Chinese Odyssey 2002 (HK 2002)

Rating: **
Review Date: 6/30/03
Producer: Wong Kar Wai
Cast: Tony Leung (Chiu Wai), Faye Wong, Vicki Zhao Wei

This film had me scratching my head in bewilderment. Is it a slapstick romantic comedy? A tragic romance? A Chinese musical? An art film? A costume drama? A kung fu flick? How about all of the above? Ultimately it's a very bizarre combination of genre bending and the ever inexplicable gender bending. I mean, come on - who are any of these people fooling? Movies like this just feel insulting to me because the characters are SOOOOOO stupid and clueless, and I've seen this storytelling convention hundreds of times already (and I still don't get it). Anyway, the story is about a prince and princess who desperately want to escape the confines of the imperial palace. The princess (Faye Wong) disguises herself as a man (which of course I didn't figure out because she obviously looked, talked, and acted like a woman) and slips out of the castle while the prince is distracting the guards. In a small village, she runs into the rough and dim-witted Bully The Kid (Tony Leung) and falls in love with him. Meanwhile, he's trying to find a husband for his adorable sister (Zhao Wei) and thinks that Faye will fit the bill. Conveniently, Zhao Wei falls for him/her as well, and the bizarre love triangle is firmly in place.

The entire first hour of the film is a dumbfounding spectacle of contemporary screwball humor, complete with traditional Chinese folk song musical numbers and filmed like a Wong Kar Wai dramatic art film. Then in the last reel the film takes a vicious turn and becomes a tear jerking tragedy of lost and forbidden love. The cinematography becomes even more lush and dramatic as the players fulfill their destinies and wax philosophically on the nature of Man and Woman. Wacky. I got the distinct impression that this was based on a piece of classic Chinese literature and just given a quirky modern twist, especially since Stephen Chow also made a "Chinese Odyssey" film or two a few years back. Very strange, but very beautifully filmed.