You'd probably know by now how adamant I am that the best and only way to enjoy a Hong Kong comedy, is to watch it in Cantonese, otherwise chances are a lot of jokes, especially the verbal ones, will likely be lost in translation. I had the chance to watch this during my recent trip to Hong Kong, but decided somehow to pass it up for other films. Needless to say one of the major interest why I decided to watch this film back in Singapore and compromise on having to sit through this in Mandarin (besides having a friend watch this as well), is no doubt fueled by Ronald Cheng and Charlene Choi coming out of the closet proclaiming an end to their secret union.
Gossipy news aside, I'm never convinced about singer Ronald Cheng's ability as an actor, though I had wondered how well he had fared being in a comedic leading role. I'm still not convinced actually that he's leading man material, despite having tickled my funny bone in the film, which I attribute more to writer-director Jeffrey Lau, who had gone to elicit laughs right from the get go, and had enough fuel from opening credits to plenty of sight gags, toilet humour, a string of cameo appearances, and enough of movie references here to keep you engaged throughout.
In essence, I liken Lau to Asia's version of Hollywood comedies as churned out by the Zucker siblings, where a film can stand on its own with enough craft in comedy, rather than the recent slew of relatively terrible Hollywood comedies that know nothing except to string together films of the same genre, and then poking fun at them en masse. Here though the idea is simple, and Red Cliff / Three Kingdoms form the basis and backdrop at which comedy finds its place. It's essentially a crazy little love story between an unnamed bandit (played by Ronald Cheng) who becomes Zhao Yun when the time travelling, titular Pandora's Box gets activated, and an immortal called Rose (Betty Sun) who is out to find The One true love, whom she believes to be Cheng's character.
So time travel drops them smack into the Battle of Red Cliff, and part of the fun here is to identify the whole slew of cameo appearances by China and Hong Kong actors, who seem not to mind the very bit roles (one scene or two) to lend a helping hand at boosting the film's star attraction. And these appearances come quite fast and furious, together with almost a laugh-a-minute comedy that Lau weaves into the narrative, most of which are genuinely funny, until it started to run out of steam and paid not too subtle comedic homage to Hollywood films like Titanic, The Matrix and King Kong even.
Needless to say the narrative itself is simplistic and delivered in a choppy manner, stringing together gag after gag, and the finale was quite off the mark with a sudden tribute paid to one of Lau's earlier and more famous works with Stephen Chow. Still, it did what it had set out to do, to help you relax and enjoy a rip-roaring time at the movies, so the objective's met and I've got little qualms about it since I honestly am admitting this was much better than expected, and had found myself laughing at some points with tears uncontrollable.