Monday, February 7, 2011

Import/Export: Forbidden City Cop

If the city was so forbidden, how did so many people get in?!?  Stephen Chow is an interesting case of getting famous fairly-late in your career.  Much like Jackie Chan, Jet Li or Sammo-Hung before him, Chow made a whole slew of films in his native land before his cartoony-action/comedy Kung Fu Hustle became a hit in the states.  It was his Rumble in the Bronx, basically.  Fans of his earlier films were not surprised by this movie, but we in the States sure were!  Who was this crazy man who made a martial arts film with a Bug Bunny sensibility to it?  However, like I said, it's easy to see it when you look at his early stuff.  When I first joined Netflix in July 2005- after I got a job, basically- I was drawn in by the chance to weird foreign films and the like.  This would be one of them and it's a great example why the service is handy.  Where's my residual money, Netflix?  Seriously though, this is a weird and quirky film.  In it, Chow plays a man who prefers gadgets over martial-arts, making him stick out like a sore thumb in this Wuxia era.  I suspect that his quirkiness will come in handy later and may even save the day.  Let's find out, shall we?  Get out your cart license as we get stopped by the...
The film sets the tone early on with an introductory scene involving some stock Wuxia characters meeting on a roof to 'duel like true warriors.'  Chow shows up with an anachronistic-looking flashlight of sorts to break up the fight.  Why?  Because they might mess up the tile on the roofs.  The men scoff at him and leap away, disappearing in true 'super Chinese hero' fashion.  He, naturally, slips off the roof.  This leads into a silly James Bond-style intro, complete with shadows and women (see above).  One of them even gets offended at Chow's silhouette, so he crushes her like a bug.  In the actual film, the Emperor of the titular city calls in his four Elite Guards.  They each show off their kung-fu skills, complete with back-flipping, sword-fighting and all of the appropriate flexing.  Chow is last and tumbles with all the grace of, well, me.  He shows off his devices- including a fan blade and a gun prototype- but none of them work quite right.  Through some clunky exposition, we learn that he's in the Guard because of his family name/history.  Thankfully, his wife appreciates him.  This is especially true after he puts a rat-powered motor in their bed that thrusts his hips for him.  No, really.  Trouble looms, however, as some evil plans to strike at the Emperor!
The Emperor goes out on a jaunt in the woods, accompanied by all of his best men.  Translation: Chow is stuck at home.  It's okay, because he's out shopping in the Market with his lady.  In the woods, the men are attacked by the henchmen of the film's no-face villain.  In a weird bit of dark humor, the movie cuts away just at the moment where the heroes are about to die- i.e. by decapitation- and cut to something 'ironic'- i.e. a man cutting open a watermelon.  If you're looking for a tone, it's...a bit random.  Later that night, Chow is invited to an event for all of the doctors in the area.  By the way, Chow was given the job as an OBGYN as pity- ha ha.  When the men look gather, they are treated to a medical marvel- an alien body ready for autopsy!  Yeah, I bet you didn't see that coming!  While the men stare in wonder, villains are slowly-killing them all.  Again- random tone.  After a lot of teasing, Chow stops before the scalpel comes down, which is good because the 'alien' was actually the Emperor in a suit.  That's a very obtuse plan, huh?  You could have killed him, but you drugged him and put him in a suit, so that doctors would do an autopsy on him- killing him- and then they would kill the doctors?  Huh?!?  In a serious of comedy bits, Chow uses his inventions- which he took with him for no clear reason- to save the day.  His next job: find the Emperor some hot tail!
The movie really feels like two screenplays put together at this point, but that doesn't necessarily make it bad.  Chow romances a hot prostitute under the pretense of getting her for the Emperor, since his giant harem is full of 'ugly women.'  More wacky comedy ensues, but something serious does too.  Chow turns on his wife and leaves her for the women in a very dramatic scene.  His plot is revealed to the Emperor, who is not pleased.  However, this is all a ruse to catch the woman.  Why?  It's simple: she's the no-face villain in disguise!  Dun dun obvious!  Our heroes revel in their victory, even stopping the narrative dead to give out awards for acting in the dinner scene.  No, really.  Chow is upset when he doesn't win Best Actor, but the father-in-law does.  The humor is broken up, however, as the villain breaks free for one big fight.  Chow's box of tools is blown up via kung-fu power, so it's time for Plan B.  The villain shows off his ability to redirect energy through his punches before Chow's transvestite brother shows up.  Are you surprised by this point?  The guy/girl wraps the villains in chains as part of a plan to have lightning strike him.  It doesn't work, however, as it just ends in Chow being zapped.  The lightning doesn't kill him, but instead redirects his Chi to make him a super-fighter, allowing him to kill the villain and save the day.  The End.
Long live the Emperor...'s guard.  The plot of this movie is silly and a bit bipolar.  Like I said before, it does feel like two screenplays got mixed together at times.  Ultimately, the film does come together, but it's just weird.  The mix of humor and the dark stuff is certainly odd too.  I liked the final product, even if it is freaky and random.  I love the quirky bits and it all feels pretty real.  Mind you, a lot of it is certainly goofy as hell!  It all fits into the reality of the film though.  Of course, the bit where they stop to give each other acting awards is just kind of random...and awesome.  You certainly have to be in the right frame of mind for the film though, as it is not going to be for everyone.  If you like the silly stuff mixed with some randomly-dark stuff, you'll love this movie.  Unlike a lot of foreign comedies, the humor is broad enough to cross cultural bounds.  Plus, Chow is funny and irreverent.  It's rare that I say this: this movie does not suck.
Up next, Instant Trash returns with an '80s film about samurais and cops.  On the plus side, it's star has since become an ironic, internet celebrity.  Stay tuned...

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