Director: Guillaume Canet
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Gilles Lellouche, Vincent Cassel, Jonathan Cohen, Marion Cotillard, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Julie Chen, Leanna Chea, José Garcia
Runtime: 1 hr 51 mins
Rating: PG (Some Drug References)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 11 May 2023
Synopsis: It's the year 50 BC. The Empress of China has just been imprisoned following a coup d'état incited by Deng Tsin Qin, a traitorous prince. Helped by Finalthesis, the Phoenician merchant, and her faithful bodyguard Mai Wei, the Empress' only daughter Princess Sa See (Julie Chen) flees to Gaul to ask for help from two valiant warriors Asterix (Guillaume Canet) and Obelix (Gilles Lellouche), who are endowed with superhuman strength thanks to their magic potion. Our two inseparable heroes gladly accept to help the Princess save her mother and free her country. And thus begins a great voyage and adventure on the road to China. But Caesar (Vincent Cassel) and his powerful army, thirsty for a new conquest, are also heading toward the Middle Kingdom...
After ten animated films, four live-action films, video games, an amusement park and numerous derivative products, Asterix and Obelix appear once again in this fifth live action film.
Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom introduces us to the inseparable buddies. Asterix who is one of the most beloved characters in French pop culture is a small, but a cunning, perspicacious Gallic man and his friend Obelix is the polar opposite - a strong man with a unhurried disposition. The latter fell into a vat of potion when he was just a child, which bestowed him with superpowers for the rest of his life.
The premise of the movie is rather straightforward. The blood princess of the Chinese empire escapes from a rogue prince and flees to the indomitable village of the Gauls, seeking help from the whimsical duo. The titular heroes decide to help the princess and their crusade is riddled with danger especially when they are compelled to face Caesar's army, which sees the Middle Kingdom as a new territory to conquer. And the adventure officially begins! The Asterix & Obelix universe has marked several generations of its following but has it been successful in retaining the DNA of the comic to appease its loyal following and would it spawn gold in the pot of French cinema like a few of its antecedents?
The Gaul’s valiant warrior characters who have been around since 1961 travel to China for their first time in this film which was originally titled as Asterisk & Obelix: The Silk Road. The fifth live action in the comic series and a follow-up to Asterix & Obelix: God Save Britannia (2012) is also the first live action movie that isn't based on the comic series.
While some may opine that there's no other better Obelix than Gérard Depardieu, the spanking new cast features Vincent Cassel (Julius Caesar), Jonathan Cohen (who manages to provoke laughter at key moments), Marion Cotillard (Cleopatra), Ramzy Bedia , Jose Garcia, Manu Payet, Pierre Richard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Orelsan, Biglo & Oli, Angèle, Franck Gastambide, McFly & Carlito and many others.
The scenes featuring Orelsan, Angèle and Zlatan Ibrahimovic definitely put a smile on our faces. But even with an imposing cast ensemble including social media stars, musicians, rappers and, ahem, a football player, the family-friendly film goes to show that it takes one to be an actor and not just a star to fill the shoes of the character. Adapting the universe of a cult comic book to the screen is undoubtedly an arduous mission. Laying claim to a cut to the chase plot, although the 111-minute comedy does have sufficient epic depth of great adventure films, the fifth instalment is made to feel too modern for the franchise’s true-blue fans’ liking, thus a disconnect between the artificiality of the film and audience’s expectations of this film.
The amusing actioner, that offers spectacular visuals, (thanks to 65 million euros of recording budget) was slated to be filmed in China but was eventually filmed in France and Morocco due to the global pandemic mayhem. Even with breath-taking vistas, grand locations that certifies a stunning cinematography, the underwhelming direction of Guillaume Canet paired with substandard writing emanates a hit-or-miss feel. The plot seems to be leaky since there’s substantial lack in strong scenes and punchy dialogues. Paradoxically, new-fangled terms such as ‘friendzone’, ‘viral’ and ‘antivirus’ lend a witty touch to the script. The uplifting number, ‘We Will Rock You’ that has made its way through the decades all the way to the post-pandemic era, is cleverly replaced with something along the lines of ‘Anti-anti-virus’, which is a remarkable effort.
Interspersed with action sequences inspired by Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and aerial ballet coalesced with martial arts, a sufficiently mastered editing could have saved this linear narrative with a comical rival dynamic that is speckled with pop culture references. Since the impetus for Caesar’s invasion of China was purely to impress his lady, a substory of Caesar and Cleopatra would have saved this forthcoming French comedy. And with Panacea (Angèle) making an appearance in the latest Asterix & Obelix motion picture, an interlocking narrative style could have been adopted to revive this playful and imaginary take on history. Despite being one of the most expensive French films of the year, it sadly takes a nosedive as an ambitious show with a flat interpretation that even a throng of star cameos can’t save.
(A full-fledged visual treat that does a bold and imaginative take on the retelling of history)
Review by Asha Gizelle Mariadas