The literal translation of the title of this flick is “Mouse falls in love with Cat” and the opposing Andy vs pouty Cecilia poster gave the impression in my gullible little mind that it would deliver a romantic story struggling against the odds or conquering the impossible… something along those lines. Perhaps some action thrown in for good measure or something amusing for 1.5 hours? I didn’t think I had very high expectations [sigh]
I haven’t heard much about the ins and outs of this movie other than the press trumpeting the pairing of Cecilia Cheung and Andy Lau. This didn’t exactly pique my interest for the film because considering the ‘vast’ pool of HK leading lady talents they perpetually choose from (namely: Sammi, Miriam and Cecilia), it is hardly a surprising outcome.
So when the inimitable Anthony Wong (Beast Cops, Stormriders, Just One Look) appeared I was rightly thrilled. (Incidentally, Wong has been nominated 3 times in the Best Supporting Actor category in this year’s HK film awards.)
Set in the Song dynasty, Anthony Wong plays famed judge Bao Ching Tin, in the emperor’s good books for his famed ability to solve crimes and hand out a fair judgement. Assisted impressively by his loyal right hand man Zhan Zhao (Andy Lau) the infamous swordsman, they make a formidable and intimidating duo.
However, you won’t see any of their crime solving prowess here, no sirree! Cat & Mouse kicks off with a humiliating scene where Zhan is having trouble even drawing his sword from its scabbard before the start of his working day. Said sword is sulking and refuses to budge, Zhan cojoles, he demands and he begs.
All is not well in Judge Bao’s court it seems – Bao and his team were so good at their work that crime rate in the last 2 years is at an all time low, zero in fact! The only time Zhao wields his trusty sword into action is to cut up rhino skin for an old granny, an insult to his sword and to his skills.
Utterly bored out of his brain, Zhan takes a little R&R where luckily for him, he encounters a conspiracy to kill Judge Bao and to bring down the emperor. Embroiled in the shenanigans is the cross-dressing Bat Yu Tong and her clan of very silly brothers who call themselves the Five Mice Clan, a band of outlaws with Robin Hood altruism. Cecilia Cheung plays Bat Yu Tong (with a bad upside-down moustache) who matches Zhan Zhao in wit, talent and skill with the sword. Inevitably Bat Yu Tong falls in love with Zhan [who does look rather dapper in his uniform] but is obstructed by her renegade status and the Lady Yu Hwa, the emperor’s niece who has been promised to Zhan.
Chinese New Year fare is often campy full of crazy hijinks with an all-star cast or an action no-brainer. Cat & Mouse is neither. This is commendable as I believe it did set out to with all the best intentions to create a cheery New Year movie. However my initial enthusiasm for Cat & Mouse deflated not long into the film. This is even after the murder conspiracy angle is thrown in, despite the appearance of Cheung Tat Ming as emperor and 2 (count ’em!) bathhouse scenes of Andy and Anthony in funny white hats. I seriously cannot remember when the penny dropped for me because truthfully, I have forgotten most of the film already!
However I do remember being frustrated at the lack of urgency that infected the whole film – every scene was happy to just meander along without much purpose. Ultimately it failed to push home any emotional buttons. Every scene builds itself to make a point but pikes out in the end, slowly driving me into state where my eyes glazed over.
I was informed by a HK native that Cat & Mouse is supposedly a sly political critique of the current HK-China relationship. I guess if you walk in with that thought in mind, then you would walk away with a lot more, drawing parallels for example; Judge Bao’s lack of power and utter servitude to contemporary HK’s placidness under China rule? Not that I know anything about politics but if you were that way inclined, then your enjoyment rate may be higher.
And if politics isn’t your cup of tea but celebrity wattage is you might be satisfied with Andy and Cecilia pairing although I found them a tad bland, with strangely creepy chemistry that is more sibling-like than heart-throbbing lovers.
Given the original material, it was disappointing to see that Cat & Mouse failed to grab the opportunity by the balls and give it a good wringing. Instead it dissolved into this lavish, well-shot but pedestrian affair. Oh well, better luck next time!