Most people will think of Eric Tsang as an actor (he's the small, somewhat chubby, high-pitched voiced guy playing Hon Sam, one of the Triad bosses in the Infernal Affairs trilogy), but there's much (much) more to his career. Sure enough he's first and foremost an actor, with almost 240 acting credits to his name and still going strong. But 27 directing credits is nothing to sniff at either and with some worthwhile (and meaningful) production work behind his name I think it's fair to call him one of the driving forces behind 35 years of Hong Kong cinema.
Though he mostly worked in comedy, Tsang started out his career directing martial arts flicks in the late 70s. That may be a little hard to imagine if you are familiar with his style, and truth be told, watching Zei Zang [The Loot] and Ti Guan [The Challenger] does reveal little of Tsang's trademark characteristics. Still, they're both decent enough martial arts flicks with plenty of action and some lighter moments in between. Good fun if you're in the mood for some classic non-Shaw Bros martial arts cinema.
With the rise of Hong Kong comedy during the early 80s, Tsang quickly found his niche. In 1982 he released the first Zuijia Paidang [Aces Go Places] film, a cornerstone release that would mark the start of one of the more popular Hong Kong action/comedy franchises. Tsang would also direct the second film, a sizeable upgrade and my personal favorite. The other sequels were directed by Hark Tsui, Ringo Lam and Chia-Liang Liu, a prime selection of Hong Kong directing talent.
Tsang would continue to direct and act at a frightening pace, but most of his 80s films are hard to come by nowadays. The only other 80s release that really stands out is Zui Jia Fu Xing [Lucky Stars Go Places], a mash-up of My Lucky Stars and Aces Go Places, with Sammo Hung and Karl Maka leading the pack. Hong Kong comedy is quite peculiar and hard to recommend, but films like these are worth a gamble if you're curious enough.
Like many of his peers, Tsang flourished during the early 90s. In '91 he co-directed Wu Fu Xing Chuang Gui [Ghost Punting] with Sammo Hung and Corey Yuen. A simple action/comedy, built almost entirely on the reputation of its stars (Hung and Tsang also starred as leads). Fun filler but only meant for the hardcore Hong Kong fans. One year later Tsang set out to do things a little differently, failing horribly. Fan Dou Ma Liu [Come Fly the Dragon] is a disastrous action flick starring Andy Lau and Tony Leung. It may sound like a golden combination on paper, but the film is a worthless piece of Z-flick garbage, unworthy of the people involved.
Ironically Tsang also produced his best film that year by once again straying from the beaten path. Jue Dai Shuang Jiao [Handsome Siblings] is a sprawling fantasy/martial arts combo starring Andy Lau and Brigitte Lin. It isn't quite up there with the best films in the genre, but it comes close enough and if you're looking for lesser known films resembling the Chinese Ghost Story series, look no further.
Soon after Tsang's directorial career started to wane, so he put more focus on his acting jobs and he started to spend more and more time producing films, paving the way for new talent. The two films he directed during the late 90s bombed, the three he directed after the turn of the millennium were all co-directed films where he clearly took on the role of coach. Guang Hui Sui Yue [7 Assassins] is a pretty fun flick if you're interested in Tsang's more recent work, just know that his input was probably quite limited.
If you're into Hong Kong comedy (admittedly a tough niche to crack) then Tsang's films will have some appeal. But even though he directed 27 films so far, there's little in the way of a signature style to tie his oeuvre together, apart for Tsang's affinity with comedy. He's a tough director to recommend, but if you like him as an actor it wouldn't hurt to try some of his films. Quality varies wildly, but you're bound to find some pleasant surprises along the way.
Best film: Jue Dai Shuang Jiao [Handsome Siblings] (3.5*)
Worst film: Fan Dou Ma Liu [Come Fly the Dragon] (0.5*)
Average rating: 2.45 (out of 5)