Thursday, June 23, 2011

Treasure Inn (财神客栈)


This film had the honour of being the sole World Premiere screening amongst the gala red carpet presentations at the inaugural Screen Singapore film event held earlier this month since Larry Crowne only bestowed the Asia Pacific premiere (although I'm quite certain it's a first public screening anywhere in the world) for the event, with Hong Kong's prolific writer-director-producer and occasional actor Wong Jing in attendance together with leading cast member Nick Cheung here in Singapore to grace the event. Like all Wong Jing's movies, always approach them with tapered expectations, as he is responsible for a spectrum of films, some well received, while others not so.

Taking on writing and directing responsibilities for Treasure Inn, Wong contributes to an ever growing resurgence of martial arts films in the Pan Chinese territories, and like most China co-productions, have cast members from China and Hong Kong in an ensemble of light caricatures with very defined alliances of a tussle between the forces of good and evil that's set to appeal to the Chinese film market, which of course also shows its ever growing importance in terms of potential box office revenues. And in some ways you can tell the story also got watered down a little in terms of the usual signature Wong Jing bawdy style of storytelling.

The story follows two lowly police friends Kung (Nicholas Tse) and Brad (Nick Cheung) who find themselves embroiled in a thick conspiracy involving a priceless Goddess of Mercy jade statue, a bunch of armed bandits who have engaged the services of some of the deadliest assassins in the country, coupled with an elite troop of investigators led by Captain Iron (Kenny Ho), all of whom seem to be converging to the titular inn where smugglers and general treasure seekers alike congregate for that infrequent trading meet. What more, the duo have to contend with farcical romance in the form of Water Dragon Girl (Charlene Choi) and Fire Dragon Girl (Huang Yi), and form alliances with the likes of a civilized doctor (Tong Da Wei) who is quite the skilled pugilist himself as he holds a torch for the titular inn's owner Ling Long (Liu Yang), who in turn forms a kind of loose love triangle with Kung.

It's a typical action adventure with Wong Jing's trademark bawdy jokes at a minimum here, though not lacking in scenarios and one liners to make you laugh, some lame of course. Action gets direction from Corey Yuen, and since this is firmly in the fantastical realm, allows for plenty of wirework as well as CG effects that allows for some juvenile comedic moments of "moleitau" (nonsensical) glory, as well as ambition to make this a special effects extravaganza when skilled pugilists from both sides of the law meet in frequent clashes, with the villains being little more than one-skill wonders.

Weak villains aren't only the drawback here, as the heroes turn out to be a rather rag tag bunch. There was a hint at the lowly constables Kung and Brad turning out to be more than meets the eye, but that unfortunately stayed at just that, being little more than possessing ambition to be amongst the elite constabulary force that they take it upon themselves to get into the thick of the action. In these roles, it is Nick Cheung who shines being given some of the best lines in the film and hiding behind a set of buck teeth, while Nicholas Tse (becoming the centre of attention lately with both Wong Jing and Nick being asked the inevitable questions from the local media) turned out to be rather bland in his role despite very credible fight sequences, and his character's romance with the Water Dragon Girl was fabulously bad and cringe inducing.

Besides the welcome return of Kenny Ho (after a local turnout in Love Cuts), the Chinese actors seemed more comfortable in their roles, especially the duo of Tong Da Wei and Liu Yang, with limited screen time not impacting the more interesting and memorable roles they play, compared to the ones done by the Hong Kong veterans that you'd think there's some slight favouritism being shown. But that said, Treasure Inn still turned out to be little more than a typical, mediocre period action adventure. There are a lot of equivalent, noisy summer pictures out there, that this is only an option if those are sold out.

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