Blu-ray Release: December 6, 2022 (as part of Shawscope: Volume 2)
Audio: Mandarin, Cantonese, and English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 119:12
Director: Lau Kar-leung
When her elderly husband dies, Cheng Tai-nun (Kara Hui) travels to Canton to stay with her nephew, Yu Cheng-chuan (Lau Kar-leung), who is shocked to discover that his new auntie is younger than he is. The situation is further complicated when Yu’s young, brash son, Yu Tao (Hsiao Ho), returns from school in Hong Kong, where he has learned lessons in modernity and Westernism, much to the chagrin of his traditionalist father and great aunt.
As Shaw Bros. slowly slid from its place atop the Hong Kong film ladder in the earliest days of the 1980s, Lau Kar-leung remained one of the studio’s two highest-grossing directors (along with Chor Yuen), affording him the funds and space to continue making career-best movies. Before taking on the insane choreographic scopes of The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (aka: The Invincible Pole Fighters, 1984) and Legendary Weapons of China (aka: Legendary Weapons of Kung Fu, 1982), he wrote, directed, and choreographed arguably his most underrated effort, My Young Auntie (aka: Fangs of The Tigress, 1981). My Young Auntie sits ahead of an already fantastic collection of movies thanks to its sublime blend of comedy and action, its focus on a female lead, and the fact that it takes place during the early 20th century, rather than the ever-popular 18th century.
The history of women in kung fu cinema is a complex subject I’m not equipped to speak about in any definitive capacity, but, in broad terms, Shaw’s history with female leads begins with King Hu’s stone-cold classic, Come Drink with Me (1966), which was popular and incredibly influential, but not really a harbinger for women in the industry. If anything, it specifically laid out stardom for actress Cheng Pei-pei, who fronted a sequel, Cheh Chang’s The Golden Swallow (1968), and a short run of similar movies, like Lo Wei’s The Golden Sword (1969) and Attack of the Kung Fu Girls (for Golden Harvest, 1973), and Ho Meng-Hua’s The Lady Hermit (1971), before temporarily retiring from the industry. Hu continued his fascination with female knight-errants through the Taiwan-produced A Touch of Zen (1971), starring Hsu Feng, Cheng Kang’s The 14 Amazons (1972) and Chor Yuen’s Clan of Amazons (1978) kept women in leading roles for Shaw, but the default position for women – even women that could beat the hell out of men – was supporting character.
To his credit, Lau had already begun regularly shining the spotlight on women and giving them ample room to show off their acting and high-kicking skills throughout supporting and co-lead roles in movies, like Shaolin Mantis (aka: The Deadly Mantis, 1978), Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979), and Return to the 36th Chamber (1980), the latter of which featured My Young Auntie’s Kara Wai (aka: Kara Wai Ying-hung). Perhaps what makes My Young Auntie feel so special in regards to its femininity is that it allows its star to ‘be a girl,’ so to speak. She’s not a Mulan or Golden Swallow character going through the story disguised as a man and she’s not a knight-errant or member of an Amazon-esque militant group. She is concerned with old-fashioned, “country bumpkin” etiquette and most of the comedy is derived from men (and boys) challenging her decorum.
This puts Wai’s Cheng Tai-nun more in line with the still developing Hong Kong New Wave’s martial arts heroines, like Brigitte Lin, Gong Li, Maggie Cheung, Anita Mui, and, of course, Michelle Yeoh. The early 1900s setting isn’t vitally different in and of itself, but it’s coupled with a sort of sitcom structure that often evokes the spoofy vibe of Sammo Hung’s Lucky Stars series or Eric Tsang’s Aces Go Places (1991). Again, it’s not as if Shaw Bros. or Lau had previously avoided comedy in the past, especially not entering the ‘80s, but there’s something about My Young Auntie’s version of kung fu comedy that matches the genre-bending work of Hung, Tsang, Yuen Woo-ping, and Tsui Hark.
It’s not all about representation and looking forward to the next generation of Hong Kong filmmaking – My Young Auntie is also, quite simply, one of Lau’s greatest achievements in in martial arts choreography, surpassed only by Eight Diagram Pole Fighter and Drunken Master II (aka: Legend of the Drunken Master for its re-edited US release, 1994), which also holds the title of greatest Jackie Chan film and maybe even the greatest kung fu movie ever made. Like the best of all of Chan’s films (with Lau and otherwise), sincerely complex, multi-fighter set-ups and clever stylistic choices are couched in slapstick, sitcom gags, and dance scenes, making it easy to overlook the sheer artistry on display.
Lau, who acts in many of his own films, gives himself a plum role of the father figure (he even gives himself the patented Shaw Bros. opening credit demonstration) and casts still up-and-coming Hsiao Ho as his spoiled, Western educated son. The dynamic between their characters and Wai is one of tradition vs. modernity and that idea is built into their martial arts styles. Shaw Bros. fans should keep their eyes peeled for Gordon Liu and Mai Te-Lo as co-conspirators in Hsiao’s elaborate schemes.
The Organizational Structure and Developmental History of Golden Harvest by Po Fung (Hong Kong Film Archive, 2013)
Like many Shaw Bros. classics, My Young Auntie has a history of bootleg and grey market video releases. There is little evidence of an official stateside VHS, Beta, or DVD until The Weinstein Company put it out on anamorphic disc as part of their Dragon Dynasty series. Celestial Films’ original HD scan made its debut via streaming services, but was not ported over to Blu-ray disc in any country until now. Unfortunately, this is not one of the movies premiering as part of Arrow’s Shawscope Volume 2 collection to get a new 4K or 2K makeover, meaning that the 1080p, 2.40:1 transfer is essentially the same one you might have seen on Amazon Prime. This is a bummer, but, like most Celestial-branded Shaw transfers, the pluses outweigh the minuses, especially when compared to owning a subpar DVD produced by “alleged” sexual predators/harrassers. Typical issues include DNR, mushy textures, and some slight blocking throughout digital grain. The film utilizes the same sets and production pieces as most of the studio’s work from the period, so the colors are similar, but cinematographer Ao Chih-Chun’s photography is a bit more bubble-gummy to fit the tone, as well as the look of 1900s Hong Kong. The edges (aside from those made blurry by anamorphic lens artifacts) are nice and tight, thanks to the support of deep, clean black levels.
My Young Auntie is presented with Cantonese, Mandarin, and English dub options, all in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. As per usual, the Shaw films of this era were shot without sound, so all language options are dubs. This time, all three tracks have more or less the same audio quality, especially where music and effects are concerned. The English dub is the one most readers will probably remember and it is free of the noise-reduction issues that plague other Shaw-branded period dubs, but, for the sake of performance, I’d recommend sticking with the Cantonese dub this time. The majority of the cast is speaking it on set and seems to have dubbed themselves.
Select-scene commentary by critic Tony Rayns – The author, critic, and screenwriter discusses Lau directing comedy and pseudo-musical sequences, women and feminism in Lau’s films (Wai was Lau’s romantic partner at the time), and the careers of the cast & crew. His discussion is split into two parts and runs about 46 minutes in total.
Lady Kung Fu (29:20, HD) – This interview with star Kara Wai (here called Hui) was conducted in 2003 by Frédéric Ambroisine. It covers her dance training, her work for Shaw Bros., training with Lau, doing some of her own choreography, and the often dangerous changes made to choreography and stunts when the Sammo Hung/Jackie Chan school of filmmaking took precedence.
Cinema Hong Kong: The Beauties of the Shaw Studios (53:45, SD) – This is the third and final installment in a three-part, English language documentary produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003. As the title indicates, it pertains to the history of the studio’s most popular and successful actresses.
Alternate standard-definition VHS version (2:00:34, SD, English dubbed) – The menu describes this as, arguably, a truer representation of the film’s original cinema release. The image quality is quite inferior, but it’s still a nice addition for collectors
Alternate opening credits
Hong Kong theatrical trailer and digital reissue trailer
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.