Secret Royal Guards were the Emperor's bodyguards and given
the names of the 12 Chinese Zodiac Animals. All of them were
Kung Fu masters except Royal Dog who preferred technology
and invention to Kung Fu. No matter how often his fiancee
Faithfull, his future father-in-law Clement and mother-in-law
Clementine dissuaded him, Royal Dog never wavered in pursuing
a career in scientific exploration.
The Head of Eunuchs, Unicorn's ambition was to overthrow the
Emperor and make himself the King. To achieve this, he murdered
a minister whose daughter Gemini made a vow to avenge her
father's death. At this time, the Emperor and the Empress
were eager to look for a husband for Princess Rainbow. Unicorn
planned to arrange one of his godsons to marry the Princess
so that he will have ample opportunity to overthrow the Crown.
However, Royal Dog, Faithfull and Gemini saw through his scheme
and wrecked his plan. A deadly duel between the force of good
and evil begin...
Hong Kong’s unique brand of ‘nonsense’ comedy (or 'mo lei tau' as it is known in Cantonese) makes a return in Wong Jing’s latest film "On His Majesty’s Secret Service". At first sight, there are some suspicious similarities with Stephen Chow’s much lauded "Forbidden City Cop". For one, both their titles take a dig at James Bond’s 007 (Chow’s movie in Cantonese sounds like 008 and Wong Jing’s reads like 009).
That’s not all- both films also deal with an atypical member of the Chinese Emperor’s elite bodyguards. Chow’s character in "Forbidden City Cop", Ling Ling Fat, and Louis Koo’s (who headlines this movie) character, Royal Dog, are also clever inventors. And both, unlike their fellow bodyguards, suck at kung fu. Indeed, it’s quite reasonable if one mistakes Wong Jing for making a sequel to the earlier 1996 Vincent Kok-directed film.
But to set the record first- "On His Majesty’s Secret Service" is not a sequel (although Wong Jing is producer on both films). Instead, at best, it is Wong Jing’s attempt to hark back to a nostalgic era when Hong Kong’s 'nonsense' comedies were a hit in the territory and also in Asia. Gone are those days- quite sadly, the ones who do big business now are the China co-produced bloated martial arts/war epics. And if you need any further proof of that, just look at how this Wong Jing movie was unceremoniously released straight to video here.
Although to be fair, one cannot blame this entirely on the anticipated indifferent reception. Contrary to what one may assume, making a classic 'nonsense' comedy doesn’t just take nonsense. It takes a certain level of craft to make some order out of essentially chaos, or for the lack of a better analogy, to make sense out of non-sense. Wong Jing’s "On His Majesty’s Secret Service" has a lot of chaos, and also a lot of non-sense, but it lacks enough order or sense to make it truly work.
There are numerous funny parts in the movie- some overtly exaggerated comedy, some play on words (much of which is probably lost in translation since this is dubbed in Mandarin) and some outrageous spoofs on "Curse of the Golden Flower" and (yes) even Transformers. In other words, it’s the usual Wong Jing’s hodgepodge of 'whatever works', i.e. make fun first, think about it later, or better still, don’t.
What "On His Majesty’s Secret Service" lacks is some good ol’ storytelling. It’s true that the best of the 'nonsense' comedies never really paid much heed to plot as well, but Wong Jing’s lazy writing here leaves much to be desired even by the 'mo lei tau' standards. At his whim and fancy, the Emperor’s loyal subjects turn disloyal, there become two assassination plots to kill the Emperor; and everyone eventually lives happily ever after. The last is to be expected, but the rest is just frustrating to watch.
Wong Jing’s best bet is his tanned leading man Louis Koo. Koo may not have Stephen Chow’s comedic chops, but he makes up for it in spades with his self-deprecating take on the material. While he’s not done much comedy recently, Koo knows when to let his hair down and just have fun- and perhaps that’s the best you can ask out of any actor in a Wong Jing comedy. Ditto for Sandra Ng, the gifted comedy actress who makes the best out of what is essentially a throwaway role.
Wong Jing’s "On His Majesty’s Secret Service" is probably best appreciated as a throwback to the 'nonsense' comedies Hong Kong was so fond of making just one decade ago. Though somewhat let down by Wong Jing’s usual lazy writing, there is still much humour to be found here- the kind you’d feel guilty after for having revelled in its stupidity. Turn off your brains and just go along for the laughs.
Just a haphazardly stitched together Trailer.
Nice visual transfer that brings out nicely the colourful costumes in the movie. It’s a pity that there is only the Mandarin audio track on this Code 3 DVD since one suspects the Cantonese track will be much much funnier.
Review by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 17 October 2009