Hong Kong 2004
Directed by Wai Ka Fai.

A loving tribute to the classic Hui Brothers comedies of the seventies, starring Lau Ching-Wan in the Michael Hui role (and doing a shockingly perfect impersonation of the man), as the head of a detective company. His impovershed and poorly treated sidekicks are Louis Koo (impersonating cantopop heart-throb Sam Hui) and Jordan Chan (as the homely loser usually played by Ricky Hui). I loved every second of the first fourty five minutes or so of the film...

FANTASIA recreates the world of mid-seventies Hong Kong remarkably well. From the cartoonish opening credits, to the Teddy Robin soundtrack, to the colorful yet often poorly fitting and unattractive clothing, the hair, every detail is accounted for, right down to recreating the broken pair of glasses that Michael Hui would wear, the symbol of his miserly ways, making do with what works no matter how it looks.

Being a fan of the Hui Brothers films (PRIVATE EYES, SECURITY UNLIMITED, THE CONTRACT, etc.) made FANTASIA easy to like, especially since Lau Ching-Wan does such an amazing Michael Hui impersonation. Louis Koo is much less convincing as Sam Hui, but then, Louis Koo is pretty limited and is unconvincing in most every role he plays. Jordan Chan, on the other hand, crunches up his face into a startling resemblance to Ricky Hui, a person who one would not ordinarily want to try and look like. So while Jordan Chan and Lau Ching-Wan lose themselves in their roles completely, Louis Koo is, alas, still just Louis Koo.

The movie features a very Hui-Brothers like plot, in which they each rub a magic lamp, and then throw it out the window. A magician pops out (played by Cecilia Cheung, as Lam Ah-Chun, a character portrayed by Josephine Siao in a series of movies) dressed like Harry Potter and arrives to grant the wishes. Only problem is, her wish power isn't working and her support center (whom she contacts using a fish phone) aren't being helpful. To make matters worse, she soon gets robbed by a criminal gang led by Francis Ng (and backed up by young actors like Ronnie Cheung, sporting wild afros). Francis Ng is impersonating an older figure in Hong Kong Cinema, Shek Kin, who was always cast as the villain in Cantonese films of the sixties. Anyway, he steals her magic chopsticks, that, when licked by a villain, turn into villainous human chopsticks. This happens, and the chopsticks become the Twins (Gillian Cheung and Charlene Choi), in one of their most delightful performances ever. They join Ng's gang.

The first fourty minutes or so of the film is a constant barrage of the bizarre, layered over with lots of accidents and cases of mistaken identity, topped with retro-cool, top-notch acting jobs by some of the best actors in the industry. It is breathtaking. But then, like so many Hong Kong films, and many of the films they are paying tribute to, the movie runs out of good gags and starts to drag.

There is an animated character in the film, and I might say that almost everything I dislike about FANTASIA pretty much has to do with this character. It is used effectively at about the half-way point of the film, in a parody of JURASSIC PARK (1993, Stephen Spielberg, USA) (the Velociraptor/kitchen scene) combined with homage to the Michael Hui comedy TEPPANYAKI. Somehow it's the perfect combination: Michael Hui films were at one time the highest grossing films in Hong Kong, but it was Jurassic Park that bumped Hong Kong movies to second place in the quest for box office dollars, and American movies have pretty much taken the top spot ever since. On the other hand, the scene goes on way too long, and then the character stays, recurring several times too often afterwards, and becomes tiresome.

When homage slips toward simple imitation, it too becomes tiresome. Lau Ching-Wan is brilliant in his impersonation, but when the script calls on him to simply recreate scenes from earlier Hui films, it is less amusing than otherwise.

Nevertheless, FANTASIA is the best New Year's comedy released in many a year. I actually laughed outloud a couple times, something that rarely happens when watching Hong Kong comedies, and that is worth something. As a whole, it comes up short, but there are some standout performances and classic scenes that make the film memorable and well recommended.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on November 12, 2004.

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