Joe Ma continues his
string of modest box-office hits with The Lion
Roars, a welcome costume comedy that pairs eternally-tanned
Louis Koo with beleagured celebrity Cecilia Cheung.
Koo is Seasonal Chan, a meek poet who's picky about
finding a new wife. He lucks out(?) when he meets
Moth Liu (Cecilia Cheung), who's strong-willed and
utterly charming. In a strange turn of events, the
Emperor forces the two to marry and they
seem happy with the arrangement. After all, neither
has had much success in finding a desirable other
half, and they seem to hit it off immediately.
There are problems: Liu is violently temperamental and insanely
jealous. Given the times, the wife is expected to
remain submissive and respectful to her husband, but
Liu doesn't play that game. She loves Chan, but
dominates him incessantly, leading problems with neighbors, friends and even government
officials. Everyone wants Liu tamed, but Chan is reluctant
to do so - presumably because he's scared of
Liu, but the other reason seems to be that he genuinely
loves his irrepressible wife.
Cheung's performance comes in very handy. While
still a raw, undisciplined talent, Cheung shows a
rough charm and appealing sexiness that compliments
her beautiful face. She looks incredibly hungry (Why
must these ingenues lose so much weight?), but she
handles the role well through some grand shifts
in tone. This is probably her most welcome performance
since Wu Yen.
Unfortunately, the film doesn't
entirely suit her. The
first half of the film is composed of annoying and
tiresome shtick, with the uninteresting plot seeming to be randomly generated. The film relies too
much on Cheung and co-star Koo to carry the questionably
funny comedy, and they don't always come through.
Koo, in particular, seems lost; while he's shown some good comedic instincts
in the past, his performance here seems cribbed from
Stephen Chow's greatest hits. It goes without saying, Koo is no Stephen
Chow. He's a handsome and likable guy, but he fails
at making Seasonal Chan a character worth caring about.
Joe Ma has shown himself
to be a fine director in the past, but the broad comedy
of The Lion Roars seems ill-suited to his talents.
He never finds a proper tone or pace that engages. Instead, it's in-your-face wackiness
that's only occasionally funny, accompanied by mystifying
stretches of tedium that may prompt the audience to check their watches. The film rights itself midway through when
a princess (Fan Bing-Bing) shows affection for Chan, but
the shift in tone is abrupt and doesn't convince.
The actors do work better in the more serious scenes
(especially Koo), but they can't help the film make sense.
For popstar-watching, The Lion Roars is tops, with both Cecilia Cheung and Louis Koo
proiving eminently attractive. However, the lazy screenwriting and meandering storyline are
distracting, and the mixture of sap and seriousness
is ill-fitting. The comedy is tiresome, and the drama
- while occasionally affecting - seems out of place.
On the positive side, the actors give their all in the dramatic scenes,
and some of Koo's fans may swoon over Seasonal Chan's exceptionally
overwrought confession of love for Moth Liu. The moment is hardly
great cinema, but at least it strikes the
proper chord. This could be the rare Hong Kong film
where the serious stuff works better than the silly
stuff. Too bad the whole thing is so unremarkable. (Kozo 2002)