Dr Wai in the Scripture with no Words is a flawed film but it certainly has its entertaining moments. It could be seen as a Chinese version (or even spoof) of an Indiana Jones type story. I think the Indiana Jones movies are far more disciplined and better crafted but I do prefer Dr Wai – it’s just more fun. Its plot involves “a serial adventure writer with problems in his personal life lives out the adventures of his literary hero, King of Adventurers”*. A full cast and crew list can be found
“As several writers have noted, Dr Wai does not entirely fulfill the promise of its central conceit… But it is still an interesting comedic unraveling of ‘heroic cinema’… Li and Kwan inevitably invoke their romances in Once Upon A Time in China and Swordsman 2, now soured and bitter…” Leon
Hunt. Kung Fu Cult Masters, p. 152
It is a fun bit of casting to have Jet Li and Rosamund Kwan play off each other again after their successful pairing in Swordsman 2 and the Once Upon A Time in China movies. Jet Li acquits himself well in his dual role. We know he can do the doughty adventurer / martial arts hero – Li has oodles of films in his filmography to prove that he is a charismatic and engaging action movie leading man, and he doesn’t disappoint as Dr. Wai. He plays his other part, of the unhappy hubby wallowing in self-pity and exasperatedly battling with writer’s block, equally well. But a note to little Jet – he really should never have let anyone put him in drag. In a wig, frock and makeup he looks way too pretty and, at first glance, could easily pass for a female. Having said that, he and co-star, lovely Kaneshiro Takeshi, have a lot of fun with their cross dressing scene (as they do for the rest of the movie).
The photogenic Rosamund Kwan plays the part of Monica adequately, but the part of the evil Cammy unfortunately shows up her shortcomings as an actress. She just doesn’t convince as a femme fatale. In viewing the parts of Monica and Cammy I find myself wondering if director Tony Ching Siu Tung or the film’s writers might be a wee bit misogynistic. Monica spends much of the film being bitchy to her husband, and Cammy is a sadist who carries out torturous experiments on
The rest of the cast do a fine job, and they have some great and colourful sets to populate. “Director Ching Siu-tung, who choreographed the action scenes with Ma Yuk-shing, shows great visual flair in telling the tale…” (Paul Fonoroff, At the Hong Kong Movies, p. 547). This visual flair is manifested through exotic scenery, lovely set decorations and costuming, and outlandish action set pieces.
As stated above, Tony Ching Siu Tung and Ma Yuk Shing are responsible for the directing and choreographing of the action. Generally, I find that Ching relies on wire fu too much for my taste. I enjoy the ground based choreography much more as this allows for more complex and highly wrought sequences of movement. Ching is quite capable of making beautiful ground based choreography, so it is disappointing that he gives over so much screen time to flying bodies in his
movies. Having said that, any wire fu in this movie didn’t bother me as much as it did in others. It doesn’t seem to be excessive, and I suspect that this is because it is balanced out by, and perhaps absorbed by, other aspects of the spectacular (giant mechanical ox machine, anyone?) that are on offer.
My favourite fight scene in the movie takes place in Cammy’s laboratory when Dr Wai takes on a Japanese general (played by Billy Chau), some Ninjas and 2 sumo wrestlers. This features some lovely use of weaponry plus Jet Li’s beautiful Tai Chi moves. The very final fight scene has some nice looking action as well, and makes quite good use of special effects.
So there is a lot to like and be entertained by in this fun film. But… directorially this film feels a little flabby to me. The film’s narrative follows 2 story lines, one set in modern day Hong Kong and the other in Indiana Jones land, and the main actors have a role in each. The central conceit the narrative is based on is that the Indiana Jones adventure fantasy is inspired by the subconscious desires of the modern day characters, and this is quite a nifty creative strategy that allows for a fun plot. However, the switching between the 2 stories feels just a little too chaotic for my taste. The story line sprawls and does not have quite enough control or shape.
However, if you haven’t seen the film then please don’t let the last paragraph put you off. It is a fun film to watch and it functions perfectly well as harmless entertainment.