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2012 - The Great Magician

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 31, 2012 3:14 am    Post subject: 2012 - The Great Magician Reply with quote

The Great Magician (2012)

Follow The Great Magician thread (Apr 21, 2011-Apr 16, 2012)

The Great Magician (wikipedia: english)

The Great Magician (baidu: chinese)

大魔术师 - The Great Magician (sina: chinese)

The Great Magician (mtime: 大魔术师 chinese)

SF Film Society Review (2012),942,1370&pageid=3121

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 1:09 am    Post subject: The Great Magician Reply with quote

The Great Magician

By Maggie Lee (China-Hong Kong)

Wed., Jan. 11, 2012, 1:24pm PT

Variety | Film Reviews

An Emperor Motion Picture (in Hong Kong), Bona Entertainment Co. (in China) release of an Emperor Motion Picture, Bona Film Group Co. and Bona Entertainment Co. presentation of a Film Unlimited production. (International sales: Emperor Motion Picture, Hong Kong.) Executive producers, Albert Yeung, Yu Dong, Jeffrey Chan. Directed by Derek Yee. Screenplay, Chun Tin-nam, Lau Ho-leung, Yee, based on the novel by Zhang Haifan.

With: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Sean Lau Ching-wan, Zhou Xun, Wu Gang, Yan Ni, Paul Chun, Kenya Sawada, Lam Suet, Wang Ziwen, Alex Fong, Wang Ziyi, Daniel Wu, Tsui Hark. (Mandarin dialogue)

Too many potions muddle the alchemy in "The Great Magician," a picaresque romance set around the rivalry between a warlord and a conjurer in 1920s China. Absent the psychological tension, technical showmanship and stylistic sleight-of-hand of "The Prestige," this yarn from Hong Kong writer-helmer Derek Yee is unable to harmonize a mix of political intrigue and vaudevillian humor, while an excess of magic acts keeps the sterling cast too physically busy to breathe feeling into their roles. Out of touch with contempo urban tastes, the pic is unlikely to conjure dazzling B.O. in China or satisfy overseas cravings for martial arts-centric titles.

Northern China in the '20s is embroiled in territorial feuds between warlords, one of whom is is Lei Daniu, aka Bully (Sean Lau Ching-wan), who uses the mentalist skills of his butler, Liu Kunshan (Wu Gang), to recruit soldiers. Bully is besotted with pretty acrobat Yin (Zhou Xun), whom he captured and forcibly made his seventh concubine while her fiance was in Europe. Meanwhile, Yin's magician father, Liu Wanyao (the helmer's brother, Paul Chun), has disappeared.

When the mysterious Zhang Xian (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) arrives in Beijing to stage spectacular magic shows, Bully seeks his help to impress the frosty Yin. To his consternation, the suave and Westernized Zhang is more beguiling than he bargained for.

Based on Zhang Haifan's novel of the same title, the screenplay by Yee, Chun Tin-nam and Lau Ho-leung plays down the book's dramatization of the cultural encounter between Western and Eastern magic. In fact, more plot similarities can be found with Neil Burger's "The Illusionist," though without that film's sustained mystique and ingenious plotting. Yin's divided affections never build to a full-blown romantic triangle; the main trio's first encounter arrives a leisurely half-hour after the scene is set and periphery characters are introduced. The midsection, in which Bully and Zhang try to suss each other out, coasts on the playful charm of the two actors, but delivers no high-concept feats. Eventually, the lead story is overtaken by inane subplots involving a lost alchemy formula, Japanese spies masquerading as filmmakers, and a Manchurian monarchist conspiracy.

The pic attempts to re-create the rapture of spectatorship in an era when magic appears as powerful as sorcery to a more gullible public. It works initially, such as when Zhang plays with fire or nimbly manipulates silk-screen paintings to re-enact his romantic past. However, rather than focusing on a few grand setpieces, the film features wall-to-wall magic, some of which is purely gimmicky, which inevitably strips it of mystery.

An exploration of magic and cinema as parallel mediums, capable of enchanting as well as deluding the masses, has as much relevance now as it did in '20s China, which also featured a burgeoning economy that bred unprecedented avarice and, with it, new levels of con artistry. Yee tentatively reflects on this phenomenon, but his tendency to moralize (obvious also in his "Protege" and "Shinjuku Incident") brings the film to a banal conclusion.

Perfs are sound but not exceptional. Leung, who last graced the screen in 2009's "Red Cliff II," looks a bit old for the Casanova role, and is initially rather wooden; he doesn't warm up until he's left alone to banter with Lau. Gamine Zhou easily convinces as a femme to die for, but doesn't invite deeper examination of her character or thoughts. Lau offers the most consistent turn as a wild card who keeps one guessing about his true nature until the end. Supporting turns by Wu (who had so much more presence in "Ip Man") and Yan (brassy as usual), plus cameos by Daniel Wu, Alex Fong and Tsui Hark, only mildly enhance the mix.

Visual effects are refined without being tastelessly showy, and Yee Chung-man's costumes are stylishly color-coordinated with the lush decor. Production design and lighting look particularly rich and luminous, paying loving homage to the folksy northern ambience and studio-set look of Li Han-hsiang's 1970s warlord comedy-satires and trickster capers.

Stephen Tung Wai's action choreography serviceably integrates magic into martial arts, but larger-scale street fights are pedestrian.
Camera (color, widescreen), Nobuyasu Kita; editor, Kong Chi-leung; music, Leon Ko; art director, Zhen. W; costume designers, Yee Chung-man, Jessie Dai Mei-ling; re-recording mixers (Dolby SRD 5.1), Traithep Wongpaiboon, Nopawat Likitwong; visual effects supervisor, Clement Cheng; visual effects, 3 Plus Animation Prod., Cinedigit; action choreographer, Stephen Tung Wai; magic advisor, Kong Tao-hoi; line producers, Jamie Luk, Man Cheuk-kau; associate producers, Shirley Kao, Catherine Hun; assistant director, Liu Xiao; second unit director, Jamie Luk; second unit camera, Shinichi Chiba. Reviewed at the Grand, Hong Kong, Jan 5, 2012. Running time: 130 MIN.

Contact the Variety newsroom at

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 1:10 am    Post subject: The Great Magician 大魔術& Reply with quote

The Great Magician 大魔術師

Hong Kong/China
Period action comedy-drama
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 126 mins
Directed by Derek Yee (爾冬陞)

By Derek Elley
Wed, 25 January 2012, 09:30 AM (HKT)


Northern China, early Republican Era. Ambitious warlord Lei Daniu (Lau Ching-wan) uses magic shows by his personal adjutant Liu Kunshan (Wu Gang) to convince people to sign up to his private army. In less than three months he's gained 5,000 new recruits, even though he doesn't have enough money to pay for them. Operating like a de facto emperor, Lei also maintains seven concubines, including pushy No. 3 (Yan Ni) and his latest acquisition, feisty No. 7, acrobat Liu Yin (Zhou Xun). Liu Yin refuses to sleep with him until she can see her father, Liu Wanyao (Paul Chun), who is held prisoner in the old city's jail and is being tortured by Wu Gang to hand over a secret ancient document, the Seven Sacred Methods (七聖法), by which one can control people's wills. Meanwhile, magician Zhang Xian (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) returns from making his name in Europe and buys a share of a teahouse from impoverished owner Li Fengren (Lam Suet) and his younger sister Li Jiao (Fiona Wang) where he sets up Chang's Magic Theatre. His spectacular combination of western and eastern skills trounces the competition from other magicians, like Chen Guo (Alex Fong Chung-sun), and attracts the attention of magic fan Lei. The plan of Zhang Xian, who is working with a cell of revolutionaries led by Li Yi (Wang Ziyi), is to kidnap Lei during a magic trick, but he's forced several times to abort the operation at the last moment. During one performance, however, he smuggles a message to Liu Yin - to whom he was engaged three years earlier but whom he left stranded when he suddenly went to Europe. Zhang Xian tells her he wants to help her rescue her father. Meanwhile, the revolutionaries want to kidnap Lei as he is seen as colluding with the Japanese, from whom he plans to buy some tanks to lead a military alliance with seven other warlords. As the undercover Japanese, led by "film director" Mite Sentaro (Sawada Kenya), play Lei along for their own ends, Zhang Xian starts a cat-and-mouse game of friendship with Lei to win his confidence.


With meaty roles for its large cast — especially Tony LEUNG Chiu-wai 梁朝偉 and LAU Ching-wan 劉青雲 as the cat-and-mouse leads — and sleight-of-hand its theme, The Great Magician 大魔術師 weaves two hours of engaging, star-driven entertainment. Mis-sold as a drama rather than as a light comedy with dramatic and action elements, it's the classiest production so far by Hong Kong actor-turned-director Derek Yee (One Nite in Mongkok 旺角黑夜 (2004), Protégé 門徒 (2007)), and the first to take him into the Chinese costume genre and away from Hong Kong-set thrillers and melodramas. On a technical level the movie is a quality job at every level, with fluid editing by KWONG Chi-leung 鄺志良, versatile scoring by Leon KO 高世章 and beautiful chiaroscuro interiors by Japan's KITA Nobuyasu 北信康, who shot Yee's Shinjuku Incident 新宿事件 (2009) and has become MIIKE Takashi 三池崇史's recent d.p. of choice (Thirteen Assassins 十三人の刺客 (2010)). But it's the performances that power a film which could easily have become just an effects-driven vehicle with multiple guest stars providing decoration.

The script adheres to the basic elements of Mainland writer ZHANG Haifan 張海帆's 2009 novel, with western influences seeping into early Republican China and the theme of illusion being marshalled by the power-hungry to influence people's minds. Not unreasonably, Yee beefs up the filmy side, throwing in contemporary references that are also mirrored in some of the costumes, especially the cowboy hat, gun and holster of Lau's self-important warlord. Clearly modelled on comedian Michael HUI 許冠文's turn in The Warlord 大軍閥 (1972), though taken down a couple of dozen notches, Lau's Lei Daniu, who's not quite as stupid as he appears, is a clever construction by the actor which morphs from pomposity to a sympathetic individual during the course of the movie. The growing relationship between him and Leung's wily, always-in-control magician who's out to hoodwink him is the film's main delight.

As the woman between them, ZHOU Xun 周迅 brings her usual gamine toughness and composure to the table, striking sparks with Leung, while fellow Mainland actress YAN Ni 閆妮 (Cow 鬥牛 (2009)) has some brassy fun as a pushy concubine. It's a shame that WU Gang 吳剛 (The Case 箱子 (2007)), who's excellent as the warlord's oily adjutant, disappears during the middle going; and the role of Fiona WANG 王子文 (Cool Young 正・青春 (2010)), as an admirer of Leung's magician, could have profitably been beefed up. But in general the dramatic balance is about right and, befitting a New Year movie, a full complement of Hong Kong names pop up here and there (directors TSUI Hark 徐克, Vincent KOK 谷德昭 and Jamie LUK 陸劍明 as quarreling warlords, actors Daniel WU 吳彥祖 and LAM Suet 林雪 as a lieutenant and teahouse owner, etc).

The magic scenes, though numerous, are skilfully staged in a variety of styles, with visual effects subservient to what is going on between the characters off- and on-stage at the same time. Looking equally suave in a DJ or changpao, Leung handles the magic with aplomb, even when some of the tricks are clearly impossible.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 1:13 am    Post subject: The Great Magician (大魔術& Reply with quote

The Great Magician (大魔術師)

By Lin Yuting, The China Post

February 3, 2012, 6:57 pm TWN

During China's Beiyang period (北洋時期) in the 1920s, warlords vie for power over the newly formed Republic while remnant powers wish to restore the Qing Dynasty.

Having returned from studies in Europe, magician Zhang Xian (張賢) now collaborates with a group of democracy activists while also wishing to reclaim his sweetheart Liu Yin (柳蔭). Since Zhang's departure to Europe, however, General Bully Lei (雷大牛) has kidnapped Yin as his seventh wife and has held Yin's father — who is also Zhang's mentor — captive. Yin stays put for the sake of her father's safety but still spurns Lei's advances.

With his proficiency in magic, Zhang soon makes a name for himself in town. As Lei brings Yin to Zhang's performance, the magician tries to win back his old love. Yet Yin holds grudges still, for Zhang's departure three years ago.

With dramatic expectations thus set up, “The Great Magician” goes on to undermine its premise bit by bit. Though many critics praise the film, I find myself emptied out and left with nothing but ephemeral laughs.

“The Great Magician” falls under the genre of the Chinese New Year comedy (賀歲片), which originated in Hong Kong in the 1970s and has evolved a mainland variety in the late 1990s as market demand shifted. Tropes of the genre include an all-star cast, madcap antics, festive flourishes and a happy ending. The dialogue and gags usually play on current events, the actors — and in this case the film industry itself, providing conversation starters for New Year's gatherings.

Without a doubt, viewers familiar with Chinese and Hong Kong cinema will be delighted by Tony Leung Chiu-wai (梁朝偉) as Zhang, Zhou Xun (周迅) as Yin and Lau Ching-wan (劉青雲) as Lei. Overall, the two leading men enjoy larger canvases in their characters than Zhou does in the beautiful but icy Yin. Moreover, the solid supporting cast includes Daniel Wu (吳彥祖), Alex Fong Chung Sun (方中信), Paul Chun (秦沛), Yan-ni (閆妮) Wu-gang (吳剛) and more cameos.

Cues taken from “The Warlord” (1972, 大軍閥), “Vampire Expert” (殭屍道長, 1995), “The Illusionist” (2006) and “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” (2006) would delight film buffs.

The “Great Magician” successfully evokes the charm of nostalgia through sumptuous art direction. A screening of a silent film accompanied by an upright piano is especially endearing. Scenes of minstrelsy, acrobatics, magic shows and fireworks are most effective when aimed at the characters, but fall flat when aimed directly as us, the filmgoers.

Oddly moving is the scene when Zhang decides on the spot to switch his program, telling the story of their past on stage to not only Yin but Lei's six other wives watching the show with her. The magic of film music is probably at work here.

Despite the improbable plot, director Derek Yee Tung-shing (爾冬陞), known for socially-conscious works such as “Protégé” (門徒), “One Nite in Mongkok” (旺角黑夜) and “The Lunatics” (癲佬正傳), has added generous spoonfuls of philosophical bantering and allegories into “The Great Magician.”

Over a brew of tea, Zhang and Lei muse on the topic of love. “Not seeing the wind doesn't mean the wind doesn't exist,” says one. “How many kinds of love are there?,” asks the other. “If both your mother and me fell into the river, whom would you save first?,” presses Yin on her two suitors, leaving the perennial question to us also.

Yee also comments on how illusion can inspire, enslave and mobilize. By parading all sorts of magic in front of us including fake decapitation, automatic writing, turtle-shell divination, invocation, calligraphic charms, even hallucinogenic drugs and the filmic medium itself, Yee closes in on his answer of what is left that is real.

Because of the film's shifting stance, it is difficult to tell if its veiled commentary about the Chinese government, played out on General Lei, is meant as literal endorsement or satiric criticism.

As you watch “The Great Magician” you will wonder whether Yin would choose Zhang or Lei. Well, keep on wondering. ■

► Directed by Yee Tung-shing / With Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Zhou Xun and Lau Ching-wan / Drama / Hong Kong / 2012 / 128 min. / Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles / ★★★☆☆ / Now Showing

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2013 1:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

More reviews in Filmblitz blog:
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 01, 2013 11:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Great Magician: Filmart Review

3:46 AM PDT 3/21/2012 by Elizabeth Kerr

The Bottom Line
A romantic diversion that vanishes before your very eyes.

Hong Kong Filmart

Tony Leung, Lau Ching-wan, Zhou Xun, Yan Ni, Vincent Kok

Derek Yee

Derek Yee’s “The Great Magician” is the kind of colorful, polished amusement that could find an audience in urban markets around the globe.

It was really only a matter of time before good old-fashioned magic—rabbits, hats, abracadabra and all that—made an appearance in Asia, where the magical and mystical have been cinema standards for decades. To that end comes director Derek Yee’s The Great Magician, a step away from the director’s preferred urban action fare. Magician is the kind of colorful, polished amusement that could find an audience in urban markets around the globe. Respectable if not blockbuster box office is possible in Asia where recognizable stars and novel a subject could carry the day.

In the early 1900s, a Japanese plot to conquer China and a misguided attempt to reassert Manchurian rule inspire warlord General Lei Daniu (Lau Ching-wan) and his right hand Liu Kunshan (Wu Gang) to reunite the country themselves. Meanwhile on the home front, Lei is trying his very best to win the affection of his 7th “wife,” Liu Yin (Zhou Xun), who’s with Lei because he’s holding her father captive. Dad (Paul Chun) knows the whereabouts of a scroll that holds the key to mind control, but he’s not talking. Lastly, itinerant magician/insurgent Chang Hsien (Tony Leung) and his trusty show troupe are plotting a way to overthrow the warlords as well. Little does Chang realize the love of his life, Yin, is married to Lei.

It takes upward of an hour to lay the narrative foundations in The Great Magician, and the peculiar alchemy Yee and co-writers Chun Tin-nam and Lau Ho-leung aim for never fully works: Superfluous backstory could have been excised to make room for the film’s stronger elements; Lei’s six other wives are not characters, they’re giggly schoolgirls; an early rivalry between Chang and Chen Kuo (Alex Fong) is carelessly abandoned; there’s a hint of a love triangle that remains painfully undeveloped, leaving one of Magician’s strongest assets, Zhou, with little to do. It flirts with Cyrano de Bergerac-style romantic sleight of hand but never really goes full-on rom-com, political intrigue never takes center stage, and retro vaudevillian comedy sputters to life then dies almost as fast. It’s hard to tell what this movie is supposed to be.

That leaves magic. There’s lots of it for fans—and plenty of room for irritation for non-fans. The Great Magician doesn’t lack polish and the magic sequences, along with the rest of the film, boast strong production values. But Leung and Lau are never given a chance to bounce off each other the way Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman did in The Prestige. Every time they get on a roll, Yee gets sidetracked by a Houdini moment and forgets about his stars. The biggest letdown by far, though, is only hinting at the underlying theme that likens magic and cinema as entertainments based on trickery; ones that audiences are willingly fooled by.

Still, The Great Magician looks great, and Leung and Lau do manage a few sparkling moments despite the material, and a clutch of cameos by familiar faces (director Tsui Hark, actors Lam Suet and Daniel Wu) prevent the secondary action from becoming background noise. A happy ending is never in doubt, and though The Great Magician doesn’t aim to innovation, it’s not quite the magical experience it should be.

Section: HK Filmart

Sales: Emperor Motion Pictures

Production company: Emperor Motion Picture, Bona Entertainment

Producers: Henry Fong, Mandy Law-Huang, Peggy Lee

Director: Derek Yee

Cast: Tony Leung, Lau Ching-wan, Zhou Xun, Yan Ni, Vincent Kok

Screenwriter: Chun Tin-nam, Lau Ho-leung, Derek Yee based on the novel by Zhang Haifan

Executive producer: Jeffrey Chan, Albert Yeung, Yu Dong

Director of Photography: Kita Nobuyasa

Production Designer: Zhen W

Music: Leon Ko

Costume designer: Yee Chung-man, Jessie Dai

Editor: Kwong Chi-leung

No rating, 128 minutes
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