So let’s get some levels of expectation for Treasure Hunter out of the way first of all. Whilst I thought Jay Chou was fine in both Initial D and Curse of the Golden Flower, his performance in both instances was such a blank slate, it was just a masterstroke casting decision to give him characters that were similarly bland. So certainly not a fanboy of the man. Have probably heard a song or two of his but certainly don’t know any of his music though recommendations have been made.
So expectations not particularly high though I was expecting at least a fun popcorn flick in the vein of The Mummy. And, true to formula, the film opens with a bit of adventurous myth making, telling a tale of a lost city, grand treasures and hidden armies defending them lost in the desert. Of course this all seems to be the tales of a young novelist Lanting being played by Chiling Lin. We meet her reluctantly trying to write more adventure stories for her editor, having a terse conversation with her father and being accosted by an energetic Eric Tsang who gives the audience a sinister smile before exiting stage right. So – maybe a Dr Wai?
Sure enough the scene changes to a bar in the middle of the desert. Where some burly men walk in carrying crates, looking to offload some antiques. The expert walks in and it’s our hero Qiaofei, the ever rising Jay Chou. He quickly accuses the men of being thieves and fights them off before inadvertently summoning some armoured demon that translates into an extended action sequence with Qiaofei once again victorious.
So that’s the opening 20 minutes or so, which is great. We’ve established that Lanting is the love interest, a bit of a scholar and has Daddy issues. Qiaofei is some kind of martial arts adventurer that is unfazed at fighting the supernatural but also some significant antique knowledge (a treasure hunter perhaps?). Stating the obvious here because from this point on, they try to knit the starting threads together to make a coherent film and something goes horribly wrong.
For a start, these opening plot threads are not so much developed as continuously added upon with factions and characters appearing out of nowhere with the barest of explanations attached to their presence as the slightest of afterthoughts. As such, there is distinct lack of a villain that might have worked to focus our (or maybe even the director’s) attention. What we get instead is set pieces to be overcome and even then, the majority of them aren’t that interesting or well put together let alone offer any reasonable threat to Qiaofei without offering some ridiculous deus ex machina or simple stunt to (pretend to?) resolve the encounter.
There is perhaps one fight which is visually interesting though the character fighting Qiaofei at that point is a bit silly. In fact there were a number of times in the film when the the stunt double was intentionally taken out for a frontal shot and I giggled a little at how obviously unconvincing said actor was in wielding their weapon.
The one other major character that has yet to be mentioned is Daoming Chen, an antique dealer who was the only survivor of an expedition to the lost city years ago and is still suffering from the ghosts of that trip. He is an acquaintance of Eric Tsang’s Pork Rib. We see flashback’s of the the high hopes he had at the onset of his original journey but his idiosyncrasies during the progression of the film telegraphs his trauma so much that when the reveal is made, it’s hard not to feel unimpressed.
Eric Tsang is pretty over the top throughout the film but then he really is just the comic relief in this film. It is a shame then that he’s not particularly funny and more than just a little annoying.
And I suppose I should also say something about the relationship between Qiaofei and Lanting. But I can’t – there was just nothing there. As the main romantic interest in the film, it just did not work in any form whatsoever.
A certain objectivity may be lacking but there’s really no substance to this film that can even begin to connect the shifting focus, the directionless characters and the indistinct plot. Whilst there is the occasional eye opening moment that gives you that sparkle of hope, the rest of the film smothers those rare glimpses and is insufficient to keep the interest in what looks like a pastiche of more popular films stitched together by committee.