Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Faye Wong, Vicki Zhao, Chen Chang, Roy Cheung
Director: Jeff Lau
A Chinese comedy eh? An intriguing premise. Sadly all the intrigue, and most of my capacity to wince at the comedy, was over within the first 10 minutes.
Director Jeff Lau, renowned for his “absurd comedies,” makes yet another absurd comedy which inadvertently comes unhinged almost from the opening credits.
In Ming Dynasty China, two pairs of siblings are leading different lives with completely different backgrounds. The young Emperor and his sister Wushuang are confined to the Imperial Palace, under the watchful eye of their domineering mother the Empress Dowager. Both have a yearning to escape their prison and experience life in the outside world.
Executing their escape plan, they bump into decidedly lowborn wanderer Li Yilong (known as King Bully, apparently for the way he terrorized the town in his youth, although throughout the film he doesn’t look capable of terrorizing a Chinese lantern). His sister, Phoenix, runs a restaurant in Meilong, the siblings’ childhood stomping ground.
Wushuang decides to disguise herself as a man to conceal her identity and one day arrives by chance at Phoenix’s restaurant, captivating the eye of its owner, and the solid friendship and admiration of her brother. As this bizarre love triangle tries to work itself out the young Emperor also arrives to cause more complications, both emotionally and with his out of control “creative genius.”
There are a few bizarre laughs but unfortunately the whole thing is ruined by the complete implausibility that Wushuang could ever be a man – it is so extremely obvious to the viewer (and indeed they know this from the beginning anyway) that it underscores all of the comedy. Even the conspicuous use of a fake ‘tache might have looked crap but helped a little bit. Unfortunately the plot fatally hinges on this, leaving the viewer frustrated about how the characters could be so stupid, and ridiculous. Perhaps I missed the point but this was a very silly film. It was colourful and did look beautiful, but unless you are a die-hard fan of Chinese comedies steer clear of this one.