At the height of the 2003 SARS crisis, Johnnie To worked on what came to be one among the series of “1:99 Short Films” that were meant to cheer up and/or inspire the residents of Hong Kong. Entitled “Rhapsody”, it had Andy Lau playing a character reminiscent of Sam Hui’s circa 1970s-1980s personae, Sammi Cheng dressed up to look like Josephine Siao Fong-Fong’s Lam Ah Chan/“Plain Jane” character and Lau Ching Wan as an authority figure who clearly brought to mind Michael Hui. In retrospect, this modest offering looked to have gone on to serve as an inspiration for a full-blown feature length effort made to coincide with happier times that’s solely directed and produced as well as co-scripted -- with Au Kin Yee -- by the Milkyway Image boss’ frequent collaborator, Wai Ka Fai.
Granted that there’s (almost) no Andy Lau in sight in FANTASIA. Similarly, Sammi Cheng truly isn’t anywhere to be found in this ultra zany Chinese New Year comedy whose sense of reckless comedic abandon, and feeling of imagination run wild, got me drawing parallels between it and the seriously demented “The Eagle Shooting Heroes” (Another Chinese New Year comedy, lest we forget). However, Lau Ching Wan most certainly is around to reprise his uncannily spot on Michael Hui impression (One that gets publicly accorded that legendary comedy master’s seal of approval in this very movie). And should anyone need further hints of this referencing, his conservative appearing character is given some support in this entertaining work by: a shaggy-haired Louis Koo doing his best to channel the spirit of Sam Hui; and a bewigged Jordan Chan, whose impersonation of Ricky Hui is so absolutely, disarmingly, on the nose that this duo appear more likely to be biological brothers than Ricky and his real life siblings!
Doubtlessly, those who have viewed the Hui brothers’ “The Private Eyes” -- and, albeit to a lesser extent, one particular edition of the Sam Hui, Karl Maka and Sylvia Chang starring “Aces Go Places” movies -- will experience some moments of deja vu when they behold certain portions of FANTASIA. And, yes, this 2004 comedy -- with a retro, c. late 1960s/early 1970s, setting -- does have Lau Ching Wan, Louis Koo and Jordan Chan playing a trio of less than ace private investigators who the movie’s audience first see working a case in antique shop. Lest anyone think that this guffaw fest is a straight remake of the Huis’ 1976 classic megahit, however, I’ll hasten to point out that in the antique shop whose valuables the three bumblers had been charged with guarding, there turns out to be the kind of magic lamp from which a magic-possessing being appears after it has been rubbed.
Instead of a genie though, there came out of that receptacle a pint-sized bespectacled individual named Harmy Bobo who claimed to hail from the same educational institution (Hogwarts, for the initiated) as a certain Master Harry Potter. All eager to grant the one who rubbed it three wishes, the pudding -- or mushroom, as was the preferred description of certain individuals she came across! -- headed lass (who’s portrayed by Cecilia Cheung but looks more like Lam Ah Chun/“Plain Jane” Lin, especially after she gets robbed of her school uniform and finds substitute clothing in the form of an oversized plaid shirt and jeans!) first has to figure out who it was who among cynical Michael, idealistic Sam or sincere Fugu (for all of his physically resembling Ricky, this is Jordan Chan’s character’s name) she should be granting three wishes to.
For a multitude of reasons, this is a task that proves to not be all that easy for Harmy to carry out. For one thing, due to her magical abilities tending to be delayed in its reaction, it’s difficult for her to convince people that she really is a (trainee) wizard. For another, Harmy’s Hogwarts contacts happen to be two bored boys (played by Steven Cheung and Kenny Kwan (AKA the Boyz)) who aren’t as helpful as she wanted them to be. But what really puts a spanner into her attempts at enacting some good works are Harmy’s three shape-shifting cousins -- two of whom/which are a twin pair of Chopsticks who transform into two gals (played by none other than da Twins, Gillian Chung and Charlene Choi) after being licked and invariably take on the personality of their licker (in FANTASIA, a villainous character named Shek Kin essayed by Francis Ng); and the other of which usually looks like an innocuous stuffed dinosaur toy but, when angered (or jealous, or both), metamorphoses into a large, pink poop-emitting being that looks like a cross between a creature from “Jurassic Park” and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle!!!
More than by the way, I don’t know whether the handful of readers of this review are reeling at this juncture from this onslaught of bizarre details. However, I can vouch for the head of its writer actually hurting as well as spinning just from recounting them! Consequently, I plan to call a halt to this piece soon. Before doing so though, here’s stating that FANTASIA additionally contains such surreal characters, sights and sounds as: Christy Chung as a genius multi-lingual rocket scientist cousin of Fugu who goes mad and, consequently, is apt to seek to bite off people’s noses; Cheung Tat Ming as Hong Kong’s first man on the moon; Louis Koo doing a Bruce Lee impression that’s madder plus funnier than even any of Tony Leung Kar Fai’s has been; and Lau Ching Wan with a mouth stuffed with mahjong tiles that had to be agonizing for him but is hysteria-inducing for us! Also, that just in case people get the wrong impression, I did very much enjoy and love FANTASIA -- a fun movie that’s certifiably silly, to be sure, but in a way that joyously shows that abundant creativity still exists, and looks to be positively encouraged, (with)in the cinema of Hong Kong.
My rating for this film: 9.