I had occasion to dig out one of my old Hong Kong import DVDs and Stephen Chow’s James Bond spoof, From Beijing with Love. It’s an amusing piece of work, though you do have to have a certain level of tolerance for some of Hong Kong’s goofier bits of business to appreciate it fully.
The plot makes, overall, very little sense, and it’s basically there as an excuse to hang the various set pieces and gags together. A dinosaur skull has been stolen, and a Chinese intelligence agency is tasked with finding it. For reasons that seem unclear at first then become clearer later, the head of the agency, Yuen (Wong Kam-kong) decides to call in a long-retired reservist (Stephen Chow), a pork merchant by the name of Ling Ling Chai (a homonym for the numbers “007” in Chinese) who is of dubious competence but nonetheless descended from expert spies.
It turns out very quickly (within the first ten minutes, so this really isn’t a spoiler) that Yuen is secretly also the villain who stole the skull in the first place, a mysterious man wearing an armor suit and carrying a super-powerful “Golden Gun.” He picked Ling Ling Chai because of his dubious competence, and plans to have henchwoman Lee Heung-kam (Anita Yuen) take him out in the course of duty. But this is, of course, a Hong Kong comedy, so wacky hijinks have to happen and it’s pretty much guaranteed that Ling and Lee will fall in love by the movie’s end.
A movie like this doesn’t actually have to make a whole lot of sense, or have a plot that really hangs together for more than a few minutes at a time. There are some amusing bits of business, though, involving some pitch-perfect takes on Bond tropes. There’s a send-up of the Maurice Binder silhouetted-dancer opening credits, a hat-to-hatrack toss a la Connery, and even one of those scenes where you see Q branch testing various weapons in the background. There are also a few references to characters or tropes from the Bond movies, such as the aforementioned “Golden Gun,” or a henchman with metal teeth. And there’s even what might be a reference to another Bond parody, Our Man Flint, involving hitting a difficult target with a thrown knife.
There are also a number of odd “spy gadgets” that don’t make a whole lot of sense, such as a solar-powered flashlight that only works when there’s light already, or a number of different items that are secretly also electric razors or blow driers, a communication screen in a toilet lid, and a gun that alternately fires backward and forward. But that’s the sort of pure silliness you come to expect from this sort of comedy. And as folks who’ve seen his other movies (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer) know, Stephen Chow is a very good physical comedian; not for nothing is he sometimes called “the Hong Kong Jim Carrey.”
This is a Hong Kong movie, of course, so not only is there comedy and melodrama, there is plenty of action, blood, and exploding squibs. In the midst of all the comedy, there’s a surprisingly effective dramatic sequence where Ling Ling Chai foils a mall jewelry store robbery with his knife-throwing skills. There’s also a fairly bloody bit later on where Lee has to dig a bullet out of Ling’s leg bone, which might be a little too much for squeamish viewers.
From Beijing with Love is available on Amazon Streaming Video, dubbed, for $1.99 to rent, $6.99 to own, which isn’t at all a bad price for a movie like this. Or you could order the English-subtitled Blu-ray from DDD House for HK$108, which works out to just under US$14, plus shipping.