The greatest spectacle to emerge from the Hong Kong film renaissance was Tsui Hark’s manic Peking Opera Blues, an unlikely love letter to both Chinese theater and American slapstick, carried on the capable shoulders of its three female leads. The film is a zany rollercoaster of multi-genre thrills and might find its closest comparison to a live-action Loony Tunes episode, a none-too-easy feat that Hark can claim credit for thanks to his unrelenting pace, innovative incorporation of the bric-a-brac, and increasingly outlandish set pieces. Early 20th century Peking gets recreated as a virtual playground for the actors, who may just be having as much fun as the audience is amidst the colorful costumes and escalating political intrigue. Notably, it situates three women at the crux of the hijinks; a general’s daughter (Brigitte Lin), a woman on the hunt for stolen jewels (Cherie Chung), and an aspiring performer stubbornly resisting the male-dominated composition of the Chinese Opera (Sally Yeh). Such characters are refreshing even to this day, when the offering of savvy action heroines is not much better than it was a quarter century ago. To top that off, they also form a sort of ragtag team, each bringing their advantages and proving not only can you have a female-action-type, you can have at least three.
If only such wisdom could have proved more influential. Peking Opera Blues does everything so well, and so right, that it’s a wonder it doesn’t have more imitators. Not that replicating Hark’s insane plotting would be anything-but hazardous to one’s health, but merely that movie spectacles can flourish as women take the reigns, and that films can carry themselves with intelligence without sacrificing thrills, laughs and pure joy.