The Great Magician (2011, Yee Tung-Shing)

The Great Magician is a madcap romp through rural early twentieth century China. It never says rural–Peking is mentioned a couple times–but it feels rural, where a somewhat dimwitted warlord (Lau Ching-wan) can still be powerful. The time period’s a little confusing too. Moviemaking plays a significant part in Magician and all the example films are silents, but when people are making movies, they’re making talkies.

But those confusing parts are nothing compared to the rest. Magician is a political comedy thriller with a lot of magic, some quests, a love triangle, probably some of things too. Oh, right, it’s occasionally narrated by two townspeople who break the third wall to directly address the audience.

Even though director Yee’s not much for composition–Magician’s shots are adequate, but far too reliant on CG, something Kita Nobuyasu can’t seem to shoot–he does keep the circus together. Especially after Tony Leung Chiu-Wai shows up. Until he arrives, it seems like Magician could go anywhere (and even for a little while after he does). Once the film focuses on its tone, it gets to be a lot of fun to watch.

Leung and Lau are great together. Xun Zhou’s excellent as warlord Lau’s seventh wife who he decides is the one he really wants. Paul Chun’s funny as Lau’s scheming subordinate.

There are some great comedy interchanges; most end up being completely unpredictable.

Leon Ko’s excellent music is another big plus.

Magician is a strange, fun picture.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Yee Tung-Shing; screenplay by Chun Tin Nam, Lau Ho Leung and Yee, based on the novel by Zhang Haifan; director of photography, Kita Nobuyasu; edited by Kwong Chi-Leung; music by Leon Ko; production designer, Yee Chung Man; produced by Peggy Lee and Mandy Law-Huang; released by Emperor Motion Pictures.

Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Chang Hsien), Lau Ching-wan (Bully Lei), Zhou Xun (Liu Yin), Yan Ni (Lei’s third wife), Paul Chun (Liu Wan-Yao), Alex Fung (Chen Kuo), Lam Suet (Li Fengjen), Daniel Wu (Captain Tasi) and Kenya Sawada (Mitearai).


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