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In the mythical land of Huadu, Charcoal Head, a humble boy born to rule an empire must undertake his journey to claim his throne. It is an epic action adventure combining romance, fantasy, comedy and cutting edge Hong Kong style martial artistry.
It surprised me that this Hong Kong comedic franchise still had some legs to carry on with yet another installment, given that it's been some 12 years since the last film, which started off in 1992 starring Stephen Chow at his element, filled with plenty of "mo-lei-tau" jokes, and its fair share of obvious spoofs from well know movies. It's title ties in with none other than its release over the Lunar New Year period of the year, because it's believed that cinema goers automatically head for the comedies showing in the cinemas. Right, Jack Neo?
Each installment of the franchise share links with one another only in the title of the movie timestamped with the year, and its ending with the usual fanfare song and dance to usher in the Lunar New Year as well. And the second movie in 1993 was actually filmed in Singapore's now defunct and demolished Tang Dynasty City, being one of the rare (if not the only) film to have been done in its entirety at the location. Clifton Ko, who had been assuming directorial duties then, has now turned it over to Vincent Kok, while together with Raymond Wong, they retain producer credits.
Just how zany or irreverent this addition to the franchise can become? Unlike the previous films, the number of direct references for spoof purposes is much more obscure. Gone are the blatant in your face sight gags played just for laughs, and though there are the much touted scenes of emulating Daniel Craig's bare bodied emergence from the sea in Casino Royale, the actual scene is contrary to what the movie still would have you believe. Other references and cameo appearances/spoofs also take on a much subtler approach, so for an audience who blinked, you can forget about any rip-roaring laughter from start to end.
But of course as a comedy, one can't fault the script for trying to piece everything together, resulting in one crazy and messy approach. A huge leaf taken from the Will Smith vehicle Hitch forms the central premise, where a love guru dispenses advice to his clients to help them achieve their objectives, while at the same time finding trouble to practice what he is teaching. Louis Koo's Koo Chai is the Asian Hitch equivalent with some hypnotic powers, being paid by Ronald Cheng's Kei to help his sister Sandra (Sandra Ng) get married, so that he can break the family curse that befalls each of his fiancées. The principles of seduction get into full swing to charm the successful alpha-female with a zilch love life in routines that you can see coming from miles away.
There are however, some excellent one-off scenes, and my personal favourites are the dining table identity crisis scene, as well as a gambling one involving Raymond Wong (given top billing here although he appears only from the halfway mark), Lee Heung-Kam and Sandra's real life dad Ha Chun-Chau, the latter two being her on-screen parents. I guess the filmmakers were quite unsure whether new faces could carry the franchise, so they had to rely on the tried and tested veterans, though folks like Sandra seem to be playing yet another usual character seen in many of her movies. Ronald Cheng though is a personal revelation and has quite the rubber face.
Don't go expecting plenty of hearty laughter, as the set pieces do look more juvenile rather than genuinely funny, and are more misses than hitting the mark.
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