This is a delight, as you’d expect from Ching Siu Tung, the director of Swordsman 2 and all three Chinese Ghost Story films.
The film is neatly split between fantasy and reality. In the real world, pulp writer Chau (Jet Li) is morose at his impending divorce with Monica (Rosamund Kwan). His idea box is empty, but he has a deadline to finish the latest thrilling instalment of Doc Wai, the Adventure King. He writes for a bit, but gives up, so his helpful assistants Shing (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Yvonne (Charlie Yeung) try to finish it for him.
Here’s where the fun lies: Every time Chau sets down a chapter, the film cuts to the events of the story – a full blown 1930s action serial starring Jet Li as Doc Wai, complete with crashing trains, freedom fighters, mad scientists, scheming Japanese, men who turn into demons, and the hunt for the mysterious Scriptures With No Words, a magic scroll which can tell the future.
Moreever, everyone in the story is remarkably similar to the characters of the real world – so again Takeshi Taneshiro is the plucky assistant, and Rosamund Kwan is the enigmatic Miss Kamiko. The nifty part is that every time a character in the real world picks up a pen, it is usually with a shake of the head and a cry of “No no no, that character is not like that, it should be like this…”, at which point we cut back to the adventure story, but the plot has taken a sudden 90 degree turn.
This gives Ching leeway to be completely unfettered by any bonds of continuity within the adventure serial, in common with the fine old pulp spirit. It also gives the action carte blanche to be completely cheesy, because it is in no way meant to be taken seriously.
In the meantime, the unfolding of the relationships between the characters in the real world plays like a light romantic drama, as each writes his or her own secret hopes into the fictional setting of the Doc Wai tale.
I just adored it, so as long as you are ready for the shift between modern day and pulp action (hint: if Jet is drinking coffee and wearing glasses it’s reality, but if he’s leaping around an enormous stone altar it’s fantasy), I think you will too.