ReviewWriter: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
There is always something awe-inspiring about watching people perform magic, despite knowing that it is all trickery. Yet we choose to be awed, for the magic lies in not knowing the secret. And this is basically why "The Great Magician" works.
The movie tells the story of a love triangle between a ruthless warlord, a great magician, and the girl they both love. It was love at first sight for the warlord, General Bully Lei, played by Lau Ching Wan, when he first laid eyes on a female street-juggler, Liu Yin, played by Zhou Xun, who is actually waiting for her childhood sweetheart, Zhang Xian, played by Tony Leung, to return from Europe. However, when three years passed and he has yet to rescue her from the captivity of the warlord, she soon grows to hate him. On the other hand, try as Lei might, he is unable to make Liu fall in love with him. Until one day, a great magician turns up and out to be her childhood sweetheart, now with the ulterior motive to oust the warlord from his cruel reign. But like the art of magic, nothing is ever as it seems.
Contrary to what you would think, "The Great Magician'" is less like the sombre historical drama you would expect it to and more of a witty comedy. However, despite its sound depiction on paper, in execution, the narrative of "The Great Magician" falls flat. There is hardly any background given to the characters, such as why Lei turned out the way he is, or what happened Zhang while he was away in Europe, or how Liu character was first captured, save for the characters' statements. But director Derek Yee has a few tricks up his sleeve to compensate for the poor narrative that is, casting Tony Leung and Lau Ching Wan as the leads. There is something to be said for people who look as good as they do and the charisma they exude, as the movie becomes less of what is going on, and more about watching to find out what would happen to the two.
In fact, it is the chemistry between the quick-witted Zhang and the brusque Lei makes for an odd but endearing combination, and the second half of the film works like a charm thanks to the rapport and repartee between the two actors when Yee tries to pack a lot of plot development into the final half-hour. They may be written poorly, but that does not detract from the fact that they are played by great actors, as their characters are realised in a semi-terrifying way. You would believe that Tony Leung IS the Great Magician while Lau Ching Wan is just a warlord with an unrequited love. Meanwhile, there is not much to be said for Zhou Xun as Liu, as she hardly has anything to do in movie besides looking sad or frigid. This movie is more Zhang's story, as well as General Lei's.
Unlike recent Hong Kong movies of late, the special effects do not fail here. Although there are certain hiccups here and there which make you wonder why they would even try to pull that off in the first place, it does not detract you from getting immersed in the movie. However, the cinematography receives better treatment. It is admirable that they went through the lengths to make sure that each time Tony Leung's magician does his shows, a different theme is employed. It is no Wong Kar-wai greatness, but it helps to keep the slapstick comedy fresh. For example, the scenes where Zhang pretends to be fighting General Lei is made less serious when Lei continuously grabs prop weapons and when Zhang then steps on Lei's foot.
In conclusion, Yee's "The Great Magician" is a vast departure from his usual crime thrillers, like "One Nite in Mongkok" and "Shinjuku Incident", saved by commendable acting and chemistry between Tony Leung, Lau Ching Wan and Zhou Xun. No doubt that it will draw allusions to the critically-acclaimed Hollywood movie, "The Illusionist", sure, but this Hong Kong take on the movie is one worth wating. For how often do you get a light-hearted, witty and entertaining comedy featuring Tony Leung and Lau Ching Wan?Cinema Online, 09 January 2012