Though Anita Mui gets top billing in Wu Yen, the undisputed
star of the film is none other than Sammi Cheng Sau-Man, who
became a box-office sensation last year thanks to Needing
You and Summer Holiday. Now she gets to headline
her own Lunar New Year film, co-starring Mui and still-hot
Cecilia Cheung. The classic tale of ugly warrior Chung Mo-Yim
(or Zhong Wu-Yen) has been told before, most notably by Carol
Cheng Yu-Ling in an old TVB serial. Brought to us by new comedymeisters
Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai, this new flick reimagines Chung
Mo-Yim as a costume comedy that channels Stephen Chow's mo
lei tau comedies of the early nineties.
Chung Mo-Yim (Sammi Cheng) is a woman
warrior who's fated to marry the Emperor (Anita Mui in a cross-dressing
role). The two first meet when the Emperor accidentally frees
the evil Fairy Enchantress (Cecilia Cheung), who then proceeds
to get between Mo-Yim and the Emperor by proffering his/her
affections. Mo-Yim spurns the Enchantress, so the Enchantress
puts a curse on Mo-Yim. As long as she loves the Emperor,
she'll be marred by a hideous mark on her face. Unlike the
old TVB series, the mark isn't a half-black, half-white number,
it's a simple red mark across one of Mo-Yim's eyes. She still
looks pretty, but for some reason everyone in the movie runs
like she's the Elephant Man. Undaunted, Mo-Yim swears to become
Empress, but not without difficulties.
The Emperor turns out to be a lazy,
skirt-chasing ass who has no sense of women, much less politics.
Disgusted at Mo-Yim's "ugliness," the Emperor instead
turns to a female incarnation of the Fairy Enchantress, who
inserts herself into the palace to make things even more difficult
for Mo-Yim. Mo-Yim hangs around until she's actually needed,
which is whenever a fight needs to be won. When the going
gets tough for the Emperor, he calls on Mo-Yim to save the
day, which she does though sometimes reluctantly.
And so it goes for nearly two hours,
as Mo-Yim attempts to win the Emperor's affections while fending
off the overbearing Fairy Enchantress. Right away, this movie
plays like a Lunar New Year film. The comedy isn't restrained
by the period setting, and the jokes fly fast and furious
in a fashion more typified by Wong Jing than Johnnie To. Still,
To keeps the shtick grounded by relying less on a frenzied
pace and more on his stars. Sammi Cheng inhabits Mo-Yim with
a believable inner strength and a comedienne’s slapstick grace.
Cecilia Cheung is good, too. However, the strongest performance
is probably Anita Mui, who's hilarious as the Emperor. Together,
the three women make Wu Yen a dizzy treat, by turns
funny and even a little affecting.
A lot of delightful touches round
out this Lunar New Year film. To uses puppets and song for
exposition, stages mahjong games, and has each of his actresses
play both sexes at one time or another. It all adds up to
an utterly inconsequential time at the movies. Seeing Wu
Yen as a semi-serious film is impossible, what with the
multitude of convention-breaking jokes and anachronistic touches.
Still, it's all in the name of fun. Wu Yen plays like
an elaborate performance piece, and thankfully an enjoyable
one. (Kozo 2001)