Sunday, January 22, 2012
Wai Ka Fai's Fantasia is a wonderfully silly, imaginative and star studded romp through the history of (mainly) 70's Hong Kong comedy cinema, particularly the films of the Hui brothers. Released in 2004, the film performed admirably well at the box office for a movie where many of it's references would have been lost on much of it's audience. It's to Wai Ka Fai's great credit that the movie is such a good time even without the benefit of it's rich and rewarding nostalgia, and for the few who care for Hong Kong's cinema history, even more so.
Fantasia being a Lunar New Year movie, the plot is little more than a loose framework to hang a series of skits on, similar to many movies being made these days I suppose. However Fantasia, under the guidance of Wai Ka Fai positively revels in the freewheeling energy and enthusiasm this approach allows. Much of the film takes it's inspiration from The Hui brothers classic The Private Eyes, from small references to full blown scenes reworked to fit the crazy Fantasia world. I picked out many more homages throughout the film but I'm certainly not going to claim I picked up anywhere near all of them.
A film such as this regardless of the skill of the writer and director really comes down to it's performers, if they aren't prepared to look completely stupid then the film has no chance, and it's here where the film truly excels. A huge cast led by Lau Ching Wan and Francis Ng, completely go for it, delivering performances imitating, in some cases perfectly, stars from the films of the past being referenced here. Lau Ching Wan has Michael Hui down to a tee, Louis Koo does a reasonable Sam Hui and Jordan Chan makes for a remarkable Ricky Hui. The film also features an almost unrecognisable Cecilia Cheung, along with The Twins and plenty of cameos from other Hong Kong stars. I could go on and on but I'll leave it with Francis Ng's hilarious version of Shek Kin (the villain from Enter the Dragon and The Private Eyes), he's worth seeing Fantasia for alone.
If you're in the mood for a fun film, Fantasia has enough funny moments and silly comedy to hit the spot. It won't be for everyone as Hong Kong comedy is certainly an acquired taste and if you're looking for sophistication with your laughs, this probably isn't the place, however much of the comedy in this film is timeless, the old fashioned kind of comedy that transcends the barriers of language. For Hong Kong cinema fans the film is a densely packed treasure trove of joy, one of my favourite Lunar New Year movies, and a masterclass from two of my favourite actors Lau Ching Wan and Francis Ng.