Chinese Odyssey 2002 Review
"We were 7.08m apart. In quarter of an incense stick burning time, I decided this man was skilled and handsome.
I'll introduce him to my sister". - Li Yilong.
Emperor Zheng De (Chang Chen) and his sister Princess Wushuang (Faye Wong) have spent many boring years living the palace life and decide to run away. Zheng is unsuccessful but his sister manages to slip by the guards and make her way to a small village in the Mei Long Province. Here lives Li Yilong (Tony Leung), known to many as "Bully the Kid" and his sister Phoenix (Vicki Zhao) who runs the Dragon Inn. When Wushuang arrives in town dressed as a man, Yilong takes it upon himself to become his sister's matchmaker and vies to bring them together in marriage. However, Yilong soon becomes strangely attracted to this fellow who shows little interest in Phoenix. Emperor Zheng De eventually manages to leave the palace and soon after heading into town he meets Phoenix and thus a mutual attraction is formed between the two. Now both parties must struggle to make their love known and seek acceptance from the royal family who simply looks down upon Yilong and Phoenix, along the way they will meet foes and learn many lessons about the human spirit.
Chinese Odyssey 2002 was Hong Kong's 2002 Lunar Year hit, a regular event that sees in the new year with a usually high profile comedy that attracts many cinema goers. This film was a big success and remains one of the better New Year hits from recent years. While silly, Jeffrey Lau brings us a very heart warming tale, backed by famed director Wong Kar-Wai, who this time lends his producing talents. Chinese Odyssey 2002 won the best picture award at the 9th Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards, where Faye Wong also picked up best actress, although for my money's worth that honour should have gone to Vicki Zhao Wei.
The synopsis above may lead to confusion, that on a Shakespearian level, which is quite understandable yet onscreen the picture flows far better than words could describe. Here we have what is essentially a tale of two loves and mistaken identity, packaged as a charming comedy that plays along in a familiar Hong Kong style but by large remains easily accessible. It's not often we see such types of films hit these shores but Chinese Odyssey 2002 doesn't just rely on its humour but also its beauty and characterisation, which does it far more favours than say other new year comedies of the same year such as Fat Choi Spirit, that while hugely enjoyable for this viewer it required an understanding of the game Mah-jong to fully appreciate.
Of course the comedy we do see is still an important piece of the film because for all intents and purposes it is designed to be a feel good comedy bonanza and it delivers plenty. Director Lau has a clear understanding of comedy and also his good friend Wong Kar-Wai. As such it comes as no surprise that he throws in several cute references to Wai's previous films that include great send ups of Chungking Express, Ashes of Time and a then unfinished 2046. For those who haven't seen the films the humour will obviously appear derivative but for those who have the laughs are plentiful. Stepping aside from this angle the film keeps a keen comedic pace and offers up a couple of hilarious slowed down (or to be more exact purposely acted) fight sequences and a feast of clever visual gags that become very reminiscent of Stephen Chow Sing Chi's style.
Note: Much to the anger of this viewer several of the film's funniest gags are cut out of this Tartan release, which I shall go into more detail later on. As a warning though my review score reflects the quality of the full uncut Hong Kong release of which I am a big fan.
Going back to the plot itself everything is handled well but like many films of this nature or plays for example that feature role reversal acted out by opposing genders it becomes important to suspend any disbelief. After all how could we really believe that Tony Leung's character doesn't figure out early on that his new best friend is in fact the very attractive female who is Faye Wong? It's not important, all it requires is that the viewer goes along for the ride and as they do so the message that surfaces by the end carries some emotional weight for the subject matter dealing with relationships, forbidden or otherwise. This is all due to several fine performances all round. Tony Leung and Vicki Zhao share a great chemistry that illustrates their close brother/sister bond that works better than even when Tony and Faye eventually carry their scenes further. While Chang Chen is given a less demanding role, considering his character arrives in town and begins to evolve late in the time frame he nonetheless gives a solid and very funny performance. In addition the support cast are equally great, with Roy Cheung making a brief appearance as a vengeful martial arts "master".
Cinematographer, Ngor Chi Kwan (Mr. Vampire, Dragon from Russia, Sex and Zen) gives the film a sumptuous look whereby snowfall and summer scented blossoms grace the landscape, suitably matching any given scene. Coupled with some mild CGI work which doesn't become too obtrusive and a beautiful score by composers' Frankie Chan, Tao Yi Mo and Roel A. Garcia the film is a perfect amalgamation of the senses that carries the story gracefully and provides an all round visual feast.
I'm sorry to say that Tartan has disgracefully released this wonderful film on DVD. Not only is the sound incorrect but the print sent to them is cut by quite a margin. Tartan's DVD runs for 85-minutes, next to Mei-Ah's 2002 release which has a run time of 97-minutes. Taking into account NTSC and PAL differences the amount of minutes lost does not add up and being that I own the Mei-Ah DVD I can verify several noticeable cuts.
Most of what is missing are scenes featuring a lot of comical action. More astoundingly is that the scenes gone are some of the funniest from the film and also are easy to understand for any viewer. Amongst those cut is the very funny moment between Yilong and Phoenix that precedes them having their silly fight, with shots of Tony trying to talk with a face full of paper and a comic gem where Yilong is caught speeding on his horse by a sketch artist who works in a straw hut. In addition some character development has gone, such as an important early piece that explains how Yilong used to be a big bully as he wandered the plains, even wearing fake scars to show off just how tough he was. For this fact I cannot recommend the disc to anyone as some great stuff is now gone and for whatever reason it is unacceptable.
Note: Most online retailers are listing this with DTS and 5.1 Surround in Mandarin as well as listing the run time as 1 hour and 45-minutes approx. Be advised to ignore.
The film is presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 1:85.1. All things considered it's a good transfer, better than the current Mei-Ah one in fact, being noticeably sharper and more detailed. The print is very similar otherwise though, showing the same marks in comparison, with only a slight margin between them. Colours are well defined and the varied seasonal feel comes across particularly well. One of the more displeasing aspects of the transfer is that it has some prominent edge enhancement. Below is a comparison between the Mei-Ah and Tartan releases. Due to the size of the grabs the difference is negligible.
Chinese Odyssey 2002 is primarily a Cantonese film. Though it was shot in both Cantonese and Mandarin, with half of the main cast conversing in different dialects the original presentation was that of the former. Where we have an option to switch between tracks on the Hong Kong release if we really feel like it, we don't have the same option here. Unfortunately all we get is a 2.0 Mandarin track. Although the dialogue and music are perfectly clear there is a constant hissing in the background. In the case of this review clarity is not enough and as such I will not be marking this portion.
Tartan said that they had requested a Cantonese version but were sent the wrong one. If this was the case then I can only ask why they didn't return it and put off the release until the correct one or both language tracks were provided? I will not be surprised if in future we see a re-release as this just won't do.
There are optional English subtitles that have the occasional grammatical error.
None, bar a….
Tartan Trailer Reel
Trailers for the upcoming 2046, My Architect, Super Size Me and In the Mood for Love.
Chinese Odyssey 2002 is a wonderful little film, lovingly crafted with a good helping of effective comedy and timing. It certainly deserves better than the treatment it has been given here. Just when it seemed that Tartan were turning things around and providing top quality releases they go and screw up their latest batch of Wong Kar-Wai associated titles.
For a recommend retail price of £19.99 this release really does take the piss. No extras + shredded movie + inaccurate sound = no sale by my book.