The Magic Gourd
Starring: Zhu Qilong, Gigi Leung Wing-kei, Lau Ching-wan (voice)
Director: John Chu Ka-yan and Frankie Chung Chi-hang
Category: I (Cantonese)
In an age where seemingly almost every family movie alludes to pop culture (the Shrek films), or has political undertones (the latest Harry Potter), The Magic Gourd is an anomaly.
Earnest and straightforward, John Chu Ka-yan's film - a morality tale about a spoilt brat's education about the virtues of hard work - has no sensational gimmicks or thinly veiled metaphors. Sadly, it also lacks a meaty storyline, the occasional edgy moment or even an element of surprise that would make The Magic Gourd more than a day out for schoolchildren.
There's a sense of deja vu about the plot. Bo (Zhu Qilong, right) is a lazy primary school student who finds a saviour in the form of a magic, speaking gourd (voiced by Lau Ching-wan). It's a story that mixes Aladdin and the Japanese comic-book series Doraemon, as the genie-like gourd uses its erratic powers to make Bo excel at schoolwork and sports, before the boy learns that deception has a price and that achievement comes only through hard work.
It's a simple story that's hard to fault, but also so safe and mundane that it will probably have trouble entertaining anyone above the age of six. No wonder the producers recruited Canto-pop singer Gigi Leung Wing-kei (in a leaden turn as Bo's teacher) in an attempt to widen the film's appeal.
The computer-generated special effects are competent, but pale in comparison with what children are used to from film and television.
Chu says The Magic Gourd is a pet project that he has had in mind for years - it would have been much more effective entertainment if he'd made it in the 1990s. The film looks strangely dated in both its technical innovation and emotional core, with issues such as modern-day parenting and the importance of imagination briefly touched on but never properly probed.
The Magic Gourd opens today