New Year comedy fans could get a kick out of Cat and
Mouse, which features many prime signifiers of its genre:
big stars, silly comedy, canned romance and a nifty period
setting. It's that last trait which proves especially endearing
here; the ancient Chinese settings and costumes are welcome
in this era of copycat horror flicks and urban romances.
Likewise the cross-dressing female lead (Cecilia Cheung
as "Shining Mouse" Bai) and winning supporting
actors (Anthony Wong and Cheung Tat-Ming), who bring life
to the proceedings. In Cat and Mouse's case, some
life really helps, because director Gordon Chan (First
Option, Beast Cops) sucks all other life out.
Despite having enough to interest the devout HK Cinema fan,
Chan's dull direction renders the film only a minor diversion.
Andy Lau stars as famous swordsman
Zhan, who's the right-hand man to Judge Bao (Anthony Wong).
Bao has been immortalized in many a Hong Kong production
for his ability to solve crimes and dish out justice. However,
he doesn't really do any of that here. In Cat and Mouse,
Bao and Zhan are bored out of their ancient Chinese minds
because there's simply nothing going on requiring their
attention. Zhan's worse off than Bao, since his sword has
grown dissatisfied with its lack of use, and sometimes won't
even come out of its scabbard. There's even a sequence where
Zhan pleads, begs and pulls, and yet still the sword won't
come loose. If there's supposed to be a sexual metaphor
here, the filmmakers wisely don't emphasize it.
With nothing to do, Zhan goes
on an incognito vacation, whereupon he meets Shining Mouse
Bai (Cecilia Cheung), who's supposed to be a man. Sure,
Bai is short, feminine and totally hot, but she's
got a fake-looking mustache; ergo, she must be a man. The
two manage to find some common ground and become friends,
but Zhan discovers a plot to assassinate Judge Bao, which
leads to some supposed tension between warring factions.
The Emperor (Cheung Tat-Ming) assigns Zhan to bring Bai
over to their side in case the rebels make their presence
known, and when she shows up they discover that he's a she.
Bai has also apparently fallen in love with Zhan, but she
must be content to be his buddy. Zhan has already been promised
to Yue Hua (Li Bing-Bing), so Bai can only pine from the
sidelines. Then the bad guys show up.
The title of the film draws
its inspiration from Bai's title as the "Shining Mouse"
and Zhan's as the "Imperial Cat." Their romance
is supposed to be achingly impossible, and Cecilia Cheung
makes the most of this plot device. Despite the fact that
she's supposed to be one tough cookie, Cheung convincingly
registers heartbreak without moving a muscle on her celebrated
face. Andy Lau is sufficiently charming as Zhan, and the
two make a likable, albeit somewhat forced couple. Pairing
the young with the old is something Hong Kong Cinema has
done for years, but when it's not explicitly acknowledged,
the effect can be a little creepy.
But, whatever uncomfortable
edge the stars bring to the film is negated by Anthony Wong
and Cheung Tat-Ming, who both turn in fine supporting performances.
Wong, in particular, adds to his library of engaging supporting
turns, and lights up the screen whenever he appears. Cheung
Tat-Ming is funny as the Emperor, and the other actors (Chapman
To, Li Bing-Bing) round out the cast nicely. Of all this
year's Lunar New Year films, Cat and Mouse is likely
the best cast and acted, as extreme histrionics and egregious
mugging never come into play. Such restraint can only be
However, that restraint extends
perhaps a bit too far. The film possesses the usual wackiness
that you'd expect from a New Year film, but director Gordon
Chan seems content to direct with the urgency of a dozing
barnyard animal. Everything is subdued here: the comedy,
the action and the romance. The restraint is fitting for
the film's romance, as it allows the actors more space to
perform. However, when the action and comedy are both subduedas
is the case heresome serious eye-glazing could occur.
It's like Chan expected the story to carry itself, which
simply isn't the case. There's a lot to like about Cat
and Mouse, but not enough to withstand Chan's dull direction.
Still, the film's bells and
whistles do provide some enjoyment. The ancient Chinese
setting and the costumes are both nostalgic and enjoyable
in their own right. Likewise, there's some fun in the the
Imperial court shenanigans and the interplay between Andy
Lau and Anthony Wong. The average HK Cinema fan will likely
find more to enjoy here than in 2003's other Lunar New Year
offerings, as the minor details of Cat and Mouse
seem primed to charm precisely those people. Pretty people?
Check. Pretty costumes? Check. Fine setting? Check. Some
swordplay and wacky flying martial arts? Check. All the
requirements are here, but the pacing is glacial to distraction.
Though it looked to have been more, this is ultimately only
minor entertainment. (Kozo 2003)