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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

An Odyssey Worth Taking

Faye Wong

While crossing over to Genting, Malaysia during a Singaporean vacation a summer or two ago, I picked up a number of affordably-priced Hong Kong DVDs, including Police Story 3: Supercop, For Bad Boys Only, and the TVB series, EU. Amongst the plethora of films I purchased for bargain basement prices was Jeff Lau’s Lunar New Year Comedy, Chinese Odyssey 2002, a comedic follow-up of sorts to the Lau-directed, Stephen Chow-led Monkey King movies, A Chinese Odyssey Part 1: Pandora’s Box and A Chinese Odyssey Part 2: Cinderella. I’d seen the movie previously and enjoyed it, but I only owned the VCD so I figured it was about time for an upgrade.

Although not directly connected to the two previous films I mentioned, the tone of Chinese Odyssey 2002 is quite similar. Mixing equal parts lowbrow comedy,  (self-)parody, and heartfelt romance, the film makes for quite a mishmash of genres. Narratively, Chinese Odyssey 2002 centers on Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s Ah Long (aka “Bully the Kid” in the English subtitles), the local village hooligan whose frequent shenanigans have jeopardized the marriage prospects of his cute, prone to cross-dressing sister, Feng (a mesmerizing Vicki Zhao). As fate would have it, the Princess Wushuang (Faye Wong) has fled the palace in search of –well, I’m not sure. A genuine experience of the outside world? A newfound sense of freedom? A way to avoid an inevitable arranged marriage? One imagines it’s some combination of the three and then some.

Tony Leung 01

Stay strong, Little Tony. Stay strong.

Whatever her motivations, the Princess eventually crosses paths with Ah Long, who — just like every male character in an old-fashioned Chinese movie — simply cannot penetrate her gender ambiguous disguise. Ah Long not only assumes that the Princess is a dude, but thinks that he’s the perfect dude for his unnecessarily single sister. Of course, the doe-eyed Feng takes an immediate liking to the Princess, while Her Royal Highness definitely has the hots for new drinking buddy, Ah Long. Three’s Company-style misunderstandings ensue, especially considering the fact that the so-called “Bully the Kid” only wants the best for his sister, but can’t deny his growing attraction to his new pal. It’s a Bromance of epic proportions.

Breaking up this love triangle is the Princess’s brother (an amusing Chang Chen), the would-be Emperor of China. Looking to get out from under the domineering thrall of the Queen Mum (Rebecca Pan), he sets out to search for his sister, but finds a lonely Ah Feng instead. Hijinks most definitely ensue. Of course, these misunderstandings are resolved, but the underlying problems remain. The Emperor loves Feng, but can he stand up to his mother to marry a commoner? And Long may love the Princess, but will an old romantic wound cause him to doubt himself and destroy his relationship? In case you haven’t noticed, the latter situation puts us squarely in Wong Kar-Wai territory — with surprisingly moving results, considering all the tomfoolery that precedes it.

Funny Stuff

Probably my favorite throwaway moment in the film.

Without a doubt, Chinese Odyssey 2002 is the most gorgeously photographed mou lei tau comedies ever made. I would include a whole post full of pictures if I could: it looks that damn good. In my estimation, it’s probably the best-looking comedies I’ve ever seen in any country. And perhaps that’s why the first 15-20 minutes are so baffling. The first section of the film is so incredibly stupid that your goodwill toward the film may evaporate where mine didn’t. This may be largely dependant on your feelings toward Tony Leung, Faye Wong, and Zhao Wei. To my mind, these three actors possess so much charm and are so lovingly filmed, that it ostensibly smooths over the film’s initial rough patches of inane comedy.

The film doesn’t just look good either; it sounds fantastic. The score by Frankie Chan and Roel A. Garcia, not to mention the wonderful songs by Faye Wong (and Tony Leung) probably make this one of the finest soundtracks to an HK comedy as well. The Huangmei Opera songs are a lot fun even if you don’t know the reference, but they’re especially funny if you’re familiar with other Huangmei opera films like Kingdom and the Beauty and The Love Eterne.

I’m not alone in my admiration of the film. At the 22nd Annual Hong Kong Film Awards, the film earned nominations for Best Actress (Faye Wong), Best Art Direction (Tony Au Ting-Ping), Best Costume Design (William Cheung Suk-Ping), and Best Original Film Score (Frankie Chan Fan-Kei and Roel A. Garcia). However, at the 9th Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards, the film was honored as Best Picture and Faye Wong picked up a Best Actress prize as well.

Cool Tony

What comedy looks like this good?

To be clear, I don’t think the movie is a perfect film; I certainly wish it had a tighter structure with a less meandering first act. However, I think Chinese Odyssey 2002 successfully transitions into more serious territory towards the end of the film, succeeding not only as a parody of Wong Kar-Wai’s angst ridden romances, but as a shining example of one. In isolation, they’re nigh-indiscernible, but the fact that Lau’s films contains two things that Wong’s usually don’t — hope and humor — give the master a run for his money.

And despite my disinterest in the opening comedy bits, the film is funny. The more clever anachronistic sight gags are sure to induce chuckles, and there are plenty of little moments that I just love  — for example, the siblings eagerly waiting for the Princess to try the meal they prepared and Faye Wong’s inability to put her muffler back on after a particularly solid embrace from Tony Leung always a bring a smile to my face.

I’m feeling a bit under the weather as I write this, so I’ll round things out here. It’s a great film, well-worth checking out. For more information, check out Kozo’s review and take a gander at the high quality, if annoying narrated trailer from Kino International embedded below.

 

 

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