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

Mojin – The Lost Legend (鬼吹灯之寻龙诀)

For F*** Magazine

MOJIN – THE LOST LEGEND (鬼吹灯之寻龙诀)

Director : Wuershan
Cast : Chen Kun, Angelababy, Shu Qi, Huang Bo, Xia Yu, Cherry Ngan, Liu Xiaoqing
Genre : Fantasy/Adventure
Run Time : 125 mins
Opens : 7 January 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)
            It’s into the dusty, booby-trapped depths we go with our intrepid trio of heroes in this fantasy adventure. It is 1988 and grave-robbing explorers Hu Bayi (Chen), Wang Kaixuan (Huang) and Shirley Yang (Shu Qi) have retired to New York City. The three are the last remaining members of the Mojin Xiaowei, an ancient secret order of treasure hunters. Despite washing their hands of their dangerous exploits, the trio are drawn back into the fray when an incident from Hu and Wang’s days as teenagers in the Red Guards involving the fate of their mutual crush Ding Sitian (Angelababy) comes back to haunt them. Their middleman “Big Gold Tooth” (Xia) secures a contract with wealthy CEO/cult-leader Ying Caihong (Liu), who is in search of the mythical Equinox Flower artefact, believing it can grant her immortality. Deep within long-buried tombs, the Mojin come face-to-face with the past in more ways than one.

            Mojin – The Lost Legend is based on Zhang Muye’s best-selling fantasy novel Ghost Blows Out the Light, functioning as sort of a sequel rather than a straight adaptation. The novel also spawned an unrelated film called Ghost Blows Out: The Nine-Story Demon Tower, released in September 2015. Don’t ask us how the rights worked out, maybe It’s a Thunderball/Never Say Never Again-type deal.


This reviewer loves a good old-fashioned adventure flick and counts the Indiana Jones films, especially Last Crusade, as some of his favourite movies ever. Mojin promises lavish spectacle and pulse-pounding action, but instead it is muddled and bloated. Quest movies are by nature straight-forward affairs, but Mojin is pointlessly convoluted to a dizzying extent. The attempts at comedy are grating, the emotional scenes fall flat and the action sequences are flashy but ultimately unremarkable. During an extended flashback in which Little Red Book-brandishing, Mao-quoting Red Guard youths fend off zombie WWII-era Japanese soldiers, the film becomes Nationalist Treasure. The production design by Hao Yi features several cavernous sets bursting with intricately-carved details, but there’s a disappointing monotony to the subterranean chambers that is sorely lacking visual flair.

            While there is an attempt to flesh out two of the three leads by way of afore-mentioned flashback, there’s still far too little to hook on to. Hu and Shirley have a contentious love-hate relationship which is supposed to be romantic in a screwball fashion but is tedious instead. Chen is boring, Huang mugs for the camera and Shu Qi is just doing the Lara Croft thing, right down to the braided ponytail. Angelababy makes for a suitably dreamy hypotenuse to a love triangle between wistful youths, but that subplot feels entirely out of place in this adventure flick. Xia Yu is downright insufferable as the whiny, lily-livered Big Gold Tooth and Liu adds nothing to the “wealthy benefactor with a shady past” archetype we always see in films of this type. On top of all that, we have Cherry Ngan playing a henchwoman clad in a Japanese schoolgirl uniform, clearly aping Kill Bill’s Gogo Yubari.



            The visual effects work here is markedly more competent than in many recent Chinese films, though there are several sequences that are still some ways off from being convincing. From the martial arts to the rickety rope bridges to the hordes of undead guarding the buried treasure, Mojin – The Lost Legend has all the makings of a rousing adventure romp, but it never quite gets into gear. There are only so many times people can outrun a collapsing tomb before it gets tiresome. At once frenzied and listless, Mojin – The Lost Legenddoesn’t make good on its promise of pulpy thrills.

Summary: A convoluted plot and characters that are either one-dimensional or downright annoying stand in the way of genuine adventure movie fun.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong