The month continues and the weather improves hereabouts, so now we’re off to Taiwan for our latest entry in our March “Thrilling Adventures!! Movie Review Festival” and a look at 2009’s “The Treasure Hunter”. It’s East meets West as we take a look a what “Raiders” might be if you spiced it up with a whole lotta Wuxia swordplay storytelling and let it go all crazy… Asian style.
Our synopsis goes like this: “Qiao Fei is a relic expert with a gritty past. When his mentor’s daughter is held hostage over a map with a deadly history, the rugged warrior whips into action. Chaos erupts as he swoops in to the rescue and scours the sands for legendary riches rumored to be buried deep in China’s northwest desert. Chased by the shadowy “Sandstorm Legion” and challenged at every step by countless greedy adversaries, Qiao Fei faces danger at every turn to uncover the lost city – but, perhaps some treasures were never meant to be found…”
Well now. That certainly sounds promising. The Trailer has the right look, and it seems to meet all our Festival requirements, so let’s all give it a look, shall we? This wee lady’s not adverse to a lil’ Kung Fu creeping into my story now and again for fun, and Chinese films are nothing if not over-the-top when it comes to doing the whole “adventure” thing. 😉
Well, the story gets off to a start with a little bit of back story about a Lost City and a mystical pearl swallowed up by the trackless sands of China’s western desert. There’s some vague stuff about this group of warriors pledged to eternally protect the secret of the city, led by “The Eagle of the Desert”, but truthfully it’s all related in that somewhat incomprehensible way Chinese movie can get when laying out all the mystical stuff in a story. I was kind of hoping it would all clear up as the story went along…. but sorry to say, that never really happened. Ummmm… yeah…
However… the next bit, introducing us to our film’s hero.. the titular “Treasure Hunter” is a bit better. At a seedy inn smack dab out in the middle of the desert… sort of a cross between the one in King Hu’s “Dragon Inn” and the joint from “From Dusk Till Dawn” (Minus the vampires… 😉 )… a group of nasty mercenary types are trying to sell the stolen artifacts they’ve hauled here all the way across Russia. The guy they meet up with turns out to be Qiao Fei (played by Taiwanese pop idol Jay Chou), this smartass relic expert who makes it his business not to go around “tomb raiding” but instead steals back such stolen ancient treasures from the thrives so they can be returned to their rightful owners. We get a fairly nice wire-fu fight scene and eventually the release of some sort of armoured mummy on horseback that our hero has to vanquish with his trusty bullwhip and impressive wushu skills. It’s pretty nice scene, and seems to promise a rollicking story full of mystical enemies… action… and oodles of stunts and the like as our hero fights to save some ancient treasure from greedy crooks. Too bad they didn’t stick with that simple story…
Well… OK… then we meet our story’s obvious heroine and love interest Lan Ting (played by Chinese model turned actress Lin Chi-ling), a lovely book writer who specializes in romance/adventure novels. Ooohhh… OK… yeah, a lil’ “Romancing the Stone” bit thrown into the mix, eh? Neko’s good with that… 😉
Lan Ting is sorta stuck with that stereotypical moment of writer’s block that seems to always happen in this kind of plot. She’s at the pinnacle of her success after her last novel, but somewhat unhappy with the way it’s typecast her as an author. Her fans want more and her editor is pestering her to finish that follow-up book he’s anxiously been waiting for. But before that can happen, Qiao Fei drops back into her life again. Seems they were childhood sweethearts back before our movie got going but they split apart over his sudden… and never really explained decision to just up and disappear to the desert. Say what? Ummm yeah… it’s another of those oddly never adequately explored plot elements that plague this one like an ancient curse…. Just roll with it…
OK… OK… anyways. Lan Ting is also estranged from her father… whose obsession with all things archaeological caused him to lose his wife and distanced him from a daughter utterly convinced that he loved his dusty relics and artifacts more than her. Qiao Fei apparently works for him now doing that whole stolen artifact recovery thing… although how long he’s been at that is never really explained either… especially given his other big “career choice”… But we’ll get into that later. They do that whole “angry Ex-es” thing and he leaves.
Now Lan Ting’s dad recently called her out of the blue to ask her to visit him, but when she does she get’s herself kidnapped by a scuzzy thief named… and I swear I’m not making this up… “Pork Rib” (played by Eric Tsang). She wakes up in the desert at the Inn we saw earlier where Pork Rib and his partner Master Hua (played by Chen Dao-Ming) are planning to learn from her the location of a map her father supposedly had that reveals the location of the fabled “Lost City”. Why didn’t they just get it from her dad? Because another bunch of nameless bad guys already killed him for the map the very night she had tried to visit him before she arrived. Awwww… crap. 😦
Naturally those same guys show up here at the Inn, led by some weird bandaged guy just as Qiao Fei makes his appearance to try to rescue her. Yeah… that means we get another neat crazy ass CGI enhanced “wire fu” battle with bullwhips, and swords… and some kind of bandage “Mummy Fu” thingee from that bad guy. wierd… but hey… not the weirdest thing in this feature. That would be the nutty sandstorm cyclone that shows up out of nowhere and magically teleports a horde of tattered black-robed horse riding warriors right out of “Conan The Barbarian” practically on top of the Inn so that they can fight everybody and destroy the Inn. Ummm… huh? WTF?
Yep. Carolyn, my sweet wifey, was completely lost by this time and I can’t really say I blame her. I mean the fight was cool… and the resulting chase through the desert as the horsemen try to catch Qiao Fei and Lan Ting on his motorcycle and Master Hua and Pork Rib in their jeep was well staged, but once the legendary”Sandstorm Legion” get vanquished they just sort of disappear never to trouble our story again. Yep. You, o’ Gentle Visitors, are starting to see the problem with this film already… Neko knows you are… 😉
There’s just too many of these crazy unconnected plot elements for this story to ever make a whole lot of sense. Sigh…. I mean, it’s all very well made… and the sequences are fun… but they just seem like they don’t belong all in the same film, and none seem in any way connected in any convincing way.
So… as if things aren’t already confusing enough… our heroes reach this shantytown out in the middle of nowhere where it seems Qiao Fei’s ex-girlfriend Dao-dao has gone all insane, and wears this crazy iron skull mask and leads that band of warriors who guard the Lost City we heard about in the intro. Wait a moment? Ex-girlfriend? Ummmm? Wasn’t that supposed to be our winsome heroine Lan Ting? Yeah… apparently the writers figured Qiao Fei’s back story wasn’t confusing enough, so they cram in the idea that after he ran away as a kid to the desert he then learned kung fu and became the famous “Eagle of the Desert”. Or at least he used to be… seems he just up and walked away from that job too for no earthly reason and drove poor Dao-dao over the deep end. Sheesh… whatever…
About now we get to the point where everybody still alive after all the kung fu battles so far gets a copy of that map so central to things and makes a beeline for the Lost City to snag the treasure. We get some nostalgic flashbacks to explain what the heck Master Hua is all about. Seems he’s the only treasure hunting guy to ever make it to the city once and somehow get out alive. Mind you all 20 of his closest friends and companions didn’t make it out… and come to find out he only survived by… yep… eating their flesh to keep himself alive, thus explaining his sudden aversion to eating meat ever since his return. Ewwww… gross.
Once inside the city, our little group has to deal with the usual traps you’d expect. Rooms full of big machines that shoot flying boomerang blades, poison air, corpse flowers that give off a soporific scent that transforms you into a flesh-eating ghoul. Yeah… that kind of stuff. Oooohhhh… and once you finally break into the tomb itself, four guardian ghosts… or wraiths… or whatever… that want to kung fu you into bloody lil’ bits. One big fight later, and we get to the big legendary pearl, only to have it trigger that big doomsday notion where the city just collapses in to kill anybody inside. Will our heroes all die? Nawwwww…. of course not. They escape to cataclysm with some gold… well… OK… a lot of gold. But then just when you figure Qiao Fei and Lan Ying will work stuff out and end all romantically happy and the like, they just don’t. Nope. Instead Qiao Fei does that “ride off into the sunset loner thing” on his motorcycle and our heroine returns home to write the story of her adventures as her next big novel. The end….
Yep. That about sums it all up. All in just over an hour and a half. So… it’s fair to say this one is a good-looking film. It had some neat ideas… probably too many neat ideas… that ultimately made for a fast paced and terribly confusing story with little satisfaction at the climax. The acting is reasonable, if somewhat by the numbers, and the chemistry between the two leads unfortunately nearly non-existent. It just didn’t do it for me. Overall, I’d have to say it only manages a barely earned 3 “Meows” out of 5. Not a bad movie, just a mostly disappointing and ultimately forgettable one.
The DVD I watched was the Funimation Region 1 release done both widescreen and letterbox with good audio, both Mandarin and English dubbed. English subtitles were provided as well and were both good and accurate. You could probably find a copy for right around 15$ US, but unless you are a serious Jay Chou fan I can’t really recommend you spend much time trying to hunt a copy down. Ah, well…. at least it was better than “Diamonds of Kilimandjaro”.. 😉
As always, we end with a Trailer, to get your adventurous spirit in the mood… 😉