A slightly overlong spoof of Cantonese costume movies of the ’50s and ’60s, “Wu Yen” is best enjoyed — despite all its cross-dressing and apparent sexual subtext — as a pure lark, with three big femme names having a ball, sans explicit winks to the audience. The most outre outing yet from the Johnnie To/Wai Ka-fai directing tandem, pic was a sizable local hit in early 2001, but has no Western market outside fests.
Singer-actress Anita Mui, looking good in travesto, plays the boneheaded Emperor of Qi, who falls for a female warrior, Chung Wu-yen (singer-actress Sammi Cheng), who’s also fancied by the Fairy Enchantress (Cecilia Cheung), who turns herself into a beautiful concubine to seduce the emperor so she can keep Wu-yen for herself. And that’s just the first reel. With more role and gender reversals than an Xmas Panto, plus verbal jokes where the subtitles struggle to keep up (as in a mahjong game), the ripe perfs still carry the movie, with Mui terrific as the feckless emperor and Cheng surprisingly touching as his selfless lover. Direction is no-frills, running time a reel too long at the end.