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March 23, 2013

Movie Review: The Great Magician (2011, Blu-ray)

Review By: Rob Sibley

The Great Magician is the latest feature film from director Tung-Shing Yee aka Derek Yee. The man has a handful of films to his credits but he truly made his name in Hong Kong cinema with his violent art house masterpiece “One Nite in Mongkok”. He cemented himself as a director with an eye for the darker side of HK life with the magnificent but depressing crime/character study “Protégé”. 

But the film that most Americans will know Yee's work from was the Jackie Chan vehicle “Shinjuku Incident”. Which is arguably one of Chan's best films when it concerns acting. 

Next up on Yee's plate was “Triple Tap”, a semi spin off of the far superior “Double Tap”. Triple Tap was by no means a bad film, it was just your typical cop thriller with the occasional stand out action sequence. It lacked the first films dark, tense and psychology disturbing elements. Which is odd considering how 2000's Double Tap felt more like a Yee film then Triple did.

So now onto Yee's latest, The Great Magician which stars two of Hong Kong's greatest talents. Tony Leung (Internal Affairs, In The Mood For Love) and Lau Ching Wan (Made Detective, Running out of time). The supporting cast is nothing to sneeze at either, Daniel Wu who can be seen in the recently released Man with the iron fists and Zhou Xun who made quite the splash in the Wachowski's Cloud Atlas.
The Great Magician is set during the post Qing Dynasty China, 1920 or so. As the film starts off a rather ruthless lieutenant Kun Shan (Wu Gang) is is the midst of using magic to recruit criminals and low lives for his warlords army.

Said warlord is Lei Bully (Lau Ching Wan), a ruthless man by all means who has seven wives. Well the seventh wife isn't exactly pleased to be there. Liu Yin (Zhou Xun) is being held against her well, a prisoner pretty much and she's not at all happy at the thought of being married to a tyrant. Kun Shan is also in the midst of setting up a deal with the Japanese for various weapons of mass destruction. To complicate matters further a stranger appears with a great interest in the Warlords seventh wife.

This stranger is Chang Hsien, “The Great Magician” himself played with perfect charm and a great sense of showmanship by the wonderful Tony Leung. Chang sets up shop at a little hotel were he performs to sold out crowds, even after just his first performance. Chang has a way with magic or more specific an unnatural ability to control fire.

Being a Hong Kong period piece things are never simple. Chang Hsien has actually returned not to just perform magic but is planning to get his long lost love back. Yep... you guessed it, he's returned for Liu Yin. There is also the matter of the “Seven wonder scrolls” where put together these scrolls have the power to make a persons dreams a reality which leads to a few visually outstanding sequences.

This is far from a perfect film and it's certainly not Derek Yee's best film as a director. But it's fun, it's actually a whole lotta fun. Which is nice because I've been getting tired of the overly dramatic period piece films that HK's being releasing non-stop.

TGM is first and foremost a comedy, it's not a costume drama or an action epic. It's a film based around wonderfully calculated performances and very eye appealing magic tricks. 

The film doesn't hit every note perfectly though. As often is the case the CGI is a bit obvious but that's forgivable. Film fans going in expecting to see a Hong Kong version of "The Prestige" or "The Illusionist" will be disappointed though.  The films tone much more resembles a less slap sticky version of Stephen Chow's Royal Tramp 1 & 2.
TGM is brought to us on Blu-ray by the folks at Well Go USA. The 1080P anamorphic widescreen is utterly incredible, it's a feast for the eyes. As per usual it's another strong transfer from Well Go. TGM was shot on film so the entire presentation has an incredibly warm look to it. Fine detail and contrast is high in this release. It's pretty much demo material.

For audio you get four choices. Mandarin 5.1 DTS track, Mandarin 2.0, English 5.1 DTS and an English 2.0 track. The best of the bunch by far is the Mandarin 5.1 track. English dubs have never been my thing but from what I heard the dubbing was surprisingly decent. So which ever option you choose, you'll be happy with.

Supplements are a little thin but “Making The Magic” is a terrific 40 minute making of featurette which offers a fairly extensive look at the production. It's worth the watch due to just the right amount of BTS footage and talking head footage. Last up is the theatrical trailer for the film.

The Great Magician is a fun whimsical little comedy from Derek Yee. What really makes this film worth checking out are the stand out performances from Tony Leung. This flick comes RECOMMENDED. 

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