The Jade and the Pearl
Hong Kong, 2010, colour, 2.35:1, 103 mins.
Director: Qin Xiaozhen 秦小珍 [Janet Chun].
Routine Hong Kong costume romp lacks real star power and sparky direction.
Beijing, Ancient China. Fun-loving princess Yan (Cai Zhuoyan), one of 12 daughters of the emperor (Di Long) by various concubines, is married off to a king of the distant Western Kingdom. Cheng Qian (Lin Feng), a young general, is commanded to escort her on the long “journey to the West”, and he takes along martial artists Chen Hu, aka Tiger (Lin Xue), and Chen Bao, aka Panther (Huang Younan). Initially hostile to Cheng Qian, Yan eventually falls for him, and as a token of their eternal love they exchange family heirlooms, a jade and a pearl. Hearing about these riches, bandit Zhu Sanniang (Rong Zuer) attempts to steal them: she kidnaps Cheng Qian but Yan escapes by rolling down a hillside. Cheng Qian agrees to help Zhu Sanniang to beat rival bandit Lu Jinsheng (Chao Zhihao) if she promises to release him afterwards to re-find Yan. Meanwhile, Yan, who has lost her memory, meets penniless professional storyteller Ling Gankai (Wang Zulan) and the two fall in love. Zhu Sanniang beats Lu Jinsheng in battle but in the process falls for Cheng Qian.
A rare example in today’s Greater China market of a Hong Kong ensemble costume comedy with no Mainlanders in the cast (and no China-based co-producer), The Jade and the Pearl 翡翠明珠 has a very local feel, despite using Mainland locations. The second film – after 72 Tenants of Prosperity 72家租客 (2010) and before Perfect Wedding 抱抱俏佳人 (2010) – to be released from the production tie-up between Shaw Brothers studio and broadcaster TVB, the movie falls somewhere between a TVB costume series (stuffed with contract actors and starlets, and even using the names of its two main channels in the title) and a theatrical New Year comedy (but without a star cast worthy of the occasion). Actor-singer Lin Feng 林峰 [Raymond Lam] makes an uncharismatic male lead as a young general, and Wang Zulan 王祖蓝 is only marginally better as a depressive professional storyteller, while cute-but-perky Cai Zhuoyan 蔡卓妍 [Charlene Choi] simply isn’t capable of carrying a ensemble movie like this on her own. Of the four leads Rong Zuer 容祖儿 [Joey Yung] is the brightest, as a ho-ho-my-hearties female bandit with everything but an eyepatch and a parrot.
Given the routine direction by Qin Xiaozhen 秦小珍 [Janet Chun] – who co-directed La Comedie Humaine 人间喜剧 (2010) with Jade’s co-writer Chen Qingjia 陈庆嘉 [Chan Hing-kai] – and an even more routine script by no less than four writers, the movie needed much more of Yung’s pantomime silliness to stay afloat. But what it notably lacks is something that today’s Hong Kong industry no longer produces: real stars with personality, like veterans Wu Junru 吴君如 [Sandra Ng] or Zeng Zhiwei 曾志伟 [Eric Tsang], to carry the movie along. All it has is cameos by yesteryear names like Di Long 狄龙 (as the emperor) and Taiwan’s Tian Niu 恬妞 (as a horny mum) at the start. Hong Kong can still make ensemble costume comedies – witness the recent Just Another Pandora’s Box 越光宝盒 (2010) – but nowadays it needs to draw on the full Chinese talent pool and no longer take its audience for granted.
Presented by Shaw Brothers (HK), Emperor Entertainment Group (HK), Television Broadcasts (HK), Sil-Metropole Organisation (HK). Produced by Icon Pictures (HK).
Script: Chen Qingjia [Chan Hing-kai], Zhang Fan, He Miaoqi, Li Weifu. Photography: Ke Xingpei [O Sing-pui], Huang Yongheng. Editing: Zhang Jiahui [Cheung Ka-fai]. Music: Zhao Zengxi, Zhang Renjie. Art direction: Huang Haiguang. Costume design: Li Bijun [Lee Pik-kwan]. Sound: Chen Zhijian, Chen Yue, Chen Guowei, Yang Zijie. Action: Huang Weiliang [Jack Wong]. Visual effects: Luo Weihao (Different Digital Design).
Cast: Cai Zhuoyan [Charlene Choi] (Yan, princess), Lin Feng [Raymond Lam] (Cheng Qian, general), Rong Zuer [Joey Yung] (Zhu Sanniang), Wang Zulan (Ling Gankai), Di Long (emperor), Wan Ziliang [Alex Man] (Pan Wang), Du Wenze [Chapman To] (Yang, eunuch), Tian Niu (Cheng Qian’s mother), Lin Xue [Lam Suet] (Cheng Hu/Tiger), Huang Younan (Cheng Bao/Panther), Liu Yida (Da, Zhu Sanniang’s sidekick), Lu Yong (Xi Men, rival storyteller), Xu Shaoxiong (Zhou, Ling Gankai’s sponsor), Guan Zhibin (Zhang, scholar), Jia Xiaochen (Yang Hua/Fleur, Xi Men’s assistant), Hong Zhuoli (Zhu, scholar), Gao Junxian (Wang, scholar), Yuan Weihao (He, scholar), Zhang Zhiheng (Fan/Ava, Zhu Sanniang’s sidekick), Chen Meishi (Hua, princess), Ma Sai (Xiu, princess), Gou Yunhui (Gou, princess), Chen Shuang (Cuilv/Emerald), Deng Zifeng (speed-dating host), An Dezun (mayor), Lin Chaorong (Li Eba/Bossy Lee), Wu Jiale (Zhang, eunuch), Hayama Hiro (Western Kingdom diplomat), Tang Yi (Wan, princess), Le Tong (Taohong/Fuchsia), Shen Zhuoying (Ying, princess), Gong Jiaxin (Xin, princess), Weng Jia’ni (Gui, princess), Pan Shuangshuang (Ping, princess), Lin Wanxia (Xiang, princess), Xu Meng (Gao, princess), Chao Zhihao (Lu Jinsheng/Bandit Wingold), Wang Zhibin (painter), Lin Guoping (art enthusiast), Gong Zhaoping, Ou Xuanwei (audience members).
Release: Hong Kong, 5 Aug 2010.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 25 Nov 2010.)