‘Lee’s Adventure’ Review
Everyone has regrets. Despite the time-shifting mixed-media razzle dazzle of Li Yang and Guo Fan’s ambitious and exuberant film ‘Lee’s Adventure,’ this universal truth can’t be ignored. The attempts to change the past can sometimes consume an entire life, and exposing this in a grand, heartbreaking scale is what makes this film so unexpectedly tender and wise.
It is unexpected because, were you to drop in on any random scene you may just get the wind knocked out of you by its frantic cutting, bursts of animation or hyper-stylized performances. ‘Lee’s Adventure’ is about a reluctant time traveler (played by Jaycee “son of Jackie” Chan) who uses a charmed violent video game to help transport him through different spots along the spacetime continuum. It’s a disc his Uncle specially made for him, and gifted when we was just a young klutz suffering from a mental disorder called TDD — Time Dilation Disorder.
It’s unclear if the Uncle’s game would work for everyone or just those with TDD, because our hero Lee isn’t the only one who has it. He keeps medicated, though, so his outbreaks are rare. When they happen, Lee can move about the world experiencing the flow of time when all else appears frozen — think the ‘Star Trek’ episode “Wink of an Eye,” or Nicholson Baker’s novel ‘The Fermata,’ or, if you must, the ’80s sitcom ‘Small Wonder.’ This ability is helpful if you want to take some revenge on annoying co-workers, but a troubling aspect is when a walk from a phone booth to the park can sometimes suck a whole year from your life (and you then have to spend time trying to piece together what you actually experienced during this time).
Just when Lee’s young adulthood is at its nadir, things look up when it appears that he doesn’t have to spend a lifetime suffering from TDD alone. He meets Wang Qian who has the same affliction. An argument about how to stifle the illness (there are pills one can take) leads to a tragic accident and, well, this sets Lee off on his “adventure” to change the past.
What follows is a series of increasingly bizarre set pieces, stories-within-stories and playful tweaks at cinematic form. Using tropes from video games (and some very funny imagery suggesting a correlation with controller technique and onanism), spy movies, 1980s rock videos, movie trailers and Saturday morning cartoons, Lee won’t give up the fight to achieve his utopian vision. At one point he saves the president’s daughter and kills a Robo-Nazi Osama bin Laden. Just go with it.
While ‘Lee’s Adventure’ certainly gets a little nuts, its script maintains a level of self-awareness. As a nicely added shade, it also wears its emotions on its sleeve. It’s got a nice mix of ‘The Fountain’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’ with a touch of ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ as well as the earned sentimentality of Japanese filmmaker Yoshihiro Nakamura.
‘Lee’s Adventure’ isn’t just a visual treat or a whirlwind of high concept comedy. Its emotion rings out. One can only experience the adventure in question in the realm of fiction, but no doubt everyone has something in the past they’d take the gamble for.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.