style.
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