The true joy of any film festival is to expose unknown gems to an unsuspecting crowd so they can then go out and spread the word to an even wider audience. That’s especially true at Fantastic Fest where movies come from some of the smallest and strangest niches around the world to play before audiences who think they’ve seen it all before.
Lee’s Adventure arrives with little to no fanfare, but it will leave as one of this year’s best, funniest and most original features. It mixes live action with various types of animation in the service of a story that transcends time to show the lengths one man will go for the woman he loves. Lest you think it’s a sappy sci-fi romance though rest assured it also manages scenes of real awe, exciting action and some tear-inducing hilarity starring an anime Nicolas Cage.
I shit you not.
Li Jian Ji aka Devotion Lee (Jaycee Chan) suffers from TDD, Temporal Dilation Disorder, and he lives a fairly lonely life because of it. That all changed when he met Wang Qian (Fiona Wang) and discovered that she was afflicted with the same illness. The disease alters their perceptions in regard to time as it pauses, speeds up and slows down the world around them and their place in it. It’s not entirely controllable and can lead to major issues such as when Lee goes to the park for his lunch hour only to return to work and discover a whole year has gone by.
Just go with it.
“You weave lies so well I expect you’d shit out a strainer if I fed you only wires.”
Lee and Qian help each through a mutual understanding of the illness and a strict regimen of prescribed pills, but when she dies in an accident he finds little reason to go on without her. Luckily his uncle knows the secret to time travel and provides Lee with the opportunity to set things right again. It won’t be easy though and may involve dinosaurs, Nazis, man’s first introduction to fire, Albert Einstein and a fight to the death against Bin Laden.
I’m not saying it does. But it might.
The less said about the details within Lee’s Adventure the better, but it’s not out fear for spoilers of any kind. Directors Frant Gwo and Yang Li have crafted a movie that becomes a steady string of reveals, ideas and changing visual styles that take viewers on the adventure right by Lee’s side. Nothing is certain in a world that can turn from live action to animation at the drop of a Coke can, and while the gimmick has been used before it’s never been used as effectively as it is here.
The first twenty or so minutes takes its time finding a rhythm, but once it does the remainder of the film is the epitome of pure cinematic joy. You’ve seen films with similar themes before but never something that feels so fresh and audacious in its presentation and delivery. One of the motivations for the animated sequences may very well have been budgetary, but if that’s the case we should be thankful that Gwo and Li didn’t find additional funding. The sequences fit the film’s spirit beautifully and offer immense possibilities in storytelling that they take full advantage of including an interrogation scene with the police that could be released as a genius short on its own.
Chan steps fully out of his father’s shadow with a performance that reveals both his acting and comedic abilities, and his enthusiasm and emotions are infectious. He’s in just about every scene, and you can’t help but become enamored of him as he sells a character willing to go to such incredible lengths for the woman he adores.
Lee’s Adventure was released last year in China, but it’s held an inexplicably low profile since then. It’s time for that to change.
The Upside: Constantly surprising; 10-12 minute anime “trailer” sequence in middle of the film is the funniest 10-12 minutes in any movie this year; Jaycee Chan gives a strong performance; fantastic blend of laughs, heart and sci-fi
The Downside: Opening 25 minutes may feel slow to some; some things go unexplained; excessive product placement
On the Side: Lee’s Adventure is based on a popular short film that debuted online in 2009 and was also directed by Li Yang