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Anna in Kungfu-land
Chinese: 安娜與武林  
Year: 2003  
Director: Raymond Yip Wai-Man  
Writer: Chan Hing-Kai, Lau Ho-Leung, Ho Man-Leung
Action: Stephen Tung Wai  
Cast: Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah, Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, Wong Yau-Nam, Denise Ho Wan-Si, Hui Siu-Hung, Yasuaki Kurata, Charles Ingram, Chloe Chiu Shuet-Fei, Lo Meng, Tats Lau Yi-Tat, Cheung Tat-Ming, Lee Lik-Chee, Cha Yuen-Yee, Maggie Lau Si-Wai, Mandy Chiang Nga-Man, Lau Kar-Wing, Lee Kwan-Lung, Lau Chun-Tung, Poon Lung-Kwan
The Skinny: Sometimes amusing, but overall poorly written and devoid of most qualifications of even average filmmaking. The fighting is also remarkably uninteresting. If anything, Anna in Kungfu-land could be a fix for die-hard Miriam Yeung fans. However, Ekin Cheng fans should be concerned: their hero has seen much better days.
by Kozo:

Anna in Kungfu-land is more marketing packaging for Hong Kong's popstar-obsessed audiences - and frankly, it shows. A high-concept action-comedy, Anna stars Princess of the Box Office Miriam Yeung as Anna, a Chinese-Japanese martial arts master who competes in a Hong Kong fighting tourney. Ekin Cheng is PR guy Ken, who puts the whole shebang together to impress the sponsors. He also acts smarmy, weak, and generally does nothing which is sympathetic or even likable. Plus there's some remarkably uninteresting fighting, much of it special effects-enhanced in unimaginative ways. All told, this isn't a very good movie. The saving grace of this production: it pairs Ekin Cheng and Miriam Yeung on the big screen. From a marketing standpoint, that's solid gold (or brass, maybe). But the movie itself: bio-degradable plastic.

The plot, or what passes for one: Ken is a public relations executive who loves to read kung-fu comics. He concocts the idea for "Tin Ha Mo Lum Dai Hui", a grand martial arts tourney, in order to excite Mr. Hung (Lee Lik-Chee), head cheese of "Mighty Force" athletic drink. Hung likes the idea, so Ken tries to get the blessing of Master Wisdom (Lau Kar-Wing), head of the Shaolin Martial Arts School. Unfortunately, Wisdom informs Ken that the Shaolin School has boycotted any martial arts tourney since one of his pupils, Shek (Yasuaki Kurata), eloped with a Japanese girl some thirty years ago. To somehow alleviate the bad blood - and to get the whole tourney jumpstarted - Ken travels to Japan to get Shek to join the battle.

Shek regrets his breakup with the Shaolin Temple, and wants to join the competition, but his now-poor eyesight makes it difficult. Instead, he wishes for his daughter Anna to take his place, but she's not easily convinced. That is, not until Ken tantalizes her with the chance to meet a Hollywood producer. He also assaults her with kisses in public while she's doing her job as a traffic cop. Normally such an act would result in a restraining order and/or charges of assault, but since this is Ekin Cheng we're talking about, Anna is immediately smitten and decides to follow her new boyfriend anywhere - which means to Hong Kong to participate in the contest.

But there's a wrinkle: Ken has a girlfriend, policewoman Zoe (Denise Ho), who's silly and cute in a tough, offhand sort of way. When Anna visits, Ken has nightmares of a policewoman vs. martial arts heroine battle, so he enlists his brother Sam (Shine's Wong Yau-Nam) to pretend Anna is his girlfriend in front of Zoe. Of course, both Zoe and Anna are under the impression that they're Ken's girlfriend, and the other is Sam's. What follows is your standard sitcom hijinks where misdirection and mistaken identity attempt to fill the space of actual plotting or dialogue. The chicanery Ken perpetrates to protect his dual dating habits is stretched so thin that it seems to be trying to get its own spinoff film. Basically, it goes on and on, to the point where you have to wonder what Ken is really doing here. Does he really care for either of these girls?

The answer to that: yes and no. He supposedly loves both, but obviously cares more for himself since he strings both along in such a callous manner. Anna in Kungfu-land would have us believe Ekin Cheng is so cool and charming that he could screw with both women this way AND still remain sympathetic and likable. Cheng is a good sport about his character's slimy ways, but his peformance uses the same arrested development charm that's been the cornerstone of EVERY comedic Ekin Cheng performance. What that means is we're supposed to like Cheng because he seems like such a nice, fun guy. Still, would a nice guy hurt two women he cared for in such an awful way? The fault here is not likely Cheng's, but more the fault of the filmmakers, two of which (director Raymond Yip and co-screenwriter Chan Hing-Kai) were responsible for that epic filmmaking masterpiece My Dream Girl. That film had a bizarre, unfathomable plot, and characters and situations which had all the credibility of Martha Stewart. The same trend appears here, which bodes ill for Anna in Kungfu-land.

But Anna in Kungfu-land does have a few things on My Dream Girl. For one, it has much better supporting players, who can either charm or annoy depending on your preference. Tats Lau does his usual droll comedic shtick as one of the martial arts contestants, and Denise Ho and Wong Yau-Nam are amusing support. There's also the presence of Miriam Yeung, whose comedic charm is readily apparent. Sadly, it's also shoved down the audience's throat like a force-feeding of gummi bears. Yeung is charming and sweet, but also petulant and annoying - the same bag of goods Miriam Yeung has sold audiences since she started her meteoric rise with Feel 100% 2 in 2001. If people dig it, then it's really hard to fault what she does, but she was much more charming and plainly likable in Sound of Colors, a film in which she was restrained and remarkably subtle. It would be nice to see more of that Miriam Yeung, but Anna in Kungfu-land isn't giving it up.

At least there's fighting, which should make some people happy. Then again, the fighting is largely uninteresting, and special-effects enhanced in obvious, videogame-inspired ways. The fighting contest seems stolen from a Capcom Business Plan, but possesses little in the way of surprising or tense action. American actor Charles Ingram shows up as Spencer, the US fighter who apparently wants to beat down all of Asia, including both Anna and the three Shaolin kids who represent the Shaolin Temple (don't ask). During the climactic Anna vs. Spencer battle, numerous things are supposed to be happening. Anna is supposed to be reconciling her feelings with Ken, while forging a truce between her father's school and the Shaolin Temple, which once expelled him. She's also supposed to be kicking the ass of a large African-American gentleman with questionable acting skills. If you manage to find any of the above conflicts compelling or even decipherable, then you're one incredibly forgiving filmgoer.

Basically, Anna in Kungfu-land is just not a very good movie. It possesses the occasional charming or amusing moment, but by and large it's an unfocused, scattershot mess with little in the way of actual creativity or logic. With those large factors against it, Anna can only depend on that which probably drew people to it in the first place: star power. Ekin Cheng and Miriam Yeung are a relatively fresh big screen pairing, which is probably enough to win the hearts and wallets of the exceptionally popstar-friendly. Still, neither star does anything which warrants praise, and in Ekin Cheng's case, the film could be potentially alarming. Once upon a time, Ekin Cheng was instantly cast as intense romantic heroes or kick-ass righteous triad types. Since 2002, Cheng has largely been seen as smarmy, dopey romantic support for actresses whose career heat far eclipses his. It would be nice if Cheng could reclaim some of that box office or audience cachet which made him the late nineties screen idol du jour, but Anna in Kungfu-land is more likely to hurt his case than help it. If somebody in the industry is listening, then heed this advice: please get around to making Storm Riders 2. (Kozo 2004)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Laser
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Featurette, Trailer
image courtesy of Universe Entertainment, Ltd. Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen