This Derek Yee-helmed film is the first Chinese blockbuster of the year. In the years after the Revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty in China and established the republic, China broken up into fiefdoms held by warlords, who are busy fighting each other. A lieutenant is using magic to scare convicts into joining a warlord’s army. His warlord has imprisoned a girl and wants her to be his seventh wife, but he’s too honorable to force her. The local revolutionaries wants to kill the warlord and bring back the republic. The lieutenant is secretly a member of the Qing Dynasty Remnant and wants to bring back the Empire. The local Japanese businessman is actually trying to take over with help of the local Blackhawk gang. Into this chaos, a stranger returns from aboard with mastery of magic, and is back to recover the girl he loved (daughter of his master/teacher). The whole setting was really nice and there were plenty of cheeky dialogues in between and the magic performances.
It’s been reported that the director didn’t want to slapstick comedy but there were some pretty funny moments. Yee engineers a number of twists and turns in the script, as his movies are usually solid in building up characters / events and his stories generally have a good flow to it. To be honest, whether or not the story is successful, the casting alone should guarantee a stellar response to movie-goers. Derek Yee is also a very capable director so for me, that was what built anticipation. Director Derek Yee is best known in the West for his crime thrillers such as Protege and has a varied filmography throughout his career.
When going in to see The Great Magician, expect great acting and moments of lucid philosophical insights into love and politics. The film truely shines when both Tony Leung and Lau Ching Wan get to grace the screen together, with their characters turn from adversaries to unsuspecting friends. The big downside of the film for me was held in the second half. To put it simply, it fails to keep up the same high standards, largely due to developments in the relationships between the three main characters become less convincing. It steals the plot of being a “love story” from The Illusionist and the plot of vengence from The Pristige.
It has been a long long time since Tony Leung and Lau Ching Wan acted in a comedy, so to see them acting in comedy is really something different. That alone is worth the price of admission, however the initial premise eventually falls apart and the plot becomes convoluted. I found it almost incomprehensible as an important subplot involving a secondary villain is unresolved, and the characters undergo drastic changes with no reason. The tremendous potential in this movie eventually turned into disappointment for me. So in the end, I am quite torn. On one hand, it’s a departure from the usual Derek Yee films given the fact that it is witty, but on the other hand the second half of the film falls flat on its face. There are bright spots though! I mean, how often do you get both Tony Leung and Sean Lau at the same party?