by Mel Valentin
What if "Spy Kids" or "The Incredibles" was remade as a live-action, Hong Kong martial arts film? The end result would look something like "House of Fury" ("Jing mo gaa ting"). Then again, maybe not. To mention "Spy Kids" and "The Incredibles" in a review of "House of Fury," though, would be to overstate the comparisons or unduly (and unnecessarily) raise expectations. They shouldn't be (raised, that is). Co-written and directed by Stephen Fung (he also stars), "House of Fury" mixes family-oriented sentimentality, teen angst, secret agents, a semi-sympathetic, wheelchair-bound villain (who speaks English slowly and deliberately in practically every scene), and martial arts action into a sporadically entertaining film.Yue Siu Bo (Anthony Wong), a massage therapist and herbalist, spins tall tales about his exploits working for a clandestine government agency. As House of Fury opens, we're treated to a fantasy-based martial arts scene. Siu Bo floats through the air, jumps huge distances, and vanquishes a team of magically empowered ninjas, all while keeping his white suit free of dirt or grime. House of Fury soon reveals that we, along with several enraptured students, are listening to Siu Bo spin one of his tall tales. His teenage daughter, Natalie (Gillian Chung), looks on in embarrassment from a distance. Her brother, Nicky (Stephen Fung), works as a dolphin handler at the local aquarium, but still lives at home. He might be in his twenties, but he's still holding onto a rebellious teen spirit (he ignores his father's efforts to make contact with him). Siu Bo is still recovering from the loss of his wife, Natalie and Nicky from the loss of their mother.
"HK legend Anthony Wong as a retired secret agent? Well, sorta."
Enter Rocco (Michael Wong), a smooth-headed, wheelchair bound villain who prefers to speak English (somehow communication occurs across languages). Rocco wants something that Siu Bo has, something tied to Siu Bo's past, which may be closer to his tall tales than either Natalie or Nicky ever imagined. Not long into House of Fury, Siu Bo finds himself in Rocco's clutches. Siu Bo doesn't go down without a fight, taking on four of Rocco's henchman (the gravity-based fight scene sets the standard for the scenes that follow). At Rocco's lair (all villains have lairs, of course), Rocco's young son, Nelson (Jake Strickland), stands guard over an unhappily restrained Siu Bo.
Nicky and Natalie learn about their father's disappearance, set aside their differences, and begin searching for a means to extricate Siu Bo from Rocco and his men. It's not quite that easy, though (it never is and shouldn't be). Nicky and Natalie learn more, a great deal more about their father and his past. Since Rocco is only holding Siu Bo for information, Nicky and Natalie have to both save Siu Bo from Rocco and stop Rocco from getting what he wants, something or someone close to them. What follows, thankfully, are a series of fight scenes, culminating in a free-for-all where Natalie and Nicky get to use their martial arts skills (Nicky takes on Nelson, and Natalie has to dig deep into her past training to save her father).
House of Fury turns out to be far less action-oriented than expected. Fung, working from his own script, never misses an opportunity to inject sentimentality into every non-action scene (accompanied by a melancholy piano or acoustic guitar). Thankfully, Fung slips in occasional humor, mostly of the sibling rivalry or siblings vs. parent kind. When the blandly written sibling rivalry element begins to go stale, Fung inserts a double romantic subplot, one for Natalie, who becomes involved with an American-born musician, Jason (Daniel Wu), and one for Nicky, who has a schoolboy crush on Natalie's slightly self-centered, pretty girlfriend, Ella (Charlene Choi).
On the plus side, House of Fury contains a handful of well-choreographed fight scenes (the main reason for seeing House of Fury) thanks, in part, to Yuen Wo Ping, the martial arts choreographer best known in the West for his contributions to the Matrix trilogy and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (he's also a director in his own right). Ping only gets credit as an "advisor" on House of Fury, but it's hard to imagine someone of his stature playing a minor role in designing the fight sequences. Outside of the opening fantasy sequence and one or two shots, Ping and his collaborators limit the action to the humanly possible. As proof, viewers need look no further than a fight scene involving several assassins and the brother/sister pair set on a construction site.
House of Fury has more than a few flaws. All of them can be traced to a screenplay that lingers unnecessarily on uninvolving family melodrama, marking time between the fight scenes. The family-oriented scenes are also padded to stretch out running time (without them, House of Fury would be 20-30 minutes shorter). House of Fury could have benefited from more comedy and less melodrama or sentimentality (to be fair, the sentimentality found here is no different than what we'd find in the average film out of Hong Kong). Fung also missed the opportunity to ratchet up conflict between the siblings, instead of having them resolve their differences so early in the film.Still, martial arts fans will see "House of Fury" for the fight scenes. Although the fight sequences are only sporadically engaging (or inventive, for that matter), as a director Fung is smart enough as a director to keep his camera steady and his edits to a tolerable minimum. Non-genre fans, though, will probably dismiss "House of Fury" as derivative and, at most, semi-entertaining.
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originally posted: 02/12/06 14:57:07