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TV REVIEWS : Politically Correct Kung Fu in 'Son'

March 02, 1994|CHRIS WILLMAN

First "On Deadly Ground," and now the TV movie "Vanishing Son"--it's not often that we get two politically correct kung fu features in nearly the same week.

"Vanishing Son" (at 8 tonight on KTLA-TV Channel 5) handily allows you to feel bad for the plight of the immigrant, then to cheer as anyone who stands in the way of the immigrant gets hurt bad. In the non-martial arts, that's what they call a contrived double-whammy.

Russell Wong (the abusive husband in "The Joy Luck Club") and Chi Muoi Lo star as diametrically opposed Chinese brothers--one's Goofus, the other's Gallant--whose lives take very different paths once they smuggle themselves into America.

Well, not so totally different. Both come equipped with fists--and feet--of fury, and use them to escape being set upon by predators, which, fortunately, occurs at about 15-minute intervals. Trapped by Chinese soldiers during a Tian An Men Square-type protest, they kick their way out. Cornered stateside by jail mates, creditors or gangsters, they kick their way out. Disagreeing on employment opportunities--sensible Wong wants to stay straight, while hot-head Lo goes for the gangsta plan--they kick the hell out of each other.

Imagine Bruce Lee starring in "Combination Platter" and you'll have the idea.

At least "Vanishing Son" has its heart in the right place, redressing a minor historical grievance. After directing "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story," which touched on the fact that the old series "Kung Fu" was originally designed for Lee, filmmaker Rob Cohen wanted to create a new show that would actually cast Asian Americans as Asians. "Son" is it, with three more installments scheduled to follow tonight's two-hour pilot (written and executive produced by Cohen, directed by John Nicolella).

Wong is handsome and limber enough, and Lo has some nice moments in the late going, crying over his life-long jealousy. But between the "Fingers"-like subplot--in which Wong instantly gets a gig as a concert violinist (if only he can protect his pinkies!) and romances the babe in the adjoining chair, all the post-"Godfather" juxtaposed-brothers stuff and token contemporary asides--like the gay character who speaks up only to inform the audience he's a gay character--"Son" doesn't take long to kick up some camp.

Look on the bright side, fu fans: The fight scenes are fun, and there's no David Carradine around to preach pseudo-pacifism.

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