For those who don’t remember the original, “The Lion Roars 2” is a sequel to the 2002 Hong Kong hit, continuing the period comedy wackiness after a break of some 10 years. The Mainland production sees director Joe Ma (“Love Undercover”) returning along with actress Cecilia Cheung, comedian Xiao Shenyang (“Just Call Me Nobody”) replacing Louis Koo in the male lead role. With support from Xiao Shenyang’s mentor Zhao Benshan, Hui Siu Hung (“I Love Hong Kong 2012”), Victor Huang (“Nightmare”), and Zhang Xinyu (“Flying Swords of Dragon Gate”), the film mixes comedy, romance and Three Kingdoms intrigue in an attempt to serve up more of what made the first film so popular.
Cecilia Cheung again plays Ying, a woman disliked in her village for her outspoken and bad-tempered behaviour, not to mention her habit of beating up men who take concubines or cheat on their wives. With her poor father (Zhao Benshan) despairing of her ever finding a husband, he matches her with Mingliang, the town’s resident top rated bachelor and a man famed for his intelligence. As part of a heated debate on love and women’s rights, the two agree to enter into a wager, to move in together and live as husband and wife for a year, though without consummating their marriage and without Mingliang being unfaithful. As expected, the two start to develop feelings for each other, though things are interrupted when he is sought out by the rival armies of the royal descendant Liu (Hui Siu Hung) and General Sima (Victor Huang) to serve as their military adviser.
“The Lion Roars” seems like a fairly odd choice for a film to make a (very) belated sequel to, though with period comedies continuing to be popular at the Chinese box office and with other past hits like “Flirting Scholar” having been dusted off for follow-ups, it’s probably as good a choice as any. Predictably, the film doesn’t have too much to do with the original save the basic premise of having Cecilia Cheung playing an over bearing and violent woman plaguing men, and for the first half Joe Ma sticks fairly close to milking this for laughs. As a Mainland aimed comedy, the film unsurprisingly avoids anything too bawdy, most of the gags revolving around innocent misunderstandings, though it’s for the most past amusing in an unambitious way, with some decent throwaway jokes and silly set pieces.
The cast are all likeable enough to make the material work, Cheung playing things shrill and boisterous, and Xiao Shenyang turning in an occasionally funny deadpan performance. Though the film isn’t exactly moving, Ma does sufficient groundwork to build the relationship between Ying and Mingliang, and at least doesn’t drag out their inevitable burgeoning feelings for each other.
The film then undergoes somewhat of a shift, its focus moving to Three Kingdoms drama and strategy-lite, with Mingliang running into trouble after agreeing to join Liu and Sima sending assassins to kill him. This results in a fair amount of action and more heated drama, with Ying heading off to kidnap Sima’s wife, and with Mingliang getting involved with Liu’s attractive sister (Zhang Xinyu). Though Ma still works in a few laughs during the later sections, the film does get more serious, throwing in a variety of changing allegiances and scheming, generally to enjoyable effect. Though the battle and martial arts scenes aren’t much to write home about, they help to keep the film moving at an entertaining pace, and save things from getting too caught up in predictable romance or melodrama.
Ma isn’t really one of Hong Kong’s best directors, though he does a solid job here, and “The Lion Roars 2” is above average compared to the recent batch of other similar historical comedies. Though nothing special, it’s an inoffensive and easy going time-passer, with an amiable cast and an at times fun mixture of action and laughs.
Joe Ma (director) / Joe Ma (screenplay)
CAST: Cecilia Cheung
Shiu Hung Hui
Hui Siu Hung