Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film
reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong
Master Q 2001
A fixture on HK comic stands for almost 40 years, "Old Master Q, Mr. Chun and Potato" has enjoyed several previous film adaptations and the latest finds producer Tsui Hark once again trying to expand the technical boundaries of HK cinema. The first Chinese language production to feature extensive use of 3-D animation (about 75 minutes worth featured in over 600 shots), MASTER Q 2001 could be called the SAR's answer to WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, with its three animated heroes, Master Q, Potato, and Chun (called Nobody in the English subtitles) interacting with real flesh and blood people in a world where such things are apparently commonplace.
Creator Alphonso Wong with Master Q, Potato and Nobody. Image courtesy China Star.
Tired of not receiving any residuals from their years of appearing in the funny papers, Q, Potato, and Nobody try to find other employment, with no success. In desperation, they confront their boss, Alphonso Wong Chak (the comic book's 77 year-old creator, playing himself), and demand both a raise and more vacation time. Wong manages to give them the slip once again, taking Nobody along for a fishing vacation on Wudung Mountain, but does give the spindly scholar and his tubby friend a box that is only to be opened in an emergency. Meanwhile, triad boss Don Kam (Michael Chan Wai-man) instructs hitman Mark (Tats Lau Yee-tat, wearing a shirt bearing the words I AM A KILLER) to bump off young police officer Fred (Nicholas Tse Ting-fung) but a visiting Thai spiritualist advises Kam that Fred is actually his lucky charm, sparking a desperate attempt to try and call off the hit.
Cecilia Cheung and Master Q. Image courtesy China Star.
While out shooting at sparrows with their slingshots, Q and Potato accidentally bean Kam, leading to a second accident that lands Fred and girlfriend Mandy Cheung (Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi) in the hospital with amnesia. Convincing the youth that his name is actually Howard, Kam tries to initiate him into the fold but Fred's police training keeps bubbling to the surface. Meanwhile, Mandy's unscrupulous mother, Councillor Tam (Law Koon-lan), uses her daughter's memory loss as a way of ensuring that she doesn't marry Fred. Determined to help Mandy out of the jam they have gotten her into, Q and Potato, naturally, just make a mess out of everything. Kam, meanwhile, is experiencing an unprecedented string of bad luck and decides to get rid of Fred by having him deliver a bomb to Don Sing (Joe Lee Yiu-ming), who has returned from exile to take over Kam's illicit businesses.
Potato and Master Q. Image courtesy China Star.
For the most part, the animation is pleasing and very well integrated with the live action. Unfortunately, the storyline and jokes are almost entirely uninspired and the movie falls far short of ROGER RABBIT in that regard. The amnesia plot device figured into about every third HK movie that followed in the wake of GOD OF GAMBLERS and, delving even further back into the 80s, there is also a comic soccer game and a musical number here that could have been lifted right out of the HAPPY GHOST series. The scenes without Q and Potato tend to drag, in spite of director Herman Yau Lai-to's efforts to keeps things moving along with frantic staging and a mobile camera. As a technological breakthrough for HK cinema, MASTER Q 2001 is worthy of note and not entirely without its pleasures, thanks primarily to Master Q himself (whose look and voice are amusingly reminiscent of Law Kar-ying). However, now that the novelty is gone, Tsui is going to have to come up with a scenario far more original and inspired to make another venture of this sort worthwhile for anyone over the age of ten. Wayne Lai Yiu-cheung, Lam Chi-sin, Alfred Cheung Kin-ting, Emily Kwan Bo-wai, Helena Law Lan, Lam Suet, Joe Junior, Hui Shiu-hung, and Frankie Ng Chi-hung also appear.
Master Q and Cecilia Cheung. Image courtesy China Star.
Nicholas Tse appearing in the "Making Of ..." featurette. Image courtesy China Star.