Like Quentin Tarantino’s latest Kill Bill Films [Vol 1. & Vol. 2 Review], A Chinese Odyssey was originally shot as a three-hour movie, but was divided into two seperate films when the studio thought the market wasn’t right for a longer work. The Axe Gang, led by the moody Joker (Stephen Chow), camps not too far off of the Five Finger Mountain. There they bait and attack their victims. A mysterious woman appears and defeats the goons. She forces them to let her stay in their well run inn until her target, an unknown scarred man, appears. The Axe Gang unwillingly agrees. While she is waiting the Joker decides to strike back and eliminate her. Unfortunately for him the mysterious woman’s sister appears. The Joker immediately falls for the beautiful stranger leaving the Axe Gang confused. 500 years earlier. The Joker has been summoned by the fearful ZiXia (Athena Chu) who has obtained Pandora’s Box. He wishes to go back to his love Jing Jing but ZiXia has other plans for him. She needs the Joker to help her and her sister, both sharing the same body, end Buddha’s wrath who apparently cursed them many years ago. Unsure what ZiXia’s intent is the Joker draws her magic sword which immediately makes him the chosen one – he is destined to be ZiXia’s eternal love.
Confused yet? A Chinese Odyssey is a challenging film many will be surprised to discover offers a great deal of difficult to decipher sub-themes. Yes, I know I must be violating some rule of film critic review system here, but A Chinese Odyssey is meant to viewed (and admittedly much easier to be reviewed) as one movie. The role as Monkey King earned Stephen Chow his first acting award, from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society, and further demonstrated the existence of the actor beneath the comedian.
Still interested? If you are then you will be treated to an entertaining jaunt that has all the strengths of Chows later works, humor and great action. The budget for these films seems to be his biggest obstacle as the makeup effects outside of his character are quite laughable and the sets and costumes are also quite limited. Think mainland china meets highlander. The first one was kind of tough — lots of broad physical humor — a few brilliant Stephen Chow gags. And the second one is connected to the first one in only a haphazard way. But you really do need to see both of them. The grand scene in the movie was the part where Monkey King watched as the girl he once loved and his past life were standing on top of a roof. Monkey King took over Joker’s body and kissed the girl with the music playing was just beautiful. This movie was probably one of Steven Chow’s greatest movie.
I believe part one and two are inseparable, and they are equally good, but quite different in style. While part one is more slapstic and more funny, part two is a more serious exploration of identity, time, and love, in a more postmodern sense. A Chinese Odyssey more than satisfies as a fantasy epic, yet it’s the love story that really grips. It concludes on a thought-provoking and deeply touching scene, and it comes across as one of the highest praised movies I have had the pleasure of reviewing on Japan Cinema thus far.