(Cantonese and Taiwanese dialogue)
This crazed, hyperactive takeoff of Hong Kong martial arts costumers will entertain Asian buffs and leave most others slack-jawed at its anything-goes chutzpah. Central Asian-set extravaganza could easily be retitled “Carry On Up the Seraglio.”
Cast with some of the biggest names in the H.K. industry, and trading on every cliche of the genre, the movie takes a handful of well-known characters from Louis Cha’s late-’50s classic swordplay novel “The Eagle Shooting Heroes” and spins a loony story around their exploits when younger.
As in the sleeper “92 Legendary La Rose Noire,” on which helmer Jeff Lau worked uncredited, most of the in-jokes and refs will pass non-buffs by, but there’s enough lunacy on hand for latenight fest auds to groove on. Pic was exec produced by Lau’s partner in Jet Tone, cult fave Wong Kar-wai, and the star lineup is virtually identical to Wong’s long-awaited martial arts magnum opus, “Ashes of Time.”
Multistrand plot spins on two mad Taiwanese (Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Veronica Yip) who are after the imperial jade seal held by Third Princess (Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia). She teams up with a handsome young swordsman (Leslie Cheung) to find an all-powerful kung fu manual; shadowing them is his jealous sweetheart (Joey Wang), herself pursued by a beggar king (Jacky Cheung) claiming to be her long-lost cousin.
Also wandering around the plot is an effete Indian Buddhist (Tony Leung Kar-fai, from “The Lover”) in search of true love and nirvana; a horny gay Taoist (played in male drag by actress Carina Liu) out to revenge the death of his adored master (Kenny Bee); and a glam court magician (Maggie Cheung).
Complex story, in which everyone seems related to everyone else, also finds time for gay in-jokes, satire of ’50s swordplay movies and a witty riff on classics like “Dragon Gate Inn,” with all the cast gathering at the same hostelry.
Most of the fun for buffs is seeing big names sending up their image with pratfalls and other shtick. For generalviewers, the action sequences (directed by veteran Sammo Hung) are entertaining enough, with more wire work and trampolining than Barnum & Bailey.
After a fast-moving first half-hour, movie bogs down with two extended sequences that overstay their welcome. Pic later recovers its breath, but still pushes its luck at almost two hours.
Technically, the film lacks the polish of the best H.K. fare, and English subtitles poorly render the jokey dialogue.
Pic clocked a tony $ HK22 million ($ 3 million) on local release at the peak of the costume martial arts boom in early ’93.