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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Chinese Odyssey 2002  


Chinese Odyssey 2002

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Chinese Title: Tian xia wu shuang
Director: Jeffrey Lau
Writing Credits: Jeffrey Lau
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Faye Wong, Vicki Zhao, Chang Chen, Roy Cheung, Athena Chu
Genre: Comedy
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Year Released: 2002
Runtime: 97 min
Rating: **½ (out of four stars)

Chinese Odyssey 2002 is one of the few Chinese New Year Movies released this year, which are designed to rake in the profits during the long Chinese New Year holidays. These films are usually pretty slapstick, and more often than not involve a rather star-studded cast in an attempt to draw even more crowds to the theaters. Produced by, believe it or not, Hong Kong art house maestro Wong Kar Wai, and directed by Jeff Lau, Chinese Odyssey 2002 is a run-of-the-mill Chinese New Year Movie, and those who go into the theater with appropriate expectations should enjoy the film.

Emperor Zhengde (Zhang Zhen) and his sister, Princess Zhang (Faye Wong) are tired of being cooped up in the Imperial Palace, and decide to sneak out of the Palace for some fun. Unfortunately, their plan was foiled by the Empress Dowager, and only Princess Zhang managed to leave the Palace. In order not to give her identity away, Princess Zhang disguises herself as a man. At Mei Long Province, she meets Little Bully (Tony Leung) and his sister Lee Feng (Vicky Zhao), and the Princess takes an immediate liking to Little Bully. However, Lee Feng also falls for the Princess, whilst Little Bully is troubled for having developed feelings for his new "male" friend.

Emperor Zhengde also manages to leave the Palace after some trickery, and upon arriving in Mei Long Province, also in disguise, he falls for Lee Feng. Meanwhile, in other news, Lee Feng and Little Bully think they know Princess Zhang’s real identity – they suspect that she is Emperor Zhengde. Thus, Lee Feng is in a quandary, not knowing whether to continue her "romance" with Princess Zhang/ "Emperor Zhengde," and leading a life of luxury, or to pursue a relationship with the new, not-so-rich kid in town (who, she doesn’t realize, is the real Emperor Zhengde – it’s confusing, I know). Just as the intricate tangle of love seems set to complicate even further, the Imperial Guards discover the location of the Imperial Siblings, and the two are marched back to Palace. Can true love overcome this adversity?

Although the plot for Chinese Odyssey 2002 seems a bit complex when described, no one should have any difficulty in comprehending the storyline once they are watching it unfold on the big screen. Much like any Hong Kong slapstick comedy however, much of the plot doesn’t make that much sense. Coupled with nonsensical ("mo lei tou") jokes every few minutes, and it’s plain to see that Chinese Odyssey 2002 is not aiming to be an art house film. What it does well, however, is to entertain. Although not every joke works, so many gags are thrown at the audience in the course of the film that there’s rarely a dull moment.

What also helps is that the four main leads are all attractive stars, and relatively famous in their own right (excepting, perhaps, Zhang Zhen). Although both Vicky Zhao and Faye Wong are competent in their roles, both actresses are guilty of slightly off-kilter comic timing and occasional blandness. Zhang Zhen takes the least major role amongst the four, and much of his performance is hidden by the outrageous costumes that he dons in the film. The true star in Chinese Odyssey 2002 is Tony Leung, who manages to evoke a gamut of emotions from the audience with a surprisingly deep performance. It’s no wonder that he was awarded Best Actor in Cannes last year, as he can do wonders even with such limited material. Truth be told, Chinese Odyssey 2002 is not what is conventionally considered a good film, but it’s reasonably pleasing to watch, and sometimes, that is all that matters.

Final Word: A Chinese popcorn movie that amuses, but will not leave an impression once you leave the theater.