Hong Kong cinema is certainly influenced by Hollywood but quite often such influences manifest in unusual ways. Case in point: Pixar’s computer animated hit The Incredibles (2004) somehow spawned this period martial arts romantic comedy. In ancient China, humble security officer Flint (Louis Koo) and his feisty wife Rouge (Sandra Ng) live a quiet life in a peaceful village where nobody knows their big secret. Ten years ago they were masked crime fighters known as Gazer Warrior and Aroma Woman, who foiled bank robbers and other miscreants with their supernatural powers. They amassed a huge fan-following, but gave it all up for love. Now happily settled into anonymity, their one concern is being unable to conceive a child, until the day hundreds of martial arts clans unexpectedly choose their village to host a grand tournament. Amidst the chaos, Flint catches the eye of a beautiful young kung fu heroine named Phoenix Bleu (Li Qin), whose life he saved when she was a little girl. A trio of gossipy fat ladies fuel Rouge’s suspicion that her husband might be straying, but then she herself is drawn to the handsome, young Grandmaster Blanc (Wang Bo-Chieh).
Whereas the characters in The Incredibles were forced into a life of humdrum anonymity, here our heroes do so by choice, but the film never makes up its mind whether they are unhappy with their lot or reasonably content. The plot focuses largely on domestic slapstick with larky special effects. As in the mo lei tau comedies of Jeff Lau, the laughs come from incorporating contemporary mores into a period Chinese setting. Hence a bank heist is rendered via anachronistic video surveillance footage and a floating lantern mimics the Bat Signal.
Produced by art-house auteur Peter Ho Sun-Chan, the film is written and directed by Vincent Kok Tak-Chiu who for many years juggled careers as a writer, producer, assistant director with over one hundred film credits as an actor. His past works include the Stephen Chow Sing-Chi classic Forbidden City Cop (1996) and the underwhelming Jackie Chan romantic comedy Gorgeous (2000). While likeable leading man Louis Koo is a Hong Kong heartthrob, co-star Sandra Ng is one of the biggest stars in HK comedy, from her early days in The Inspector Wears Skirts (1988) (produced by Jackie Chan) to her celebrated role in Golden Chicken (2002), a remarkable film that recounts thirty years of HK history seen through the eyes of a prostitute.
Kok Tak-Chiu crafts a sporadically witty film with eye-catching and imaginative visuals beautifully rendered by D.P. Peter Ngor Chi-Kwan: epic visions of planet Earth seen from outer space, a laughing CGI fly that taunts Flint, a chase sequence done in the style of a Nintendo platform game, villains that morph into toads, snakes and scorpions, plus Gazer Warrior and Aroma Woman’s first date done as a silent movie complete with title cards and a visit to a charming Lottë Reiniger style puppet play.
Yet all this invention is largely in the service of a thoroughly sit-com level plot. Flint and Rouge squabble and make-up, squabble then make-up, over and over again, in a manner not unlike I Love Lucy. A nonsensical twist reveals Flint asked Phoenix to flirt with him to increase Rouge’s pulse rate so they have a better chance of conceiving a child. With twenty minutes left the film finally unveils a surprise super villain whose powers rob the clansmen of their martial arts skills, which leads to an exciting, pyrotechnics-laden superhero battle and an amusing twist regarding the identity of a klutzy minor character called King Kong. Kok Tak-Chiu makes sly visual references to X-Men (2000) and the cult television series Heroes and includes one priceless dig at Christian Bale’s Batman voice (“It hurts when I talk like this!”). Soundtrack composer Raymond Wong Ying-Wah steals a few obvious cues from Hans Zimmer's score for Inception (2010) that sound odd given this is meant to be a comedy.