A Chinese Odyssey Part One: Pandora's Box
1994, NR, 115 min. Directed by Jeff Lau. Starring Ng Man Tat, Stephen Chow, Kit Ying Lam, Karen Mok.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., May 19, 1995
Wildly ambitious and structurally frustrating, yet quite funny and entertaining, Jeff Lau's first film since the disappointing Chow Yun Fat vehicle Treasure Hunt is also his best since his absurd 1993 masterpiece Eagle Shooting Heroes. And while this two-part epic (Pandora's Box, the first installment, plays this weekend; the second film, Cinderella, comes in two weeks) never quite achieves the relentlessly inventive comic momentum of Eagle Shooting Heroes, A Chinese Odyssey: Pandora's Box does manage to surpass it in terms of sheer imagination and fantasy. Based on the legend of the Monkey King, the film offers an unusual mixture of Chinese mythology, "Wu Xia Pian" fantasy, crude comedy, romance, melodrama, sci-fi, and, well - probably whatever else Lau could think of. Tc. A mischievous god who was destroyed some 500 years ago for his rebellious ways, the Monkey King holds the key to locating the powerful (and painfully long-winded) Longevity Monk, another mythological being whose very flesh is desired by the many gods and devils attempting to track him down. The first installment unfolds gradually as various supernatural beings descend on Joker's camp, all attempting to accomplish two things: figure out if he is really the Monkey King, and find and eat the much-sought-after Longevity Monk. Director Lau keeps the pace moving at breakneck speed, filling the screen with enough comedy, romance, action, monsters, and special effects for two movies, while Chow and his trusty sidekick Ng Man Tat give deliriously comic performances appropriate to the picture's crazed goings-on. Outrageous highlights include a giant spider monster that pulls the Joker's tooth, an incredible Fantastic Voyage-styled battle inside an opponent's body "Don't step on my intestines!" cries the King Bull), hilariously repeated time-travel attempts, and the most brutal penis abuse ever played for laughs. This is one of the wildest fantasies that the Hong Kong cinema has produced recently, and also marks a solid comeback for director Lau, as well as yet another hit for superstar Chow. One complaint, though, is the abrupt, cliffhanger finale that ends, not unlike Back to the Future: Part II, right in the middle of the story, leaving viewers in suspense until the sequel arrives.