Things got a little heavy last round, so I thought this week we’d decompress, relax a little, and talk about Andy Lau’s all leather three-piece suit. Also, I know celebrating this particular movie is hardly a fitting tribute to Lau, but we still all wish him a speedy and complete recovery from his injuries. Those injuries being the ones sustained during his fall from a horse, not his appearance in The Wesley’s Mysterious File.
With a few notable exceptions scattered throughout the decades, the Hong Kong film industry has never been particularly adept at or interested in producing science fiction. Oh sure, you get a Super Infra-Man here, and a…well, OK. Really just Infra-Man. Traditionally, the industry and the audience have been much more interested in fantasy, and with good reason. Hong Kong has made some of the greatest fantasy films of all time (not the elf and orc variety; more the flying swordsman and tree demon variety), candy-colored, eye-popping spectacles to rival anything from the rest of the world. Even when a director does take a dip into the waters of science fiction, it’s non-committal. Robotrix might have cyborgs and stuff, but it’s basically a kungfu sexploitation film with someone in a foil suit. Ditto I Love Maria, only without the sexploitation (no one wants to get John Shum naked, not when you could have Charlie Cho instead). Even when a film embraces scifi spectacle, as in Avenging Fist, City Under Siege (a movie only I seem to love), Lady Battlecop, or Future Cops, it tends to embrace the spectacle far more than the scifi. Considering the quality of the films I just mentioned (except for Infra-Man, which is a bonafide classic), perhaps there’s little surprise that Hong Kong has and still eschews science fiction.
But if you need another example, there’s always The Wesley’s Mysterious File, a disastrous science fiction film from 2002 that casts Andy Lau as an agent for a secret organization that deals with extraterrestrials, Rosamund Kwan as one of these extraterrestrials, and then pits them against an army of CG aliens so poorly realized that even the makers of Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf are justified in shaking their heads a bit. Then Andy Lau puts on a leather business suit.
For anyone familiar with Hong Kong cinema, there are bright red warning alerts about The Wesley’s Mysterious File as soon as the credits start. The directing/producing team of Andrew (not to be confused with Andy) Lau and Wong Jing are infamous for high-concept spectacle films that are, by most reasonable measures, awful. Lau’s films were often (and often still are) produced by Wong Jing. Wong Jing made a name for himself producing low-budget sex schlock that almost always has something to do with rape (often “comedy” rape). In the true spirit of exploitation filmmaking, his films usually promised much more than they delivered, whether that was nudity, action, or chuckles. Andrew Lau rose to prominence as the director of the Young and Dangerous film series about intensely annoying fashionable young triad members. Although poorly made, the series was a smash hit, ushering out the era of Jackie Chan, John Woo, and the old guard and replacing them with Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, and an army of interchangeable new stars with little memorable about them other than their floppy-banged anime haircuts. From there, Lau directed the special effects-packed wuxia fantasy Storm Riders (which was pretty entertaining), a string of forgettable action and crime dramas, and, in 2001, the scifi-ish video game movie Avenging Fist. In 2002, the duo made The Wesley’s Mysterious File.
The film is based on a series of “Wisely” novels written by long-time Shaw Brothers screenwriter Ni Kuang. Ni Kuang wrote 150 stories in the series, all about the adventures of a well-to-do globetrotter named Wisely who travels the world solving mysteries, having adventures, and occasionally battling space aliens and the supernatural. So, sort of like a Chinese version of Dennis Wheatley’s Duc de Richleau, only younger and presumably less cranky about how times were better under the monarchs when a royal could drive a retinue of servants before him with impunity. Although popular in Asia, the novels were not translated, resulting in Wisely remaining an obscure character outside of the region. By the time Andrew Lau and Wong Jing sunk their claws into the series, there had already been a few cinematic adaptations: 1986’s The Seventh Curse, starring Chow Yun-fat; 1987’s The Legend of Wisely starring Sam Hui (easily the best of the bunch, though Seventh Curse is no slouch); 1990’s Bury Me High Starring Chin Kar-lok; and 1992’s The Cat starring Waise Lee as Wisely (and featuring a fight between a cat and a dog that has to be seen to be believed). In addition, there were comic books, radio dramas, television series from Singapore and Taiwan, two Young Wisely movies starring David Wu, and a 1990 film called A Tale from the East in which Ni Kuang himself appears as Wisely.
Of those films, only The Cat overtly identified itself as science fiction until Lau and Wong Jing entered the Wisely sweepstakes with The Wesley’s Mysterious File (Wesley being an understandable alternate spelling of Wisely, since the original character’s named was derived from Wesley Village in Hong Kong). Lau goes all in on the science fiction aspects of the chaarcter, spinning a tale in which Andy Lau’s Wisely/Wesley/Wai See Lee is a suit-wearing super agent for an organization that deals with space aliens. Working in San Francisco (nice location work), he comes into contact with a friendly alien, Fong, played by Rosamund Kwan, with whom he forms a psychic bond. Kwan is looking for her brother, and both of them are being pursued by some decidedly unfriendly extraterrestrials who want a relic in Kwan’s possession. Assisting Wisely and Fong is another agent, Sue (Shu Qi), who goes along on a ride that takes them from San Francisco to Hong Kong and includes an astounding array of bad special effects, including CG tentacles, laser beams, herky-jerky monsters, and a lot of glowing blue eyes.
If one expects collaborations between Andrew Lau and Wong Jing to be awful, one is not going to be surprised by The Wesley’s Mysterious File. It is just a terrible, terrible film. And worst of all is that Wong Jing actually appears in the film playing an imposter secret agent who uses his forged authority to, predictably, try and rape women. But, you know, in a hilarious way, with lewd kissy faces. Luckily, his plan is foiled by Rosamund Kwan (who also delivers the line, “Let me castrate you, lousy fat man”). This being 2002, everyone is still holding their guns sideways for no reason, and one person even holds a machine gun sideways. Comedy, melodrama, and action all exist uncomfortably side by side, often in the same scene, but that at least is par for the Hong Kong film course. Partially set in San Francisco, much of the dialogue in the first half of the film is in English, and whatever actors they rounded up for these scenes (there seem to be an awful lot of Australians, and someone who is attempting either a Southern or Cockney accent) deliver their lines with the same stilted awkwardness one often finds in the rushed subtitles of Hong Kong films. Andy Lau barely speaks any English, but he’s still a better English language actor than most of the native English speakers.
But being terrible doesn’t stop it from being entertaining. For all its stupidity, it maintains a quick pace, has plenty of (poorly staged) action and inappropriate use of hot guitar licks and winsome piano. Andy Lau shows up at a playground wearing that twice-mentioned leather suit, and in another scene dons what I think is a velvet shirt with leather accents. Another person wears a poncho made of what looks to be some sort of alloy formed from leather and denim. And then there’s a space sex scene in which naked Andy Lau floats around in a glowing blue light cocoon. Rosamund and Andy must have known how silly the movie was, but they give it their all while collecting their paycheck and getting a free vacation to San Francisco. Shu Qi bears the brunt of Hong Kong talent speaking English (she worked in English for The Transporter the same year), and she’s not very good at it. But I never doubt she’s trying her best. Almen Wong, who was a late-cycle attempt at creating a new Michelle Yeoh that never even became a Michelle Khan, cameos as one of the hostile aliens.
By the time an alien named Warlock Toxin transforms into a tentacle-shooting computer-generated mothman that battles Andy Lau (who at this point can, naturally, shoot lightning from his fists), I had surrendered entirely to this stinky, lesion-covered mutt of a film. I am generally not a proponent of “so bad it’s good” attitudes, but I’m always willing to make an exception, especially when the film contains so much shirtless Andy Lau and melting Wong Jing. Andy made plenty of bad films, but few are quite as bad or as entertaining as this. Somehow, bad films never stick to him. He’s the Michael Caine of Hong Kong. What makes it all the more incredible is that, as incompetent as The Wesley’s Mysterious File may be, somehow this same star and director made Infernal Affairs in 2002 as well, one of the best Hong Kong crime films of all time. How Lau and Lau managed to make that and The Wesley’s Mysterious File at more or less the same time is the true mysterious file.