The Prodigal Son (1981) [Arrow Limited Edition] 

A man who was always told he was the best master of kung fu discovers that it was a reputation bought for him by his father, leading him to question his life and seek the teachings of another master to truly become the best.  

Written and directed by Sammo Kam-Bo Hung (known to most people simply as Sammo Hung), the film is one that feels like it belongs to a bygone era of martial arts films. This is not to say it’s not aged well or isn’t good. Considering everything that could have been an issue given the era the film was made in and the era it is set in, there is very little here that is seriously problematic. Yes, some things would be unacceptable these days, but they are more about the character of the characters saying and doing those things. There are a few cringy lines throughout the film, but it’s not as bad as some others made much more recently. Overall, the story is good, the way it’s put together is entertaining, and there isn’t too much outdated cringeworthy content here. The film has thus aged decently. For martial arts fans, it’s a great film to check out for the story, for how it mixes the performances of martial arts with opera, showing a new angle to the time period represented and how artists of different kinds clashed and connected. Honestly, it’s a fun watch and the writing and direction count for a lot into it.  

The cast here is composed of Biao Yuen as lead Leung Chang, Ching-Ying Lam as Leung Yee-tai, Frankie Chan as Ngai Fei, Yau-Hau Chan as Chang’s father, and Sammo Hung as Wong Wah-bo. The central cast is solid, and Biao Yuen and Ching-Ying Lam are great at playing off of each other as enemies and as partners in learning. There is a lot going on here, and thus lots of characters, but these main few here all give performances the film can rely on with Sammo Hung’s performance and character being a bit of a comic relief here and there. The film gives these folks plenty to do, including fighting and singing in some cases, showing that the cast is well-rounded and very capable of performing what is needed of them.  

The stunt choreography here is credited to Billy Chan, Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Ching-Ying Lam, and Biao Yuen, showing that the filmmakers knew they had a cast that could perform their own stunts and understood the martial arts they were doing on screen. Having your main cast as stunt choreographers is nothing new in Asia and a practice that is still in place to this day, something that helps connect the film’s acting to the fighting, connecting the performers to their parts and stunts better, something that really works here. 

The film is one of those from the era that is a lot of fun to watch, it has a few bits that didn’t age well, but generally it has aged quite well. The performances are solid with a good connection between the acting and the fights. The film looks great, is shot and edited in a manner to allow the viewer to see all the fights, and the fight sequences are highly entertaining. It’s one of those classic martial arts films that is finally getting seen by more people with a new release from Arrow coming shortly. 

This new release looks fantastic on Blu Ray disc (1080p definition) with a bunch of extras. The top extras to look for here are the archival featurette made of interviews with Sammo Hung, Biao Yuen, and Frankie Chan, the archival featurette made of interviews with Guy Lai who is a producer and a Wing Chun instructor which includes demonstrations of martial arts by Sifu Austin Goh and Jude Poyer. Other extras include an interview with Sify Richter about Wing Chun 101 which is fun, a commentary by Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, another commentary by Frank Djeng and Bobby Samuels, the original theatrical trailer, new art by Joe Kim, both the original theatrical release cut and the home video version of the film, and a few other goodies. This one is packed. The only complain here is that considering Sammo Hung is still alive and active, why no new interview with the man?  

The Prodigal Son Arrow Limited Edition will be released on 09/12/2023.