EXPECTATIONS: A kick-ass martial arts film…with some magic.
REVIEW: Boyi Bolomi! For people that don’t know what that means, it is a term that Wu Ma uses in the classic HK fantasy film, A Chinese Ghost Story, while exploiting his Taoist magic against fantasy creatures. Why am I saying it? Because the same Taoist fantasy genre (which is apparent in other HK fantasy films like Rigor Mortis or Encounters of the Spooky Kind) apply to Stephen Tung Wai’s film, Magic Cop. A spiritual sequel to the popular Mr. Vampire films and starring mainstay Lam Ching-ying, Magic Cop adds a fresh coat of paint to the Taoist fantasy genre by placing it in a modern setting and adds a lot of different humour from the fish-out-of-water situations to create an insanely frenetic, yet incredibly fun HK film, that would be perfect for neophytes of early HK cinema.
Lam Ching-ying stars as
himself Uncle Feng, a cop/ghostbuster whose specialty is solving the more fantastical cases, which involves ghosts and demons of the like. One day, an old lady comes to ask him to go to Hong Kong Island to return the body of her daughter, a stewardess killed by the police after being suspected of being a drug smuggler. But what was strange is that the stewardess was killed before her return to Hong Kong, which Feng finds out that the stewardess was used as a living corpse, controlled by a drug smuggler who also specializes in magic. Enlisted by Ma (Wu Man, in a cameo), with the help of the skeptical Detective Lam (Wilson Lam Chun-yin), Sergeant 2237 (Michael Miu Kiu-wai) and Feng’s niece, Lin (Wong Mei-wah), Feng is on the case to catch the Japanese drug smuggler (Michiko Nishiwaki).
As for the story, Magic Cop has a plot that has been done countless times, but thanks to Stephen Tung Wai’s direction, the imagination on the Taoist monk scenes and the supporting cast, the film is fun from beginning to end. Wai’s film direction is good, with good pacing (although it takes quite a bit to really begin) that adds energy to the film, but it is Wai’s action direction that stand out. Wai’s action direction has always been about efficiency rather than flash (see the Jet Li film Hitman and his choreography in films like Reign of Assassins) and it shows in Magic Cop. The martial arts scenes are brief, concise and thrilling, but they are not the highlight of the film. The highlight of the film is the Taoist monk scenes that are integral to Feng’s detective work. Not willing to spoil all of them, here’s a hint of one. There’s a scene where Feng uses a henchman as a string puppet via Sergeant 2237 and as the Japanese drug smuggler finds out, she uses henchman as a string puppet via the henchman, culminating in a entertainingly off-kilter sequence that will have audiences laughing and surprised at its audaciousness. The supporting cast are all playing stereotypes (the skeptic, the believer, the damsel-in-distress) but they are all game in their roles, although Wilson Chin can be quite annoying at times, especially when he flirts with with Feng’s niece, Lin, sometimes IN FRONT of Feng.
As for the lead, Lam Ching-ying, he has been typecast in roles like in Magic Cop for many years, thanks to the Mr. Vampire franchise and while it is known that he did not want to be just known for these types of roles at around the nineties, fortunately, he does not seem to be tired out in Magic Cop. Still amazingly authoritative, tough and charismatic, Lam still grounds the film (and its many fantasy antics) so that it makes the film immersive enough for the audience to get into. One unfortunate flaw about his performance is that he does not do much of his martial arts stunt work, as it is quite obvious that he had stunt doubles for most of the stunts. Whether it was age or his fatigue towards his typecasting, it still affects the film quite a bit.
But Magic Cop is not just a martial arts film; it’s also a fantasy film, a horror film, a mystery and a comedy. And it’s pretty damn good at all of those genres. The comedy can be sometimes sophomoric (there’s a scene involving a fart joke), but there are many scenes of fantastic physical comedy. It is quite apparent, especially in the climax where the team simultaneously screws up/advances towards defeating the villain. Props involving pincushions and fire extinguishers are used to hilarious effect. What also adds to the humour of the film, perhaps quite unintentionally, is how out-of-date the film is. Detective Lam’s apartment screams the Eighties and it feels like going into a time capsule.
Despite the nit-picks in the pacing, minor annoyances in the characters, the stunt doubling and the obvious gaffes in the low budget, all of the positives add up to a fantastic time at the movies. Magic Cop is an imaginative thrill ride that makes me kind of sad that due to current Hong Kong films losing their local identity (due to China co-productions), there are very few films like it.
The Taoist techniques are a blast to watch
Lam Ching-ying fits this role like a glove
Action scenes are incredibly fun, fast-paced and hilarious
Supporting cast are good sports, with a cameo from Wu Ma
Combines genres (cop thriller, black comedy and fantasy) incredibly well to make a fun experience, just as good as the original Mr. Vampire
Those expecting hardcore martial arts will be a bit disappointed
Wilson Lam’s performance can be a little annoying
Obvious stunt doubles for Lam Ching-ying
The low budget can really show at times
SCORE: 9/10 (One of my personal favourite films from Hong Kong. A HK fantasy classic alongside A Chinese Ghost Story and Zu: Warriors from Magic Mountain.)
Cast: Lam Ching-Ying, Wilson Lam Chun-Yin, Miu Kiu-Wai, Wong Mei-Wah, Michiko Nishiwaka, Wu Ma, Billy Chow Bei-Lei, Chan Chi-Leung, Wong Yuk-Hang, Sung Yat-Lin
Director: Stephen Tung Wai
Screenwriter: Tsang Kan-cheung