|Shiu Hung Hui
'll be the first to tell you that I don't find a
lot of the recent Hong Kong comedies, well, funny. For the most part the
filmmakers take the basest form of what they perceive as comedy and grind it
even further into dust, so much so that the only real "comedy"
coming out of Hong Kong nowadays is how Hong Kongers continually swallow the
sea of generic swills starring one of those interchangeable "pop
stars". Pop-itis has infected Hong Kong so much that you can only count
on one or two directors to provide a film that isn't directed at the
undemanding island citizenry. So you'll understand my shock and dismay when
"White Dragon", a comedy in the guise of a generic wuxia film,
turned out to be not only bearable, but also actually quite good.
"White Dragon" stars
Cecilia Cheung (a pop star who is not the least bit interchangeable with the
army of fresh face teeny bopper cohorts) as the titular White Dragon, a
Robin Hood-esque figure in ancient China who steals from the rich and gives
to the poor. In a nice twist on the standard superhero formula, White Dragon
is something of a narcissist, forever worried about her good looks, even as
she's fighting with Feather (Francis Ng), a blind assassin nicknamed
"Chicken Feathers Everywhere" because of his propensity for using
chicken feathers as his calling card.
How White Dragon came to possess her super fighting
prowess is a bit tricky to explain, but needless to say she was just a
vain student before she met Prince Tian-yang (Andy On, "Star
Runner"), who becomes targeted for assassination by Feather.
After receiving a (literal) martial arts transplant from her school
groundskeeper (don't ask), White Dragon becomes a superpowered Robin Hood.
Well, actually, she only starts doing the whole Robin Hood angle because
the groundskeeper told her that doing righteous things like stealing from
the rich and giving to the poor would help clear up her acne.
Unable to let the man of her dreams get cut to pieces
by Feather, White Dragon uses her powers, as well as her prodigious flute
skills, to lure Feather into her killing zone. During one of their
battles, White Dragon delivers a killing kick to Feather's crotch -- only
to break her leg. Although a killer by trade, Feather is nevertheless a
pretty nice guy, so he takes White Dragon home with him, taking care of
her until her broken leg can mend. Not overly enthuse with the blind
killer's helping hand, White Dragon plots to find his Achilles Heel and
gut him like a fish. To no one's surprise, time turns the two enemies into
friends, and then potential romantic interests.
But what about the genteel Prince Tian-yang, who
still longs for White Dragon? And can White Dragon convince Feather to
leave his life of killing behind? And is Feather mentally deficient, or is
it all just an act? But more importantly, was that Marc Anthony's "I
Need to Know" that White Dragon plays on her flute at one point?
I'm being facetious, of course, especially since
"White Dragon" is a silly romantic comedy first and wuxia film
second. After a couple of skirmishes in the first 30 minutes, the film is
mostly devoid of action until the end, when White Dragon and Feather join
forces to defeat an enemy and director Wilson Yip ("Skyline
Cruisers") pulls out the mother of all deus ex machina. Not that
it matters, mind you, because if you didn't think White Dragon would come
to realize that Feather's affections for her overwhelms her childish crush
on Tian-yang, you haven't studied up on your formulaic romantic comedies.
Although familiar and highly predictable, "White
Dragon" benefits from two excellent actors in the lead. Francis Ng,
an old favorite from "Bullets
Over Summer" (also directed by Yip) and his exasperated villain
in "Heroic Duo",
plays the blind Feather with just the right combination of heroics and
questionable intelligence. Feather was blinded as a child, and although we
never did know how Feather attained his awesome martial arts ability (he's
so invincible that even kicking him in the crotch only gets you a broken
leg), it doesn't really matters. Ng sells the character so well that even
when Yip over saturates the film with cheesy music (which he does quite a
bit), you could care less.
With Ng dominating the film with his affable
performance, Cecilia Cheung runs the risk of overplaying her hand as the
spoiled heroine. Coming off the nihilistic "One
Nite in Mongkok", and before that the tour de force of "Lost
in Time", Cheung hits her comedic strides with just enough flair
to keep from morphing into a long lost third Twins. And it's to the
script's credit that Cheung's White Dragon remains, from beginning to end,
a vain teenager who knows for a fact that she's pretty, and don't you
forget it. Cheung's scenes with Ng, as the two antagonists slowly come to
appreciate one another, are the highlight of "White Dragon".
Since the film is part wuxia, there are plenty of
flying battles and superpowered moves, most of it taking place early in
the film to set up the main romantic comedy premise. Yip chooses some
luscious forest setting similar to Zhang Yimou's "House
of Flying Daggers" for the battles, and indulges in some nifty
camerawork and swordplay. The only problem is that "White
Dragon" is a comedy first, so there's no brutality or gritty action
in the fights. And of course having White Dragon inform us, in voiceover,
that she hopes Feather doesn't ruin her pretty face (her words) even as
they're slugging it out prevents the scenes from achieving any sense of
Not that you'll go to "White Dragon" for
gritty swordplay in the first place. It's very much a romantic comedy,
employing the usual formulas of the genre with some minor exceptions. The
script also breaks rank from conventions by making Andy On's Prince
Tian-yang sympathetic and not the "Jerk Boyfriend" that the
audience is suppose to hate, but the heroine can't seem to realize --
until the ending, that is. Cecilia Cheung is lively in a comedy role that
works (for once, unlike her abysmal stab at comedy in "Sex
and the Beauties") and Francis Ng proves once again that when you
have talent comedy is a cinch.