**½/**** Image A Sound A- Extras C+
starring Stephen Chow, Xu Jiao, Huang Lei, Kitty Zhang
screenplay by Vincent Kok, Tsang Kan Cheong, Sandy Shaw Lai King, Fung Chih Chiang, Lam Fung
directed by Stephen Chow
by Bryant Frazer Lord knows we need inspired lunatics like Stephen Chow. Chow is a genial, graceful physical comic in the mode of Jackie Chan, yet even sillier, if you can imagine that. Like Chan, he makes movies that feel conspicuously alien in a Hollywood context, in large part because he's expert in a discipline that Hollywood has lately devalued. In the U.S., the dominant style of comedy is verbally oriented, with quips, awkward characters, and contrived situations driving the gags. For Stephen Chow, comedy is largely body-oriented. It's not that he doesn't script situation comedy--a movie like God of Cookery, with its parody of celebrity-chef competitions (and John Woo movies!), is built on an elaborate sitcom frame--but that he's more obsessed with performance. Chow is preoccupied with people's faces, their body types, the way they approach one another, and how they stand in conversation or confrontation. By the time he did Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, it was easy to see how he found the newly-affordable field of digital VFX work to be an avenue for extending the reach of a physical gag, using digital doubles to subject characters to the kind of strain and abuse that wouldn't fly with real actors.