2011 Written by Gordon Chan Ka-Seung, Lau Ho-Leung, Frankie Tam Gong-Yuen, and Maria Wong Si-Man
Directed by Gordon Chan Ka-Seung and Danny Go Lam-Paau
Mural is another attempt from China to make bigger Hollywood-style pictures, which is both a good and a bad thing. It is good that money is being brought into make epic films. It is bad because the films being produced are all generic garbage. And as the money flows away from Hong Kong into the pack of upstart Mainland production companies, things are changing rapidly in both Hong Kong and Chinese cinema. But this review isn’t about that, it’s about Mural, a story about a guy who goes into a painting full of fairy women.
While Mural certainly looks nice, the story doesn’t hold up to the visuals and things become very bland. The visuals of creatures and monsters make good spectacles, even if the CGI isn’t up to par with Western films yet. Monsters and beauties are the two main attractions to Mural, there is enough of both you can let some things slide. Some good scenes and creativity in monster design help make certain points more memorable, but the underlying uninteresting characters and the obvious conclusion of the main love story cause things to not be so much a journey as just a trip through a museum.
Like Gordan Chan’s prior film Painted Skin, it is a tale from Pu Songling’s story collection Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. The tomb contains nearly 500 tales, and has been the basis for dozens of films and tv series, including the Chinese Ghost Story films.
There are far too many of the models/actresses/singers playing the fariy women to list them all in the Roll Call, but I should name drop a few, like model-actress Monica Mok Xiao-Qi, Xia Yi-Yao, and Bao Wen-Jing. And now we will never mention them again! Even Eric Tsang Chi-Wai shows up with ear extensions as a goofy monk.
Zhu Xiaolian (Deng Chao) – A scholar studying for government exams at the capital who runs into adventure while on his journey there. Zhu likes to speak big talk of responsibility and becoming a good person, his sense of justice propelling part of the plot. Deng Chao is also in Detective Dee.
Meng Longtan (Ngai Sing) – A thief who is caught trying to rob Zhu and his servant. Ends up joining him on his trip into the painting and marrying a good chunk of the fairies.
Hou Xia (Bao Bei-Er) – Zhu’s servant who spends most of the film following Zhu around like a puppy, though he does manage to grow a tad as a character.
Queen (Yan Ni) – The nameless vain Queen of the fairy realm. Her rants against men hint at a greater insanity and bitterness, living in a world of her own creation for years. Her dress is reminiscent of evil queens from Disney films. Yan Ni is also in All’s Well Ends Well 2011.
Shaoyao (Betty Sun Li) – The Queen’s main servant, who is disliked by the rest of the fairies due to her closeness with the Queen. Suffers from self-esteem issues. Betty Sun Li can also be seen in Kung Fu Cyborg.
Mudan (Zheng Shuang) – Carefree childish fairy who travels to the human world briefly and encounters Zhu, and is then punished for what she did. Zheng Shuang is a Mainland newcomer to film who graduated from the Beijing Film Academy in 2011. Since 2009, she has starred in several tv series and has been releasing albums.
Yunmei (Ada Liu Yan) – Fairy lady who both dates Rock Monsters and is married 2 times to Meng and then Hou Xia, both really without her consent. Ada Liu Yan (主播柳岩) is a tv hostess turned actress/singer who will look completely different if you find some of her old pageant photos, and is one of the few actresses honest about it.
Cuizhu (Xie Nan) – Mudan’s best friend and a carefree spirit, Zhu pretends marriage to her in order to stay in the fairy world and find out what happened to Mudan. Xie Nan is a TV host and anchorwoman turn Mandopop singer who debuted in 2010. She’s briefly in All’s Well Ends Well 2011
Golden Warrior (Andy On Chi-Kit) – Golden Warrior is the only male-looking character allowed in the fairy world, he transforms from a bronze owl to defend the realm. Has a longing for Shaoyao that is not reciprocated. Totally isn’t He-Man.
aka Kei hei hup aka Kung Fu Cyborg: Metallic Attraction
2009 Directed by Jeffery Lau
Jeffery Lau declared he wanted to do Chinese Transformers, and have his robots be “the incarnation of Oriental wisdom and strength.” Okay. Lau is no stranger to science fiction, as anyone who has seen A Chinese Tall Story can testify. Kung Fu Cyborg was originally titled Robot, then the title was turned into the easier to remember Metallic Attraction: Kung Fu Cyborg. Except for when it was called Kung Fu Cyborg: Metallic Attraction! Or just Kung Fu Cyborg. D’Oh! So we’ll just call it Kung Fu Cyborg when we refer to it, even if we slip up later. Just ignore the slip ups. They are not the droids you are looking for.
This is a long movie, approaching Korean standard of length. One could easily trim 30 minutes and it would do nothing but help the film along. The length is because it seems like two movies smooshed together, an origin story and a second story. Unfortunately, that means things will be dragging. And dragging. And lots of side plots happen. And it takes forever for the freaking robots to do their robot thing. Which is sort of why I watched the movie in the first place. Before this introduction gets as long as the pre-robot fight scenes in Kung Fu Cyborg, let’s just get to the Roll Call!
Xu Dachun (Hu Jun) – Xu Dachun is a tough cop who wants to get out of his small town and be a famous big town cop. Instead, he has to babysit a robot who moves in on the girl he loves. Then he dies and gets robotted himself. Tough break.
K-1 (Alex Fong Lik-Sun) – K-1 is just your average robot cyborg disguised as a normal human sent undercover to work as a police officer while secretly using his powers in very obvious ways that should blow his cover 5 times a day. But they never do because everyone in the film is crazy. Good for the film. Alex Fong Lik-Sun was on the 2000 Olympics swimming team and is a singer. Don’t confuse him with Alex Fong Chung-Sun, who I now realize I have seen almost 2 dozen of his films.
Zhou Sumei (Betty Sun Li) – A police officer in the small town who takes a shine to K-1. But Dachun likes her already, thus leading to a love triangle. Further love triangle problems are because K-1 is not allowed to love. Basically, lots of love problems, none of which is resolved by giant robot fights. I didn’t realize I knew who Betty Sun Li was until I remembered she was in a music video with Rain that my wife has watched 1000 times on Youtube. She rescues animals and wrote a book called Take Me Home: The Stories of I and Stray Animals.
K-88 (Wu Jing) – aka Chen Long, a rogue robot who will give the few lines of philosophical mumbo-jumbo the film tries to pass off as in depth commentary on man’s place in the universe. And he fights, thus we get action!
Xiao Jiang (Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei) – A local teacher and computer expert who has a crush on Sumei. Ronald Cheng is pretty famous considering his smaller role.
Zhou Suqing (Gan Wei) – Sumei’s sister who was off in college and thus not in part of the film. Spends most of the film with her hair covering her face. This is Gan Wei’s first acting role, but she did marketing work on films like CJ7, Warlords, and Red Cliff 2. Gan Wei also rescues animals like Betty Sun Li.
Lin Xiang (Eric Tsang Chi-Wai) – Eric Tsang spends most of his scenes looking like he is a millisecond from crying, which is an odd acting choice. Okay. Lin Xiang is the dude who invents all the robots for the government and in charged with making sure they don’t go all Skynet on the general population.