Master Q 2001 (2001)

Directed by: Herman Yau
Written by: Herman Yau, Tsui Hark, Lee Man Choi & Roy Szeto
Producer: Tsui Hark
Starring: Cecilia Cheung, Nicholas Tse, Chan Hui Man, Wayne Lai, Alfred Cheung, Emily Kwan, Hui Siu-Hung, Frankie Ng & Joe Lee.

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Master Q 2001 is a popular Hong Kong comic book creation who, I'll immediately admit, I am very unfamiliar with. Thankfully this second animated feature with the eponymous Master Q does not require the potential viewer to have an extensive knowledge of the subject in order to gain some measure of enjoyment from it. Therefore it's fairly easy to review the film based on its own merits without having to draw on the character's background.

When his animator (Creator Alphonso Wong in a cameo) decides to travel to Wu Dang mountain for a spot of fishing, Master Q and his rotund friend Potato decide that its time to find other employment for themselves. While applying for different jobs, the duo manage to upset local heavy Don Kam (Chan Hui Man) and his legion of obsessive enforcers who subsequently chase them off. Fleeing from the pursuers, Master Q and Potato manage to cause an accident that sees dewy-eyed lovers Fred (Nicolas Tse from Metade Fumaca) and Mandy (Cecilia Cheung from Fly Me To Polaris) lose their memories and forget everything about their lives. Although they were very much in love before, Fred and Mandy are now complete strangers with the former being embraced by Don Kam as the successor to his triad empire. Now former policeman Fred is known as Howard and is in command of the local triad youth, totally unaware of his life before the accident. Meanwhile Mandy is being manipulated by her devious mother and protected by the remorseful Master Q and Potato who decide to help her in any way possible. When Mandy and Howard next meet they are on opposite sides of the law and have no memory of their former love. Howard, though, begins to fall for the beautiful Mandy, but she swears loyalty to whoever owns the key around her neck - given to her by the mysterious man who she loved, but now can't remember. Master Q and Potato decide to unite Mandy with the man she loves without realizing that it is in fact Howard; Don Kam has other ideas though and, having decided that his adopted son is bringing bad luck to him, decides to have him killed by a hitman. Only Master Q and Potato can stop the assassination and bring true happiness to the couple.

It's quite hard to believe that Herman Yau - a director who has made some of Hong Kong's most disturbing films - is in the director's chair for what is essentially a film for younger audiences. Backed by Tsui Hark's Film Workshop, Yau leaves all of the stomach-churning flicks of yesteryear behind and throws all of his energies into this lighthearted romp. Yau's great asset even in his low-budget schlock films is an ability to weave in some uniquely Eastern moments; in Master Q 2001 Yau has a much bigger budget than he is normally used to and so this stroke of imagination is well utilized. His combination of the effective CGI animation and the human actors is also fairly successful, giving Yau the chance to engender his usual peculiar skills among a larger-than-life cast.

Master Q 2001 is aimed at younger audiences as the storyline, humour and rating all signify. On the downside, this means that any coherence or smooth direction is ignored in favour of slapstick comedy and over-the-top performances - not that these aspects aren't associated with Herman Yau anyway. The film therefore finds itself wandering off on tangents that aren't always as interesting as they should be; some of the comic asides are a bit too much like an inferior version of an Aces Go Places film and fail to hold the viewer's attention. Master Q 2001 tries to be aimable, but is hopelessly overlong. Matters are not help by an uneven screenplay - the fact that four different writers contributed to it perhaps tells its own story.

The definite bonus of a film that throws such caution to the wind, despite the numerous flaws, is the chance to see a few good parodies and some normally stoic actors hamming it up. Chan Hui Man is excellent - though over-the-top - as the insane crime boss and happily parodies his previous roles and lifestyle. Naturally Nicholas Tse is his usual 'rebel without a cause', but Cecilia Cheung is as sweet and watchable as ever. Although there could be a danger of Cheung being typecast, its nonetheless a pleasure to see an actress with such a fresh charisma who can add a certain something to any film she appears in.

Tsui Hark's Film Workshop has presented viewers with a film that proves to be a success in the effects department, but not in the artistic field. The character animation for Master Q and Potato is expertly put together and the hard work of the effects team should be applauded; the use of such advanced technology is a bold move by the filmmakers considering the dubious attempts by Hong Kong movies before and since. However, it's not the kind of film that you're likely to watch more than once, even if you're an ardent fan of one of the cast members.

The DVD:

This China Star dvd benefits from a solid 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. With comic book characters so predominant throughout, colours need to have a sharpness and resonance. Thankfully, this is mostly the case for Master Q 2001. The bright colours of Master Q and Potato are well contrasted by the cold silvers and blues of Hong Kong; there is virtually no bleeding or graininess on the colours. Considering this is a couple of years old now, the quality of the print is still better than some of the newer Hong Kong releases.

Sound wise, Master Q 2001 benefits from a good 5.1 track and a quite impressive DTS track. The DTS track makes good use of the full sound system with much better use of rear speakers than I expected. The film has action sequences that breathe life into the DTS with crisp sounds of bullets and cars blasting out of the rear channels. The 5.1 track, though slightly inferior, is still better than average. The disc comes with Cantonese and Mandarin audio tracks.

The English subtitles are mostly error-free and show an improvement over older Hong Kong discs. Even in the grammatically bad lines there is a certain logic to them. Traditional Chinese subtitles are also included.

At first glance, China Star seem to have packed the disc with extras. Further examination, though, reveals that there's not much to be that joyous about. Firstly there's a Making Of short; lasting a mere 5 minutes, it skims over the film and briefly touches on the film's effects. It's saving grace is that it is subtitled which isn't something that can always be boasted by Hong Kong discs.

There's Cast, Crew and Author sections that are scant on detail and information, just making a slight mention of the careers and filmographies of Nicholas Tse, Cecilia Cheung, Herman Yau, Tsui Hark and Master Q's creator Alphonso Wong. The Synopsis regurgitates the details from the back of the DVD with little differences, while there's finally a trailer for the film itself.

reviewed by Andrew Saroch