Review of 'Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom (L'Empire du Milieu)'

asterix_and_obelix_the_middle_kingdom.jpg The famous inhabitants of the last remaining Gaul outpost of resistance against the all conquering Roman empire, aided by a mysterious potion that gives them superhuman strength, are visited by Princess Fu Yi (Julie Chen), fleeing from prince Deng Tsin Qin (Bun Hay Mean). The empress of China (Linh-Dan Pham) has struggled to maintain control of China following the death of the emperor with the princes vying for power. The empress has been thrown into jail as Fu Yi seeks the Gauls' help in freeing her and saving her country. Asterix (Guillaume Canet) and perpetually strong Obelix (Gilles Lellouche) immediately volunteer and travel to China. Meanwhile in Rome, Julius Caesar is living with Cleopatra (Marion Cotillard) who suggest that outside of Rome no one knows him. Determined to prove her wrong he travels to China with his armies where he swiftly gains control of five of the six Chinese provinces. It is the last province where he meets the Gauls and things don't go so smoothly…

This is a hugely fun and wonderfully amusing film that is the most in keeping with the original books by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo complete with the absurd names and amazingly quirky, visceral physical comedy such punching someone so they go very high in the air, and Obelix's absurdly fast running where his legs are a blur. Of course, the humour here is played straight so you need to pay attention to get the gags which come thick and fast. There are many genuinely laugh-out-load moments.

There are several love-based subplots. Asterix is shyly, attracted to Fu Yi, though has competition from Graindemais (Jonathan Cohen), and even Obelix has taken a shining to Fu Yi's bodyguard Tat Han (Leanna Chea) but really the focus here is on the amusing encounters they have as they travel to and through China. It has to be said that cultural sensitivity was never part of the books and this film is no exception - This is meant to be silly and it is best to think too deeply on what is going on with the casual sexism and racial stereotypes applied throughout though it is important this is acknowledged. The books were of a time and age where such things were, at least in common media, accepted.

Not only is the film a lot of fun the effects look quite good as well with imaginative and interesting looking sets. There are also some incredible set pieces such as the battle sequence at the end with huge armies facing one another in battle that are remarkably convincing. The attention to detail is evident throughout with images that look like they were lifted straight out of the books - The roman army marching to China, what happens when you drink the magic potion, and even Dogmatix looks exactly like he does in the book! Lie the books the silly background characters and signs along the road all contribute to the fun.

Perhaps not terribly politically correct but if you can overlook this “The Middle Kingdom” is highly entertaining and the most successful translation of the Asterix & Obelix books to film I have ever seen.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2024-02-18

Directed by: Guillaume Canet

Studio: Pathé

Year: 2023

Length: 112 minutes

Genre: Fantasy