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The Lion Roars

Louis Koo and Cecilia Cheung in The Lion Roars.
Chinese: 我家有一隻河東獅  
Year: 2002  
Director: Joe Ma Wai-Ho  
Cast: Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi, Wyman Wong Wai-Man, Emotion Cheung Kam-Ching, Hui Siu-Hung, Raymond Wong Ho-Yin, Fan Bing-Bing, Joe Lee Yiu-Ming
The Skinny: Massively uneven costume comedy from the prolific and generally appreciated Joe Ma. His new hit registers as occasionally amusing fluff, and it features a fine star turn from Cecilia Cheung. However, the random shtick can be annoying and shrill, and the film ultimately suffers for it.
by Kozo:

Joe Ma continues his string of modest box-office hits with The Lion Roars, a welcome costume comedy that pairs eternally-tanned Louis Koo with beleagured celebrity Cecilia Cheung. Koo is Seasonal Chan, a meek poet who's picky about finding a new wife. He lucks out(?) when he meets Moth Liu (Cecilia Cheung), who's strong-willed and utterly charming. In a strange turn of events, the Emperor forces the two to marry and they seem happy with the arrangement. After all, neither has had much success in finding a desirable other half, and they seem to hit it off immediately.

There are problems: Liu is violently temperamental and insanely jealous. Given the times, the wife is expected to remain submissive and respectful to her husband, but Liu doesn't play that game. She loves Chan, but dominates him incessantly, leading problems with neighbors, friends and even government officials. Everyone wants Liu tamed, but Chan is reluctant to do so - presumably because he's scared of Liu, but the other reason seems to be that he genuinely loves his irrepressible wife.

Cecilia Cheung's performance comes in very handy. While still a raw, undisciplined talent, Cheung shows a rough charm and appealing sexiness that compliments her beautiful face. She looks incredibly hungry (Why must these ingenues lose so much weight?), but she handles the role well through some grand shifts in tone. This is probably her most welcome performance since Wu Yen.

Unfortunately, the film doesn't entirely suit her. The first half of the film is composed of annoying and tiresome shtick, with the uninteresting plot seeming to be randomly generated. The film relies too much on Cheung and co-star Koo to carry the questionably funny comedy, and they don't always come through. Koo, in particular, seems lost; while he's shown some good comedic instincts in the past, his performance here seems cribbed from Stephen Chow's greatest hits. It goes without saying, Koo is no Stephen Chow. He's a handsome and likable guy, but he fails at making Seasonal Chan a character worth caring about.

Joe Ma has shown himself to be a fine director in the past, but the broad comedy of The Lion Roars seems ill-suited to his talents. He never finds a proper tone or pace that engages. Instead, it's in-your-face wackiness that's only occasionally funny, accompanied by mystifying stretches of tedium that may prompt the audience to check their watches. The film rights itself midway through when a princess (Fan Bing-Bing) shows affection for Chan, but the shift in tone is abrupt and doesn't convince. The actors do work better in the more serious scenes (especially Koo), but they can't help the film make sense.

For popstar-watching, The Lion Roars is tops, with both Cecilia Cheung and Louis Koo proiving eminently attractive. However, the lazy screenwriting and meandering storyline are distracting, and the mixture of sap and seriousness is ill-fitting. The comedy is tiresome, and the drama - while occasionally affecting - seems out of place. On the positive side, the actors give their all in the dramatic scenes, and some of Koo's fans may swoon over Seasonal Chan's exceptionally overwrought confession of love for Moth Liu. The moment is hardly great cinema, but at least it strikes the proper chord. This could be the rare Hong Kong film where the serious stuff works better than the silly stuff. Too bad the whole thing is so unremarkable. (Kozo 2002)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Laser
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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image courtesy of Mei Ah Laser Disc Co., Ltd.

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