Full of whimsical performances by its fantastic cast, Derek Yee’s The Great Magician is an enjoyable romp of a film. Based off of the novel written by Zhang Haifan, The Great Magician is set in the early 1920’s in Beijing, where Zhang Xian (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) has returned from studying magic abroad. To his dismay, his former fiancee, Liu Yin (Zhou Xin) has been stolen from him by Bully Lei (Lau Ching Wan), a warlord that has duped many locals to join his army. Bully has tried making Liu Yin his seventh wife, but she hasn’t taken a liking to him. Zhang tries to knock out two birds with one stone, by kidnapping Bully and taking back his fiancee, during a dramatic magic act called the Eight Immortals Treat. Featuring lavish production design and some really nice special effects, The Great Magician is bound to please both existing fans of Hong Kong cinema and bound to make some new ones.
Including some clever cameos, the entire cast of The Great Magician plays well off of one other and with the material at hand. Tony Leung and Lau Ching Wan have some really nice chemistry and do a fantastic job at handling the comedic tone of the film. While at points it may seem a bit dark, the film always manages to consistently display a playful tone, even when there’s lives at stake or when the villains are exhibiting their plans. If there was any major issue that I had with the film, its that its a tad too long, with a running time of two hours and 10 minutes. Granted, Yee probably wanted to stay true to the source material, but there were a few portions that could have helped both the flow of the film, as well as get to the heart of the material than the way its presented in this cut.
Well Go USA’s release of The Great Magician comes in a solid Blu-Ray, packed with great video, audio and a solid behind the scenes video, that shows much more than just a spliced together EPK. The video on the disc is presented in an AVC encoded, 1080p HD transfer, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The colors are really lush and saturated on the disc and makes the film an absolute joy to look at. The CGI and practical effects are blended extremely well together and makes the film feel really fluid. The audio is presented in both Mandarin and English, with them being in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The surround track really comes alive in the busier sections of the film and especially during the magic trick scenes, where the surround channels are bristling with activity. The behind the scenes is about 35 minutes, that shows cast and crew interviews, as well as various segments of the production.
Even though I thought the film was a little too long for its own good, I sure enjoyed my time with The Great Magician. The cast and production value really make the film shine through any short comings and is sure to appeal to fans of classic cinema, as well as Hong Kong cinema junkies, like myself. Recommended!