Rival kung fu students Bai Yu Tong (Alexander Fu Sheng) and Jien Chiu (Adam Cheng) are forever squabbling over whose skills are superior. Yet their battles always end in a stalemate. As a result the pair resort to ever-escalating pranks that sew chaos around their martial arts school. To say nothing of endless headaches for long-suffering Master Si Da Fu (Lau Kar-Wing). Later Bai Yu Tong saves the life of a wandering stranger. He turns out to be none other than an incognito Emperor Xang Xi (Gordon Liu) who offers to make him chief imperial guardsman. Only to be rudely rejected when nit-wit Bai disputes his identity! Thereafter, in a separate incident, Jien Chiu also saves the Emperor's life. This time he gladly accepts the prestigious position. When Bai Yu Tong learns the truth he is so enraged that he hatches an elaborate scheme to rob Jen Chiu of his job and dignity.
Cat vs. Rat saw Shaw Brothers pair Alexander Fu Sheng, the studio's biggest kung fu star at the time, with Adam Cheng who was as iconic a wu xia (swordplay film) star. Taking the helm legendary director Lau Kar-Leung delivers a crowd-pleasing (for some) kung fu comedy featuring plenty of his trademark intricate action scenes. Especially noteworthy are a bruising slapstick fu fight wherein Bai Yu Tong goads his master into kicking the crap out him just so he can steal his secret techniques and the climactic cave duel with the combatants swinging from vines. Less sure-footed however is the actual comedy. Whereas Jackie Chan (who by this time long-since evolved from period kung fu comedy to more elaborate contemporary action fare) routinely portrays downtrodden, empathetic everymen, Alexander Fu Sheng's comedic persona is that of an incorrigible rogue. A character that in the case of Cat vs. Rat comes across an unrepentant asshole obsessed with having everything his own way. Whereas away from the feud Jien Chiu exhibits signs of humanity, courtesy and occasionally even concern over his rival’s well-being, Bai Yu Tong is utterly self-obsessed and seemingly oblivious to other people. He comes across a borderline sociopath which is not an endearing quality for a comedic lead.
Lau Kar-Leung's earlier kung fu comedy, Heroes of the East (1979), is a genre gem with a thought-provoking message resting at the heart of all its frenetic fight action. By comparison Cat vs. Rat includes neither a moral centre nor character arc for its comical antiheroes. Bai Yu Tong, though he lands his comeuppance, remains a one-note clown. He never really learns anything. Having said all that the plot was seemingly fashioned with deliberate intent to be as simple as possible taking a back seat to the gags. If Fu Sheng's antiheroic antics prove an acquired taste, Adam Cheng’s bruised ego and bemused expressions draw a more amiable response. In addition there is peppy support from genre superstar Kara Hui Ying-Hung as Adam's mouthy little sister (albeit strangely underused given she only recently won the inaugural Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actress prize for Lau's My Young Auntie (1981)), beloved comedy staple Lydia Shum giving a tour de force as Fu Sheng's portly mother and, in a rare comic turn, Gordon Liu. Liu plays the role as a kung fu fan boy always overestimating his own skills. Also the running gag wherein people keep refusing to believe he is the emperor is pretty funny.
Chinese director and actor and one of the most influential martial arts film-makers of the 1970s. Kar-Leung joined the Shaw Brothers studio in 1965 where he worked as an actor and fight choreographer, before making his directing debut in 1975 with the kung fu comedy The Spiritual Boxer. A series of martial arts classics followed, including 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Shaolin Mantis, Dirty Ho, Mad Monkey Kung Fu and My Young Auntie. Kar-Leung was a strong believer that fight sequences should be shot in single, wide shots to showcase the natural skill of the martial artists, which was at odds with those directors who prefered wirework and fast editing.
Kar-Leung continued to direct throughout the eighties, with period films like Shaolin Temple, starring a young Jet Li, and modern-day action flicks Tiger on the Beat and its sequel. In 1994, worked as fight arranger on Jackie Chan's Drunken Master II, but was controversially sacked from the production when his methods clashed with Chan's. In retaliation, he directed his own Drunken Master 3 later the same year. Kar-Leung's last film was 2002's old-fashioned Drunken Monkey, once more for Shaw Brothers.