Wednesday, October 10, 2007


THE MAGIC GOURD (fantasy adventure) Cast: Zhu Qilong (pic) and Gigi Leung

Director: John Chu and Frankie Chung Time: 82 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? We have often heard the lament that today's generation of children are so pampered that they do not know the value of hard work and perseverance. With society getting more and more affluent, and having fewer children (especially in China), children of today usually get more than they need - the result of parental guilt at not spending quality time with their kids.This problem is reflected in "The Magic Gourd", the first Disney production in China, in collaboration with China Film Group Corporation and Centro Digital Pictures. It is adapted from the 1958 novel by the late Zhang Tianyi, one of the most celebrated children's authors in China. The novel was first adapted (in black and white) for the big screen in 1963, and it became an instant hit among children.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Ten-year-old Wang Bao (Zhu Qilong) is a dreamy, unmotivated student who spends most of his time fishing at a nearby river and neglecting his homework. He is often late for school, forgets his assignments and scores the lowest in his class. As such, he is the laughing stock of his peers and a constant worry for his teacher, Miss Liu (Gigi Leung).
Things change when Wang Bao finds the mythical 'Bao Hu Lu' or Magic Gourd while fishing at the river one day. The talking Gourd promises to grant him everything his heart desires! The boy gets a taste of his good fortune when Bao Hu Lu materialises all sorts of yummy junk food out of thin air. However, while the Gourd manages to help him with his swimming training and science projects - and puts him at the top of his class - Wang Bao soon learns that he cannot rely on it to fulfil all his whims. For example, a request for all the toys in the store results in mayhem at his house, and a wish for a seat in a packed cinema sees Wang Bao being part of the movie about dinosaurs. Soon, the boy realises that to accomplish something meaningful, he must do it himself.

HIGHS & LOWS: With its message about hard work and self-reliance, this 'remake' is primarily aimed at children below 12. Older ones may find the going rather childish, despite its 'cool' special effects (like those of fish swimming in mid-air) and contemporary setting. Kids who had experienced the fun and thrills of "The Incredibles" may find this Chinese version of 'Aladdin' rather bland. The animation for Bao Hu Lu may look cute to the younger kids (thanks to the amusing voice-over by Lau Ching-Wan) but it lacks the defining charms of, say, the Donkey in "Shrek". Another setback is the performance of Zhu Qilong whose range of expressions and acting ability seem limited. Bao Hu Lu and the young supporting cast easily upstage him. Gigi Leung supports considerably as the understanding and caring teacher.Also, note that the end credits come with some crazy 'out-takes' of Bao Hu Lu's 'filming mistakes', giving us a few more chuckles for the road.

THE LOWDOWN: As far as kiddie movies go, "The Magic Gourd" gets passing grade. For the adults, it is also tolerable - at only 82 minutes.


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