Enormously popular in east Asia, Stephen Chow is Hong Kong's answer to Bob Hope: the hapless, ingratiating everyman who stumbles into crises but triumphs through a mix of naivete and wiliness. Chow typically spoofs the pretentious and the elite, using an arsenal of sharp asides, topical jokes, and sight gags, many of them derived from the Cantonese peasant farce tradition. This handsomely mounted and fairly funny 1996 adventure, directed by Vincent Kok, parodies the martial-arts genre: Chow plays a bodyguard in a Ming palace who's assigned to protect the emperor from the magical chieftain of a minority tribe. Needless to say, he encounters a gauntlet of hazards, dispatching some with witty banter and dodging others with cowardly maneuvers. An opening montage pokes fun at the James Bond films, and the location shots in Beijing's Forbidden City are authentically majestic, but after a while Chow's frantic eagerness to please gets on one's nerves—he's like a hyperactive kid whose company you want to duck. In Cantonese with subtitles. 90 min.
By Ted Shen