Director: Jeffrey Lau
Cast: Han Geng, Tiffany Tang, Karen Mok, Wu Jing, Gillian Chung, Xie Nan
Runtime: 1 hr 32 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Mature Reference)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 22 September 2016
Synopsis: A Chinese Odyssey Part Three is a third part continuation from the famous 1995 fantasy comedy film A Chinese Odyssey Part One: Pandora's Box and A Chinese Odyssey Part Two: Cinderella starring Stephen Chow.
Not a lot will make sense – and probably even less if you haven’t watched or cannot quite remember the first two chapters – in writer/director Jeff Lau’s long-gestating sequel to his cult classic fantasy saga ‘A Chinese Odyssey’. Coming two decades after Zixia sacrificed herself to save the Monkey King from the Bull King, Lau continues his revisionist take on the ‘Journey to the West’ tale with a brand-new storyline that has Zixia using the Pandora’s Box to foresee her tragic future and then travelling back to the past 500 years ago to prevent that fate by marrying the Bull King instead. If that got you lost, you’re not alone; seeing as how casually and frequently refer to past events to justify their actions in the present, one supposes that Lau assumes his audience already has an encyclopedia’s knowledge of his first two movies if they are here to see him do it all over again.
It isn’t just Zixia who is messing with the sequence of events; even the Jade Emperor has apparently gotten it wrong, screwing up the timing of the Monkey King’s birth meant to aid the pilgrims in their journey to fetch the Buddhist scriptures. How it all resolves itself is indeed the odyssey this time around, and let’s just say it won’t leave you very much satisfied. But hey, all that jumbled plotting is really an excuse for Lau to once again play the anachronistic jester, injecting pop-culture jokes and references into the period setting for sheer inane humour – and let’s face it, as silly as it may be, can you deny that hearing Law Kar-Ying’s Longevity Monk irritate the heck out of Stephen Chow’s Monkey King with his rendition of ‘Only You’ in ‘A Chinese Odyssey: Part Two’ doesn’t make you smile from ear to ear? Oh yes, it is that spirit of tomfoolery that we’ve come to indulge in here, never mind that it all seems utterly nonsensical.
Alas, time seems to have dulled Lau’s comedic sensibilities, and like his more recent attempts at replicating the heights of his ‘Chinese Odyssey’ heydays (see: ‘A Chinese Tall Story’ (2005); ‘Just Another Pandora’s Box (2010); and ‘Just Another Margin’ (2014)), this third chapter of ‘A Chinese Odyssey’ sees the Hong Kong writer-director struggling with recapturing the wit and inventiveness of his earlier 90s hits. A reference to the blue-skinned people from James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ comes off dated, while a spontaneous Cantonese ballad that the characters spring into to reflect on their respective love conundrums feels recycled and is ultimately not quite so quirky enough. As much as Lau keeps the pace frenetic from start to finish, there’s no doubting that the gags in and of themselves do not hit the funny bone as hard as it they should be.
Unfair though such comparisons may be, it is hard not to lament the omission of the original franchise stars, especially the hilarious triumvirate of Stephen Chow, Ng Man-Tat and Law Kar-Ying. Oh yes, except for Karen Mok who returns in no more than a glorified cameo as the White-Boned Spirit (aka Bak Jing-Jing), Lau has switched his previous cast of Hong Kong actors for a predominantly Mainland ensemble – including Han Geng as the Monkey King, Wu Jing as the Longevity Monk, Tiffany Tang as Zixia and Shawn Huang as the Bull Demon King. None of the new stars manage to re-define the roles as their own, with the most glaring ersatz substitutions being the pretty-but-wooden-boy Han Geng and a woefully unfunny Wu Jing. Notwithstanding the difficulty of re-assembling the original group of actors, one wonders if the current crop were chosen simply on their box-office value.
In fact, one suspects that the only reason for this belated yet unnecessary sequel is the lure of the Mainland audience dollar; otherwise, there is no discernible reason why Lau would take a trip back in time just so to re-write the storylines in ‘A Chinese Odyssey Parts I and II’ that generations of audiences have come to love and embrace. The suspicion that this third chapter is no more than a cash-grab is further reinforced by the substandard computer graphics, which shockingly fall short even by the standards of the originals two decades ago. As generous as we wanted to be about a sequel without its obvious marquee star Stephen Chow, ‘A Chinese Odyssey Part III’ makes his absence even more glaring with its poor roster of cast substitutes and a dearth of genuine ‘mo-lei-tau’ wit. There’s clever silly and there’s just silly silly, and unfortunately, this pointless sequel is of the latter.
(Proving that there is no 'Chinese Odyssey' without Stephen Chow, this belated yet completely unnecessary sequel substitutes the original roster of Hong Kong stars for good-looking but empty Mainland actors and lacks the original's 'mo-lei-tau' wit or inventiveness)
Review by Gabriel Chong