Well, it’s not Doctor Zhivago. But then, who thought that it would be? Director “Dimples” Fung shows once again that he’s got a fair grip on the mechanics of film-making, and can direct a popular film.
Okay, the star roster doesn’t hurt: there’s Dimples and Daniel Wu for those that like looking at pretty young men, there’s both Twins for those that like them, and there’s Anthony Wong and Wu Ma for those who enjoy watching good acting. And there’s Michael Wong, in possibly the oddest casting decision since Kenneth Branagh cast Keanu Reeves in a Shakespearean comedy.
Let’s get the nasty bits over and done with first. Michael Wong. Lordy lordy, what was Dimples thinking of?!? Casting this Wong is a dicey matter at best, but to give him a role where he’s wheelchair-bound and can only move one finger is just asking for trouble. Don’t get me wrong, Wong seems like a very nice, very ordinary hard-working man, it’s just that he couldn’t even play himself convincingly. So tying him in a wheelchair, giving him a baldie cap, and letting him deliver all his lines in deadpan English is the casting equivalent of knocking out all your own teeth before giving a speech.
The bratty American tyke who plays his progeny is not just tragic, he’s severely annoying. If I’d been on set, I would have taken a big bamboo stick and given that child such a thrashing he’d not sit down for a week. For that matter, the idea of some weenie child beating Anthony Wong is repellent to me, and not just because of the disrespect to the Wongster. I detest the Hollywood convention of “small child saves the world yet again” more than I can say (possibly because I’m spitting with derision).
All that aside, it’s still a fairly entertaining film. The fact that this entertainment is not the slightest bit cerebral bothers me not a jot. There’s fight scenes that look fine, for all that we know that Gillian Chung probably couldn’t disarrange her own clothing without help. There’s a fine old-fashioned ‘dastardly villain and cliffhanger moment’ plot that makes you want to roll jaffas down the aisles, and there’s some laugh-out-loud moments. The interaction between the siblings (Fung and Chung) is particularly well-done: crisp physical comedy that moves fast, gets its laugh, then moves on. Fung has a definite talent in that direction, because the humour in this one is tighter than that in Enter The Phoenix.
The crowning glory of this film, of course, is Anthony Wong. The man captures the subtleties of his character admirably, shifting from ‘harried husband talking to dead wife’s photo’ to ‘doting father’ to ‘secret agent with a paper-dry sense of humour’. Even with Michael Wong, even with the abominable child, even if the rest of the characters were played by cardboard cutouts, this film would still be worth seeing just for him. Wu Ma is also good, as we’d expect him to be. And apart from the inexplicable Michael Wong tragedy, director Fung doesn’t overtax anyone else’s abilities, so the performances look reasonably convincing. There’s even a brief cameo by Lau Kar Wing that is a real treat. And to my utter astonishment, Charlene Choi has a scene that even made me laugh! Yes, a Twin, making me laugh! It must be the end of the world, or something.
I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that Fung had a quiet word in the costume designer’s ear: in many of Fung’s previous acting roles, he’s appeared wrapped in what can only be called ‘sexpot clothing’. Tight shirts, short shorts, things unbuttoned or removed altogether or just dripping wet. Now while I think this is a fine thing, and we should see more of it, I suspect that Fung may be tired of being paraded about as a sex symbol, and quietly requested the costume designer to give him an assortment of baggy tracky items to wear.
So, what we have is a film that, despite a snotty brat and a paralysed Wong (Michael), romps along at a fair clip, with some laughs and plenty of fight action and breaking stuff. If you want Russian tragedy, read Dostoevsky – I’ll be watching the ‘handsomest director in Hong Kong’ waving his limbs about and saving the world (and his dad).