This movie came highly recommended. I was told it has broke all records for a Chinese domestic production and is still running to packed crowds. I naturally expected a full fledged entertainer. Of course, it is an entertainer packed with comedy and action, a different kind of heist movie, but this is one movie which has lots of brilliance and class all over, yet churning out an entertainer.
1920's China. Pocky Zhang, an infamous bandit arrives into Goosetown, impersoned as the new Governor, just to make as much money out of the town, which is controlled by a local chieftain Master Huang. Pocky Zhang and Master Huang then go through a clever and brilliant battle of ideas and actions to take control.
Simply put, it look like a Chinese version of Robin Hood for me. Pocky Zhang steals money, but just distributes them to the poor and his only aim is to free the local people from the tyranny of Huang. But how this is brought about is quite brilliant. We go through an interesting and brilliant war of master plans by the two groups of bandits, packed with action occassionally. Well, humour is like an under ground track through out, is what makes this bandit war even more excellent. All together, especially because of the intelligence factor, Pocky Zhang turns out even better than Robin Hood.
There are many scenes where Pocky Zhang and Huang come face to face and the scenes go on like a teasing drama. These are wonderful duels actually and these scenes, including the one in the climax, I would say, is the hall mark of this movie. I cannot remember another movie which has executed this kind of brilliance bringing in two enemies, who seems to respect the other for their bad talents, face to face offering us brilliant dramatic excellence. There is a duplicate for Huang, who is used brilliantly by the script, which adds to the entertainment.
The story is definitely brilliant, but the script and the director has put together a movie which is full of fantasy, surrealism and voluptuous imagination for visual and mental pleasure. There were moments which got me absolutely stunned, wondering about the imaginative talents of the script and director. Both this is done by the same guy, Jiang Wen, who also plays Pocky Zhang wonderfully. Two other characters who stands out are Huang, played by Chow Yun-fat, and Counselor Tang played by Xiaogang Feng. Owing to the original and duplicate, one a mobster and the other a comic actor, of course it is Chow Yun fat who seem to have done a life time performance here. From all the movies I have seen, I definitely think this is his best performance. I have never seen him do this kind of light hearted role.
I would definitely consider this movie as a classic entertainer, albeit the movie being a bit too long. This we realise only when the show is over though. Because scenes are so nice that we forget the fact that these detailed scenes are dragging out the length of the movie. But still, there are many moments in the movie, including some in the climax, which would want us to think about this movie not just as an entertainer, but something higher.
I would salute this director for two reasons. Not just for making an amazing cinematic idea into script, but also for acting a main role at the same time. That definitely is a hard job to do, considering that this is no ordinary story and setting.
Watching this movie I was sure that I was not able to understand completely many things, to the fullest. I wonder if anybody who is not used to Chinese culture will understand this movie completely. I wish I could, it would have been more enjoyable, for sure.
I really wish, every body see this movie well before it is remade by Hollywood. Probably most of the developing world, barring the film festival audience, would get to see only the hollywood version of this movie and all the credits would go to the west. Most will not even know the original was a Chinese production, just like it happened with Internal Affairs (The Departed).