They’re back! After tackling vampires in The Twins Effect (2003), haunted houses in The Death Curse (2003), and becoming superheroes in Protégé de la Rose Noire (2004), pixie cute Canto-pop superstars Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung (a.k.a. Twins) return for this lavish, big budget, fantasy epic. In the ancient kingdom of Huadu, ruled by a tyrannical, man-hating Empress, men are second-class citizens with many little more than slaves known as Dumbbells. Sexy slave-trader 13th Young Master (Charlene Choi) sets her sights on humble, circus boy Char (Jaycee Chan) and his adopted brother Leaf (Chen Po-lin) who perform in a travelling show run by their adopted father, Blackwood (Tony Leung Ka Fai). Thanks to their friend Lao (Edison Chen - star of the first Twins Effect, here killed off after a cameo), the boys receive a map carved out of stone and set off on a perilous quest to retrieve a mysterious treasure. Meanwhile, the empress is disturbed by a prophecy foretelling the rise of a boy king and despatches acrobatic kung fu beauty Bluebird (Gillian Chung) to nab the treasure first.
13th and Bluebird hook up with the boys. Nerdy Char falls head over heels in love with Bluebird, while 13th takes a shine to unimpressed Leaf (dude, are you blind?). Their amazing skills get them out numerous scrapes involving magical traps, a tribe of underground tunnel dwellers, statues that come to life and demonic possession, before they meet General Lone (Donnie Yen), a master swordsman out to overthrow the evil empire. Only the treasure can vanquish the Empress and her magical powers, but before retrieving it the adventurers must face immortal warrior, Lord of Armour (Jackie Chan).
Twins Effect II is a spectacular production, filmed with a far higher budget than its predecessor (HK$80,000,000 roughly US$10.2 million). It outclasses Gillian and Charlene’s last movie in terms of scale and ambition, with lavish battles between hundreds of armoured extras, eye-catching mainland locations, sweeping panoramic photography, gorgeous costumes and fanciful CG effects. Corey Yuen Kwai is a Hong Kong legend, having directed classics like Righting Wrongs (1983), Saviour of the Soul (1991) and Fong Sai Yuk (1993). He’s a better class of filmmaker than usually helms Twins movies. As a result the camerawork is more inventive, the gravity-defying kung fu is thrillingly realised and the gags are funnier.
Yuen Kwai plays to Gillian and Charlene’s individual strengths, so they both have a chance to shine. Gillian continues to improve as a martial artist, dynamic and graceful throughout several breathless set-pieces. Some CG stunt-work is obvious, but only because a handful of Gillian’s moves are truly outrageous. The girl is good, but not enough to back-flip off a tall building and kick-box a half-dozen henchman along the way! Still, this is wacky, wu xia (“swordplay”) fantasy - outlandishness is half the fun.
Charlene Choi has never been funnier, particularly a running gag involving her attempts to pioneer stick-on moustaches as a must-have fashion accessory (“My moustache is super-sexy”)! Apparently, Choi improvises a lot of the silliness on display. Her sexy, drawling delivery is fast becoming an inimitable trademark. Also hilarious is Tony Leung Ka Fai. Once a hunky, leading man in films like The Lover (1992), lately he has become an outstanding character actor. He is almost unrecognisable as Blackwood, a man upon whom the empress inflicted a terrible curse. Whenever a full moon appears Blackwood sprouts massive breasts! Later, under the influence of a love potion, he finds temporary solace in the arms of…well, let’s just say fans of Donnie Yen will be quite surprised.
The theme is one of reconciliation between the sexes, and though slight, it’s quite winning overall. A nice scene has male and female armies massed, ready to fight, until both sides remember all the good they’ve done for each other. Husbands and wives lay down their arms and embrace. A subplot woven through the movie concerns the empress’ right-hand man (Daniel Wu) who was in love with her sister (Fan Bingbing), now imprisoned as a phantom oracle (Her sensual manifestations represent the film’s most impressive effects sequences). It’s an affecting romance, but the payoff undermines the climactic action sequence.
Which brings us to two regrettable flaws, both the fault of co-producer Jackie Chan. Chan’s own cameo as a sort of living special effect during the Indiana Jones - style, cave of treasures sequence is great fun. Yuen Kwai choreographs a dizzying duel between Chan and Donnie Yen, that ends in a stalemate when noble Lord of Armour reveals he’s been sent to test the youngsters’ worth. No complaints about that (except maybe, its brevity). Where Chan screws up is using his influence to sideline Gillian and Charlene throughout the last third. 13th Young Master and Bluebird get demonically possessed, fly around a bit, and get knocked out. That’s it. Why, you may ask, are the girls given short shrift in their own movie?
Step up Jaycee Chan - that’s right, Jackie’s real-life son, making his film debut. Shoved centre stage for the final act, Jaycee appears distinctly uncomfortable under the spotlight. Little wonder, since he has zero martial arts ability and the charisma of a wet whelk. Even worse, after building Char up as the one man able to defeat the empress with his newfound magic sword - he’s completely unable to do it! Someone else saves the day. A damp ending to an otherwise exhilarating ride. Gillian and Charlene would return in House of Fury (2005).
In the nineties, he directed Jet Li in films like The Legend, The Defender and The Enforcer, which led to work as action choreographer on many of Li's Hollywood films, including The One, Kiss of the Dragon and Cradle 2 the Grave. Most recently, Yuen directed the Luc Besson-produced action hit The Transporter.