A Chinese Odyssey Part One: Pandora's Box (HK 1995)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 5/6/18
Director: Jeffrey Lau
Cast: Stephen Chow, Ng Man Tat, Karen Mok, Lam Kit Ying

As punishment for stealing Pandora's Box, Monkey King's spirit was imprisoned for five hundred years and reincarnated as a desert bandit named Joker (Stephen Chow). As fate would have it, two demon sisters visit Joker's inn and await Monkey King's prophesied return. Jing Jing (Karen Mok) has a personal score to settle with Monkey King, while 30th Madam (Lam Kit Ying) wants him to lead her to Longevity Monk so that she can eat his flesh and become immortal. Joker is justifiably confused, and spends most of his time lying and cheating in an attempt to stay alive. He eventually falls in love with Jing Jing, and has to travel back in time to try and prevent her death.

It's a gorgeous fantasy piece with splendid cinematography and excellent action scenes, but Stephen Chow's brand of slapstick humor is nearly intolerable. That said, I admittedly chuckled 2-3 times at a recurring groin gag. I generally find Hong Kong comedy deplorable, but you can always count on the women being impossibly pretty. A young and fresh-faced Karen Mok is astonishingly attractive as Monkey King's jilted lover from the past, while Lam Kit Ying burns up the screen with her fierce beauty and penetrating gaze. Sadly, her masculine voice betrays her otherwise heavenly visage, although I suppose it's appropriate for an evil spider demon. The energetic fight scenes are fluid and graceful, the wire work is very impressive, and the fantasy elements are well realized and fun to watch. While the first half of the film is overly goofy and hard to stomach, the second half fares much better as things get more serious. The film ends right as Joker realizes that he's the reincarnation of Monkey King, which perfectly sets up the sequel.