Oscar-winning writer-director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight) built his reputation on culturally appropriating everything from 1970’s blaxploitation films and spaghetti westerns to “chop-socky” Hong Kong action flicks, so I guess it’s only fitting that younger filmmakers would borrow from the master thief of world cinema now and then as well. And that’s exactly what Malaysian-born writer-director Yuhang Ho does in his bloody good, post-modern treat Mrs. K.
Borrowing liberally from Tarantino and the generations of genre-splicing filmmakers that influenced him, Ho almost makes a game out of tracking the sly references to other movies in Mrs. K. But the best part of the film is that even if you don’t get any of the references, Mrs. K still totally kicks ass on her own terms. And most of that is due to the central performance of Hong Kong cinema legend Kara Wai (My Young Auntie, At the End of Daybreak).
A veteran of the Shaw Brothers Studios kung fu epics of the 1970s and 80s, Wai (who also goes by Kara Hui) has been kicking bad guy butt onscreen – and taking home fistfuls of Hong Kong Film Awards for it – longer than most and that only makes her wry, lived-in performance here that much more powerful. She may seem sweet and demure on the outside but Wai’s Mrs. K is definitely not someone you wanna mess with when she’s angry.
And though she lives a seemingly ordinary life as a doting wife and mother to her doctor husband, Mr. K (played by singer-actor Wu Bai, aka the “King of Chinese Rock”) and studious young daughter, Little K, (newcomer Li Xuan Siow), Mrs. K’s past is anything but idyllic. A notoriously lethal thief with a rap sheet a mile long, Mrs. K cashed out her chips years ago after a heist gone horribly wrong. But now the cop who once pursued her, the crime syndicate she stole from, and an ex-partner (PTU and Echoes of the Rainbow’s Simon Yam) with a serious ax to grind – not to mention his own fair share of secrets – arrive to shake things up. And when one of the many ghosts from her past kidnaps her daughter, Mrs. K sets aside her homemade curry dumplings to get back to what she’s always done best…rain hell upon her enemies.
A slick, stylish, and crazy good revenge actioner along the lines of Kill Bill, Taken, and Kidnap, Mrs. K starts with a bang and never lets up. The story might sound a little far-fetched and Mrs. K is definitely no angel, but the enigmatic Wai is so great and packs such a powerful punch (literally!) as a retired criminal forced back into action that you can’t help but root for her. Calling to mind the career best performances of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2 and Geena Davis as the ass-kicking PTA mom/assassin in the hugely-underrated The Long Kiss Goodnight, Wai is everything you’d want in an action hero and more.
Featuring one fun, inventive fight scene after another – Mrs. K attacking an enemy with a plastic patio chair is my personal favorite! – and a supporting cast of colorful, hard-charging hooligans straight out of a Scorsese film, Mrs. K also has one of the coolest soundtracks ever. And if there were any doubts about his intentions of crafting the best Tarantino film not written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Ho puts them quickly to rest by repurposing the soundtrack from Alfio Caltabiano’s seminal spaghetti western, Ballad of a Gunman, to stunningly dramatic effect. She might be more of a hand-to-hand combat type than a gunslinger, but, trust me, the theme suits Mrs. K to a T.
Mrs. K is now playing on select China Airlines, Virgin Australia, AirAsia X, and Hong Kong Airlines flights worldwide.