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Movie Critique: Dr. Wai on the Scroll without Text (1998) directed by Ching Siu-tung.
Movie Critique: Dr. Wai on the Scroll without Text (1998) directed by Ching Siu-tung.

Movie Critique: Dr. Wai on the Scroll without Text (1998) directed by Ching Siu-tung.

This feature is enjoyable and well-suited for Ching Siu-tung’s style of Wire Madness.

Do you recall the traditional format of choose-your-own-adventure books that were once popular? You would make a choice and then turn to another page to continue the story. The film “Dr. Wai” evokes those memories with its wrap-around storytelling. With a nod to Indiana Jones, there is a strong sense of nostalgia present. Moving on to Eureka Entertainment’s release of the Jet Li box set “Heroes and Villains,” let’s put on our explorer hats, select follow-this-adventure, and discover whether this feature is a hidden gem or should be forgotten in time.

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Chow Si-kit, known for his popular Adventure King series under the pen name Jet Li, has been struggling with a drinking problem and writer’s block since his messy divorce from his wife, Monica (played by Rosamund Kwan). This has caused tension between him and his colleagues Shing (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Yvonne (played by Charlie Yeung). In an attempt to help Chow with his latest story, they begin writing it for him. However, Chow becomes frustrated and takes over, changing the plot to make Kumiko (also played by Rosamund Kwan) the antagonist instead of the love interest. A mishap involving Monica lands them both in the hospital, and Shing, Yvonne, and Monica all take turns adding to the story, resulting in wild adventures worthy of the Adventure King title.

After reviewing Hong Kong cinema for an extended period of time, one becomes familiar with frequent changes in tone. Therefore, it’s a pleasant surprise to come across a film that deliberately incorporates these shifts. While one version of the film removes the “modern” scenes, the Hong Kong release includes them to explore the themes of old adventures and how they reflect the author’s perspective. Chow Si-kit quickly transforms Kumiko into a fierce character as she navigates her marital troubles. His colleagues have a more romantic view, but Monica brings a more contemplative tone. Due to unforeseen circumstances (an accident causing damage to sets and requiring a rewrite), this framing device adds depth to the story by making the characters in the Adventure King tale symbolic representations of their real-life counterparts. It’s a unique aspect of the film that sets it apart from others.

Also, make sure to also take a look at this interview.

The portions of The Adventure King that showcase the Budget’s expenditures are a great fit for Ching Siu-tung’s signature wire work. The film starts off with an impressive display of a horse-drawn idol trampling over people, which is a clear nod to his distinctive style. There are also train crashes, massive rats, wire fu fights, and the wildness that we have come to expect from his top-notch work, all while acknowledging the unreality of it as pure “fiction.” Of course, ninjas make an appearance as well, as it would not be a Ching Siu-tung movie without them!

The idea of duality is entertaining as it involves characters appearing in different roles throughout the story. Billy Chow’s lawyer tends to play the role of a Japanese villain. Colin Chou’s character, a sleazy suitor, serves as the intense final boss. Shing plays the loyal sidekick who is enamored with both Yvonne and avatar Yan Ayn. Jet Li portrays both the hero and a moody writer.

If there is a flaw, it lies in the script, with a touch of irony. The required changes result in shallow character development and a lack of depth in the story outside of the action scenes. The emotional ending may not completely make sense (just accept it!), so although it is certainly enjoyable, the pace can feel slow despite the film’s relatively short runtime of 91 minutes. It also leads to exaggerated performances, as the characters’ personas shift depending on who is writing the story.

Jet Li appears to be more at ease as the Adventure King, rather than his grumpy alter ego. Rosamund Kwan’s role in the connecting scenes mainly involves scolding Chow Si-kit. In the other storyline, she transitions from a helpless damsel to a man-hating, whip-wielding tyrant and back again. Their chemistry is not as strong as in “Once upon a time in China,” but given the constant shifts in her character, this is understandable. Takeshi Kaneshiro and Charlie Yeung have a lot of fun and clearly enjoy their roles. Colin Chou also seems to be having a great time playing the deranged villain whose sanity is lost once the box is opened.

In general, this is an enjoyable aspect. It is well-suited for Ching Siu-tung and his unique style of Wire Madness. The plot is improved by the framing narrative, but hindered by an inconsistent pace. However, once you move beyond this, there is much to appreciate. It may not be a masterpiece, but it is a satisfying way to pass the time.