Protege de la Rose Noire
Hong Kong 2004
Directed by Donnie Yen.

How can a film star the charismatic, popular, and peppy Twins (Charlene Choi and Gillian Cheung), be directed by action star Donnie Yen, concern costumed crimefighting against a sexy villainess and her hitwomen, combine action and comedy, and yet still come out tiresome and boring? PROTEGE DE LA ROSE NOIRE is our case study.

The movie begins with bright and colorful opening credits over a party dance backbeat that made me sit up and take notice. The whole sequence was polished, professional, and shouted, "this is going to be fun!" Character introductions are handled with charm -- Gillian, an ace Psychiatry student, who at the sound of her own full name becomes uncontrollably violent; and Charlene, an alien from outer space left here by her parents and without a place to stay. They meet when negotiating over a crummy apartment, and become fast friends. When they find a flyer for an exciting new job opportunity, charming and forthright taxi driver Ekin Cheng takes them there. But it turns out the job is to take on the role of Black Rose, from the mentally deranged original herself (Theresa Mo).

The first sign that the movie might have a problem occurs during the scene in which the two girls meet, haggling over the price of a broken down apartment. It goes on far too long, repeating itself, and attempts at humor are confused and go nowhere. A fan of the movie might say the humor is local, and therefore outsiders won't appreciate how funny it is, but the comedic placing is glacial in any language, and the acting subpar. It's just not funny.

Another sign of trouble comes shortly afterwards, during what appears to be a great comedic scene in development. Ekin picks up a pregnant woman in his cab and is rushing her to the hospital, when a mom stops him and puts her kid in, because he had a wound on his head. Then he runs across a car accident, and his cab begins to resemble the stateroom scene in the classic Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera, as he tries to pack everyone in to help them. On top of it all, the Twins call him, desperate for his help. The scene appears to be leading somewhere, but then abruptly, the scene changes, and Ekin is outside of their prison, looking for a way in, and his other passengers are nowhere to be seen. Discharged, presumably, at the hospital, but who knows?

Action scenes are spaced few and far between, while the comedy continuously fizzles. It's too bad, because Ekin Cheng, ever since shedding his straight, honorable, triad boss image, has become pretty loose in light comedies. Here, he prances around like a fool, even donning a Robin costume, and pretty much has no shame. Unlike when Louis Koo tries this sort of comedy, Ekin plays his role sincerely. (Koo, in contrast, always seems to want to let the audience know that he is in on the joke, he isn't really this character).

If I had to pinpoint what exactly went wrong with PROTEGE DE LA ROSE NOIRE, I would lay the blame at the feet of the Twins. The fact is, cute can only get you so far. For the Twins, it has gotten them really, really far. But at some point, you need to buckle down and learn some skills or people will no longer take you seriously. Here, when the girls are in the midst of their high flying action scenes, instead of executing moves well, they, well, they goof around. And it's boring.

Maybe ineptness is part of the humor. When everyone breaks out into song at one point (a song about the plot, sung to the tune of Silent Night -- not a good choice), Theresa Mo sounds great, but Gillian Cheung sounds flat. Isn't she supposed to be a singer? And she isn't even good at that? Folks, these girls have got some problems.

Celebs have a choice. They can coast on their fame and live the high life. Or they can use their fame to get involved in projects the rest of us can only dream of, improve themselves, dedicate themselves to their craft. Why shouldn't they? It's not like they aren't getting paid enough. Come on, even Keanu Reeves could buckle down and learn some kung fu.

They were close. The best gag in the film actually pertains to the girls study of kung fu. Suddenly, they are dressed in those old kung fu disciple outfits, wearing black hair wigs, that make them both look like young Jackie Chans, as they parody the training sequence of those old films. The parody is funny, but then when the action is applied, couldn't it be handled well? The answer, sadly, is no.

The Twins now join an extensive list of the most popular Hong Kong movie actors, including Louis Koo and Miriam Yeung, who no longer appear to do any acting in their films. Their cult of celebrity has overwhelmed them, they feel they need only act their charming selves to satisfy their audiences. And maybe that's true. But this audience member will have turned them off, long before the standing ovation they probably expect they deserve.

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on June 23, 2004.

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