Well Go USA // 2011 // 128 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 14th, 2013
Time for another Chinese period film. Thankfully, The Great Magician offers a different take on what I've come to expect from historical dramatizations from our generous debt-holders. Instead of yet another epic war saga featuring legions of CGI drones hurling arrows and flaming balls at one another, The Great Magician opts for a more urban, light-hearted interpretation of real-time events. Oh there are still generals, warlords, political upheaval, and whatnot, but Tony Leung (Red Cliff) throws fireballs.
Leung is the enigmatic Zhang Xian, a wandering illusionist who sets up shop in Beijing. It's the 1920s and current events are tumultuous, as war rages and dynasties crumble. In the middle of it all is a power-hungry general with an affection for the theatrical. Zhang is quite interested in the goings-on of the general, especially his beautiful wife, who shares a past with the magician. What is Zhang up to? Are his magic tricks being deployed for grander reasons than just wowing the local street urchins? Why, yes!
I have mixed reactions to The Great Magician. While I appreciate the fantastical tone and the light touch that permeates the production -- a welcome break from the warfare stuff -- this bad boy is top-heavy with dialogue. I'm happy to read subtitles, but if the plot is slowed in a morass with very few bits of eye candy to break things up, my attention wanders, especially when The Great Magician clocks in at a hefty 128 minutes.
Leung is great as usual, and excels in the magic scenes. In fact, he's so good, I wonder if he actually has some training as an illusionist. These moments are the best part of the film, primarily because they're the most energetic and fun to watch. Lots of CGI working here, but it fits with the feel of the feature.
So is The Great Magician worth checking out? I suppose. Everything from the flawless set design to the ace acting are well-executed, and there are certainly moments that provide some legit juice. But a trudging pace with too few juicy moments saps away the fun.
Well Go USA offers up a nice Blu-ray. The 2.40:1/1080p high def transfer is a rich colorful video treatment that suits the fantasy elements extremely well. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track can pump it out when called upon, but your speakers are primarily on dialogue duty. The lone extra is a lengthy making-of featurette.
Not Guilty, but I am not wide-eyed with magic.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Mandarin)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated