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Mismatched Couples
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by Jay Seaver

"Donnie Yen: The Breakdancing Years."
2 stars

"Mismatched Couples" is not very good. At all. And since I'm a person who doesn't really believe in "so bad it's good", I can't recommend it. However, this kung fu-breakdancing-teen-romantic comedy is from 1985 is so bizarre, such an exaggerated representation of its garish time, and such a strange contrast to what some of the people involved would do later, that it produces a sort of stunned awe at its very existence, and that feeling has enough in common with how one feels when a movie genuinely succeeds at what it's doing that I can see where the idea of "so bad it's good" comes from.

This one features a twenty-year-old Donnie Yen, in just his second movie, as Eddie, a teenager who lives to breakdance. He winds up befriending unemployed, starving Chinese Opera performer Mini (Yuen Woo-ping) and sneaking him into his apartment, where his cousin Stella (May Lo Mei-mei) agrees to help hide him from his sister Ah Ying (Wong Wan-si), an imposing woman who runs the family fast food business. Eddie's got a crush on Anna (Anna Kamiyama) but that means dealing with both her kind-of butch friend Sue Lynn (Shirley Tan) and Stella's jealousy. There's also a rival breakdancer (Kenny Perez) and a lunatic (Dick Wei) who thinks Eddie is some sort of kung fu master and wants to challenge him.

I'm not going to lie: Even though this is the second time I've seen this movie (with, admittedly, about ten years in between), I still didn't really get that Kenny and the crazy kung fu guy were separate characters. Even after looking at IMDB and another more specialized website, I still have a hard time believing it; you can stitch their scenes together into one character arc. Similarly, the whole "Stella is jealous of Eddie" thing makes me wonder if the English subtitles are tremendously misleading - are Eddie and Ah Ying only half-siblings, with Stella her cousin and thus not blood relations, is someone adopted, or was that just less of a taboo in eighties Hong Kong? I suppose they could just be using "cousin" in the same way "auntie" and "uncle" often are, but otherwise, ick.

Not that this sort of logic is very important; this movie is basically a sequence of skits where some misunderstanding leads to some sort of physical comedy, whether it involves martial arts, breakdancing, or some other sort of slapstick. These things tend to be silly at the best and pointlessly mean-spirited at the worst, but in general can at least fall back on Donnie Yen and director/co-star Yuen Woo-ping being able to do some pretty crazy things physically, whether it's a quick reaction, an extended fight, or something even more random, like a game of tennis in which Eddie rides a bicycle and uses the wheels as racquets. A lot of the jokes just aren't that funny, but there's enough of them to keep things from being a complete drag even if relatively few hit, and it's hard to look away when things get strange.

This unevenness isn't particularly surprising; Yuen Woo-ping is fantastic at choreographing action (though his brother "Brandy" Yuen Chun-wai is credited with that job here), but there's a reason he would eventually be hired on to make other filmmakers look good: His skills are pretty concentrated in that area, and he's not going to add a whole lot to the Peace Group's shaggy script. Donnie Yen, on the other hand, would later develop into a leading man whose acting isn't something you put up with between fight scenes, but at this point he's a very raw kid just out of his teens mugging for the camera but executing the physical parts of the role well. Few others in the young cast would have particularly long careers.

That's the way of it with B-movies everywhere, and why so many slip into even deeper obscurity than this crazy thing. Yen and Yuen give it enough star power to be remembered a quarter-century later, and while I wouldn't suggest everybody seek this out, but if you're a fan of these guys and happen to come across it, this movie is just screwy enough to leave a lasting impression.

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originally posted: 09/17/13 13:59:49
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Directed by
  Woo-ping Yuen

Written by
  Jing-hong Chiu
  Min-wa Jeng

  Donnie Yen
  Woo-ping Yuen
  Wan-Si Wong
  May Lo Mei-Mei

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