Stephen Chow does what you’d expect of him except this time he’s a lawyer in Johnnie To’s 1992 legal comedy.
“You only sue for money. That’s so immoral.”
By now you’re all pretty familiar with the Stephen Chow formula. If you’re not: his movies tend to be about a flawed but lovable individual who finds himself the enemy of an established and highly powerful organisation. Chow’s character is probably naturally talented at something but a bit of a dick and after a life-changing event he finds that he has to become the Best at whatever it is in order to win the day. To that end, his 1992 legal comedy film Justice, My Foot! fits the bill perfectly.
Chow plays Sung, the best lawyer around whose methods wouldn’t fly in any sensible courtroom, but whose words and ability to twist the truth result in many terrible people getting away with crimes. As a sort of karmic punishment for this, all of his children have a habit of dying before reaching their first birthdays and, understandably sick of this, his wife (Anita Mui) convinces Sung to retire and open an inn instead. However, shortly after, she overhears the plight of a young woman who’s being framed for the murder of her husband, and Sung is once again thrust into the legal world, determined to recalibrate his karmic inbalance.
Justice, My Foot is a film with two modes: lightspeed storytelling and time-wasting shenanigans. Sometimes both in the same scene. This shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise to fans of Chow’s work; he’s often combined the two, albeit often with varying ratios of either. Here, however, the split is a lot more obvious. More than once the story takes a break in order to give us an out-of-nowhere sword fight or chase sequence. They remind me of those entr’acte songs in musicals that serve the sole purpose of allowing stagehands to work and actors to get changed. Fun, but entirely unnecessary.
The highlight of the film is in Chow’s relationship to the female lead. Typically, Chow tends to write his characters as goofy, affable losers who try and often fail to get the girl, finally overcoming whatever weakness he has that film to win her over. It’s your typical romantic underdog situation, and it’s served him pretty well throughout the years. But in Justice, he switches things up by having his character happily married, and it’s the relationship that really shines.
He and Mui have a fantastic chemistry together, and watching them work together as husband and wife (with only minimal misunderstandings between them) is easily my favourite aspect of the film. That Mui’s (unnamed) character seems to live in an entirely separate genre governed by her own laws of physics and never hesitates to go full wuxia on everyone is one of the film’s biggest joys and funniest running gags.
Otherwise it runs the gamut of tropes you’d expect from your typical early-90s Hong Kong comedies: lots of physical comedy, awkward gender observations and outdated sex jokes, and lots of kung fu fuckery. In fact, despite Johnnie To taking over directorial duties there isn’t much in the film to differentiate it from the other mo lei tau comedies Chow and former frequent collaborator Lee Lik-chi used to make. I’ve definitely seen less memorable films in this vein, and much better ones as well, but Justice, My Foot sits right in the middle of Chow’s filmography. OK, maybe it ranks a bit higher for the sheer amount of times I giggled at Ah Fuk’s name.
Verdict: Justice, My Foot! never quite knows whether to be good, funny, both or neither. But it’s still a pretty good time.
Overall entertainment: 6/10
Violence: 5/10, purely slapstick
Sex: Just a couple of very sensitive gay jokes
Favourite visual gag: Chow’s parents are the same person
Frogs: Apparently quite frightening
Gotcha moments: Apparently eye-gouging was quite a popular trick
Ladders like that: Take nine days to make? Get a new ladder guy.
Justice, My Foot! (1992)
Also known as: 審死官
Director: Johnnie To
Writer: Sandy Shaw
Stephen Chow – Sung Sai Kit
Anita Mui – Madam Sung
Ng Man-tat – Magister Ho
Wong Yat Fei – Ah Fuk