Chinese Odyssey 2002 ★★★★½

Bears no real relation to A Chinese Odyssey, director Jeffrey Lau's epic Journey to the West tale starring Stephen Chow. But it does capture that spirit of early 90s HK comedy: a period-set romantic comedy with lots gender reversals and a whole lot of Wong Kar-wai parody. Faye Wong is the princess who runs away from the palace and disguises herself as a man. She meets Tony Leung, the local tough guy (his name is "Bully the Kid") and his sister, played by Zhao Wei (who was so great as the woman warrior in John Woo's Red Cliff), a tomboy who everyone in town is afraid to date because her brother is so terrifying. Faye and Tony become instant best friends and he tries to get her/him to marry his sisters, though he/she is really in love with him and him her/him. Faye and Tony sing a duet as they eat and drink a lot. Then Faye leaves to go home and Chang Chen, the young Emperor, shows up looking for her, disguised as an actor. He falls for Zhao, who appreciates him not for his disguised wealth, but seems to generally like his ideas for modernizing the empire, like shaking hands as a greeting instead of bowing, and platform shoes and giant Afros. Zhao wants to marry Chang but can't because she feels obliged to Faye who actually loves Tony who is very confused.

All of this, told with a narrator, overblown Wongian voiceover, intercuts of direct address interviews and scenes replayed Rashomon-style as excerpts from the various characters' memoirs, is hilarious enough. But in the final third, Lau pulls the neatest twist of all and turns this ridiculous story into a genuinely heartfelt and moving, even sweet, romance. How did that happen?

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