A Chinese Odyssey full of strangers

Karen Mok (far left) as the demon, Bak Jing-jing, and Tiffany Tang as fairy Zixia in A Chinese Odyssey Part Three.
Karen Mok (far left) as the demon, Bak Jing-jing, and Tiffany Tang as fairy Zixia in A Chinese Odyssey Part Three.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

REVIEW / FANTASY

A CHINESE ODYSSEY PART THREE (PG13)

92 minutes/Opens tomorrow/2/5 stars

The story: Time-travelling with the help of Pandora's Box, fairy Zixia (Tiffany Tang) realises that she will sacrifice herself for her loved one, Joker (Han Geng), the reincarnation of the Monkey King. She tries in vain to get him to fall in love with the demon, Bak Jing-jing (Karen Mok). Her plan B: marry the Bull King (Zhang Chao). On the day of the ceremony, the ersatz Monkey King (also played by Han) is sent to Earth to subdue the demons so that he can accompany Longevity Monk (Wu Jing) on his journey to the West, thus righting a mistake made by the Jade Emperor (Huang Zheng) in the heavenly annals.

A Chinese Odyssey sequel without Stephen Chow? This is a travesty.

The two-part A Chinese Odyssey (1995) was one of the key works cementing Chow's reputation as a comic superstar and he will forever be associated with the dual roles of Joker and Monkey King.

The luckless stand-in here is singer-actor Han Geng, whose good-looking mug is no substitute for Chow's priceless deadpan face.

Given the massive popularity of the earlier films in China, this new instalment was greenlit despite the absence of most of the original cast.

Apart from Mok, who reprises her role as a demon in what is essentially a cameo, the line-up of Hong Kong actors, including Athena Chu, Law Kar Ying and Ada Choi, has been replaced by names better known in China. For die-hard fans, this would be akin to returning to one's childhood home, only to find it peopled with strangers - who are pretending to be one's family.

At least Jeffrey Lau, who directed the classic two-parter, has returned to helm the sequel and also penned the script, which contains Chow's signature mo lei tau style of nonsensical humour - Bull King's sister (Zhang Yao) drools copiously at the sight of Joker and characters break into a Cantonese ballad to express their emotional conundrum.

Even then, these are recycled jokes. Nothing beats Law's Longevity Monk earnestly massacring the oldie, Only You, as Chow's Joker is pushed to the limits of his patience in Part Two.

Worse, while the earlier instalments were hailed for their special effects and high production values, this entry's computer graphics look cheap and make things feel weightless and cut off from reality.

Of course, one can always make another film based on the literary classic, but even when Chow co-wrote, produced and directed his version without starring in it - Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons (2013) - he did not tag it with A Chinese Odyssey.

Despite Lau's involvement here, in the end, it is hard to shake off the feeling that this was made solely for a quick buck.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'A Chinese Odyssey full of strangers'. Print Edition | Subscribe