Remember that joke in Annie Hall where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are trying to flirt, and the subtitles reveal what they're really thinking? It's a charming little gag, right? Now imagine that it was extended across the whole film – every single line of dialogue was captioned with an "honest" translation that punctured each character's attempt at wit, persuasion or self-promotion. It would be excruciatingly tiresome after a few minutes, right? If you suspect that the previous sentence is true, you don't need to read any further than this – The Invention of Lying will bore you rigid, and you should avoid it at all costs. If you need more persuasion, perhaps I should bring out the big guns, an insult I don't deploy lightly: The Invention of Lying is the worst film I've seen at the cinema since Highlander II.
From the very first minute, I was distracted by the inconsistencies of the film's "high concept". It's set in a world where humans have evolved without the ability to lie, and so they seem duty bound to spout whatever's on the top of their head. It begins with Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner going on a date – she, of course, immediately declares that she finds him unattractive and will not be having sex with him. It's a neat way to set out the rules of this world, but the flatness of the humour left me enough laughless minutes to get distracted, and it all collapsed. So, people deliver brutal statements of disinterest and verbal abuse at every turn, yet nobody ever gets offended? And still they prattle in with communication that is never met with a reaction? If total truth-telling makes people very efficient and utilitarian in their choices, why do people bother persisting on bad dates? Why is Gervais' boss nervous about firing him if nobody cares about causing offence? So, everybody believes everything at face value, never questions authority, yet human history has developed exactly as it has in the real world? Science and technology developed normally, even though there was presumably never a need for the curiosity and inquiry needed for such things? Can people behave deceitfully if they don't say untruths out loud? Ricky Gervais invented God so that people might have something to make them feel better about dying? Phew, that settles the possibility that making up fantasies to cope with the vicissitudes of a harsh and random universe is a natural human instinct. But where did that church come from? Now, I really shouldn't have been thinking about any of this. I should have been too busy laughing. I didn't sit through Woody Allen's Sleeper (another film in which a comedy writer built a plot around portraying himself as a privileged outsider who runs rings around a robotic, pliant society due to his exceptional grasp of societal instincts,) worrying about the impossibility of cryogenics and cyber-dogs. That's because Sleeper is full of great jokes. The Invention of Lying was met with almost complete stony silence, and that was in a city-centre multiplex on a Friday night. In a cinema that sells beer in the aisles. Personally, I laughed once, and that was during a cameo from Steven Merchant and Barry from Eastenders that is so daft and incongruous that it just lightened the whole mood by stepping out of the plodding, self-important movie that had clumsily tried to incorporate it.
Ricky Gervais has built a career out of self-mockery, but it's not fooling anyone when it's a sideways strategy to buy himself the right to schmaltzy, self-aggrandising plot lines where the world comes to recognise him for who he really is: of course he's a better, more rounded human being than everyone else – he's written everyone else to be a self-absorbed, shallow wage slave and then placed them in a world that automatically justifies him lazily keeping them that way. It's an ego comedy in the tradition of What Women Want (Mel Gibson is the only man who can hear what ladies have in their brains! Imagine the possibilities!) Bruce/Evan Almighty (Jim Carrey/Steve Carrell becomes God/Noah! Watching them exercise their powers on an unsuspecting world is bound to be hilarious!), but there's also a hint that Gervais fancies himself as a Larry David-style, misanthropic sage, cutting through the bullshit of a boobytrapped social scene with his own brand of common sense (and bringing in celeb friends in the process). But in this script he's hidebound by sentiment and half-baked religious satire.
I've seen some dodgy HK movies in my time, but this has to rank pretty highly in the roll-call of stinkers. An unstructured, clumsily-paced mess from start to finish, with little in the way of a plot and so much thunderous noise and self-conscious 'scary stuff' that it never comes close to creating the quietly unsettling atmosphere needed to set up the viewer for a scare. The bargain-basement 3-D effects (a surprise considering CGI-fiend Andrew Lau's involvement) simply don't work on a DVD viewing (and providing only one pair of glasses is pretty cheap!) due to the poor colour balance. I will think twice before snapping up any more gimmicky films from bargain bins...
When I first saw this, I assumed it was a film sch...
When I first saw this, I assumed it was a film school short (now I see it's not) because of its look-at-me sensationalism and finger-painted handling of sexual politics and issues of voyeurism. Yet another hypocritical assertion that the camera is essentially a tool of violation and penetration, depending on the viewer's desire to see transgressive imagery while distancing itself from the plebeian viewers it wants to accuse of such desires by being hermetically sealed within an own upscale New York dance studio. Ironic misogyny is still misogyny.
Historically, this is sponge-solid. Politically and ethically, it's finger-painted. But it gets by on star power. Jodie Foster is well-practised at mixing fierce independence with vulnerability, so her struggles always look emotionally tortuous rather than superhuman. Chow-Yun Fat collides with his acting limitations on occasion, but his extraordinary charisma, familiar to anyone who's ever seen his HK comedies or action films, makes him an imposing king. But special mention must go to the amazing Bai Ling, who gets a two minute courtroom scene that knocks the whole of Red Corner into a cocked hat.
For UK DVD viewers, this genre classic is finally available to own. Optimum's print is not perfect (slightly dim in places), and you can't turn off the giant subtitles (should you want to), but at least we can see the full version of King Hu's masterpiece. Anybody seriously interested in martial arts cinema must seek out a copy, since it represents one of the most elegant examples of its type, a few years before the international success of Asian fight flicks proliferated a slew of poorly dubbed, re-edited versions for Western markets, solidifying the stereotype of "chop-socky" films as plot-free, laughable foreign commodities. A Touch of Zen builds up for almost a full hour before so much as a punch is thrown. The story is narrow, but complex, and King Hu takes time to create atmosphere, and a sense of place and time which is often taken for granted in other period epics. Oh yes, and the fight scenes are great.
I saw this last night as part of the Exeter animation festival. It was preceded by two great shorts, but nothing prepared me for the Tale of the Fox. You might expect stop-motion animation from 1930 to be stilted, with locked-off camera set-ups and slow, jerky animals with ruffling fur (see King Kong, for instance). Starewitch's (this, according to his grand-daughter's website, is the correct way to spell his name) characters are incredibly expressive, fast moving and dynamic, and he includes crash zooms, whip pans and close-ups to stunning effect. If you've studied animation before, you'll be blown away by the use of motion blur, and the compositing of animated creatures with seemingly flowing water, but for non-nerds there is a fast, very funny story to be enjoyed. The Tale of the Fox might just be the single greatest achievement in animation there has ever been. That includes Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Walt Disney and perhaps even Hayao Miyazaki.
I saw this last night at a programme of animated shorts with live musical accompaniment as part of the superb Animated Exeter Festival 2003. I'd never seen a full Felix cartoon on the big screen, and I wasn't disappointed. The influence of Chaplin can not be overstated - a hungry Felix mischievously steals food and is pursued by hoardes of generic Keystone-style cops. With improvised live music, this was one of the finest cinematic eight-minutes I've had for a long time...
This short subject, whose title translates as 'The baby's first steps', has been jokingly referred to as "the first suspense film" by Bertrand Tavernier, and its easy to see why. When I try to teach students the basics of how early films were constructed around the technical limitations of the Lumiere Cinematographe, I always show them this film. To summarise, a young child walks falteringly along a path from the background to the foreground (the image contains a diagonal composition in depth typical of the earliest Lumiere films - think of the famous train arriving at a station), aiming to reach her doll, which has been placed at the end of the path, providing a quest-based micro-narrative. What this illustrates is the way these pseudo-documentaries were not randomly-shot travelogues and actualities. The distance the baby has to walk (guided by a nanny) has obviously been measured to allow her 'journey' to be completed within the (approximate) 50 second time-limit placed on the duration of films by the camera's capacity. But she only just makes it. The scene has been manipulated in many ways and is less a picture of Parisian infantile life at the end of the 19th century and more a study of how situations had to be manipulated and fictionalised to fit them into the restrictive set of technical options on offer.
I emerged from Morvern Callar ready to declare it the best British film since Nil By Mouth, perhaps even ready to go back even further. This may have been due to the wholly immersive nature of the film that feels fantastic while you're watching it but doesn't quite resonate in the same way for a long time afterwards. Still, this is rich, beautiful cinema, full of evocative sounds and images. Ramsay puts us, if not inside Morvern's mind, then at least in league with her senses. As in Ratcatcher, her photography deftly captures the tactility of earth, rock, sensations of warmth and light. The film also features one of the coolest soundtracks in recent memory, and conveys the feeling of being drunk at a party surrounded by self-absorbed strangers better than any film I've seen. Demanding a plot and motivation of such sensuous cinema seems like pedantry to me.
Animation historians must view this film immediately, but I suppose if you can find one McCay cartoon you can find them all - they're compiled on the 'Animation Legend' video and DVD. 'Lusitania' is the film where McCay tries to escape the caricatural confines of the animated picture to produce a serious and moving film, and damn, he succeeds. The meticulous care which he put into the thousands of drawings necessary for this short cartoon meant that by the time it was finished, it was barely topical and WWI was over, leaving its calls for vengeance somewhat stranded. However, as a study of technique it is perhaps unsurpassed. McCay's animation has a dimensionality which is worlds apart from the character animation of Koko the Klown or Felix the Cat, perhaps a deliberate differentiation from such gentle entertainments. The grim monochrome images of the Lusitania's stern raised in the air while hundreds of people leap to their deaths while remind most audiences of shots from James Cameron's 'Titanic'. While the barely-concealed rage and maudlin tributes to the famous noblemen who died in the sinking (as opposed the penniless plebs who we can afford to forget) now appear unpalatably heavy-handed, the elegant curls of smoke from the stricken vessel are simply powerful cinematic touches which seal McCay's reputation as one of the great film artists of the silent era. If only he, and not Disney, had become the template for the future of American animation...
The third in a series of films connected by some recurring cast members and vague supernatural allusions. Peach is an incompetent angel sent to Earth to teach a lovelorn man what true love is. Since she has no idea herself, her advice is usually ineffective babytalk. This film lacks the verve and crudity of The Fruit is Swelling, which made the most of its alarming central plot devices. In this, there seems to be no reason at all for Peach being an angel, and it all works towards a predictable outcome. Jay Fong is completely charming as Peach, but the whole enterprise is a little tame and normal. Right, I think I've reviewed enough Category III movies on this website. Its time to go and espouse my views on Tarkovsky...
I second the views of the previous reviewer - this is a romantic comedy that seems a little warped to most Western viewers (particularly the mixture of sex and childhood innocence), but it has distinct pleasures for anyone interested in the wild world of Hong Kong Category III cinema. Shu Qi makes a brief but welcome appearance at the beginning and the end to introduce the film and conclude it with a moral message, kind of like a public information broadcast, but on a beach in a bikini. For those of you who like to play the nerd's game of spotting scenes stolen wholesale from Hollywood films, I don't think I'm spoiling anything by hinting that the romantic climax of the film is a shot for shot repeat of the legendary (!) swimming pool sequence of Showgirls. Special mention, as ever, must go to Elvis Tsui - I can't remember the last CAt III romp I saw without him showing up. Why's he called Elvis? Because he's the King...
There's actually a fair amount of energy in this film, but ultimately its part of a trend in Hong kong cinema for "enhancing" martial arts action with CGI. Its not new for fights to be manipulated in this way. Many stars are not fighters, and their combat is cunningly edited to convince us otherwise, or they perform gravity-defying feats thanks to wires and pulleys and other tricks. CGI takes the constructed nature of martial arts to a different zone, and for a while, its been interesting to see how the technology is incorporated into Hong Kong cinema (where its a recent addition to the technical arsenal). In the films of Andrew Lau (not to be confused with the film's star and all round heart-throb Andy Lau), the technology is used to create elemental effects, with all kinds of spectacular things happening with clouds, ice, water and snow. What is lost as a result is the sheer breathless excitement of watching two powerful warriors duke it out with fist, foot and blade. When the great swordsmen in "The Duel" finally face each other (and its a long time coming, especially since the showdown is disappointingly brief), they end up assaulting each other with... well, energy. A sword would have done the trick, but these guys would rather fight with lightning. OKay, this is all well and good - its based on a legend of a fight between the greatest swordsmen ever, so it must be made to look special. However, the film doesn't build up much suspense. We are not made to really care about who will win. Where the film scores highly are in the scenes between Vicki Zhao (Zhao Wei) and Nick Cheung. Zhao is particularly charming, and their interplay is the core of the film. The two warriors generally mope around for most of the film - Ekin Cheng is almost entirely absent from the screen for the first hour. CGI will be a great asset to Hong Kong directors once the novelty wears off - it can be used to create the image of superhuman characters doing amazing things, but the problem is that it often makes the same characters seem untouchable and inhuman.
McCay's cartoons are all beautiful. This was his first. Typically, the animation exists as a sort of meta narrative, while McCay himself appears in a miniature framing story where he is challenged to produce moving drawings in a certain amount of time. The same device appears in most prints of Gertie the Dinosaur. McCay was a lightning sketch artist and did performances of his swift drawings, so moving picture animation was really an extension of the idea of rapid sketching providing dynamic impressions of motion in his work. Restricted from travelling with his shows by the newspaper that didn't want to lose his cartoons from its pages, it also meant that he could diffuse his talents internationally despite being confined to New York for long periods at a time. The drawings in Little Nemo do not tell a story as such, but instead show characters delighting in their freedom to "stretch and squash", elongating their bodies to demonstrate the malleability of the medium. When Disney studios established its basic principles of animation which would be common to all of its anthropomorphised animal characters, "stretch and squash" was one of the variables which could be applied to a character to give it a distinctive movement. In Disney, the more comedic a character is, the more stretchy and squashy it will be. For McCay, the elasticity of the characters is a way of displaying their triumph over the usual physical laws governing organic bodies. McCay was not concerned with simplistic comedy, as can be witnessed most strikingly in 'The Sinking of the Lusitania'(1918). In the early days of animation, there was no rule which said animation had to be deployed solely for childish comedy, but the industry gradually forced into that pigeonhole to suppress its more (potentially) subversive elements. Kristin Thompson writes superbly on this subject if you're interested. A video and DVD is available featuring all of McCay's animated cartoons. Anyone interested in the history of animation, or early cinema in general, must see it all.
Make no mistake about it, this film is one of the most execrable ever to issue forth from the Hollywood studio system. A complete absence of insight into the mechanics of war or the emotional effects on its participants (other than "it makes them sad") is made all the more obvious by the vapid visuals which give the whole enterprise the look of a holiday advert. Bay's Pearl Harbor, unlike the filthy trenches of Paths of Glory or the squalid, gut-strewn beaches of Saving Private Ryan, looks like a nice place to visit. Missing many opportunities to point an accusing finger at the American administration at the time, who launched the atomic arms race at Hiroshima as revenge and as the ultimate scientific experiment (Nagasaki was the control), and who allowed Japan to perform human vivisections on the Chinese in return for a share of the data. There were so many corruptions, degradations, lies and disgraces on both sides, but Bay feels $130,000,000 is better spent on viewing the petty squabbles between his two pretty boy leads, who so obviously want to screw each other but need to find a surrogate female through which they can achieve some kind of sexual union without compromising their ultra-hetero (i.e. over-compensating) image. To trivialise a national tragedy, without analysing its causes is not only a stupid waste of resources, but, in this day and age, bordering on evil. Historical revisionism is the tool of dictators, fascists and, on this evidence, Hollywood studios embrace those values enough to stump up the largest budget ever granted at the start of a project. If you want to do serious history, don't employ Randall Wallace. The Mummy Returns was an appalling film, but besides being a sad waste of money and time, it didn't matter. I dread to think what might have happened if this had been taken as factual in the same way that Schindler's List has been. Fortunately, this film tips so far over the edge into jingoistic fervour that it is impossible to take any truths away from it. Luckily, the Japanese, who are portrayed throughout as sour, humourless, heartless tacticians, have been able to laugh off the offensive nature of this film, and in Japan it is seen as a romance with a few explosions in it.
I'm disappointed that there are not many comments on this page, since this is a film which demands to be debated, whether it be the simple questions of "was it/wasn't it rape" or even just "should this film be shown?" Personally, after seeing the film I have no doubt that King was raped, and that Mike Yarhaus is a dangerous, disturbed man at large. And I've probably seen as much of the evidence as the State Attorney could be bothered to look at. What is shocking as that the film features interviews with people who, I think sincerely, believe that this was an act of consensual sex. While I am convinced this was rape, the film doesn't let me acquire that conviction easily - not one participant in this film gives a good account of themselves, and the differences of opinion serve to produce a worryingly reminder that the question of consent is a misleading one. Remember all that "no means no" stuff that was misinterpreted as suggesting that if she doesn't say "no", she means "yes"? Now we get situations like this. King did not say no, and though she (occasionally) puts up a fight, it is pretty lacklustre. She even goads her assailant and taunts him. She doesn't scream or cry, yet this is still rape, because it is based on a pre-meditated assumption that she is there to have sex with, that she is "a white trash crackwhore" as she is constantly called. It also illustrates that rape is a power struggle. King was too proud, and too wasted to put up an attorney-friendly struggle. The next time I give my wallet to someone with a gun, I expect the court to recognise that I did not willingly give up my cash - I was threatened, but recognised that resistance was not worth the risk. I could argue so much about this movie, but I just saw it and these are some initial responses. Its a powerful, enraging piece, and either not as impartial as it hopes to seem, or blessed with villainous assailants who don't mind revealing their unpleasantness on camera. By the way, the potentially exploitative inclusion of the footage taken by the frat house of the rape is fully justified. What was dismissed as proof of consenting sex and passed around as a harmless sex tape can now be seen as proof of the opposite, reclaimed and set in context. Be ashamed. Be very ashamed, frat boys...
Totoro joins a very small group of children's films which leave no nagging doubts that they might be bad for your kids to view repeatedly. Disney features constantly equate physical deformity with evil; Power Rangers teach that ugly people are evil AND need a good kicking; Pokemon considers that your kids have no attention span and need to be electro-shocked with constant stroboscopic, primary-coloured violence. Totoro preserves a magical simplicity which allows both the wonderment of child-like innocence and imaginary friends, and the doting of parents touched by such carefree marvelling. Everything in this film can be viewed through the eyes of the children or their parents, and such thematised appreciation of multiple audiences makes Disney's formula of anthropomorphised cuddly things throwing occasionally suggestive remarks at the older viewer seem cynically contrived. The Disney approach divides the audience in young and old, sneaking mild innuendo over the kids' heads and allowing the adults a sneaky smirk every now and then - Totoro is a joint viewing experience for parent and child, and has a message for both. I'm glad its been so well received in America and in the few places it has been seen in the UK. I was worried at first that it might be too slow for some children, and Totoro's appearances are few and fleeting. This is amongst the finest family films ever made, and I want to make babies just so they can see it. A little help, anyone?
This was the first Category III Hong Kong movie I ever saw. It features all the cheap special effects of a low budget period exploitation film, but contains non-stop sex until about halfway through when the sex, er...stops. The most memorable scene involves a naked woman and her close friendship with a big loofer. The rest is more valuable for its demonstration to the Cat III film in its earliest form - simple hijacking of established genres with added nudity, and its a forerunner of period romps such as 'Sex and Zen' and 'Erotic Ghost Story'. Also notable for a starring role for Emily Chu, who plays Leslie Cheung's wife in John Woo's 'A Better Tomorrow' films.
This is a fantastically atmospheric story of a young Japanese woman and the letters she writes to a French businessman she had a casual affair with, shot on video, largely on location in Tokyo. Her voice-over complements silent images of her everyday activities in rural Japan, and it is clear when we then hear the Frenchman's commentary that she attaches far more significance to their relationship than he does. There is a suggestion of a grand allegory about misunderstandings between East and West, but its probably directed more at Western sex tourists, or those who fetishise Asian femininity and its perceived passivity. Romain Slocombe is famed for his erotic photographs of Japan and its women, so he is in a decidedly ambiguous position from which to be making such criticisms. That said, it treats its female protagonist with a great deal of sensitivity, and its male lead with proportional contempt. I'd like to know if any Japanese viewers find this patronising, but its certainly a piece of singular mood and beauty.
I saw this is France in midsummer. It was a profound embarrassment, especially as the French audience saw it (like many other reviewers here) as a "charming little film" that essentialises their perception of Englishness. This is correct only if you accept that England is entirely populated by middle class amateur dramatists. I warn you now, this film features the most punchable cast in all British cinema of the 90s: Michael Maloney, who's jaw-droppingly excruciating performance in 'Truly Madly Deeply' will not be forgotten on Judgement Day; Richard Briers, who desperately wants his son to love him despite his homosexuality, resulting in an astonishingly lame reunion scene at the end. Briers plays the straightest gay man ever, but still manages to fall back into shocking tics of campness. The less said about Julia Sawalha, Celia Imrie and Jennifer Saunders' "hilarious" cameo the better. Let's face it, this cast is just Branagh's chums having a private love-in. And Branagh, as temporarily blind critics and audiences will one day realise, is the man who has managed to churn out a whole series of Shakespeare adaptations which strip the original texts of all their allegorical, subtextual or political functions in his quest to make them "accessible". Is anyone else patronised by the fact that the boy thinks that the most widely-read author in history needs to be made "accessible"? And how appropriate that, with this film, he should find empathy with a group of talentless amateurs, secretly yearning to crack Hollywood, who reduce Shakespearean tragedy to a stilted pile of family entertainment. RICHARD BRIERS: Ken, where are you? KENNETH BRANAGH: I'm in the kitchen. RICHARD BRIERS: Can I be in it too?
There's some confusion in these reviews between the first and second movies. The sequel was rushed into production to capitalise on the success of the first, so obviously there is a drop in quality. Brigitte Lin did not "retire" as such, but got married, which in Hong Kong cinema often counts as the same thing - its seen as bad form if a woman has to work because it suggests that the husband is not providing. The rest of us know that acting in movies doesn't actually count as real work, but we almost lost Maggie Cheung to this odd syndrome, and even Michelle Yeoh retired for the few years when she was married to a big name producer. Anyway, Brigitte Lin is still fine in this film (great to see a woman "of a certain age" still given such a strong part in a HK film), despite her performance being simplistically villainous throughout. And Christy Chung is fantastic in a cigarette chewing pastiche of Chow Yun Fat. The gender politics in this movie are particularly striking - the men are mostly sexist pigs trembling in the face of female empowerment, while the women inhabit a man-hating commune where they are gradually eradicating the two-timing dogs from their world ("Men. I see one, I kill one."). Both are somewhat reprehensible in their own way, but in the Asian context, it is notable that many such films indulge fantasies of powerful evil women permitting spectacular displays of forceful sexuality which is always punished or destroyed at the end to return the gender balance to its patriarchal, safe norm. As such, it fits neatly into all the categories which have made Hong Kong films so fascinating and extreme to Western viewers.
Will someone who has seen the British video of this film (on the Connoisseur label) confirm my memories please? I saw it many years ago when I was tentatively dipping into arthouse movies borrowed furtively from the local library. This was in the days before the Brit censors loosened up about penetrative sex and erections in movies, and, while the film is uncut, at certain times portions of the screen are covered up by a big blur. Except that, unlike the hazing effect which can be seen in most Japanese pornography (am I revealing too much about myself here?), the blur was either made up of imaginatively psychedelic swirls or even by goldfish swimming into the frame to obscure the offending sexy bits. Unfortunately, this technique was so fascinating that it distracted me from the committed political angst of the rest of the film. Sorry, I can't offer any more insight than that.
This is trashy, flashy and fleshy, with a fantastic central performance from Carrie Ng, who has a singular ability to retain her dignity amidst this kind of thing. Basically, she's a snake woman. I won't give away more than that, but no, she never turns into a snake and the phallic ironies of the creature are not explored. Diana Pang Dang is an enthusiastic, pouting starlet, clearly destined for small things and imminent obscurity. The theme of deadly, sexual transmitted afflictions is hardly subtle, and Hong Kong cinema has real trouble negotiating the AIDS issue with even the slightest hint of sensitivity or insight, something of which their cultural critics will be deeply ashamed in years to come. But I guess you just want to know if there's any nudity. There's a little, but the two leads are always covered up, even when the covering is pretty flimsy. It also pays blatant tribute to Basic Instinct.
I'm shocked at the rapturous reception this film has received here, but I suppose its one of those love-it-or-hate-it movies. I hated it, and found it very patronising - the number of obvious cultural reference points which are supposed to be oh-so-clever was particularly grating. Even the much-touted energy of the film was actually little more than swift and disjunctive montage, as opposed to smooth and continuous editing. What splendour there may have been in the sets and costumes was lost in the rush to usher in the next image. And was there a point to the whole enterprise? To revive the musical. Why? Because people don't make musicals anymore. So says Luhrmann. Of course people don't make musicals anymore, simply because its an outdated genre that doesn't suit our times, but at least the best musicals from the 30s to the 50s had a point, something to say within their musical framework. They reworked old tunes in the same way that this film eschews original lyrics in favour of "pop" classics. And they deployed all available technologies to stage enormous dance spectaculars to show off the talent of the human performers. Moulin Rouge uses techniques to hide the fact that its leads can't dance and are miming single lines at a time - there are no long takes for them to give a real performance. This is a movie about how they don't make movies like they used to. It proves its own point by its own failure. And Ewan McGregor is the most overrated actor of his generation. And he can't sing.
I'm not sure if 18th century China had a lot of hot oil wrestling, but it makes for a memorable scene here. This is pretty standard Cat III fare, except for the occasional outrageous image, such as the giant phallus or the lesbian snake demons. As usual (for this kind of film), it ends with the fabulous trope of the crucial f**k, whereby the climactic couplings of the lead players is essential to their survival. There's nothing like mortal danger to get the juices flowing...