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On His Majesty's Secret Service
On His Majesty's Secret Service     On His Majesty's Secret Service

(left) Louis Koo and Barbie Hsu, and (right) Fan Siu-Wong in On His Majesty's Secret Service.
Chinese: 大內密探靈靈狗
Year: 2009
Director: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Action: Shum For-Sun  
Cast: Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Barbie Hsu, Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu, Tong Dawei, Liu Yang, Lam Chi-Chung, Song Jia, Liu Yiwei, Louis Fan Siu-Wong, Na Wei, Cheung Ka-Lun, Yuen King-Tan, Leung Ka-Yan, Law Kar-Ying, Lee Kin-Yan, Natalie Meng Yao, Maggie Li
The Skinny: Louis Koo turns in a solid comedic performance but most everything else about On His Majesty's Secret Service is business as usual for director-producer-crapmeister Wong Jing. The film has funny parts, boring parts, and a lack of inspiration that's exceptionally disappointing - especially given the lack of similar films in recent years. Probably only for diehard fans of the stars or Hong Kong Cinema fans who miss this genre so much that they'll accept anything.
by Kozo:
The most inspired thing about On His Majesty's Secret Service: Louis Koo in the lead. The Man with the Tan™ was once a staple of B-movie genre fare (e.g. those numerous low budget Troublesome Night films), but has since become one of Hong Kong's most dynamic leading men, showing versatility in comedies, dramas and even Johnnie To films. Koo is at his best when he plays against type; he can make fun of himself, and despite his strong leading man looks, you'll never find him winking at the camera. He also seems to respect whatever material he's working with even if it's incredibly low brow. In On His Majesty's Secret Service, Koo basically follows in the footsteps of Stephen Chow, and is funny, sardonic and self-effacing. His performance is not up to Chow standards, but Koo has never been an actor of Chow's level, so that's to be expected. In On His Majesty's Secret Service, Koo shows that he can carry a comedy effectively, and won't phone it in even when the film dabbles in laziness.

And boy, is On His Majesty's Secret Service lazy. Director-writer-producer Wong Jing spent money on his Hong Kong-Taiwan-China cast, but everything else seems exceptionally low rent. The costumes and sets are standard issue for the genre - which is a superficial plus - but the cinematography, art direction and crappy visual effects conspire to make everything seem worse. The direction is as uninspired as you can get; scenes frequently consist of characters standing around talking to each other, reducing the need for camera set-ups. There's even one moment where one character walks up some stairs, stops when he's standing behind someone else, and then delivers his line of dialogue while he's being blocked from audience view! Was the shot an outtake? Was there really so little money that they could only afford single takes of certain scenes? Or is Wong Jing knowingly poking fun at the notion that it's okay to half-ass commercial cinema? Whatever the case, this is bad filmmaking.

An attempt at coherent plot synopsis: the Emperor (Liu Yiwei of Karmic Mahjong) and Empress (Sandra Ng) are holding a competition to determine a husband for their daughter, Princess Rainbow (Song Jia of Curiosity Killed the Cat). However, Rainbow has her eyes on Royal Guard member Royal Tiger (Tong Dawei of Lost in Beijing), who enters the competition as a ringer which is great for him, because he's got a thing for Rainbow, too. There's also a second ringer, Tiger's supposedly inept brother Royal Dog (Louis Koo). Dog has poor kung-fu but also a keen mind that allows him to outwit his foes plus invent all sorts of primitive, but still nifty technology. His skills make him a contender during the competition, with even Rainbow charmed by his tanned visage. However, there's a crossdressing female assassin (Liu Yang of Bullet and Brain) meddling in the competition, and she also comes between Royal Dog and his sweetheart Faithful (an overacting Barbie Hsu), leading to romantic shenanigans highlighted by Louis Koo crying. Meanwhile, the Empress laughs villainously and uses her ninjitsu skills to try to assassinate Royal Dog. Supposed hilarity ensues.

What's the purpose of all the above? Who the hell knows, but there's plenty of double and triple-crossing going on, and following it all becomes a chore rather quickly. The first half of the film is built on situation comedy rather than a narrative, and it's not until forty-five minutes in that the main conflict is announced and once that's set up, it's another forty-five minutes of nearly aimless shenanigans masquerading as story. Wong Jing makes little attempt to establish a pace, with the film slogging forth in a mind-numbing manner. The film does deliver some amusing action, with ubiquitous martial arts star Fan Siu-Wong showing up as Lord Unicorn, a super-powered eunuch who's used and abused by the time the film ends. However, the action sequences aren't given the proper build-up and simply show up routinely, delivering their three minutes of kicks and swordplay before making way for even more mugging, overacting and droning exposition. A power tools training video is better structured and paced than On His Majesty's Secret Service. Also, you might learn something from such a video which is more than you can say for this movie.

Not that the film is a total waste; like any nonsense comedy, there are some hits among the missed jokes, and the veteran comic actors (Leung Ka-Yan, Yuen King-Tan, Law Kar-Ying, Sandra Ng) are amusing. There's also some clever and completely untranslatable wordplay - which isn't a negative, as most of Stephen Chow's classics from this genre were littered with impossible-to-adapt verbal gags too. On His Majesty's Secret Service is essentially a throwback to Stephen Chow's superior Forbidden City Cop, with both Chow and Koo playing riffs on 007 (Chow's character name was wordplay on 008, Koo's character name is wordplay on 009 it's funny if you know Cantonese). All the above does lend the film a certain retro charm, and hey, the poster looks promising; it features the smiling stars in ancient costume standing next to an adorable pug. Sadly, the movie has no pug, and even when this genre was all the rage, many of the films were pretty bad. On His Majesty's Secret Service is not a standout entry in this genre, managing only occasional entertainment between its mind-numbing portions. Proper expectations and willing audience charity - are a must to enjoy this only average reminder of Hong Kong Cinema past. Sadly, nostalgia is not always sweet. (Kozo 2009)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
CN Entertainment
2-Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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