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Anthony Wong Chau-Sang
Zany madcap fun full of the kind of 'mo lei tau' gags that will delight fans of veteran Hong Kong 'king of comedy' Jeff Lau
Nineteen years after his 'The Eagle Shooting Heroes' became one of the comedy classics of the Hong Kong film industry, writer/director Jeff Lau returns with an unofficial sequel set in modern-day China. Bearing the same Chinese title as his earlier but with the year 2011 added at the end, it sees Jeff at his most inspired in recent years- though like most of his works, it is as likely to entertain those looking for some wacky fun as it is to frustrate those looking for something called plot or character.
And we must admit- there is very little of either, both of which are probably little more than excuse to string up a whole line-up of madcap 'mo lei tau' antics. Fans of his will surely be familiar with what to expect from him, but the unaccustomed may probably take some time to get used to the slew of bizarre, peculiar and downright absurd smorgasbord of garish costumes, wacky hairdos and outlandish CG effects. The concoction is potent, so you'd best be prepared to check your brains at the door if you must to enjoy it as it is.
To accompany him on this journey into the wild and weird, Lau has assembled an all-star cast including Eason Chan, Karen Mok, Ekin Cheng, Jaycee Chan, Huang Yi, Kenny Bee and Stephy Tang. It's a crowded ensemble all right, and with the exception of Eason and Karen, the rest have to contend with being just supporting actors. Karen plays Xiaoming, a rebellious rocker-type punk with an immense distrust of both her father Ah B (Kenny Bee) and of the opposite sex. One can't blame her- her father's music career has fallen by the wayside after falling in love with her high school classmate Jia Jia (Huang Yi).
Jia Jia owes a Mainland tycoon Zhou Dong (Eason Chan) a huge debt, and when she is kidnapped, Xiaoming and Ah B rush to her rescue. Zhou Dong wants Ah B to stage a reunion concert of 'The Wynners' (yes, the real- life five-member boyband consisting of Bee, Alan Tam, Bennett Pang, Danny Yip and Anthony Chan- all of which make cameo appearances in the film) and unless Ah B makes it happen, Zhou Dong will kill Jia Jia. En route to meet Zhou Dong, the father and daughter pair meet a wannabe actor Wen (William So hamming it up with a thick accent), a rich girl Jade (Tan Weiwei) who only wants to pursue her musician dreams and her bodyguard Bing (Jaycee Chan), as well as a single father Da Xiong (Ekin Cheng) working as a small dumpling chef to support his son.
Jeff uses the first half hour of the movie to introduce all his characters, and if you don't already know them by this time, you probably won't at all. The disparate group is brought together by a legend that tells of seven immortals who have been fighting incessantly over the years to defeat their eighth counterpart, despite failing at every attempt. And just like that, the film morphs into a superhero movie, with each of the seven heroes suddenly finding renewed purpose in their lives helping those in need. And again before you know it, it becomes a romance between Zhou Dong and Xiaoming, the latter's identity concealed from the former behind a mask.
You could of course criticise it for being all over the place, and that it is- but it is precisely this messiness in which Jeff's films have been known to thrive. Which other Hong Kong film have you seen someone (ok, a superhero in this instance) deflect a piece of falling debris with his quiff? Or yet another superhero (Ekin's dumpling chef to be precise) deal with a pair of bank robbers by wrapping them inside two giant dumplings? That's the kind of outrageous humour Jeff has been known for, and there is plenty of that zany creativity on display.
And in between the 'mo lei tau' gags are more intelligent digs at reality, such as William So's wanna be gungfu actor who's claimed to have studied Wing Chun from the two Ip Man movies, or even more personal ones like Kenny Bee's real-life inspired character as a has-been pop idol. There are also some lessons specific for the Mainland audience (after all, the budget for this movie did come from China), like the avariciousness of local property tycoons exemplified by Eason's Zhou Dong and the emphasis on forgiveness over revenge and payback. It may sound haphazard, but Jeff does a surprisingly deft job blending these elements together.
He also has a most capable cast to thank for it. Eason and Karen share good chemistry together on screen, and their romantic misadventures provide some of the film's more tender moments. Jeff also has given Kenny one of his most significant endeavours of late, and the latter (who also starred in the original 'Eagle Shooting Heroes') rewards his mentor's trust with a well-calibrated comedic performance. Kenny serves too as art consultant on the film, and contributes his voice to the songs in the film- including a remixed version of the original theme song and the Turtles' 'Happy Together'.
Jeff's sheer energy is matched with a sharp score which complements the tonal shifts between screwball and romantic in the film. Of course, that energy means that the film also goes in all different directions whenever it wants to- though this time, we found much inspiration behind the inanity. It won't please everyone, and neither do we suspect that it intends to, but if you're keen on some wacky fun not often had in Chinese cinema, strap in and let the clash of East and West take you on a journey you will probably never expect.
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