There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
That the average Yuen Woo-Ping fan probably doesn’t watch a lot of documentaries doesn’t mean that the Hong Kong action flick isn’t a worthy subject for one. In fact, the genre deserves far better than the cursory treatment it gets in Robin Shou’s new vanity-project-cum-doc, Red Trousers: The Life of the Hong Kong Stuntmen. In what looks like an ill-advised cross-marketing concept, Shou, a veteran of the Mortal Kombat franchise as well as a bunch of Asian B’s, has intercut a lame chop-socky short—starring himself, of course—into a testament to HK cinema’s unsung heroes. Opening with a goofy postapocalyptic fight sequence that looks ripped from a Dolph Lundgren vehicle, Red Trousers jumps to behind-the-scenes wire-work tutorials and interviews with the featured stuntmen—and then back, ad nauseam. Shou does recount the stuntmen’s early history in the Peking Opera schools, and the way their skills in martial arts and acrobatics naturally translated to the movie screen as the opera’s popularity began to wane in the ’50s and ’60s. But he assumes that his audience already has a detailed knowledge of his subjects; by providing no biographical exposition before interviews with Jackie Chan’s “Big Brother,” Sammo Hung, and pioneering martial-arts director Lau Kar-Leung, he leaves the average viewer clueless as to their importance. It’s also ironic that Shou’s own little HK actioner, mercilessly stretched over Red Trousers’ entirety, features exactly the kind of tight framing and excessive editing that tend to obscure the genre’s intricate choreography and brutal physical contact. And any documentary about HK cinema—let alone one devoted to stuntmen—is grossly incomplete without even a single mention of Chan, who formed Hong Kong’s first stuntman association. To be fair, there are some great moments here, including interviews with tearful yet optimistic young opera students at a school in Shanghai and a flinch-worthy scene of a wire stunt gone wrong. But by spending more time trying to entertain than educate, Red Trousers lands with all the impact of a flying roundhouse delivered by Ken Burns. —Jason Powell