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DVD Review: The Royal Tramp Collection
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Ryan Midnight   |  
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The Royal Tramp Collection on DVDThe Royal Tramp Collection
The Royal Tramp & The Royal Tramp 2
1992
Directed & Written by Wong Jing
Adapted from the novel by Louis Cha
Starring Stephen Chow, Cheung Man, Ng Man-Tat, Nat Chan, Sandra Ng, Chingmy Yau, Brigitte Lin, Elvis Tsui
Dragon Dynasty
Available February 12, 2008

Political strife is dividing the current reign of China during the Ching Dynasty, as the Emperor believes that one of his top advisors Obai is planning to kill him, and the Society Of Heaven And Earth is plotting to overthrown the government and return power to the Ming Dynasty. Enter Wei Siu Bo (Stephen Chow), a charismatic and manic con man with no allegiance save to himself who has no martial art skills but has a mastery over wordplay. By fate and perchance, Bo is swept up by Heaven And Earth to infiltrate the palace and steal a book that contains the secrets which will allow the anti-government society to defeat the Emperor. Instead, Bo becomes friends with the Emperor and his sister. As secret attacks and double crosses plague the palace, Bo is able to take advantage of one situation after another to gain the confidence of the Emperor and uses his wit and dumb luck to maneuver out of one deadly situation after another. But he is unaware that there is yet another plot underway to take over rule of China, and that the saga of the Royal Tramp could be over just as quickly as it started!

Filmed back to back in 1992 by the highly prolific director Wong Jing, Royal Tramp and Royal Tramp 2 take their inspiration from the wildly popular serial story “The Duke Of Deer Mountain” that appeared in a Hong Kong newspaper, from which Wong Jing also wrote the screenplays. At the head of this incredible comedy and spoof on period dramas and wuxia martial arts epics is Stephen Chow, who has had his unique comedic style tailor woven into the scripts.

If you are unfamiliar with Stephen Chow, who has sometimes been dubbed The Jim Carrey Of Asia, beyond his most recent international outings Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, you owe it to your funny bone to check out his insane and brilliantly daft comedy during his rise to fame in the early nineties. After cutting his teeth on Hong Kong television, Stephen Chow was let loose in the movies where he was finally able to show off his pent up energy much to the thrill of the audiences who flocked to his movies. As Bo in the Royal Tramp series, Chow gives a perfect blend of physical performance that skirts the edge of reality and intellectually spews tongue-twisting puns as both offensive and defensive like weapons against both his foes on screen and censoring foes on the Hong Kong Ratings Board.

But Stephen Chow is not alone on screen, as he is aided by some of the bigger names in Hong Kong at the time. Helping Chow on the comedic front is longtime collaborator Ng Man-Tat and Nat Chan, who are equally comedic geniuses and are only sharpened by Chow’s razor edge wit as they both aid and hinder Bo’s involvement with the Emperor. Wong Jing was able to gather some of best actresses at the time as well, and the laundry list reads like a Hong Kong cinephile’s dream dance card. Cheung Man steps into the royal robes of the Empress Dowager, while Chingmy Yau lends her perky smile and comedy experience to the princess. Brigitte Lin sends up her white-robed and sword-branding stoic martial artist character she helped to create when she appears in the second film as one of the Dragon Gang.

Though The Royal Tramp is considered a comedy, it is a hard film to really pin down to any one category. Under the direction of Wong Jing, who has been directing for almost thirty years and has nearly one-hundred films under his belt across the entire spectrum of genres, the two-film series is equally a period epic, wire-fu martial arts adventure, comedy of errors, political drama and leaves plenty of room for Jing’s nigh-trademark lowbrow jokes and an underdog theme that resonated with Hong Kong citizens at the time of the films’ release.

The original story was a spoof on the classic wuxia martial arts epics, and Jing fully takes advantage of this in translating it to the screen as he deftly plays with film cliches and takes any chance he can get to reverse roles or play a scene completely straight with the exception of some completely over-the-top and anachronistic dialogue spoken. That Jing filmed his two movies on the original Shaw Brothers sets and back lots where many of the original films Royal Tramp spoofs were originally made only adds to the equally authentic and outlandish comedy. And of course holding it all together is Stephen Chow, whose personal love and dedication to martial arts films can be seen in every scene.

Although The Royal Tramp was released as two parts in the theatres, it is really one epic story that feels incomplete should you happen to watch just the first part, and should be viewed in its entirety with as little pause between the two as possible. It is with that in mind that Dragon Dynasty, who brings the series to U.S. shores after only being available as an import for years, presents their first two-disc double-feature release. Each movie is housed on its own disc and is presented in anamorphic widescreen with the original Cantonese and English subtitles or English dub. While the print appears to be a port of version that has been available on DVD in Hong Kong for years now, Dragon Dynasty has done a completely new subtitle track and fixes all of the more glaring errors present on older versions.

As this set contains two feature films, the extras are rather sparse this time around. However, Hong Kong film expert Bey Logan is on hand for each movie with a feature-length audio commentary. Logan’s love for Hong Kong cinema truly shines through on these tracks as he gives rapid fire historical lessons and biographies on all the actors, goes into extraordinary detail on the original story and author Louis Cha, translates Chinese characters on screen, and even leaves room for a few personal stories. As always with Logan’s commentaries he provides just the right blend of textbook knowledge and entertainment value, and as always it is highly recommended to keep a pen and paper nearby to write down any films and actors he mentions. An interview with Wong Jing is provided on the second disc, while the original trailers for each installment and previews for other Dragon Dynasty titles round out the extras.

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