Wong Jing goes back to the old school with “On his Majesty’s Secret Service” a truly madcap period set comedy in the classic early 1990s style. Although the master of the form himself, Stephen Chow, isn’t starring in such films anymore, there’s certainly no reason to stop making them, and in his absence, Louis Koo has stepped up to the plate, accompanied by a great cast of Hong Kong and Mainland stars including Barbie Hsu, Tong Dawei (“Red Cliff II”), Song Jia (“Curiosity Killed the Cat”), Liu Yang (“Bullet & Brain”), Fan Siu Wong (recently in “Ip Man”) and even veteran genre favourite Sandra Ng.
The plot, such as it is, follows Koo as Royal Dog, an inventor and royal guard, who does his best to protect the rather useless Emperor (Liu Yiwei) and the crazy Empress (Sandra Ng) while trying to handle his feisty fiancé Faithful (Barbie Hsu). His skills are put to the test when a number of assassination attempts are made on the Emperor’s life as part of a sinister and convoluted conspiracy, with half the court seeming to be plotting in one way or another. Things get even more complicated when a female assassin ((Liu Yang) turns up planning to kill the evil eunuch Lord Unicorn (Fan Siu Wong), only to be mistaken for a man and have most of the women in the cast fall in love with her. To top things off, a contest is announced to choose a husband for Princess Rainbow (Song Jia), which Royal Dog inadvertently ends up being the favourite to win, despite the fact that his brother Royal Tiger (Tong Dawei) is head over heels in love with her.
There’s both more and less to the story than this, though needless to say, in narrative terms “On his Majesty’s Secret Service” is for the most part pretty incomprehensible, and is definitely best enjoyed with the brain switched off. As usual, Wong Jing is more concerned with cross dressing than double crossing, and the old favourite genre theme of gender confusion plays an important and amusing part. The film really is non-stop wackiness, and he throws pretty much everything imaginable at the screen, and more besides. Things do get enjoyably surreal in places, and the film is all the funnier for it, with some side splittingly random and unpredictable moments, often involving Royal Dog’s silly inventions, most of which go humorously wrong. As is usually the case with films that pile on the jokes, some are hit and miss, though a surprisingly high percentage of them do manage to find their mark. Those which fall flat are generally unnecessary modern pop culture references, the only one of which that actually works is a bizarre, hilarious throwaway nod to “Ip Man”.
The cast are all on great form, and really seem to be having a lot of fun with the material, and this goes some way to dragging the viewer along with the madness. Although Koo is no Stephen Chow, he certainly gives 110% in the lead role, and has just about enough charisma to shoulder the film. The female cast are all very easy on the eyes, and Barbie Hsu and Song Jia in particular turn in fine comic performances, really giving their all. The presence of Sandra Ng adds a certain sense of nostalgia, bringing back fond memories of the genre’s heyday.
The film looks surprisingly good, with some handsome production values, sets and costumes, as well as some fun use of special effects, all of which helps to raise it above its often shabby peers, not to mention many of Wong Jing’s own previous cheapskate efforts. It also benefits from packing in plenty of martial arts action, with Fan Siu Wong getting lots of chances to show off his considerable skills. The choreography is reasonable enough, and although the fight scenes are mainly played for laughs, they are quite exciting at times.
Whether or not to recommend “On his Majesty’s Secret Service” is straightforward – for all Wong Jing fans, or anyone who misses the days when nonsense comedies ruled the roost, it ranks as a highly enjoyable must see. Other viewers should still get a good number of laughs while being thoroughly bewildered, thanks to the likeable performances from the game cast and a general sense of cheerful lunacy.
Jing Wong (director) / Jing Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Louis Koo … Royal Dog
Barbie Hsu … Faithful
Sandra Ng Kwan Yue … Empress
Siu-Wong Fan … Lord Unicorn