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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.10.12] China action comedy adventure

From the opening moments it's clear that Jeff Lau's East Meets West is wacky. Karen Mok in Goth stylings, meets and has an immediate attraction to a Goth boy at the local 7-11. He saves her from paying full price for her dumplings before the two have a one-sided conversation which ends with Mok running off on cute Goth boy. The entire exchange is an excuse to set up Mok's Ashura as a lonely woman in search of love.

Fast forward to the discovery that Ashura is actually a god, one of a group of gods who ascend their humanity every few centuries and show their true identities. Problem is that Ashura has fallen in love with a gad guy named Charles, who also turns out to be a god (though one who has lost his way) and she tries to save both her friends and Charles from evil via the power of love. It's super cheesy and from my perusal through Lau's previous projects, this is exactly what the director is known for: crazy, overblown, fantasy wackiness with romantic underpinnings.

Those familiar with Lau's previous movies know exactly the kind of strangeness they're getting themselves into but for the uninitiated like myself, the mess of ideas is shocking. The tone and style changes dramatically when we discover that Ashura and her friends are gods but the comedy remains the same throughout: over the top. There's crazy make-up, sub-par special effects, ridiculous costumes and even musical numbers. It's a superhero movie where romance isn't just subplot, it IS the plot.

And yet, though it's a mess of ideas, jokes that don't make sense and story lines that appear out of nowhere, there's a frenzied energy to Lau's movie that I couldn't look away from. I loved every ridiculous moment and laughed at the dumb jokes. The final moments when Ashura offers herself up to save Charles is the kid of saccharin garbage that I'd generally shake my fist at but there's a charm to East Meets West that makes it work. Part of it is the fact that the actors screech their way through every scene but mostly it's the fact that East Meets West never takes itself too seriously.

It's a ridiculous bit of entertainment, one that thrives on crazy, but at the end of the day, East Meets West more than delivers on the laughs. North American audiences not willing to fully give themselves over to Lau's brand of insanity will be bored from the get-go but those willing to ride it out will find more than a few laughs, even if it they don't always make sense. There's likely something more at play for those familiar with Lau's style and previous movies but East Meets West works on a purely surface level.

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