Though backed by a strong cast, this is a movie of two halves with an inconsistent tone.
Dir. Derek Yee
2011 | Hong Kong/China | Comedy/Drama/Mystery | 128 mins | 2.35:1 | Mandarin
PG (passed clean) for some violence
Cast: Tony Leung, Lau Ching Wan, Zhou Xun, Yan Ni, Wu Gang
Plot: A mysterious magician Zhang Xian catches the eye of local warlord, Lei Daniu, who hopes to use him to win the affections of Liu Yin, a woman he forced into being his seventh concubine.
Source: Emperor Motion Pictures
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 8 Jan 2012)
Derek Yee, who has been a prolific actor, writer, and director since the late 1980s, is an established figure in the Hong Kong film industry. But his latest feature, The Great Magician, is not one of his better efforts to date.
Starring Tony Leung, Lau Ching Wan, and Zhou Xun in the three leading roles, the film scores points in casting. Although their performances are not particularly outstanding, they serve their roles sufficiently without breaking any sweat.
Zhou, especially, is effective in portraying her character, Liu Yin, a silent but resolute woman who longs to be with her imprisoned father, and hopes to decide shrewdly on her true love.
The Great Magician follows Zhang Xian (Leung), a mystery of a man whose talent lies in the art of performing magic in front of an appreciative crowd. But he has an ulterior motive: he wants to reclaim his lost love in Liu Yin.
The dilemma: Lei Danlu (Lau), the local warlord, wants Liu Yin to love him, and hopes to use Zhang to win her affections. Yes, the plot follows the traditional structure of a romance triangle, but it is a relatively fresh take on a cliché subject, though the film is not without its fair share of flaws.
The Great Magician is a drama that sets itself up promisingly. Magic, as always, is fascinating, no matter how many times you see it. Although Yee’s film is nowhere near magical, it still manages to make magic fascinating, at least in the context of the film.
Now that’s actually quite a difficult thing to achieve, because the portrayal of illusions on screen is nothing more than computer trickery. Yet despite the knowledge that the film relies heavily on CG effects for some of these illusions, they remain at the very least captivating.
However, the problem with Yee’s film is that it is a film of two halves, the first of which is strong in drama and setup, while its later parts slide into the cheap realm of farcical comedy. The film never satisfies as it should because of the mood and tonal shift, though I must admit it remains entertaining to some extent.
In a nutshell, The Great Magician is not a must-watch in anyone’s books. If only for the interest to catch a new Derek Yee or Tony Leung film on the big screen, otherwise renting the DVD release when it comes out would be the better option.