A Chinese Odyssey: Part Three
China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 3-D, 91 mins.
Director: Liu Zhenwei 刘镇伟 [Jeff Lau].
Well-cast Journey to the West spoof has its moments but runs out of steam in the final stretch.
Tang dynasty China, early AD 627. Madly in love with her human husband Joker (Han Geng), the fairy Zixia (Tang Yan) cannot accept that in the future he will really love his wife Bai Jingjing (Mo Wenwei), even though he hasn’t met her yet. Zixia uses the Moonlight Box to travel 500 years into the future to see how things will work out, so she can change them if necessary. She sees not only her own death but also that Joker will become Monkey King. For his future happiness, Zixia determines not to let Joker fall in love with her and instead fall for Bai Jingjing, who is currently engaged to Monkey King. Despite Zixia’s efforts, however, Bai Jingjing refuses to dump Monkey King and fall for Joker; she then departs, hotly pursued by her on-off girlfriend Lady Spring (Zhong Xintong). Still determined to stop Joker falling in love with her, Zixia then decides to marry Demon Bull (Zhang Chao), hoping that will discourage him. Joker goes looking for Zixia and in the desert sees the goddess Guanyin (Hu Jing) scolding Monkey King (Han Geng) for abandoning the Longevity Monk (Wu Jing) on his Journey to the West and teaming up instead with Demon Bull. Guanyin imprisons Monkey King in a flower vase, which she gives to the Jade Emperor (Huang Zheng) so he can re-arrange the Journey to the West as it should be. But the Jade Emperor has a secret plan of his own, as he needs to correct a mistake he made in the chronology when writing the Book of Fate. The ape imprisoned in the flower vase is really the Six-Eared Monkey, who’s disguised as Monkey King so he can substitute for him on the Journey to the West until the real Monkey King is born in 500 years’ time and can take over. When Demon Bull’s wife, Princess Iron Fan (Xie Nan) finds he’s now married to Zixia, she goes mental. Meanwhile, Zixia, Joker and Longevity Monk stray into the cave kingdom of Demon Bull’s younger sister, Niu Xiangxiang (Zhang Yao), and get along so well that Demon Bull pairs Joker off with her. Joker plays along as he needs to get his hands on the Moonlight Box that Demon Bull has, so he and Zixia can travel through time.
After 20-odd years Hong Kong spoofer Liu Zhenwei 刘镇伟 [Jeff Lau] officially returns a third time to the Journey to the West 西游记 well, following A Chinese Odyssey Part I: Pandora’s Box 西游记第壹佰零壹回之月光宝盒 (1995) and A Chinese Odyssey Part Two: Cinderella 西游记大结局之仙履奇缘 (1995), both of which showcased Zhou Xingchi 周星驰 [Stephen Chow] in his heyday as Monkey King/Joker. In fact, Liu already revisited the material a decade ago with A Chinese Tall Story 情癫大圣 (2005), a loose riff on some of Journey‘s characters that was chaotically plotted but still enjoyable. Almost the same can be said for A Chinese Odyssey: Part Three 大话西游3 which, despite its title, isn’t a continuation of the two earlier films but a standalone riff on much of the same plot.
The problem is that Liu, now 64, is still recycling a type of comedy – the so-called “nonsensical” wúlítóu 无厘头 style – that hit its peak during the 1990s and only really works in Cantonese. Though Liu and many of the key technical crew are from Hong Kong, CO3 is a Mainland-financed production with a largely Mainland cast speaking Mandarin – and the result looks and sounds, well, just a bit arch and old-fashioned. With a plot that not only recycles chunks of the 1995 films (including the early scene of the goddess Guanyin bottling up the supposed Monkey King) but also seems to make itself up as it goes along, the film lacks a sufficient sense of sheer nonsense to sustain the whole enterprise, even over a very tight running time of 90 minutes. Thanks to many of the performances, Liu juggles things entertainingly enough for about an hour, but the fun rapidly palls in the final stretch.
The mind-bending plot – which basically centres on the Jade Emperor (the king of heaven) disguising someone else as Monkey King in order to hide a mistake he’s made while writing the Book of Fate – already feels as if it’s been edited down from a two-hour version that may have made more sense. Though it’s not as chock-full of cameos as other costume spoofs by Liu – like Chinese Odyssey 2002 天下无双 (2002) or Just Another Pandora’s Box 越光宝盒 (2010) – it’s still packed with standalone routines and big digressions from a plot that doesn’t withstand much scrutiny in the first place.
One of the best routines is an early one with Hong Kong’s Mo Wenwei 莫文蔚 [Karen Mok], a Liu veteran who has a ball as an arrogant swordswoman/fairy and catches just the right comic tone without making it seem too corny; she’s supported OK by fellow Hong Konger Zhong Xintong 钟欣潼 [Gillian Chung], now 36 and scarcely recognisable as her jealous lesbian lover. The rest of the cast are pretty much all Mainlanders in their 30s, with the biggest kudos going to 32-year-old Tang Yan 唐嫣 (Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe 九层妖塔, 2015; MBA Partners 梦想合伙人, 2016; Bounty Hunters 赏金猎人, 2016) who energises the film whenever she’s on-screen as a headstrong fairy with a bad case of schizophrenia. Like fellow actress Bai Baihe 白百合, Tang has a natural gift for mild goofiness and can hold her own in both costume and modern roles.
Among the others – in what is not a highly starry cast – Zhang Chao 张超 (Somewhere Only We Know 有一个地方只有我们知道, 2015; Mr. No Problem 不成问题的问题, 2016) is very funny as a kind of hipster Demon Bull; Huang Zheng 黄征 over-acts wildly as a power-crazed Jade Emperor; top-billed Han Geng 韩庚 is less colourless than usual in the double role of Joker and the fake Monkey King; and, not for the first time, actress Zhang Yao 张瑶 (the nanny confidante in The Deadly Strands 咒•丝, 2013; the know-all roommate in So Young 致我们终将逝去的青春, 2013) makes a mark in a smallish role, here as Demon Bull’s wacky younger sister.
Technically, the film, shot in Ningxia province, all looks fine. The VFX are not top quality, but get the job done and don’t, as in so many Chinese fantasy movies, overwhelm the movie or its characters. For its Chinese title, the film follows the Mainland release titles of the two earlier CO films – 大话西游之月光宝盒 and 大话西游之大圣娶亲 – rather than the better-known Hong Kong ones. The characters 大话 (“boastful”, “show-off”) have also been used for Liu’s other costume spoofs, like Just Another Margin 大话天仙 (2014), and have virtually become his trademark. More of the same is already in the works from Liu, especially as CO3 grossed a nice RMB360 million in China.
Presented by Chunqiu Time Films (Tianjin) (CN), Yue Hua Entertainment (CN), Horgos Dengfeng International Media (CN). Produced by Chunqiu Time Films (Tianjin) (CN), Yue Hua Entertainment (CN), Horgos Dengfeng International Media (CN), Tengyi Culture Media (Shanghai) (CN).
Script: Ji An [Liu Zhenwei/Jeff Lau]. Photography: Gao Zhenggan. Editing: Mai Zishan [Marco Mak], Wang Gaigai. Music: Lu Guanting [Lowell Lo]. Song music: Lu Guanting [Lowell Lo]. Production design: He Jianxiong [Cyrus Ho]. Costumes: Ma Defan. Sound: Liu Tao, Du Chunfeng. Action: Yuan Kui [Corey Yuen], Wang Jun. Visual effects: Zheng Wenzheng [Cecil Cheng] (FX Free Productions). Aerial photography: Liu Wei. Special make-up: Wang Naipeng.
Cast: Han Geng (Zhizunbao/Joker; Six-Eared Monkey/Qin Xianglin/Charlie Chin), Tang Yan (Zixia; Qingxia, her elder sister), Wu Jing (Tang Seng/Longevity Monk), Zhang Yao (Niu Xiangxiang), Zhang Chao (Niu Mowang/Demon Bull), Xie Nan (Princess Iron Fan), Wang Yibo (Hong Hai’er/Red Kid), Huang Zheng (Jade Emperor), Mo Wenwei [Karen Mok] (Bai Jingjing), Hu Jing (Guanyin, goddess), He Jiong (Erlang Shen), Zhong Xintong [Gillian Chung] (Chun Shisanniang/Lady Spring), Liu Zhenwei [Jeff Lau] (Putao), Yuan Kui [Corey Yuen] (Yue Lao), Lv Jianmin (Yan, king), Zhou Pu (Yau’s maidservant), Cao Chengyan (Pigsy), Zhou Yixuan (Sandy), Wang Fei (Snake Demon), Du Juan (Mantis), Wang Xingang (Tota, king), Zheng Wenzheng [Cecil Cheng] (Dragon King), Ye Liu (good-hearted diner), Liu Jing (fake Bai Jingjing), Peng Xintong (fake Snake Demon), Xi Wei, Yu Guanghong (minions), Chai Ge (Huang Xiaoming), Lv Jia’na.
Release: China, 14 Sep 2016.