The Great Magician Blu-ray Review
China. It is a time after the revolution when the various provinces were overseen by warlords. In one such province we meet a local magician performing on the street. He offers fifty silver dollars to anyone that can replicate his feat – making a trio of walnuts disappear and then reappear from a sealed container. After imploring the crowd to take their chances a strange man steps forward. Not only does he replicate the trick, he enhances it, to the applause of the crowd, among them a brother and sister who currently own the least popular performance hall in town. They enlist the stranger, named Zhang, (Leung) to appear at their club in the hopes their luck will change.
Beautifully photographed and strongly performed, THE GREAT MAGICIAN is a Mandarin film that would be well received in any language. As the new magician in town continues to mystify his audiences we learn that he is part of a rebel group hoping to overthrow the local warlord, Bully Lei (Wan Lau). It seems Bully Lei is smitten with a woman he has imprisoned (Zhou). He would like her to be wife number seven but is honorable enough to try to win her affections. Zhang also has another reason to participate in the plot. The girl was once his lover. As the story unfolds the magic tricks become more and more elaborate, all in the name of love and freedom.
Though I’m not an expert on Asian cinema, I have had the occasion to watch, and admire, several films featuring Tony Leung, among them HERO, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and INFERNAL AFFAIRS, the film that Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED was based on. I have always found him to be a top notch actor and that opinion doesn’t change here. He has a commanding screen presence which is multiplied by an easy going nature that keeps you locked onto him when he’s on screen. Kudos also to Wan Lau, who could have so easily made Bully Lei a caricature of a bad guy. Yet, despite his evils, he is also a compassionate man…one who buys the local children candy and would rather win the heart of a woman then brutally take it.
Technically the film is equally well done. Cinematographer Nobuyasu Kita and production designer Chung Man Yee have teamed up to create a beautiful fantasy world inside Zhang’s theatre. And some of his tricks would make Steve Carell’s Bert Wonderstone envious. Even when the secret of some tricks are explained it still boggles the imagination to see them performed. And credit Tony Leung for his fine sleight of hand skills. Again, even though you know how he’s doing it it’s still incredible to see on screen, especially when you’re looking for the secrets of the trick. If he ever decides to give up acting he may have found a second career. The musical score, composed by Leon Ko, is a fine accompaniment for the action on-screen. In any language, THE GREAT MAGICIAN is a film I highly recommend.
Video: Presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio the film is bright and colorful. The special CGI and magical effects are presented seamlessly adding realism to the film.
Audio: You have the opportunity to listen to the film in the original Mandarin or in a dubbed English version. Both languages are available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes. I preferred the Mandarin mix as in my opinion you lose some of the background noises when listening to the dubbed version.
Making the Magic (37:55): A series of intertwined featurettes that go behind the scenes and look at the various aspects of the film. Two things stand out: EVERYONE loves Tony Leung and cast and crew are very complimentary of each other.