In 1999, after finding stateside commercial success with "Rush Hour" and before going to work on "Shanghai Noon", Jackie Chan returned to his native Hong Kong to make "Gorgeous (Bor Lei Jun)", a 'kinder, gentler' type of martial arts film, with plenty of romance thrown in for good measure. And while the production values certainly lend credence to the title (you'll never see a crisper-looking Hong Kong film than this), "Gorgeous" is a sappy and contrived romantic-comedy that suffers from bad acting, a derivative script, and an almost complete absence of dramatic conflict. If you are a Jackie Chan fan, you might be tempted to pick up this movie at your local Blockbuster-- resist the urge.
This time around, Chan plays C.N., a rich Hong Kong businessman who runs a successful garbage recycling company (as the behind-the-scenes featurette narrator enthusiastically declares, 'this is the first time Jackie Chan has ever played a businessman!'). Even though he is the most eligible bachelor in the former British colony, his pursuit of the opposite sex has been half-hearted, since he hasn't found the 'right' woman yet.
Meanwhile, in a remote fishing village in Taiwan, an attractive country girl named Bu (former Chinese porn star Shu Qi) finds a message in a bottle (talk about recycling garbage) that compels her to board a plane bound for Hong Kong to search for her soul-mate. Unfortunately, when she gets there, she discovers that the writer of the message is actually a gay fashion photographer named Albert (Tony Leung of "Hard Boiled") and the love note was meant for his long-lost boyfriend. Fortunately, Albert allows Bu to hang around with him, and while they are on one of his fashion shoots at sea, Bu happens to run into C.N. Bu takes an immediate fancy to the recycling magnate, and somehow she comes to the conclusion that in order to get C.N. to fall madly in love with her, she must pretend to be the missing girlfriend of a well-known gangster (!).
Unfortunately, the plan becomes complicated by the escalating rivalry between C.N. and his closest competitor in the business of recycling garbage, L.W. (Emil Chow, who played an ice cream vendor in both "Rumble in the Bronx" and "Mr. Nice Guy"). L.W., determined to beat C.N. any way that he can, hires a professional boxer (Brad Allen) to fight C.N. for him, mano à mano (!). Somehow, these manufactured story threads end up being resolved by the film's end, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Director Vincent Kok first had the idea for making an old-fashioned and whimsical romance a few years ago, but in a Hong Kong film industry dominated by violent 'gun-fu' flicks and lame comedies, it was a tough sell. It wasn't until when Jackie Chan expressed interest in the material and offered to produce the film that "Gorgeous" got off the ground. According to Chan, he wanted "Gorgeous" to be a 'kid-friendly and environmentally-friendly film' that had no bloody violence, no bad language, and promoted recycling (!). Indeed, "Gorgeous" is probably the 'nicest' of all of Chan's films, with 'playful' violence (all the fights are "The Three Stooges" slapstick and no one is permanently crippled, even after they get hit by a baseball bat in the face), no words like **** or **** are used, and plenty of garbage is recycled in the film (in more ways than one).
Unfortunately, in the process of creating such an innocuous film, Vincent Kok drained all possible emotion out of the story. There is almost nothing at stake in the story, and a case in point is an anticlimactic showcase fight between Chan and Allen. Though the display of martial arts skills is impressive (with Chan moving faster than he has in recent years), the fight is an exercise in sportsmanship with little difference in whether C.N. wins or loses-- it was almost as if there wasn't enough action in the film and the whole sequence was arbitrarily added to keep the audience awake. As a result, it is probably one of the most boring action sequences that you will see in any Jackie Chan film, which runs a little too long and has almost no emotional resonance.
The casting is also questionable. Shu Qi has yet to prove that she can act, and throughout "Gorgeous", she carries on like a juvenile twelve-year old brat-- it is difficult to imagine what a powerful character like C.N. could possibly see in her as a love interest (unless there was some "American Beauty" angle that I was missing). Jackie Chan, who blends action and comedy with the flair of Buster Keaton, seems out of his element in his scenes with Shu Qi, which further erodes any hope of chemistry between these two romantic leads. The supporting cast is also lacking, which is probably due to their roles primarily serving as placeholders for gags and obligatory romantic-comedy scenes (what would a romantic-comedy without a gay man?).
Despite a title to the contrary, "Gorgeous" is far from pretty. With a derivative story (probably filched from last year's "Message in a Bottle"), poor casting, and an almost complete absence of logic and dramatic conflict, this is one Jackie Chan film that is best left alone (unless you suffer from insomnia).