Irma Vep: Essential Edition (DVD Review)7 Dec, 2008 By: John Latchem
Stars Maggie Cheung, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Nathalie Richard.
Director Olivier Assayas’ bizarre 1997 concoction stars Hong Kong action diva Maggie Cheung as herself, signing on to a French production that spirals out of control. The director, René Vidal (Léaud), seems to be undergoing a mid-life crisis as he attempts a strange remake of the 1915 silent-film classic Les Vampires.
First, he casts Cheung as Irma Vep (an anagram of “vampire”) after seeing her in the Johnny To actioner Heroic Trio. Then he orders her costumed in a head-to-toe latex jumpsuit modeled after Catwoman from Batman Returns.
His film crew makes fun of him, but Cheung defends him, all the while sidestepping advances by the film’s costume designer, Zoe (Richard), who seeks a lesbian encounter.
As Vidal loses his grip on reality, his descent mirrors the state of the French film industry at the time, an intentional satiric statement by Assayas.
The film’s lenient pacing and reliance on offbeat moments set it strictly in the arthouse realm, but fans of such off-the-wall content will find plenty to enjoy. This Essential Edition includes black-and-white rushes of the film within a film, as well as the short Man Yuk: A Portrait of Maggie Cheung by Assayas, who married Cheung in 1998 (they divorced in 2001).