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More Chinese costume capers arrive in the form of “Adventure of the King”, another screen adaptation of the classic play ‘The Matching of Dragon and Phoenix’. The film was directed by Chung Shue Kai, who recently co-helmed the TVB-Shaw Brothers outing “72 Tenants of Prosperity”, and previously worked on broad comedies such as “”Beauty and the 7 Beasts” and “Nine Girls And A Ghost”. The second in Chinastar’s ongoing ambitious 5510 production plan, the film is actually a follow up of sorts to “Flirting Scholar 2”, being cut very much from the same cloth, not only in terms of setting and humour, but in that it also features a lot of the same supporting cast members and characters. Headlining the wackiness this time is Richie Jen (who also gets the chance to briefly cameo his role from “Flirting Scholar 2”), with an appealing female lead in the always cute and chirpy Barbie Hsu (also in “Hot Summer Days” and “Connected”).
Jen stars as the young emperor Zhu Zhengde, who has spent most of his life cooped up in the palace, longing to experience the outside world. After his mother sets him up with a shocker of a bride, he makes a break for it, accompanied by a couple of his trusted advisors and guards (including Law Kar Ying and Bruce Leung). Unfortunately, he soon finds life in the real world somewhat tougher, and after falling foul of a gambling scheme he loses not only all of his money, but also his memory. The kindly Phoenix (Hsu), owner of the Lung Fung Inn, takes pity on him and gives him a job, which he proves surprisingly good at, inventing all manner of new and popular dishes. Meanwhile, his evil uncle (Shaw Brothers veteran Lin Wei, who appeared in the likes of “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” and “Holy Flame of the Martial World”) scours the land looking for him, planning to take the throne for himself.
Although not an actual sequel, “Adventure of the King” is very much a continuation of “Flirting Scholar 2”, almost to the point where the two are wholly interchangeable. Indeed there are a number of scenes in the two films that would be equally at home in either, or indeed both, and if it weren’t for the differing lead stars it would be very easy to imagine getting confused as to which of them was which. For some viewers this should provide a pretty clear indication to steer clear, though for anyone who has enjoyed the recent spate of Chinese period set comedies then it basically provides more of the same. Certainly, the film is up to the standard of the genre, and if anything has the slight edge over “Flirting Scholar 2”, benefitting from being more focused and not having to cope with the absence of Stephen Chow.
The jokes themselves are perhaps not quite so scattershot, and though things do get pretty surreal at times, the film never descends too far into random nonsense. Cartoonish slapstick, toilet humour, wholly gratuitous musical numbers and pop culture references are very much the order of the day, and the film enjoys a comparatively respectable gag hit ratio, albeit with its fair share of groan inducing misses. This not to say that the film is sensible or coherent in any way, shape or form, with Chung Shue Kai keeping things moving at a pace just by throwing a huge variety of gags at the screen and seeing what sticks. This was always going to be the case, given the absolute familiarity of the plot, having been used countless times in Chinese cinema, mostly notably in Jeff Lau’s “Chinese Odyssey 2002”. As well as the expected amnesia and mistaken identity gambits, a large part of the film is taken up with a “Chicken and Duck Talk” style subplot revolving around the Inn competing with a rival establishment across the street, trying to milk laughs from it basically being a spoof on Kentucky Fried Chicken (referred to in the English subtitles as ‘Kentacky’) – something which should give a pretty good indication of the level of humour.
The film’s biggest asset is its leading duo, with both Richie Jen and Barbie Hsu on good form, helping to add a real sense of fun as they indulge in some distinctly dignity free antics. Perhaps more importantly, they also manage to stop the film from getting too grating when it suddenly attempts to shift into romantic territory towards the end. Although the relationship between the two is never particularly convincing, their pairing does at least have a certain spark, with plenty of playful banter in the build up to the inevitably schmaltzy ending.
Most viewers will probably have a good idea up front whether or not they are likely to enjoy “Adventure of the King”, and so the most important thing to confirm here is that the film performs well by the standards of the genre, passing the time cheerfully enough and making for a decent amount of laughs. Fans of the form or the stars should certainly have a good time, and what the film lacks in originality or real wit it just about makes up for with enthusiasm and good natured foolishness.
Chung Shu Kai (director) / Kan-Cheung Tsang (screenplay)
CAST: Barbie Hsu