Anyone holding out for a Hero might want to skip this timely but uninspired parody of Chinese martial arts epics. Set in Ming Dynasty China, it features two pairs of siblings - peasants King Bully (Tony Leung) and his sister Phoenix (Vicky Zhao Wei), and the Emperor (Chan Cheng) and his cross-dressing sister (Faye Wong) - who all find themselves falling victim to that crazy little thing called love. For all its gender-confused zaniness, though, it's ultimately an Odyssey with too much idiocy.
"I like making waves, turning things inside-out, upside-down, creating a general sense of chaos," is how director Jeff Lau explains his work. Having already released two similarly titled parodies starring Stephen Chow - A Chinese Odyssey: Pandora's Box (1995) and A Chinese Odyssey: Cinderella (1995) - Lau's made a name for himself in Hong Kong with his richly funny send-ups of the national film industry's greatest treasures.
"THE HUMOUR HAS BEEN LOST IN TRANSLATION"
In A Chinese Odyssey 2002 he's more than a little off-form. A vaguely entertaining "nonsense" Chinese New Year comedy that's light on the belly laughs, this all too quickly strays from watchable to tedious, as Leung's peasant falls in love with cross-dressing princess Wong and all kinds of gender-bending "hilarity" ensues. Along the way there are anachronistic gags involving platform shoes, speed cameras, and a chap wearing a ridiculously large Afro wig. Well, you have to take the laughs where you find them.
Sharing the screen together for the first time after their more serious roles in celebrated arthouse classic Chungking Express, Tony Leung and Faye Wong prove surprisingly good sports, enduring all kinds of ridiculousness (including being buried up to their necks in mud, surrounded by yellow ducklings!). Lovers of Hong Kong cinema may argue that the sight of Leung camping it up is worth the price of admission alone. Others may wonder how much of the humour has been lost in translation.
In Mandarin with English subtitles.