Review: THE GREAT MAGICIAN 大魔術師 (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Review: THE GREAT MAGICIAN 大魔術師 (2012)

Review: THE GREAT MAGICIAN 大魔術師 (2012)

Set in Northern China in the year of 1920s, the movie centres on a despicable warlord named General Bully Lei (Lau Ching-Wan) who uses the hypnotising skills of his butler, Liu Kunshan (Wu Gang), to recruit soldiers. Bully has seven wives altogether, but he particularly loves the seventh wife the most. Unfortunately, he has trouble trying to please her especially his seventh wife, Yin (Zhou Xun), whom he captured and grounded her at home, hates him a lot. Apparently, she misses her father, Liu Wanyao (Paul Chun) a lot, an elder magician who is actually being locked up somewhere by Liu Kunshan. It is learned that Kunshan wants Wanyao to reveal the whereabouts of a valuable scroll contains the magic formula of "7 Wonders". In the meantime, the mysterious Chang Hsien (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), a popular magician who returns to his homeland after years travelling abroad. He buys a restaurant which is about to go bankrupt and converts it into a magic theatre. Within a short period of time, his string of magic shows quickly becomes an overnight sensation. Not only that, he is also cooperating with a band of rebels looking to kidnap General Bully Lei in exchange to release one of their senior officers. But apparently, he has a personal agenda of his own against Lei, as it is revealed that Lei's seventh wife, Yin, is actually his fiancee.

REVIEW: A refreshing change of pace from the usual thriller genre in which director Derek Yee often explored in the past (ONE NITE IN MONGKOK, PROTEGE, SHINJUKU INCIDENT, TRIPLE TAP), it's nice to see him loosen up a little and gets into the playful spirit in his latest effort, THE GREAT MAGICIAN. Mixing political intrigue, romance, buddy comedy, action, screwball humour and of course, a good deal of magic acts, this genre mishmash is fun if wobbly effort.

The plot crams with too many things going on in this movie, and it's no surprise that Yee, Chun Tin-Nam and Lau Ho-Leung's adapted screenplay (taken from Zhang Haifan's novel) is heavy-handed. There are times the pace is slacking and overlong (clocking at an unnecessary more than two hours length!).

Fortunately, the movie remains playful enough to warrant this as an entertaining effort. The cast is fun to watch for, with top-notch acting performances all around. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who is last seen in 2009's RED CLIFF II, is at ease playing the kind of suave gentleman he's always good at. A dashing performance nonetheless, even though one might gripe he is a bit old for tackling such role. He doesn't do much here other than displaying his trademark charm, but at least it's good he's letting loose after years of playing serious-minded roles. Lau Ching-Wan, in the meantime, is as goofy and spontaneous as ever. No doubt he and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai made an excellent comic pair, and they are certainly natural acting together after appearing against each other in the nihilistic thriller, THE LONGEST NITE (1998). Zhou Xun is alluring as usual, even though her character is undermined by the lack of developments. Supporting actors are similarly good, especially game performances by Wu Gang and Yan Ni, who plays General Lei's first wife. Even cameos with the likes of Daniel Wu, Alex Fong (in a rare comic performance) and Tsui Hark, are just as entertaining to watch for.

Apart from a game cast, the movie is also benefited from its dazzling magic acts as well as it stylistic sleight-of-hand, which is convincingly performed by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai while the visual effects used here are surprisingly good enough for a Chinese movie production. All the technical credits are equally lavish and colourful. Right toward the end, Stephen Tung Wai's action choreography has it's few noteworthy if surprisingly short moments which involves an all-out fight scene on the streets (in one hilarious scene, General Lei defends himself in a sword fight using a pair of roast ducks as weapons). It's just too bad the ending itself is overall a letdown. I mean, you would have expected a better payoff after so many mischievous things going on earlier.

THE GREAT MAGICIAN is hardly Derek Yee's best effort, but at least it's notable enough that viewers and die-hard fans who have previously disappointed with his back-to-back disappointments, SHINJUKU INCIDENT and TRIPLE TAP, will most probably find this a sigh of relief.

A refreshing change of pace from the usual thriller movies, Derek Yee's THE GREAT MAGICIAN is uneven but playful genre mishmash of political intrigue, romance, buddy comedy and magic.

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