Looking for a China-related film? There’s an untapped treasure trove on Netflix of all genres, from documentaries like American Factory to dramas like City of Last Things. Today we look at one of Stephen Chow’s five movies on the streaming platform, Love on Delivery, a mid-90s comedy that spoofs martial arts.
Although it doesn’t offer its streaming service in China, Netflix has become a surprising hub for Chinese-language content outside of the country. It’s picked up a batch of new Chinese and Taiwanese TV shows lately, and it’s added mainland blockbusters like The Wandering Earth (流浪地球 liúlàng dìqiú) and Pegasus (飞驰人生 fēichí rénshēng) only months after they hit theaters. Digging through the Netflix catalogue, you can also find a number of older and more obscure movies. Some of these are deservedly forgotten, like the lackluster ’80s comedy Mahjong Heroes (打雀英雄传 dǎ què yīngxióng chuán), while others consist of early efforts from big names like Stephen Chow (周星驰 Zhōu Xīngchí) and Johnnie To (杜琪峰 Dù Qífēng).
At the time of this writing, Chow currently has five of his comedies on Netflix. With the exception of Kung Fu Hustle (功夫 gōngfū), the other four are from the early ’90s, a period of Chow’s work that is now easily available for English-speaking fans. In Look Out, Officer! (师兄撞鬼 shīxiōng zhuàng guǐ) (1990), Chow plays a bumbling rookie cop who’s haunted by the ghost of a murdered detective, while the Johnnie To-directed Justice My Foot (审死官 shěn sǐ guān) (1992) casts him as a sleazy lawyer, and The Mad Monk (济公 jìgōng) (1993) puts him in the shoes of a god. Chow’s Love on Delivery (破坏之王 pòhuài zhī wáng) (1994) is the most amusing of the bunch, a martial arts/sports spoof that features some of his funniest gags.
Similar to the underdog actor he would later play in King of Comedy (喜剧之王 xǐjù zhī wáng), Love on Delivery stars Chow as a delivery boy named He Jinyin. Jinyin has a heart of gold, but he’s constantly mocked and exploited by people who take advantage of his generosity. While delivering an order to a martial arts school called Elite Center, Jinyin is unexpectedly kissed by a student named Li, who is only trying to get away from her weird, perverted teacher Grizzly. Jinyin completely misunderstands the woman’s intentions, falling in love with her on the spot. Even though Li explains that it was a ploy, Jinyin is dead-set on getting a date with her.
His idea to take Li to a Jacky Cheung (张学友 Zhāng Xuéyǒu) concert nearly works, but then Grizzly confronts Jinyin right as Li might change her mind. Grizzly, a judo master, takes a swing at his rival. While Jinyin dodges the punch just in the nick of time, it lands on Li’s nose instead. The accident ruins Jinyin’s plan, with Li bluntly telling him that she has no interest in cowards. To try to win a judo student like Li over, Jinyin begins to train with Devilish Muscle Man, a hustling convenience store owner who teaches the art of what he calls Ancient Chinese Boxing. Despite the fact that his teacher is scamming him with fake training, Jinyin feels confident enough to fight Grizzly anyway.
Showing up to Li’s school disguised in a Garfield the cat mask, Jinyin manages to beat Grizzly by using the Invincible Fireball, a technique that involves jumping on an opponent and rolling with him down a staircase. Li’s impressed by her mysterious savior, but mistakes him for Duan Shuiliu, an ex-classmate and karate expert. Duan’s convinced that karate is the only way to study martial arts, and he’s come from Japan to get rid of all the other martial arts at Elite Center. Jinyin wants to fight Duan and get credit where credit is due, but Devilish Muscle Man also turns out to have a stake in the match and school, promising to train his swindled victim for real to avenge an old grudge.
As you’d expect from Chow, Love on Delivery is funny and bizarre, if a bit simplistic. The story beats are largely conventional, but the execution is unpredictable. In one scene, for example, Li finds the masked Garfield fighter in a parking lot. At first, she’s thrilled to see him again, then the man grabs his mask off and reveals himself to be an imposter. A dozen other men in Garfield masks suddenly appear, chasing a horrified Li as she runs off screaming. After Jinyin pops up, the true Garfield-masked hero, Li cries, “You’re despicable!” and sucker punches him so hard that he falls against a car. It’s trademark Stephen Chow, basing itself on non sequiturs, gross-out antics, and pop culture references.
The movie never lets down on its jokes, with one gag leading to another. When Jinyin gives up his place in a ticket line for a grandmother, the swindling old lady buys all the tickets. Her grandson promptly scalps the tickets outside the vendor, and is dragged off by the police as soon as Jinyin falls down some stairs to buy them. The poor guy is saved at the last moment by Jacky Cheung himself, who appears in a cameo to give Jinyin the tickets he so desperately needs. It’s a very cartoonish experience, especially when characters are punching through walls or standing around dressed like cartoon cats and Japanese superheroes. It’s because of this rapid energy and silliness, however, that Love on Delivery never gets bogged down into exhaustion or repetition.
Considering how sloppy Look Out, Officer! and some of his other early work comes across, the fact that Chow co-directed the movie with his former collaborator Lee Lik-chi (李力持 Lǐ Lìchí) might have given Love on Delivery a stronger, more creative touch. Taking in Chow’s ’90s comedies, Love on Delivery makes for a perfect introduction to his work before his breakout King of Comedy. It’s breezy, surreal, and outrageously funny, all the adjectives I wish I was able to use when talking about this year’s New King of Comedy (新喜剧之王 xīn xǐjù zhī wáng).
Film Friday is SupChina’s film recommendation column. Have a recommendation? Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org