Once upon a time, six thousand years ago, there was an Emperor (played by Jack Lim 林德荣). Not an ordinary one, but a good-for-nothing Emperor, who only cared about his own meals, while leaving his subjects to starve and fall ill. His Ah-Wa-Lei-Wa-Lei-Har-Mo-Nei-Onn-Phat-Si-Fu-Lan kingdom was in dire need of food and water but he refused to spare what he had stored. His one passion, besides food, was to search for the secret to immortality.
One day, out of the blue, he was attacked by a rebellious group who wanted to overthrow him. His trusted Prime Minister, Lord Turtle (played by Jeff Chin), led him, his favourite imperial concubine Yu Fa (played by Gan Mei Yan) and Eunuch Tok (played by Vivien Tok) to hide in a forbidden room for safety.
By accident, the three of them time-travelled to the modern world (Year 2013). A series of funny antics ensured as they tried to learn the workings of modernity and technology.
Seeing that they had no where to go, a pair of men who were down on their luck took the three of them in, hoping to gain some benefit. These two men were vendors at a morning market, and the three of them helped out at the stall. There, the Emperor’s precious gem necklace was accidentally put up for sale, which was bought at a high price by Phoebe, the owner of a beauty product company.
Life was great with their newfound wealth. Unfortunately, the Emperor was forced to gamble with a mob chief, and he lost, losing everything that they possessed.
This prompted the two petty traders to cut off all ties with the three ‘foreigners’. The Emperor, feeling ashamed, also parted ways with Yu Fa and Eunuch Tok.
While Yu Fa and Eunuch Tok became household names having discovered their special powers of not getting hurt despite being cut with knives and other sharp objects, the Emperor was taken under the wing of a 6-year-old beggar kid (Kat Chai played by Tan Zheng Kang), who taught the Emperor to beg in order to survive.
Shortly after, Phoebe forced Yu Fa and Eunuch Tok to disclose the whereabouts of the Emperor. Although they had betrayed him, they figured they could prevent anything bad from befalling the Emperor by informing him first. However, they were too late and the beggars’ hideout was destroyed.
Phoebe, who was also a resident and concubine of the old kingdom under the Emperor and who also time-travelled to the modern world more than six thousand years ago, was afraid that her secret would be let out. She forced the three of them to return to the imperial palace, which could only be done via a magic Rubik cube that the Emperor brought along from the old world, and was solved by Kat Chai.
Kat Chai, an orphan, was reluctant to break the code and send the three of them back, because he had already taken to the Emperor as though he was his father. But the Emperor and the kid were from different worlds, after all, and he had no choice but to do it.
The Emperor, Yu Fa and Eunuch Tok returned to their kingdom to see the village thriving. Everything was blooming and the people were happy. The Emperor, although angry to discover there was now a new “emperor”, was glad that the subjects were no longer suffering.
Returning to his imperial palace, they were surprised to find that the new emperor was the Prime Minister, Lord Turtle. While Lord Turtle admitted to having betrayed the Emperor, and confessed that it was himself who planned the attack on the kingdom, the objective was only to end the sufferings of the citizens. However, now that the Emperor had returned, the “traitor” would relinquish the throne.
The Emperor handed over his kingdom willingly, seeing how well-managed everything was, which he was unable to do so while on the throne.
Video (below): “Once Upon A Time” (皇宫灿烂) movie trailer
Release Date: 7th Feb 2013
Subtitle: English & Bahasa Malaysia
Run Time: 95 minutes
Cast: Jack Lim, Gan Mei Yan, Vivian Tok, Jeff Chin, Royce Tan
This original story by Jack Lim himself has elements of humour and lessons about friendship and love. It was moving at times. While I was warned earlier that this movie would make the viewer laugh and cry, it was not that emotional a watch. A chuckle here and there, yes, but not the kind of slapstick comedy ala Hong Kong’s Stephen Chow, for example.
Nevertheless, for a local production, I would say that it has achieved a good standard, and the backdrop of the kingdom, which was shot at the Waterfront City in Lahat Mines, looked superb.
Entertainment-wise, I would give it a score of 8 out of 10. At times, the movie was over-the-top in giving coverage to the sponsors, looking like commercials instead. However, this is indeed a good Chinese New Year movie for the whole family. I would watch it again if I could make time for a second round.
“Once Upon A Time” (皇宫灿烂) opens in 108 cinemas nationwide beginning 7th Feb, 2013.
Question: What do you think of this movie? Will you watch it a second time? How would you make it a better movie?
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