Having first tapped into aromas as a plot element in Lavender (2000), Riley Ip turns to scents of a different kind with period costume comedy Elixir of Love. This time around smells are decidedly pungent when a princess is born suffering from Severe Acute Reeking Syndrome - an as-yet incurable disease that causes the newborn to stink so much that her nurses pass out. With the emperor finding no cause to celebrate his family’s new arrival, he banishes the daughter from the imperial palace to grow up alone in a lakeside residence.
Years later when the princess (Miriam Yeung) is grown up, the parents decide it’s time to find her a husband. When possible suitors gag and run off at first whiff of the young woman, experts are invited to try curing the princess of her illness - he who succeeds can have her hand in marriage. Gardener and perfumes whiz Shum Mong-kai (Richie Jen) later spots an advert for the competition in his hometown and gets cracking on making a cure. Seeking people to try his potions on, he comes across three fish sellers and their stinky partner Heung (Miriam Yeung again). Unaware of Heung’s striking resemblance to the princess, Mong-kai tests away on the young lady while facing stiff competition from the palace’s Master Physician (Kenny Bee) and his favoured acupuncturist.
Set in ancient China, Elixir of Love is a colourful affair moving from grand palace locations through to rural-looking sets and into scenic countryside, all accompanied with lively performances and a cheery score. The quest for the princess’ cure makes for fun experimenting scenes and the rivalry from the Master Physician provides some lightweight intrigue. Comedy ranges from simple SARS jokes at the beginning to the sight of the princess battling bandits with her body odour, and as the finale nears a romantic message comes to take centre stage for a fairy tale ending.