The Adventurers (侠盗联盟)

For F*** Magazine

THE ADVENTURERS 

Director : Stephen Fung
Cast : Andy Lau, Shu Qi, Zhang Jingchu, Tony Yang, Jean Reno, Eric Tsang, Sha Yi
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 47m
Opens : 31 August 2017
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

After making inroads into Hollywood as an executive producer and director on the TV series Into the Badlands, Stephen Fung is keeping things international with The Adventurers. The caper centres on an elite team of professional thieves, comprising mastermind Zhang (Lau), hacker Xiaobao (Yang) and slinky recruit Ye Hong (Shu). Zhang has just been released from prison, and because his earlier attempt to steal the priceless three-part Gaia necklace was foiled, hatches a new plan to procure the artefact for King Kong (Tsang), Zhang’s mentor. French detective Pierre Bissette (Reno) has been hot on Zhang’s trail, and is watching his every move following Zhang’s release from jail. Pierre convinces Zhang’s former fiancée, art restoration expert Amber (Zhang), to help him track Zhang down. The team’s mission takes them from Cannes, France to Prague, the Czech Republic, where they must foil state-of-the-art security measures to steal the components of the necklace.

 

The Adventurers is a loose remake of John Woo’s 1991 film Once a Thief. Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung and Cherie Chung played the trio of thieves in that film, with Lau, Yang and Shu stepping into their shoes here. The Adventurers promises glitz, glamour and pulse-pounding action, but only delivers partway. Taking additional inspiration from the Ocean’s Eleven and Mission: Impossible franchises, The Adventurers showcases high-tech gadgetry and scenic locations, but fails to generate sufficient suspense, amounting to a generic “go get the MacGuffin” plot. Action sequences like a car chase down the French Riviera and an All-Terrain Vehicle pursuit through a Czech forest are competently staged, but The Adventurers lacks the daring “Houdini escapes” which have become a trademark of the Mission: Impossible movies. There just isn’t enough here to put audiences on the edge of their seats.

The film is slick and polished, with Fung’s international crew contributing to the fine production values. Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, best known as the guy Christian Bale was yelling at on the set of Terminator: Salvation, captures the European locations in their sweeping, luxe glory. The computer-generated effects are a cut above those often seen in Chinese blockbusters – the spider drones deployed during the climactic sequence are especially impressive. The tone is largely frothy and comedic, and there’s an odd product placement for a novel device called the GoGirl (Google it). While Fung refrains from full-on slapstick, the relaxed vibe hampers the tension from reaching a fever pitch.

The film is well cast, with each of its leads playing to type. Lau, who has played the international man of mystery often in his later career, is convincing as a suave Danny Ocean-type who always has a trick up his sleeve. Shu, who is married to director Fung, tries to affect the ‘tough chick’ shtick ala Michelle Rodriguez and looks to be having fun doing it. Yang is the least remarkable of the trio, and the sexual tension between Xiaobao and Ye Hong is a tired device, but is good for a few laughs. Each character speaks at least a few lines of English dialogue, and the results are mixed. Zhang Jingchu, who was in an actual Mission: Impossible movie, fares best, but her character’s art history knowledge is rarely called upon over the course of the story.

Reno appears to largely be phoning it in, and sticks out a fair bit. There are several scenes in which two French characters are alone looking at security footage or staring agape at an empty vault, but they’re speaking in English. Eric Tsang pops up as a standard-issue Eric Tsang character. Sha Yi nearly steals the show as a wealthy mark who lives in a Czech castle, and on whom Ye Hong works her charms.

As a production of Flagship Pictures, Warner Bros.’ joint venture with China Media Capital, the intention is for The Adventurers to be a blockbuster that can travel. While it’s slickly produced and is bereft of the cringe-inducing excess that often plagues big-budget Chinese movies, The Adventurers stops short of being explosive entertainment, and is a trifle rather than a blast.

Summary: The Adventurers has charismatic leads, gorgeous European locations and strong production values, but its ho-hum caper plot and lack of distinctive action sequences keep it from being Grade A escapism.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Kung Fu Yoga

For F*** Magazine

KUNG FU YOGA

Director : Stanley Tong
Cast : Jackie Chan, Aarif Rahman, Zhang Yixing, Miya Muqi, Sonu Sood, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur, Zhang Guoli, Eric Tsang
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 26 January 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

kung-fu-yoga-posterAfter hanging out with John Cusack and Adrien Brody in the Mongolian desert in Dragon Blade, Jackie Chan sets his sights on India with this Chinese New Year blockbuster. Jackie plays renowned archaeologist Jack Chen, who is enlisted by Indian professor Ashmita (Patani) to locate the fabled lost treasure of the Magadha Kingdom. Jack assembles his team, comprising his assistants Xiaoguang (Zhang Yixing) and Nuomin (Muqi) and the treasure hunter Jones (Rahman), the son of Jack’s old friend. Along the way, Jack and his crew face off against Randall (Sood), a billionaire who claims to be the rightful heir to the treasure. The adventure takes Jack and his cohorts from Xi’an, China, to the Tibetan glaciers, to Dubai and finally to Rajasthan, India.

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Jackie Chan has had a long association with the ‘adventurer archaeologist’ subgenre. From the Armour of God series to its semi-reboot CZ12, and from The Myth to the animated series The Jackie Chan Adventures, you’d think Jackie would have gotten the formula right by now. No such luck. Kung Fu Yoga might not be as jarring a cultural mishmash as the afore-mentioned Dragon Blade, but it’s still an ungainly, vaguely insulting creature. Things are preposterous from the outset, with a bizarre video game-esque animated prologue setting the scene. The story of Wang Xuance, a Tang Dynasty guard officer and diplomat who was sent as an ambassador to India in the 7th Century, serves as the jumping-off point for the plot. The chunks of exposition are ostensibly to lend the film some historical plausibility, but everything is so ridiculous that they needn’t have tried.

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Kung Fu Yoga’s central quest is difficult to care about, and even when Jack and company are menaced by armed mercenaries on snowmobiles, there’s little urgency or peril to be found. The film’s globe-trotting is poorly justified, with the story leaping from locale to locale without much rhythm. Shooting on location in such places as Svínafellsjökull, Iceland and Rajasthan, India does give Kung Fu Yoga a sense of scale, but this is undercut any time the action moves into patently phony underground tombs. The scenes set in India showcase regrettably retrograde clichés like snake charmers, levitating yogis and the Indian rope trick. This lazy exoticism was already embarrassing in the 1983 Bond film Octopussy, let alone in 2017.

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The action sequences are mostly gag-driven, lacking the robust kinetics of classic Jackie Chan fights. While Jackie has maintained himself far better than many action stars his age; his martial arts prowess is not enough to salvage Kung Fu Yoga. The film’s central set piece is a wacky car chase through the streets of Dubai, featuring such shenanigans as a pet lion in the backseat of Jack’s car. While China Daily has claimed that this is a real big cat, it is often obvious that many of the shots feature a computer-generated lion. Not a terrible one, mind you, but conspicuous enough to stick out. Besides the lion, Kung Fu Yoga is positively stuffed with digitally-created critters, including elephants, wolves, cobras and hyenas. This contributes to the film being an altogether cartoony affair.

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Leave it to Jackie to force some preachiness into an action-adventure comedy. “I told you, the treasure doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the whole world, it belongs to the people,” he proclaims beatifically. Not quite as snappy as “it belongs in a museum!” Speaking of Indiana Jones, Kung Fu Yoga cribs heavily from the series. There’s even a female student who stamps her eyelids with heart shapes to woo Xiaoguang, exactly like the student in Raiders of the Lost Ark with “LOVE YOU” written on her eyelids. We can’t decide if we love or hate that Jack actually name-checks Indiana Jones in the film itself. It’s a rip-off passed off as a homage, which is as gleefully shameless as it gets.

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The supporting cast is attractive and serves mostly as window dressing. Patani’s character introduces herself as a professor of archaeology, which is about as believable as when Denise Richards played a nuclear physicist. Patani seems like she’s reading off cue cards most of the time. It’s more than a little creepy when Jack makes googly eyes at Ashmita, considering the 38 year age gap between Patani and Jackie.

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Zhang Yixing a.k.a. Lay of Exo fame is just here to fulfil the unwritten rule that every Chinese blockbuster movie must include at least one boyband star. The camera leers lasciviously at Miya Muqi, dubbed “China’s most beautiful Yoga instructor”. Rahman comes to closest to exhibiting any discernible personality, working his roguish charm for all it’s worth. And yes, his character really is named ‘Jones’. In the meantime, Randall’s motivations do not stretch beyond “this belonged to my ancestors and now it belongs to me! MINE!” so Sood is stuck playing an utterly generic villain. Aamir Khan was briefly attached to play Randall, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with Dangal.

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Some spoilers about the film’s ending follow.

[SPOILER ALERT] It ends with a dance party. A dance party. A. DANCE. PARTY. Minutes after Jack and Randall engage in a battle to the death, Kung Fu Yoga closes with a big, obnoxious, dance number. It reads as a case of “there are Bollywood actors in the film so that’s something we have to do.” [END SPOILERS]kung-fu-yoga-jackie-chan-and-disha-patani

There’s a less cynical, more engaging China-India co-production hidden deep beneath the grating silliness that fills Kung Fu Yoga. Given the resources available to director Stanley Tong and the production, a straightforward adventurer archaeologist yarn shouldn’t be that difficult to get right.

Summary: Unfunny jokes, pulchritudinous but wooden co-stars, ropey visual effects and a dose of Jackie Chan’s signature self-aggrandisement make Kung Fu Yoga a cross-cultural embarrassment.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Skiptrace

F*** Magazine

SKIPTRACE

Director : Renny Harlin
Cast : Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville, Fan Bingbing, Eric Tsang, Michael Wong, Zhang Lan-Xin, Eve Torres, Winston Chao
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 47 mins
Opens : 22 July 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

Skiptrace posterThe boy who cried wolf would be really great friends with the actor who cried “I’m retiring from action movies.” Jackie Chan knows which side his bread is buttered on, and is back in another action comedy, playing Hong Kong cop Bennie Chan (Chan). Following the death of Bennie’s partner (Tsang), Bennie has been pursuing billionaire Victor Wong (Zhao), whom he believes to be a criminal mastermind known as ‘The Matador’. Bennie has been caring for his partner’s daughter Samantha (Fan), the head of guest relations at a casino in Macau who gets mixed up with Victor’s thugs. Wheeler-dealer American gambler Connor Watts (Knoxville) happens to be in the casino at the same time, accidentally coming into possession of evidence that could prove Victor’s guilt. Bennie tracks Connor down to Russia, freeing him from Russian mobsters so Connor can be taken back to Hong Kong to testify against Victor. With Samantha in danger, Bennie and Connor become unlikely partners, traversing across China and racing against the clock.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan at the border

Skiptrace hasn’t had a particularly smooth production process: Sam Fell was initially set to direct the film but was replaced by Renny Harlin, Seann William Scott dropped out for Johnny Knoxville to take his place, and cinematographer Chan Kwok-Hung drowned off Lantau Island on the set of the film. Jackie himself had a near-death experience filming in a roaring Guilin river. There’s an awkward herky-jerkiness to the pacing of Skiptrace, and teaming Jackie up with a fast-talking American sidekick couldn’t reek more of Rush Hour’s leftovers if it wanted to. The plot is cliché-ridden and while there are several action sequences which showcase Jackie’s signature prop comedy fighting style, these seem awkwardly slotted in instead of unfolding organically within the plot. A fight in a Russian packing plant that sees Jackie use an oversized Matryoshka doll to fend off ex pro-wrestler Eve Torres’ generic henchwoman is moderately fun, but serves more as a reminder of Jackie’s past glories than anything else.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan on the river

Picturesque locations including China’s Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces and parts of Mongolia add a travelogue element to the bog-standard buddy action comedy premix. Bennie and Connor get mixed up with locals and are both fishes out of water as they wander through the middle of local festivals, traverse raging rapids on a raft made from inflated pig skins and play drinking games with Mongolian tribespeople. It all looks intended to make Western audiences exclaim “Oh, how exotic!” Even then, Skiptrace often looks embarrassingly cheap. A sequence in which Bennie and Connor escape their pursuers via zipline features some painfully subpar green screen work.

Skiptrace Johnny Knoxville and Jackie Chan in broken cart

Jackie’s no-nonsense detective driven by revenge, who is encouraged to loosen up throughout the film, is quite the bore. “It’s all the same: cop from Hong Kong, cop from China,” Jackie bemoaned of his Hollywood film roles in an interview he gave in 2004. How little things change. Knoxville gets stuffed into a trashcan, splashed with mud and has a horse defecate mere inches from his face, but then again, the former Jackass star is probably best friends with indignity. The wily American who tries to talk his way out of everything is a tired trope that Skiptrace fails to put even the slightest spin on. The dynamic between the two characters is predictable: chalk and cheese have to become unwilling partners to stay alive, overcoming initial distrust of and dislike for each other. A large amount of the comedy falls flat, but the emotional beats are absolutely dead on arrival, and there’s nothing to either of these characters for the audience to grab on to. There is a bit when Jackie performs quite the unexpected cover of a hit song that did bring a smile to this reviewer’s face.

Skiptrace Fan Bingbing and Jackie Chan

Despite getting third billing behind Jackie and Knoxville, Fan’s time onscreen is brief and she plays little more than the damsel in distress. The cardboard villains (thugs in business suits, tattooed Russian street toughs, a corrupt official or two) are unable to amount to compelling challenge for our heroes. While Harlin’s earlier filmography includes the relatively entertaining likes of Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, he’s also responsible for such infamous bombs as Cutthroat Island and The Legend of Hercules. With Skiptrace, it seems like Harlin was putting together a flat-packed Ikea-esque action comedy but missed a few steps during assembly. In the grand scheme of things, the 120-minute running time is far from merciless, but this still comes off as a slog rather than a romp.

Summary: Sure, it’s impressive that Jackie Chan still kicking at 62, but Skiptrace feels long past its sell-by date, laboured and clumsily made instead of light on its feet.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong