Hong Kong boxer Charlie Chan and his master, Wong, travel to Tokyo for a bout with a local champion. Despite warnings from the Yakuza that, unless he throws the fight, he will be killed, Chan’s pride comes through, and he beats his opponent. As promised, the Yakuza come after Chan and Wong after the fight and the two are only saved by the timely intervention of a kindly rival Yakuza boss. Chan and Wong become friends of their saviour and his family, so when he is assassinated, his daughter is sent over to Hong Kong to be protected by them. Unfortunately, despite pretending to be tough gang bosses themselves, Chan and Wong are anything but and are suddenly thrust into a battle in the Japanese underworld.
The British connection to Hong Kong means that there are a few films that have adopted the ‘Carry on’ prefix. While some have tried to emulate the style (‘Carry on Doctors and Nurses’), ‘Carry on Yakuza’ has very little to do with the series or bawdy humour. That said, Chan Wai-Man and Lau Kar-Wing do make a good Sid James and Bernard Bresslaw-type double-act. Only with more fighting ability. ‘Carry on Yakuza’ is a very unusual mix of genres, the kind that you really only get in Hong Kong cinema. Somehow, it kind of works.
It’s always nice to see familiar Hong Kong stars in unfamiliar locations, so the opening of the film, taking place in Tokyo, is a refreshing change from other films of the era. It’s also good to see how comfortable Chan Wai-Man is as a slightly clumsy hero; his comic ability is very rarely mentioned, but for such a scary guy, he can be quite charming. Chan is supported by an excellent cast of Hong Kong talent that is peppered with Japanese actors and the blend works quite well for most of the film.
Ultimately, there has to be a suspension of disbelief with ‘Carry on Yakuza’ and these lovable heroes taking on the Yakuza. Yet the mix of action and humour is just right; the latter dominates the film, but never out-stays its welcome while the former impresses when it becomes the focus. This unusual hybrid even ends with a climax that is part Sydney Pollack’s ‘The Yakuza’, part ‘My Lucky Stars’ and part ‘Home Alone’. It might not be a classic, but there’s something quite disarming about this forgotten action comedy.