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Fantasia



(top) Gillian Chung, Louis Koo and Charlene Choi prance around.
(lower left) Lau Ching-Wan sniffs Christy Chung, and (lower right) Cecilia Cheung gets the biz from Francis Ng.

Year: 2004
Director: Wai Ka-Fai
Producer: Wai Ka-Fai
Writer: Wai Ka-Fai
Action: Yuen Bun
Cast: Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi, Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Jordan Chan Siu-Chun, Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Christy Chung Lai-Tai, Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin, Gillian Chung Yun-Tung, Max Chan Long, Johnny Chen (Lu Sze-Ming), Ronnie Cheung Ho-Lung, Marco Lok Lik-Wai, Eric Kot Man-Fai, Tats Lau Yi-Tat, Wong Yau-Nam, Tsui Tin-Yau, Kenny Kwan Chi-Bun, Steven Cheung Chi-Hung, Edmond So Chi-Wai, Winnie Lau Siu-Wai, Law Koon-Lan, Cheung Tat-Ming, Michael Hui Koon-Man
The Skinny: Largely inaccessible to most western HK movie fans, Fantasia might confound and confuse even the most incredibly popstar friendly. At the same time, it's a welcome helping of Cantonese cinema love for those who get the copious references, and it has a dizzy pace and creativity that's largely commendable. Overall, it's hit or miss, depending on who you are.
Review
by Kozo:

     In lieu of a Milky Way-produced Lunar New Year offering, Chinastar brings us Fantasia, the official Milky Way substitute Lunar New Year flick. Johnnie To's frequent partner Wai Ka-Fai produced, wrote and directed the film, and many Milky Way regulars (Lau Ching-Wan, Cecilia Cheung, Francis Ng, Lau Ching-Wan and Louis Koo) all show up. The film also has the good sense(?) to throw the Twins, Boy'z AND Shine into the mix, thereby making this the most popstar duo-filled Hong Kong film EVER. But lest we think this is some fluffy populist comedy meant for the 20-and-under set, Fantasia throws its biggest conceit at us: it recalls and celebrates an age of Chinese Cinema that most youngsters simply aren't familiar with. The resulting film will probably lose the kiddies, and likely many Western-based HK film fans too. That's a shame, because those who get the jokes might find Fantasia to be a fun spectacle that's refreshingly familiar.
     Lau Ching-Wan is Michael, the proprietor of a detective agency in 1969 Hong Kong, who runs the show along with his two assistants, Sam (Louis Koo) and Fugu (Jordan Chan). Complications arise when a mysterious genie named Harmy Bobo (Cecilia Cheung) appears in their lives. A disturbing dead ringer for Harry Potter, Harmy is boyish and a malfunctioning magic user to boot. Not only do her spells seemingly not work (there's a time-delay thing going on), she also loses her magical chopsticks. When licked by a particular individual, the chopsticks turn into The Chopstick Sisters (Twins, natch), a couple of beehive hairdo-sporting girls who take on the personality characteristics of the person who licked them. In this case, the licker was the villainous Kin (Francis Ng), who uses his new god-daughters to perform robberies and other assorted cartoonish evil deeds. Plus, Sam apes Bruce Lee, and Harmy wrangles with her cousin Bug, a small, stuffed dinosaur-like creature that grows to massive proportions and leaves large pink droppings all over the place. Who isn't confused or even a little turned off?
     On the surface, the "plot" of Fantasia isn't much of a step above such recent nonsense comedies as Wong Jing's egregious The Spy Dad. However, that is a superficial measure. Instead of your umpteenth lowbrow comedy parodying The Matrix, Fantasia finds its charms in sending up and paying tribute to a beloved time of Cantonese cinema, more specifically the pop culture and film idols of the mid-seventies. Chief among the targets are the Hui Brothers (Michael, Sam and Ricky) and their many collaborations, in particular the 1976 film The Private Eyes. Lau Ching-Wan gets Michael Hui's mannerisms and bemused delivery down perfectly, Louis Koo apes Sam Hui's grinning good-guy routine well, and Jordan Chan is likably dopey as the Ricky Hui stand-in. Cecilia Cheung may initially be doing a parody of Harry Potter, but she soon ditches the Hogwart's robe in favor of a plaid shirt and umbrella ensemble that references the Lam Ah Chun (or "Plain Jane") comedies starring Josephine Siao. Francis Ng overacts with abandon in a parody of Shek Kin, one of Cantonese cinema's great villains, and the Twins send up the actual Chopstick Sisters, a popular duo from the sixties and seventies.
     Even Cousin Bug is a walking reference. His Cantonese name is "Lap Sap Chung", which is also the name of a cartoon dinosaur which was once used in an old Hong Kong anti-litter campaign. Lap Sap Chung also grows to large proportions using fake-looking CGI and rampages around Michael's kitchen in a direct lift from Jurassic Park. Laughs abound thanks to the dead-on parody (director Wai Ka-Fai even lifts the camera angles), and Lau Ching-Wan and Louis Koo play off their CGI pal in an amusing fashion. Even when they're called upon to get large pink piles of Lap Sap refuse dumped on them, the actors are unflappably game. Embarassment doesn't seem to be a factor for anyone here, and that's a good thing. Considering they're required to basically mug, shriek and generally act like loons for a good 100 minutes of wackiness, some self-effacing good cheer goes a long way.
     There is, however, another side to this. Like the aforementioned The Spy Dad, too much wackiness can become tiresome and even irritating. If you're not partial to actors acting like total idiots or mugging like no tomorrow (the Twins, in particular, mug with a gratingly pronounced glee), Fantasia can be as annoying as anything Wong Jing ever made. To its credit, Fantasia does aspire to a little more than Wong Jing's comedies do. Instead of a full-on parody/wack-fest, Wai Ka-Fai takes care to actually reference the defining characteristics of his beloved Cantonese cinema along with its most famous icons. In Fantasia, Hong Kong is a hopeful, cheery, four-color fantasyland where the working class can find their fortunes and even get the girl—genie or not. The comedy flies so fast and furious that it's possible to skip by the jokes that do flatline, and even the sentimentality comes with a witty edge. Despite being silly and throwaway, there does seem to be some creativity going on here.
     Still, the acid test for the Fantasia experience is probably whether or not any of these references mean anything to you. To some people, this type of referential cinema is just what the doctor ordered; it recalls good times and silly laughs, and is cheap escapist entertainment aimed squarely at the masses. To others, it might just be more of the same weird HK parody crap, except without any Matrix jokes. Things to help the Fantasia experience along: actual (or even cursory) knowledge of the actors and films being lampooned, a partiality to mugging popstars, and a huge mess of people to laugh along with. Things that hurt the Fantasia experience: nobody else in the room, a depressing outlook on life, and a complete and utter and contempt for the wacky Hong Kong Cinema of the sixties and seventies. Put simply, this is not a movie for everyone, and will likely lose many people who lack the knowledge or patience to get its weird and wacky ways. Those who get the jokes though, will probably find some measure of amusement. (Kozo 2004)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

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