Wu Yen (2001)
Directed by: Johnny To, Ka-Fai Wai
Starring: Sammi Cheng, Cecilia Cheung, Wong Chun, Suet Lam, Anita Mui
Tagline: "A Chinese Pantomime Story"
The story starts with a shadow puppet play showing the legend of a Fairy Enchantress (Cecilia Cheung) who is imprisoned in a rock by a wizard. Along comes Emperor Qi (Anita Mui) on a hunting expedition, who unwittingly sets the Enchantress free, which unleashes a love triangle.
Next we cut to a live action version of the scene, although it is not what you would expect. The leading roles in this movies (Emperor Qi, The Fairy Enchantress) are played by women, which makes for some funny situations.
Qi is being followed by his entourage which includes the Prime Minister, a historian, and the General. He comes across a sword chained to a rock and goes to pull it out, but he is ambushed by Wu Yen's (Sammi Cheng) clan who try to stop him pulling out the sword, and in doing so, actually manage to pull out the sword by mistake.
Once she is free, the Fairy Enchantress casts a Love Spell on Wu Yen and will only agree to lift it if she marries him. On seeing the effect of the spell, Qi rejects Wu Yen for being 'ugly', even though he was just about to marry her.
On the way back to the palace, Emperor Qi finds the Fairy Enchantress in human female form and agrees to marry her. However, Wu Yen objects and tries to fight him.
Back at the palace, the Fairy Enchantress is attacked by Ancestor Huan (the Great (×5) Grandfather of the current Emperor), who is trying to protect his dynasty. However, the attack backfires, as he is only a fairy in training. Many more crazy escapades follow, until a genuine threat arises and Qi asks for the help of Wu Yen to lead his forces.
This film continues the Chinese Opera tradition of the past and in that which is seen in such films as The Big Fight Between Hero Copper Hammer and Madam Nine Flowers, Part One (1948), How the Flying Swordsman from Mount Eimei Raided Gold and Silver Palace (1951) and A Prince in Trouble, Part One aka How the Snake Beauty Struck the Mountain Asunder to Rescue the Crown Prince, Part One (1958) to name just a few. It is also worth noting that this movie was released on Chinese New Year, which is the traditional release date for blockbuster movies in Hong Kong due to everyone being on holidays.
As usual in the pantomime tradition, the gender roles are reversed with women playing the men's roles and vice versa in some cases. Anita Mui is really great in this movie, even though she is not the main focus of the movie and there are a lot of funny scenes.
The use of shadow puppets is also interesting as the film's creators managed to avoid having to stage too many live action fight scenes and make them look fun at the same time.
As I mentioned before there are many films that have been released over the over 100 years of Hong Kong cinema in the Chinese Opera style that sound very interesting. If you are a student of Chinese culture then I recommend tracking this film down at least to have a laugh.