Red Trousers: The Life of the Hong Kong Stuntmen

The stunts are undeniably one of the best elements of Hong Kong cinema. They certainly are more exciting than the stories. Stuntmen fly through the air, through windows, into walls and cars, and it looks absolutely amazing. Being a stuntman in Hong Kong is much more prestigious than in America. For one thing, in Hong Kong, it is perfectly fine, and probably preferred, to hit the star. A real hit provides a sense of realism that just isn't there in some American films. It is a tradition that began with the Beijing Opera company. These acrobats were the first Hong Kong stuntmen. Martial arts actor Robin Shou wanted to make a movie that turned the camera onto these men, and Red Trousers is the result. Unfortunately, Red Trousers does more to put the spotlight on Robin Shou than anything else. Shou, who clearly reveres some of the more famous stuntmen, started as one then moved into acting. Alas, his acting ability (and directing ability) leaves much to be desired. The title refers to the red pants that members of the Opera Company wore.

The most glaring problem is that Red Trousers has no footage of Jackie Chan. Chan's reputation was built on doing all of his stunts by himself, and using anything and everything around him in his fights. Long before his widespread popularity in America, he had pockets of rabid fans that eagerly watched his movies for the outtakes at the end (all his outtakes now are primarily flubbed lines). Chan and longtime friend Sammo Hung (Summer Assassin, Legend of Tekken) both grew up in the Opera Company, and are legends in the Hong Kong film industry. Hung is interviewed, and relates how life back then for children in the Company was akin to indentured servitude. What they suffered through would surely be considered abuse in today's standards. Still, it steeled them, and even though Hung is a bit large in the waist, he can still kick butt.

As a director, Shou made the odd decision to make Lost Time, a film within Red Trousers to illustrate what Hong Kong stuntmen go through. This is another horrible decision. Lost Time is the typical Hong Kong movie, which means is has no understandable story. It is all bad acting and cheesy dialogue. There is some ancient battle going on between mystical martial artists, and Evan (Shou, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Beverly Hills Ninja) is one of those. It is full of bad guys, double crosses, and, of course, martial arts. Part of Lost Time will play, until it comes to a stunt. Then, Shou shows what happens behind the scenes, and interviews the stuntman. He then has footage of the development of the stunt, so one can see all the steps, and how brutal it can be. The whole thing feels like a "making of" movie that should be on a DVD. Yes, Shou focuses on stuntmen, but he focuses on his film and all the stuntmen in his film. Shou doesn't mean to come off as arrogant, but it sure seems that way.

This does no service to the trailblazers. To properly honor these stuntmen would mean interviewing them, not his own stuntmen (some of them were Company members). Hung and Lau Kar Leung (Drunken Monkey, Legend of Drunken Master) are the only Opera Company members to get any substantial interview time, and more importantly, their screen time is the most interesting. Shou shows very little footage from older martial arts films, and then doesn't even identify the film or the stuntmen. Too much time in Red Trousers is devoted to the awful Lost Time. He does show some old black-and-white footage, but doesn't name names or titles. In fact, most of the film clips he shows are from the mid-eighties and nineties. With so many stuntmen to choose from, why stick with the ones in his film? There is a huge gap in terms of missing information. It's not clear if Chan didn't participate in Red Trousers because he didn't want to (rather than a lack of time), but if this is the case, he made the right choice.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 33 minutes, English, Cantonese, and Mandarin with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains some language and action violence, a PG-13 or maybe an R.

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