By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Dennie Gordon’s new Chinese thriller opens with music ripped note-for-note from the “James Bond Theme,” a clear sign that we’re in for an enjoyable, thrilling, but not terribly original ride. As the film progresses, the screenplay (by Amy Snow, Chris Chow, Hai Huang, and Yao Meng, from a story by Gordon, Snow, and Ming Beaver Kwei) actually throws in a few pleasant surprises, but never deviates significantly from its clear goal: A “Bond”-style thriller delivered with a dash of irony and self-awareness.
But unlike the Bond films, the lead character is female, Sophie, played by prominent Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang, who also coproduced “My Lucky Star.” A listless telephone saleswoman in her hometown of Beijing, Sophie stays only one step ahead of getting fired. Her only passion is for the comics she draws every night after work; action-thriller comics, starring an idealized version of herself, and a vision of her perfect man, who is also the perfect spy.
Throughout the action, the live actors sometimes transmute into panels from Sophie’s comics. This reinforces the notion that what we’re seeing is fantastic, not strictly real. It also helps us see through Sophie’s eyes as the action becomes increasingly outrageous.
Sophie conveniently wins a trip to Singapore, and her so-called best friends all ditch her, leaving to holiday alone. This turns out to be for the best, because she crosses paths with David, played by Leehom Wang. And David (which may not be his real name) is the real deal: A superspy sent on an extremely dangerous mission to recover the world’s largest diamond, which also conveniently happens to be the key component to a superweapon. Anyone who possesses the diamond can destroy any place in the world, from any other place.
The ensuing hijinks call for Sophie to impersonate, by turns, a cocktail server, a stripper, and an arms dealer.
David pushes her through all of these zany deceptions, pulling out talents of his own to help her along. She comes face-to-face with some of the worst criminals in Asia, but her pluck and David’s steadying influence pull her through.
Ziyi Zhang, a high-ranking star in the Chinese-speaking world, came to Western prominence with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in 2000; she’s also had prominent parts in “Rush Hour 2,” “Memoirs Of A Geisha,” and most recently, “The Grandmaster.” Here, her considerable range doesn’t seem to matter much, but she keeps Sophie sweet and believable by keeping her eyes wide open and her lips alternately smiling and pouting.
Leehom Wang, the male lead, is originally from Rochester, N.Y., but his parents are Taiwanese immigrants, and he has become one of the best-selling singers in China. His supporting part in “Lust, Caution” won him attention in the West. Here, he plays the Bond-style spy with appropriate charm, wit, and style. But he keeps a certain mysterious slipperiness at his character’s core. He’s often looking slightly offscreen, as if he can see some truth (or maybe, someplace he’d rather be), which the viewer cannot.
“My Lucky Star” derives from the earlier film “Sophie’s Revenge,” also starring Zhang as Sophie. But “My Lucky Star” serves as a prequel to the first film, and appears to take a more fantastical turn. It is not terribly original, but it’s funny, thrilling, energetic, and winning. Here’s wishing Sophie the luck of the draw. (end)
“My Lucky Star” opens Friday, Sept. 20 at the AMC Pacific Place Theater, 600 Pine Street in downtown Seattle. For prices and showtimes, check local listings or call 1.888.262.4386.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.