A Chinese Odyssey 2002 (Tian xia wu shuang) - 2002
When local restauranteur Li Yilong, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, returns to his home town after a two-year trip afield, (loafing) he's dismayed to find his lovely but hoydenish Little Sister still unmarried and apparently without much hope. Phoenix, Zhao Wei, has immersed herself in the business and abandoned all femininity. No wonder, as her brother is the infamous "Bully the Kid" and empties the street with a glance. He too, is pining for a lost love.
Meanwhile, back at the Palace, the young Ming Emperor Zheng Die, Chang Chen and his sister, Princess Wushang Faye Wong are bored, Kept relentlessly under the thumb of the Queen Mother, their somewhat idle and cockamamie efforts to escape are routinely thwarted. (Some excellent play-by-play here.) What's to do?
Few will miss the inevitable course of events unfolding here but the way is indeed not straight. The team of Director Jeffrey Lau and Producer Wong Kar-Wai have offered up a kinder, gentler fantasy than 1993's insane The Eagle Shooting Heroes (*****) and done it with wit and grace.
This is a true Hong Kong film, complete with loony anachronisms, some truly pathetic martial arts, a bit of song and dance and the usual gender confusion. (Faye Wong is about as male as her predecessors Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia, Anita Mui Yim-fong and, for God's sake, Cecilia Cheung.) The film also benefits from the work of Rebecca Pan as the Queen Mother and the always bright spark and often underused Athena Chu, as Amour Amour; "In Chinese? Ro-Man-Tique", a gadfly seer, Cupid or just plain bum.
For those who have only seen Tony Leung, Rebecca Pan, Chang Chen or Faye Wong in such art-house fare as 2046, In The Mood For Love, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Chungking Express, take a look at the true range of these actors. (A later post will discuss why Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk is the funniest woman alive.)
Altogether, this is a film for movie lovers; a sweet and funny journey without obscure digression into film school obscurantism or the posturing attitudes of many Western actors prone to mail it in and collect their check. The word here is delightful.