Prodigal Son (1981) – Beat Sheet & Review

Prodigal Son (1981)
Starring Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Lam Ching Ying, Frankie Chan, Peter Chan Lung, Dick Wei, Chung Faat, James Tien
Directed by Sammo Hung
Produced by Raymond Chow
Action by Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Lam Ching-Ying, and Billy Chan Wui-Ngai

Beat Sheet

Opening Image
0:00 Leung Jan (Yuen Biao) earns respect through a fraud. He’s not a man yet.

1:00-5:00 Leung Jan beats up some locals. Turns out his handler Yee Tung Choi (Peter Chan Lung) paid guys to get beaten by him. “Brick Man” (Wu Ma) bribes handler to pay him off and not fight him.
Great action comedy scene here. Pristine shapes on display.

6:00 Uncle wants to make sure Leung Jan never gets hurt, as he’s the master’s only son. Leung Jan beats up his training partners (played by Lee Hoi Sang and Chin Yuet-Sang), who are paid to get beaten. Interrupted by his gangster friend who invites him to opera. At the opera, he gawks over lead actress, but she turns him down. Turns out she’s a man, a wing chun expert named Leung Yee Tai (Lam Ching Ying). Great fight, hilarious scene. Long setup!

12:00 Leung Yee Tai is established as the master, the inciting incident that will change Leung Jan’s life.

13:00 Leung Jan confronts Leung Yee Tai, who smacks Leung Jan around and reveals he’s a fraud. Leung Jan confronts his training partners, who don’t hold back. Leung Jan is dejected.
Various fun action scenes that incorporate Peking Opera performance with Sammo’s Wing Chun choreography. Hard to find scenes like this today.

B Story
22:00 Leung Jan asks Leung Yee Tai to take him as a student, but he’s rejected.

Break Into 2
23:00 Leung Jan’s father buys the opera troupe so he can become Leung Yee Tai’s helper. Leung Jan also tells his helper Yee Tung Choi to attack him. This introduces a hilarious Pink Panther moment.

Fun & Games
26:00 Leung Jan goes with Leung Yee Tai to opera. We learn that whoever plays General Kwan has to remain silent. Meanwhile, Ngai Fei (Frankie Chan) arrives in town, a cowboy looking for a challenge (complete with Ennio Morricone-style music). More random beatings from Leung Jan’s helper.
29:00 The General Kwan performer flees town after seducing a local’s wife and the man now wants him dead (hilarious moment: Leung Yee Tai’s like, “Yeah, GTFO.”) So Leung Jan plays General Kwan, mistaken for the other guy, but has to remain silent while fighting. Amazing comedic gag.
35:00 Meanwhile, a one armed fighter (James Tien) challenges Ngai Fei, who breaks his other arm but holds back. We can’t help but like Ngai Fei. Great anti-villain setup.
39:00 Ngai Fei and his helpers (Dick Wei and Chung Faat) meet with Leung Jan and Leung Yee Tai for dinner and challenges Leung Yee Tai. Following this is a top-notch fight between Leung Yee Tai and Ngai Fei. Leung Yee Tai is forced to concede because of his asthma, and Ngai Fei holds back again.
45:00 Reveal that Ngai Fei is his master’s favorite son, and so his handlers are paid to protect him and assassinate anyone who might harm him. Great mirroring of hero and villain, setting up a very interesting finale.

47:30 Ngai’s handlers hire guards to attack Leung Yee Tai, who’s a threat to their master. They massacre the troupe and burn the opera house down. Rad fire fight. Leung Jan and Leung Yee Tai get away by the skin of their teeth. Leung Jan’s arm is broken.

Bad Guys Close In
56:00 Leung Yee Tai brings Leung Jan to his brother Wong Wa Po (Sammo Hung), whose calligraphy scene is perfectly timed comedic relief. Wa Po’s daughter Twiggy (Ho Wai-Han) treats them, Wa Po plays super-dad while defending his daughter. He and Leung Yee Tai argue as brothers over Leung Jan, who is caught between two masters.
1:14 Wa Po coaches Leung Jan in how to speak to Leung Yee Tai, who accepts Leung Jan as a pupil. Competitive training scenes with both Leung Yee Tai, who teaches close-quarters fighting, and Wa Po who teaches long-distance, and dirtier, fighting.
Note: This training scene comes in really late! Fantastic action.

All Is Lost
1:28 Leung Yee Tai grows ill, so Leung Jan takes him back home. He meets his handler again, Yee Tung Choi, who talks to him through the water after doing some divination. Sammo’s witty humor at work again. (Very late ‘all is lost’ moment.)
1:32 Ngai Fei finds them and feared that they died in the fire, but is relieved that he still has a challenger. However, Leung Yee Tai accuses him of starting the fire and slaughtering the opera.

Dark Night of the Soul
1:35 Ngai Fei’s handlers kill Leung Yee Tai to keep him from fighting their master. (Normally, this moment would come around 1:20. And yet it works perfectly well here.)

Break Into 2
1:36 Leung Jan burns incense for Leung Yee Tai, and Ngai Fei makes good by killing his handlers. He refuses to take advantage of his position and accepts Leung Jan’s challenge.

1:38 Final fight between Leung Jan and Ngai Fei. Leung Jan puts all his skills to use. Massive payoff.

Closing Image
1:45 Leung Jan becomes a man.

Final thoughts:

The Prodigal Son has hands-down the best Wing Chun shapes ever put on film. Donnie Yen innovated the art for the modern viewer, but don’t discount this one!