King Of Comedy (1999)

Directed by: Stephen Chow & Lee Lik-Chi
Written by: Stephen Chow, Erica Lee Man & Tsang
Producer: Yeung Kwok-Fai
Starring: Stephen Chow, Cecilia Cheung, Karen Mok & Ng Man Tat

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Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2000:
Best New Performer (Cecilia Cheung)

After the success that was God Of Cookery, the directing pair Stephen Chow and Lee Lik-Chi returned with another crazy comedy. This time we see some of the more sweeter side of Stephen Chow but he still makes sure people know this is a Stephen Chow film.

Wan Tin-Sau (Stephen Chow) is a dedicated and aspiring actor but he has the habit of screwing up even small parts he gets. In between that he also teaches the art of acting and tries to put on plays in his local town. It's through his teachings that he meets club hostess Lau Piu-Piu (the lovely Cecilia Cheung from Legend Of Zu) who wants to learn some acting tricks in order to make more money from her male customers. She gets the desired effect and the two also fall in love along the way. If that wasn't good enough Wan Tin-Sau gets the opportunity to play a leading role in a film against megastar Sister Cuckoo (Karen Mok from God Of Cookery). Will he rise to the task or fail miserably again?

By now Stephen Chow and Lee Lik-Chi work very well together as directors. Over the years with him by his side, Stephen has really fine-tuned his comedy and directing skills, which resulted in him handling the latter duties all by himself on Shaolin Soccer. I can't swear that this is the truth but the ideal way of working between the two should be that Lee Lik-Chi focuses more on the style of filmmaking while Stephen does his own brand of crazy comedy.

After a strange opening shot by the sea the movie kicks into high gear almost immediately. Stephen's knowledge and great vision of comedy is quickly apparent in the scene where his character, as an extra, manages to screw up a long and demanding John Woo-esque shot (where Karen Mok also makes her first appearance). What makes this scene so awesome is that it's choreographed just like a big serious, balletic shoot-out, only with more doves. That fact makes the scene almost feel like it's taken straight out of a typical John Woo-film, despite that it's actually a parody. Truly excellent and not only Bruce Lee seems to be Stephen's idol in Hong Kong Cinema. Big credit has to go to action choreographer Bruce Law though who fires on all cylinders in this scene. I first saw his work on Kirk Wong's Gunmen and it's clear that his contribution to a project can mean a lot.

Throughout King Of Comedy I found that, by this point in his career, Stephen had the ability to make any comedy work, no matter how absurd it was. That's not at all easy to do and not something Wong Jing could do in his movies for instance. The visual humour dominates King Of Comedy and there's only a few moments where the humour is more dialogue based. The subtitles do their best at explaining but as a non-Cantonese speaker, these moments didn't really click for me.

From a filmmaking standpoint the 92 minutes fly by quite fast and the script manages to develop the things it should. Neither director seems to want to distinguish themselves stylistically, which of course is a good thing in a comedy. We do see some effective uses of dissolves to indicate time passing but even within those the directors can't resist to insert more silly (read: funny) humour. That works well though and neither the camera language and the joke feels forced or unwarranted, if there ever is such a thing in a Stephen Chow-movie.

The script and the plot within has a very basic structure and theme, in other words boy meets girl, boy gets chance to fame and fortune and so on. However, a simple structure does not generate a bad movie in this case. It has bugged me that in movies like God Of Cookery there's drama that the viewer doesn't fully know whether it's actually comedy or drama but in King Of Comedy there's no question that the drama is actually drama. I really liked this approach which leads us the structure of the second half of this film.

The more crazy comedy is toned down and we instead get to see a very sweet romance develop between Stephen and Cecilia's characters. Sure, that element is a familiar one but there's so much chemistry in and between the two that the word cliché never once popped up in my head. Structure-wise the movie has a fairly serious fault though. A more thriller oriented plot device takes place during the latter part of the film and it came too much out of left field for me to consider it a successful choice. It doesn't feel smooth or right to go from a sweet romance to a shoot-out and if I had to grade this movie I would've pushed it down a bit because of this.

Our leading man whom you'll know by know has not forgotten to develop his skills in front of the camera and King Of Comedy shows some very good acting from Stephen. It's of course the comedy that dominate the performance and it's the more subtle mannerisms (both in comedy and drama) that makes him so good. His facial expressions, his characters long rants on how good acting is done and the romantic side are all combined wonderfully. Certainly one of his better performances in my opinion.

I haven't seen his female co-star Cecilia Cheung do anything really challenging in movies yet but this role as a romantic interest to Stephen seems to suit her very well. She's not just beautiful, she also has full focus on her character and performs it very professionally. Her scenes with Stephen are really elevated thanks to their excellent chemistry and especially the kissing scene is a unique movie moment.

Karen Mok (who was made up as really ugly in God Of Cookery) doesn't have a lot of screentime and her character seems rather one-sided up to a certain point in the film. Through a simple moment of sympathy the character of Cuckoo becomes memorable though. Ng Man Tat (from Shaolin Soccer and most of Stephen's other films) also turns up but has a smaller and only partially whacked out character to play here. I've seen him do better work but he sure does belong in a Stephen Chow-production no matter what.

Despite one flaw in the narrative I can honestly say that King Of Comedy is very good. Stephen Chow breaks new ground for himself and he definitely is Hong Kong's King Of Comedy.

The DVD:

An generally excellent 1.85:1 transfer from Universe. There's good detail almost all the way through (some soft scenes) and colours are vivid with good blacks when needed. Print damage is present but doesn't drag down the good work by Universe.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 Cantonese track is greatly active in action scenes and at times the outdoor scenes. Dialogue always comes across as clear and the track is evenly mixed throughout. A 5.1 option in Mandarin is also included.

The English subtitles have very few errors and ranks as one of the better subtitling jobs on a Hong Kong dvd. Japanese, Bahasa Malaysian, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese subtitles are also included.

We get quite a few video extras for a Hong Kong dvd. Note that none of them feature subtitles though. First up are interviews with Stephen Chow, Cecilia Cheung, Karen Mok and Lee Lik-Chi (all seem filmed the same day as the premiere of the movie). They're divided into questions that the viewer can click to get the answer too. The questions are in English but as mentioned no subtitles for the answers.

Press Conference last for 2 minutes and 46 seconds and we see Stephen Chow and Lee Lik-Chi (among others) take questions from the press (obviously). Stephen does come off as a little uncomfortable having all this attention around him but that could have something to do with the fact that Jackie Chan is also present at the event. Jackie did a cameo in the film and if that is all his involvement consisted of I can't say.

The Gala Premiere segment is fairly enjoyable though. We see the main stars and director ride a bus to the premiere while handing out free samples of Pringles-chips to by-passers. This lasts for 3 minutes and 32 seconds.

Lastly we get NG Shots, a little featurette hosted by three of the younger actors from the movie (including the triad kid who speaks funny). This goes on way too long and consists mainly of actors flubbing their lines, not very exciting. I did enjoy seeing some of the outtakes from the shoot-out and the fire scene though. This section lasts for 21 minutes and 2 seconds.

Next are the standard supplements. We get Star's Files for Stephen Chow, Cecilia Cheung, Karen Mok, Ng Man Tat and Lee Lik-Chi. These provide some good info but are basic nonetheless. Lastly trailers for King Of Comedy, Gorgeous, Rush Hour and Hot War are on the disc.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson