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I revisited the Lucky Stars
February 1, 2014Posted by on
At Wizard World 2001, a friend and I attended a panel on kung fu films from the 1980s. This was somewhat unusual for me, as I rarely visited panels in those days, especially at comic book conventions. Being my third consecutive Wizard World, we were most likely bored and just looking for something different to do. To say that one of the films screened and discussed – 1985’s Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars – changed my life would be a bit of an overstatement. But I would say it came pretty close. Nominally a simple story of a group of ne’er-do-wells who join forces with a no-nonsense, beautiful female police detective, the film is incredibly funny and highly entertaining as well as one of the best kung fu films of the 1980s.
I knew the film was a sequel simply from viewing it, but I had no idea how to track down the other films in the series. In the younger days of the internet, we had Amazon.com and other online retailers, but Wikipedia was still brand new and I had no idea it even existed. In the mean time, I discovered other Sammo Hung/Jackie Chan collaborations like Project A and Wheels on Meals, and I loved both. But I still wanted more of the Lucky Stars. Their comedic antics and hijinks combined with the martial arts finesse possessed by Hung and Chan just appealed very highly to me and my kung fu film sensibilities.
Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars was so good, however, that it alone was almost able to sustain my interest in the Lucky Stars group for nearly ten years. During the winter of 2011, a massive blizzard swept through central Illinois, keeping me confined to my house and away from my job for three straight days. During this time off, I intended to rediscover some of my older kung fu films. After my fiftieth or so viewing of Twinkle, Twinkle, I finally decided to head straight to the internet and find some of the other films in the series. I managed to nab the first film, titled Winners and Sinners, and the second film, titled My Lucky Stars. For my 2014 reviewing, I skipped Winners and Sinners (I like the film but it is more like the prototype for what was to come) and went straight to the second and third in the series.
The Lucky Stars films are technically sequels, but the connections between them could be considered loose and arbitrary. In My Lucky Stars, our main characters find themselves separated by circumstance. Chan, playing a Hong Kong cop named Muscles, and his partner Ricky (Yuen Biao) are betrayed in Japan by a corrupt cop. Muscles suggests to his superior officer that he gather Kidstuff (Sammo Hung, the star of the series) and the rest of his gang of lowlifes (including Eric Tsang, Charlie Chin, Richard Ng, and Stanley Fung) and bribe them into coming to Japan to rescue Muscles and Ricky from Japanese mobsters. Complicating matters is the addition of beautiful Hong Kong detective Ba Ma (Sibelle Hu, whose character is also known as either Barbara or Swordflower depending on the subtitles/various versions), a no-nonsense detective who refuses to suffer the humilities brought on her by the immature but well-meaning Lucky Stars group.
My Lucky Stars on its surface barely counts as a martial arts movie in a lot of ways. It is a comedy and crime caper more often than it is a typical kung fu flick. But this actually works in the movie’s favor. The best aspects of the film are the close relationships between the Lucky Stars themselves. Rawhide, the eldest member of the group, takes on an antagonistic relationship with Teabag, the youngest member. Herb fancies himself a debonair ladies man, but he is constantly striking out with the ladies. Sandy is the prankster, constantly getting the Stars in trouble with his antics. Kidstuff (Hung) is their leader, but is beset by constant jokes and references to his portly physique. The great thing about Sammo Hung, however, is that he is lithe and athletic despite his sheer size, placing him the pantheon of athletic fat comedians like Chris Farley and John Belushi.
Once Kidstuff is able to get the gang back together (in a hilarious montage of the Lucky Stars conning, robbing, and gambling in various circumstances), he heads off to a designated police safe house with his men to discuss matters with Inspector Walter, who proceeds to blackmail the Lucky Stars. Having set the men up as bank robbers, he promises them freedom and blank slates in exchange for rescuing Muscles and Ricky. The Lucky Stars, along with Detective Ba Ma, head to Japan with a bag full of seed money, setting them up as high rolling gamblers from Hong Kong laying low in Japan. This gets them noticed by the Japanese mafia, and Kidstuff is able to use this as an in to rescue his friends.
It is here where the martial arts hijinks and action ensue en masse. The last 25 minutes or so of the
film is non-stop kung fu, and it is glorious. Kidstuff, Muscles, and Ba Ma face off against formidable opponents, with Muscles beset on all sides in a great haunted house set piece. The athletic Hung, in a bright yellow sweatsuit, faces off against nameless thugs, mercilessly beating on them like some sort of human pummeling machine. The most brilliant fight, however, is between Ba Ma and Japanese bodybuilder/beauty Michiko Nishiwaki (her character is unfortunately nameless in the film, simply credited as “Japanese gang fighter”). The two sexy ladies face off in a brilliantly choreographed hallway fight, where the obviously out-matched Ba Ma fights for her life against the statuesque, muscular Nishiwaki (who would later go on to stunt double for Lucy Liu in the Charlie’s Angels movies). The film is worth seeing for this fight alone.
The film’s end appears anti-climactic at first, with the Lucky Stars gang, reunited with old buddy turned cop Muscles, saving the day from the gangsters and rescuing Ricky from a certain horrible death. The Lucky Stars refuse the aid of the police at the end, still suspicious of their intent (reasonably so considering the blackmail they had endured previously). Kidstuff walks away from Muscles coolly, signaling an end to their friendship. Muscles, however, will have none of this nonsense, running to catch up with his friends and join them in a chorus of their favorite song. The enigmatic Muscles is just too darn charming to repel the Lucky Stars that easily, and their continued adventures will surely go on for a long time…
…like they did in 1985’s Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars (yes, both this and My Lucky Stars were released the same year, a fascinating accomplishment considering the sheer amount of stunt work required in each movie), the best film in the series and, as noted earlier, the first one I had seen. In this film, the third in the series, the Lucky Stars once again reunite to help Detective Ba Ma. This time, they need to protect beautiful actress Yi-ching Wang (an excellent Rosamund Kwan), who is hunted by three assassins after receiving an incriminating letter from her murdered on-again/off-again boyfriend, a corrupt businessman. Their adventures include a trip to Pattaya (where Kidstuff faces off against ladyboy assassins), continued comedic hijinks involving a beautiful woman (this time Kwan’s character instead of Hu’s), and a showdown in an incredibly modern (for the time) recreation center.
The film starts with the Lucky Stars gang staying at Herb’s place as his houseguests (Chin must have had a schedule conflict, as these are his only scenes in the film). We are introduced to Pagoda (Michael Miu) who is apparently supposed to be Herb’s cousin and who will take his place on their adventure this time around. Kidstuff and the others are enjoying another morning of waking up late and drinking Pepsi for breakfast when they are interrupted by Ba Ma, who instructs them they have five minutes to gather their stuff and head to the airport, for our heroes are off to exotic vacation mainstay Pattaya, Thailand in order to track down a corrupt businessman.
In Thailand, our heroes spend far more time goofing off and trying to get girls than they do on the
case. Kidstuff and Ba Ma head off on their own to track down their target, but he is mysteriously murdered before they can get to him. Kidstuff uses this time with Ba Ma to try and connect with her emotionally and become her love interest, but the career-oriented Ba Ma rejects him, causing Kidstuff to fall into a depression. He snaps to, however, when he notices he can ruin his friends good fun, and proceeds to essentially ruin their chances with a group of female Chinese vacationers, who see the men as disgusting low-life pigs. Not even Sandy’s newfound powers of persuasion (learned from a witchdoctor on a river in Thailand) are enough to persuade the ladies to throw inhibitions to the wind and date the Lucky Stars.
The highlight of the Pattaya scenes is definitely Kidstuff and Pagoda’s fight with a surreptitious group of Thai ladyboy assassins. Disguised as hotel workers, the assassins infiltrate the Lucky Stars’ outdoor suite, intent to murder them or otherwise hinder them from their investigation. Kidstuff, ever the keen eye, notices they are not hotel workers, and barely eludes a well-placed sword swipe. The young Pagoda is not so lucky, taking two quick slashes to the chest before snapping to. Kidstuff and Pagoda then proceed to dispatch the assassins with grace and aplomb, by which I mean Kidstuff punches one in the crotch so hard she flies backwards, flipping several times. Ba Ma steps in at the last moment to finish off one of the assassins with a well-placed shot, scaring the rest away from the complex. After this attack, the Lucky Stars regroup and head back to Hong Kong.
Back in Hong Kong, the Lucky Stars are now tasked with protecting beautiful actress Yi-ching from a trio of assassins (including Australian martial artist and former celebrity bodyguard Richard Norton, who is great and intimidating in his small role – and even gets to utter his catchphrase!). Yi-ching doesn’t think she needs the protection of the Lucky Stars until a close encounter changes her mind, and she moves in with them along with her roommate, the obnoxious Wormgrass (John Shum, who originally appeared in Winners and Sinners, the first film in the series). Living with the Lucky Stars, Yi-ching finds herself beset on all sides by the sex-obsessed goofballs, and is subject to continued sexual harassment of a level not seen since the 1980s.
Meanwhile, Muscles and Ricky are back on the case as well, attempting to hunt down and arrest
the three assassins. Muscles faces off against Norton (credited as “Caucasian assassin”) but Norton narrowly escapes, much to Muscles’ disappointment. The two cops aren’t having much success against the organized and well-armed assassins, and pretty much give up chase to regroup and re-think their methods. The Lucky Stars, having to concede that Yi-ching needs to live her life as normally as possible, escort her and Wormgrass to the recreation center, where the two can take their acting classes in preparation for film roles. Sandy cons Kidstuff into taking a martial arts class, where Kidstuff must spar, against his will, with instructor Michelle Yeoh (in her first film fight!).
The assassins of course take note that Yi-ching is in the recreation building, and they assault the Lucky Stars and their target in an epic battle. Like My Lucky Stars before it, the last 20 minutes or so of Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars is pure action candy. The best fight in the film is reserved for Kidstuff and Norton, who so brutally beat each other that I am surprised either could even walk afterwards. The fight is easily the centerpiece of the movie, even better than the Ba Wa/Michiko Nishiwaki battle from the previous film. Culminating in a battle with tennis rackets, Kidstuff is finally able to dispatch Norton, but not without ten minutes worth of difficulty. Muscles takes a hero’s wound to the shoulder for his efforts, but the three assassins are arrested and led out of the center in handcuffs by the authorities. The film ends with the Lucky Stars getting the heroes exit they deserve, being made fun of for the wonton destruction they caused as they exit the building.
I love both of these movies. They are amazingly choreographed, incredibly funny, and eminently entertaining. The Lucky Stars themselves are always doing something interesting or entertaining on screen, and pairing them with the charismatic Hong Kong cop Muscles, the no-nonsense Ba Ma, and the young and sort-of naïve Yi-ching makes for some great scenes. The kung fu in these films could be considered to be minimal, but the ending fight in My Lucky Stars and the two great fights that bookend Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars more than makes up for this. It is kind of amazing in retrospect that Sammo Hung was able to direct and star in two movies like this within the same calendar year – an incredible feat considering the sheer amount of stunt work and choreography involved in such an effort. Check out these two films and be amazed by just how awesome they are.