Rating: 2 stars out of 5
The Stars: Eric Tsang, Kelly Lin, Xiao Shenyang, Zhao Benshan, Mark Lee, Jacky Wu
The Story: A humble shoemaker (Xiao) with zero pugilistic skills gets swept up in a web of intrigue when he meets a wayward royal travelling incognito (Lin). He subsequently encounters a series of kooky characters from the martial arts world – some benign, some malevolent – and unwittingly picks up fighting skills along the way. Eventually, he falls for the runaway bride he had met at the beginning, her lost shoe – shades of Cinderella – his only memento of hers.
The Buzz: This slapstick film is a self-dubbed ‘kung-medy’, meaning a kungfu comedy. Its big selling point, apart from featuring popular Taiwanese actress Lin, is the parade of funny comics in its cast, from mainlanders Xiao and Zhao (both appeared in Zhang Yimou’s A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shoplast year), to Jacky Wu and Little Bean from Taiwan, to Hong Kong veteran Eric Tsang and Singapore’s very own Mark Lee.
This is a silly, silly film – which no reasonable person can deny. How else would you feel about a motion picture with the unlikeliest of heroes, played by a comedian (Xiao) with a face one would never in a million years imagine on a poster or billboard? Truth be told, the lad has a face for radio, or network television at best.
While some of the kungfu scenes are passable, with decent moves and special effects, the pacing of the film is patchy, with some scenes dragged out for actors to spout their lines in vain attempts at humour. Moments like these betray an underwritten script – if a script exists at all – and a need to pad up the running time.
The title of the film in Chinese – Da Xiao Jiang Hu – translates roughly as ‘big laughs in the martial-arts world’ and resembles the title of the seminal 1990 Sam Hui film The Swordsman (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu). In essence, the film is referencing and parodying the wuxiapian (Asian sword-fighting flicks) genre.
Xiao plays an extreme example of the archetypal underdog reluctant hero, a meek peasant whose only link to the romanticised world of powerful martial-arts masters are through anachronistic comic books. His inadvertent gaining of fabled internal strength and fighting skills mirrors the progression of many a hero of wuxia novels and films.
The object of his affection is played by the plucky Lin, last seen as Michelle Yeoh’s pre-transformation self in John Woo’s Reign of Assassins. There is some semblance of comic-romantic chemistry between the two, but that matters little in the grand scheme, as the film is filled with hit-and-miss gags – most land wide of the mark – that draw inspiration even from Western touchstones.
When performers start breaking into song and dance for no good reason, or throwing out non-sequiturs with misappropriated lines such as ‘May the Force Be With You’, you may feel the urge to perform hara-kiri – perhaps with a lightsaber, in keeping with the stolen theme – or toss a shoe towards the screen.
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.