First of all, let’s clear up any possible confusion. The Adventurers (2017) is a light and breezy affair starring Andy Lau. The Adventurers (1995) is definitely not a light and breezy affair, although it still stars Andy Lau. Hey, it was directed by Ringo Lam in the middle of the 90s Hong Kong crime film boom. What ya gonna do? This most recent film to bear the name is directed by Stephen Fung and much more befitting of the adventure suggested by the title. Whether it’s a worthy adventure is up for debate.
The Adventurers (the 2017 film is being referred to from now on) is a heist film at its core, following a team of thieves headed up by Dan Zhang (Andy Lau). The rest of the crew is comprised of non-nerdy electronic whiz Po Chen (Tony Yo-ning Yang) and rascally fresh recruit Ye Hong (Shu Qi). Chasing them down is haggard French police detective Pierre Bisette (Jean Reno) and a professional art insurance agent (Amber Li) he taps to assist. At stake is possession of a mega-jewel comprised of three main components.
This is a slick jaunt around Europe, although centred in France and a Chinese production. This had me pondering all the cross-over between French and Chinese film over the years, something I’ve never thought about much before. Brotherhood of the Wolf (2002) just threw in a bunch of Hong Kong style martial arts. So did District B13 (2004). Although only set in France and not French films themselves, so did The Musketeer (2001) and The Transporter (2002). (Remember when Shu Qi had an awkward on-screen romance with Jason Statham?) Jet Li went to France for Kiss of the Dragon (2001). All these are early 2000s films riding the wave of Hong Kong style action that exploded in popularity after The Matrix. Looking at cross-over in the other direction, I’m tempted to say the 90s Hong Kong crime film wave was influenced by the earlier French wave from directors such as Jean-Pierre Melville but my French film repertoire does not extend that far. Whatever the case, the inclusion of the late Johnny Hallyday in Johnnie To’s Vengeance felt very smooth.
All this is to say that the adventure unfolding before me in the present day was reminding me of a lot of other films, rather than sucking me into its own story. The Adventurers sure looks lavish at least, in all departments of scenery, sets and cast. The natural and architectural sights are grand and look beautiful through the lens. The cast look great without resorting to shallow sexiness and seem like they are enjoying themselves — especially Shu Qi. Her initial appearance makes her virtually unrecognisable, but her high energy is uninterrupted. Tony Yo-ning Yang is less memorable, but still dapper without becoming a fawning pretty boy. The versatile Eric Tsang is fun in his small role and Andy Lau has not yet developed the kind of rugged good looks a man of his age ought to have. He still has regular old good looks somehow. As the chasers, Amber Li and Jean Reno are less rollicking. To compensate, the film does a little extra technical work to make their characters more interesting. The way the two are each drinking alone in an apartment is neatly tied together for instance. If touches like this happened across the whole film, it would really lift the end result. Jean Reno is grizzled and gravelly compared to everyone else, but still turns in the picture’s best acting in what could have been a pretty dour role. He draws attention, even if there’s no Dance Dance Revolution in a Japanese videogame arcade as there was in the French/Japanese film Wasabi.
Unfortunately all this high budget bling is not tied together with a plot to make it really shine. Although it wants to be a heist caper, The Adventurers is often either pedestrian in its execution or needlessly flashy for the sake of looking cool. Shortly after being released from prison at the start of the movie, Dan Zhang gets picked up by a helicopter out the back of a servo and flown to Cannes, where for some reason he has to wingsuit out of the helicopter to land on a helipad, then grab a motorbike from a nearby lighthouse and tear through the streets to an art auction. Said auction is being picketed by a group protesting animal rights for a reason that was unclear to me.
When things are set up they work well, like the guard dog that is played up in stages to the mid-movie climax. More often though, it’s just a matter of waiting to see what gadget the gang will pull out to bypass the next obstacle. There’s hardly any of the setup, followed by a twist, followed by a stroke of luck or improvised genius that makes heist flicks so enjoyable. (I highly recommend The Thieves for a stellar example of this done well.) I guess the team has a tennis ball sized spiderbot now. I guess that spiderbot can have little baby spiderbots. I guess those baby spiderbots can shoot bullets that sound like they’re being fired by a mounted machine gun.
Many a fun moment is still to be found, just isolated from the film as a whole. International movie titans like Andy Lau and Jean Reno facing each other with guns drawn is a sight to see, but their dialogue is pretty stilted because they’re both speaking English. (And why do the French characters in this film speak to each other in English?) There’s a mildly entertaining car chase, although you put Jean Reno in a car chase in southern France and you’re immediately inviting comparison to Ronin, widely considered to have some of the best car chasing captured on film. There is one pretty sweet shot of two cars drifting around a curve to split up around a traffic island. As another aside, what would car chases be like where everyone drove automatics and insert shots of gear changes and accelerator stomping couldn’t be relied on so heavily? I suppose that’s one advantage filming a scene like this in Europe where manual cars are still more prevalent. There I go, getting sidetracked onto something other than The Adventurers again. The main villain’s final comeuppance is a fitting end, so that’s neat.
With the international scale of this film utilised quite well, it’s an encouraging sign for what is ultimately a Chinese film production. There’s precedent for this too, such as Way of the Dragon or Wheels on Meals, but The Adventurers notably avoids riffing on racial stereotypes as those films — good-naturedly — did. The final tally still makes this something of a disappointment. Not bad, just by the numbers. Perhaps that’s what light and breezy is meant to be though.