past summer, the Emperor Entertainment Group unveiled
their latest marketing masterstroke, The Twins
Effect II! Also known as The Huadu Chronicles,
TE2 is made-to-order commercial crap for its
intended preteen audience. To wit: it centers on a
couple of adorable girls who save the world and line
their pockets thanks to faked fighting skills and
flawless smiles. The cute factor of TE2 should
give it instant cred with anyone sporting a pulse.
When Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung face off in a
battle royale of cute kung-fu, you'd have to be dead
not to find it as endearing as a trip to the Sanrio
Store. But even a trip to the Sanrio Store has its
downside. Sure it's fun and cute, but it wastes time
and money, and does nothing to make the world a better
place. And in the end, how many Hello Kitty staplers
can one person own?
The terrible twosome
star as inhabitants of a fantasy China in which women
claim ownership of men. While that may sound just
like the real world, the ownership described here
is literal. The men are slaves (referred to as "dumbbells"),
and their masters (called "Amazons") use
them for menial labor and implied carnal pleasure.
The sprightly 13th Young Master (Charlene Choi, who's
as sassy and silly as her screen persona allows) is
a slave trader, while Blue Bird (Gillian Chung, exuding
adorable toughness) is an Imperial Enforcer in the
employ of the perpetually unhappy evil Queen (Qu Ying).
The two first meet when they have an epic kiddy kung-fu
battle that occurs thanks to reasons not unlike the
classic martial arts films of old. Basically, one
girl looks at the other in a way that neither likes,
and then they start battling with cute kicks and semi-convincing
wirework. Having the girls take on each other in the
opening ten minutes is a narrative decision that should
earn the screenwriter a raise. Yes, a convoluted semi-plot
is about to be unleashed, but before any of that really
happens we're already getting a Twin vs. Twin throwdown
to satiate the masses. We should all clap politely
as appreciation for the filmmakers' hard work.
When the girls settle
down, they almost immediately get drawn into an epic
"save the kingdom" conflict that threatens
to change their lives and last about one hundred minutes.
The rebel leader, named Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
(Donnie Yen, in an extended cameo), is leading a charge
to dethrone the evil Queen, who's not really evil,
but sure acts that way. Her turn to the dark side
was all due to a broken heart, and is revealed in
a stylishly-told flashback that comes complete with
love, betrayal, and even castration.
But there exists
a prophecy of the "Star of Rex", a destined
hero who will wield the mighty "Excalibur"
and bring peace to the land by uniting the men and
women as equals. At first, Blue Bird is sent to find
and stop the Star of Rex from ever getting his hands
on the Excalibur, but she begins to get all mushy
on one of the two candidates, namely Charcoal Head
(Jaycee Fong), a too-nice dope who hangs with the
other candidate, the roguish Blockhead (Wilson Chen
of Blue Gate Crossing). It's Blockhead that
13th Young Master is sent to catch, but she too starts
to get googly-eyed over her quarry.
Big surprise, the girls pair
off with these two dopes, meaning big names Daniel
Wu and Edison Chen are resigned to glorified cameos
and not leading men duty. This is all due to the masterful
manipulation of the Emperor Music Group, who own the
services of both Wilson Chen and Jaycee Fong, two
young turks that EMG has anointed as future moneymakers.
In Wilson Chen's case, it's not such a bad deal, since
the kid has a roguish Takeshi Kaneshiro-like charm
that works well with Charlene Choi's usual fussy silliness.
However, Jaycee Fong is a total cipher, and displays
the screen charisma of a cardboard standee of Jackie
Chanan apt comparison, since Fong happens to
be Chan's real-life offspring. For proof, one only
has to look at Fong's enlarged schonzz, which is the
only way that Fong channels any Jackie Chan whatsoever.
Unlike his famous pop, Fong doesn't kick, punch, or
perform any death-defying stunts that make the audience
stand up and take notice. He also doesn't engage in
any self-effacing comedy like Chan did, which begs
the ultimate question: why is this guy on the screen?
Well, that's simple: he's Jackie Chan's son. Good
Still, such brainless
casting is no big surprise since The Twins Effect
II is avowed commercial crap that's designed to
do just one thing: make money. Creativity and the
desire to tell a good story were not factors in this
film's creation. All EEG was looking for was a way
to package their idols into one big mega-production,
and hopefully sucker unsuspecting teens into checking
out their fave idols (the Twins, Edison Chen), and
hopefully find new ones (Wilson Chen, Jaycee Fong).
The result: hopefully more albums and DVDs sold, and
the further decline of Hong Kong Cinema as anything
resembling the gonzo anything-goes moviemaking machine
of the eighties and nineties.
Everything about The
Twins Effect II seems carefully calculated by
marketingexcept maybe the script, which is uninspired
and dependent on too many semi-amusing interludes
which are meant to pass for actual content. The kids
bicker and poke fun, and the ubiquitous Jim Chim Sui-Man
(this year's winner of the Chapman To Overexposed
Award) shows up as a moleman who acts annoying and
gratingly out-of-place. There's also a big showdown
between Donnie Yen and Jackie Chan, which happens
because somebody at EEG decreed: "We gotta get
Donnie Yen and Jackie Chen to fight. It's money, baby!"
Well, they did it, and the result is a decently-played
fight sequence. But again, it's totally out of place
and has nothing to do with anything else that happens
in the film. Go figure.
Ultimately, The Twins
Effect II compares favorably to the original,
as that was also a marketing meeting stretched into
a two-hour movie. However, when that film was reviewed
last year, I managed to give it a passable "it's
crap, but cute" review that basically said that
the Twins were enough to save the film. Well, the
same cannot be said for The Twins Effect II,
partly because it's not the Twins who carry this film.
Nope, it's an ensemble of mismatched players, some
good, some bad, and most deserving better than this
rehashed collection of clichés.
costumes and art direction are intriguing, and the
fantasy setting gives the film a "kid's flick"
feel that's quite fitting for the Twins, who happen
to be a big hit with the tykes. The brief moments
of action are passable, and again, the Twins are as
cute as a trip to the petting zoo. Still, the movie
really goes nowhere, especially during a protracted
finale that mixes the crass (the Queen's "curse"
is comically lame) with the depressing (plot devices
save the day, and not a swift kick to someone's rear).
At the same time, it's conceivable that the cuteness,
color, and CGI on display will divert those who have
come to know moviemaking as the creation of disposable
celluloid crap. If the Twins and some expensive-looking
bells and whistles are enough to fill your entertainment
plate, then you're welcome to this film. But for me
it's not enough, not anymore. (Kozo 2004)