Seeing the names "Zhang Yi Mou and Gong Li" at the head of this movie gave me a certain expectation. And things started out fairly much that way. The first 20 minutes is pretty much standard Zhang stuff - ponderous and a little slow with stunning photography. But the difference here is that Zhang is not the director, but the co-star. And director Ching Siu Tung, justly highly regarded for the Chinese Ghost Story (CGS) trilogy, soons gets back to CGS-style fare. What starts out as a combination of history and fantasy, set in the past, suddenly turns into a very funny comedy when the scene moves to the 1930s. Then it changes again to full-on action.
Reviewer Score: 9
This film borrows/steals from a number of sources. The look and style of CGS abounds. Indiana Jones comes strongly to mind when the three main characters enter the tomb. The story is very much the same as The Iceman Cometh. And I think Ching Siu Tung was doing a dress rehearsal for CGS II (released the following year) in more than one of the scenes.
Zhang Yi Mou as an actor is ....... hmm, what can I say ? He's at least wooden. I don't think he changed his expression once through the whole picture.
Sounds like a confusing and derivative mess ? In the hands of a less capable director and cast, it could well have been. But no, the result is a real blast. After things warm up, it becomes a hugely entertaining, visually stunning, action packed and extremely funny rollercoaster ride.
Even Zhang's wooden demeanour doesn't hurt. In fact, it rather suits his character. Yu Rong Guang proves yet again he's as good at comedy as at action and villainy. Gong Li, as usual, is quite okay.