1993 Hong Kong martial arts film directed by Johnnie To and starring Aaron Kwok, Maggie Cheung, Ti Lung and Jacklyn Wu. The film is a remake of the 1975 Shaw Brothers classic “Disciples of Shaolin”, which was directed by Chang Cheh.
Popstar and actor Aaron Kwok stars as “Kwan Fung-yiu”, the titular ‘Bare- Footed Kid’. Kwok’s long and successful singing career has seen him considered as one of the “Four Heavenly Kings” of Hong Kong, that also includes Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau and Leon Lai. He has appeared in the movies “2000 A.D.”, “Saviour of the Soul”, “Future Cops”, “The Storm Riders”, “China Strike Force”, “Divergence” and as Sun Wukong in “The Monkey King” trilogy of films.
A veteran of the Shaw Brothers golden era, star of “A Better Tomorrow” and Jackie Chan’s dad from “Drunken Master 2”, Ti Lung appears as “Tuen Ching-wan”, manager of the Four Seasons Weaver dyeing workshop, and a kung fu master.
Popular Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung stars as “Pak Siu-wan”, the owner of the Four Seasons Weaver. Best remembered for playing Jackie Chan’s long-suffering girlfriend in the “Police Story” movies, she has also appeared to great acclaim in the films “The Iceman Cometh”, “As Tears Go By”, “Moon Warriors”, “New Dragon Gate Inn”, “In the Mood for Love”, “Dragon From Russia”, “The Heroic Trio”, “Hero” and many, many more.
Jacklyn Wu Chien-lien plays “Wah Wong-lin”, daughter of Mr Wah. Director Johnnie To gave Jacklyn Wu her big break starring opposite Andy Lau in the film “A Moment of Romance”. She went on to find international acclaim for her role in Ang Lee’s award-winning movie “Eat Drink Man Woman”. In 1997 she won the Best Actress Award for her role in Anne Hui’s “Eighteen Springs”.
Hong Kong movie veteran Kenneth Tsang plays rival workshop owner, the ruthless “Hak Wo-po”. In a career spanning 50 years, Tsang has had notable roles in movies such as John Woo’s “A Better Tomorrow”, “A Better Tomorrow 2”, and “The Killer”, as well as Jackie Chan‘s “Police Story 3: Supercop” and “Rush Hour 2”. He will also be familiar to fans of James Bond for his role as “General Moon” in “Die Another Day”. Now in his 80’s, he continues to work and appeared in the Donnie Yen/Andy Lau gangster epic “Chasing the Dragon” in 2017.
A poor, barefooted young man from the countryside named Kwan Fung-yiu, arrives in the city to start work with Tuen Ching-wan, a friend of his recently deceased father. Tuen Ching-wan manages a dyeing workshop, and is trained in kung fu, but has retired from the world of martial arts. The dye shop is owned by Pak Siu-kwan, a kind woman who is being pressured by Hak Wo-po, the corrupt owner of a rival inferior workshop. When Pak’s workshop is burnt down, the Bare-Footed Kid decides to take matters into his own hands, and fight back using his impressive kung fu skills. Not realising the consequences of his actions are just the start of his troubles.
Our first taste of the stylish action takes place with a classic Lei Tai match. The Lei Tai was a raised stage on which competing martial artists would fight. Losers were the first to be knocked off the stage, or those who submitted, and even in some cases, who could not continue due to serious injury or death.
The first bout features a dao (broadsword) versus pudao (halberd) followed by shuang dao (double swords) versus the qiang (spear). The fights feature some nice traditional-looking kung fu choreography, with the weapons moving at an impressive speed. Aaron Kwok gives brief glimpses of his kung fu skills but it’s not until a good 35 minutes into the movie that he has a full on fight in a courtyard. He takes out several opponents wielding a broom like a staff or spear, before letting fly with some wushu-style high kicks. Almost immediately after he has a short but sweet hand-to-hand duel with the legendary Ti Lung. The fight choreography is rapid but smooth with barely a wire assist to be found.
The wirework is saved for some of the more acrobatic techniques when Kwok fights on the Lei Tai. Even so there is some stunning unassisted high kicking and bruising boxing combinations. Ti Lung gets a great chance to let loose when he is attacked by a gang of assassins. Initially attacked with swords, Ti Lung has only his bare hands to defend himself until he gains the upper hand with a pair of butterfly knives.
For the final battle Aaron Kwok rages through Kenneth Tsang’s henchmen, dispatching a half dozen at a time. Once more the choreography is a rapid but fluid mix of traditional looking kung fu postures and showy wushu-style techniques.
Based loosely on Chang Cheh’s 1975 movie “Disciples of Shaolin”, this is a simple but well-executed tale of a naive young man trying to make his way through a world of corrupt officials. Aaron Kwok plays the lead with a charming, almost infantile, innocence. There is an impressive supporting cast of popular actors who, as you would expect, deliver fine performances in all their respective roles.
Framing the drama and the poor Bare-Footed Kid’s coming-of-age journey of redemption are some entertaining action scenes. Whilst there is nothing too ground-breaking in terms of the choreography, fans of period-style Hong Kong “New Wave” martial arts action are well-served here. Aaron Kwok is especially good in his fight sequences.
Currently playing on Netflix UK, the Celestial Pictures remaster looks stunning in high definition. The clean, bright and colourful picture make the costumes, sets and locations come to life and belie the 25 years-plus age of the film.
Moving briskly through its 83-minute running time, this is a fine-looking, occasionally sentimental, but rewarding martial arts morality tale. Well worth checking out!
- “The Bare-Footed Kid” was a rare foray into the martial arts genre for director Johnny To, who is best known for his gangster movies. Earlier in his career in 1983, he directed and screen-wrote the critically acclaimed “The Legend of the Condor Heroes”, a dramatised TV series based on the martial arts novel of the same name by Louis Cha.
- Aaron Kwok sings the theme tune “The Expression After Speaking”.
- The film grossed HK$3,973,198 at the Hong Kong box office during a relatively short theatrical run from 3rd to 14th April 1993.
- Hong Kong movie legend Lau Kar-leung was the action director for “The Bare-Footed Kid”.
Film Rating: 7.5/10
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