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Stephen Chow and Ng Man-Tat play around in Heaven in Mad Monk.
Director: Johnnie To Kei-Fung
Action: Ching Siu-Tung
Cast: Stephen Chow Sing-Chi, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Ng Man-Tat, Kirk Wong Chi-Keung, Lo Hoi-Pang, Chan Wai-Man, Philip Chan Yan-Kin, Wong Yat-Fei, Bau Hei-Jing, Lau Kong, Yuen King-Tan, Gabriel “Turtle” Wong Yat-San, Anita Mui Yim-Fong
The Skinny: Chaotic and less effective than most of Stephen Chow's work, but not without its amusements. Chow mugs up a storm, and the supporting cast is largely fine. However, this is one of Chow's least charismatic roles, and that makes all the difference here. An entertaining, but decidedly lesser Stephen Chow flick.
Stephen Chow ridicules inferior folk - that is, anyone not named Stephen Chow - in the chaotic, but still somewhat entertaining Mad Monk. A 1993 comedy directed by Johnnie To, Mad Monk features Chow in one of his typical roles. He plays the arrogant, but amusingly mischievous god Dragon Fighter Lo Han, who spends his time in Heaven revealing the petty hypocrisies and ridiculously self-important ways of his fellow gods. Either that, or he simply likes being a smartass, a talent that eventually gets him in trouble. Thanks to his wacky ways, Lo Han is sentenced to spend his next ten lifetimes as an animal, but the Goddess of Mercy Kuan-Yin (Anita Mui in a cameo) commutes Lo Han's sentence with certain conditions.
Here's the deal: Lo Han must go to Earth as a mortal monk, and must convince three eternally cursed individuals to give up their dead-end ways and change their fates. The three charity cases: an incorrigible prostitute (Maggie Cheung), an eternal beggar (Anthony Wong), and a brutal killer (Kirk Wong, director of Crime Story). If Lo Han can save them, i.e. alter their fate such that their next reincarnation is not the same profession as their last, he'll earn his way back to Heaven. Lo Han isn't supposed to use any magic on Earth, but thanks to the collusion of a couple of Heavenly buddies (Ng Man-Tat and Wong Yat-Fei), he gets a magic fan that can access magical powers three times daily. The problem: the three individuals are tough nuts to crack, and there are supernatural (read: evil) forces working against him. Can Lo Han save these souls, fight off giant demon Heh Lo-Sha, and still spend time needling everyone else?
This is a Stephen Chow movie, so of course he can! As usual, Chow is at his best when he's haranguing and harassing, and generally acting superior to the lesser beings around him. Those who enjoy watching Chow bully his way through a motion picture should be pleased by his Mad Monk antics. What isn't so pleasing is the film's seemingly haphazard plot, which relies heavily on wordplay, cultural references, and a breakneck pace that puts Initial D to shame. The occasional break for some fantasy action (courtesy of Ching Siu-Tung) helps a bit, but overall Mad Monk is one chaotic motion picture. Chow is less charismatic than usual, as his character lacks the human foibles that make him an endearing comic wiseacre. Thankfully the film possesses some solid performances (especially from the delightful Maggie Cheung), and some effective emotion that makes the cheapo-SFX finale an oddly satisfying blowout. Mad Monk is unfortunately not one of Stephen Chow's greats, as it possesses less charm and comic surprise than many of his more agreeable works. Still, those hankering for a Stephen Chow fix - and have seen everything else available on DVD - might find Mad Monk to be required viewing. (Kozo 1996/2005)