Two low-ranking constables , accompanied by two con-artist thieves and a mysterious doctor, seek to clear their names and gain promotions by capturing the murderers who stole a valuable statue. Let's face it- after writing and directing close to 100 films, you already know what to expect out of a Wong Jing film. The prolific filmmaker isn't anything close to auteur, but Wong Jing at his best makes silly yet ultimately entertaining crowd-pleasers- even if he has probably already reached a creative plateau in his goofiness. Such is the nature of his period action comedy "Treasure Inn"- it is ridiculous and over-the-top, but at the same time you can't help but be entertained by the sheer inanity of it all.
The barely-there story penned by Wong Jing himself has two lowly street detectives Young Master Kung (Nicholas Tse) and Brad (Nick Cheung) after a group of highly skilled assassins believed to be responsible for the murder of the entire Cheung family in their town. Their motive? A prized White Jade Goddess statue that is apparently as tall as a person. Their destination? Treasure Inn, the place you go to when you want to auction off your stolen goods to other bandits and thieves.
The first half of the movie is more or less a road trip for our two heroes, where they meet a motley bunch of other characters while on their way to Treasure Inn- including a pair of sisters and respective love interests Water Dragon Girl (Charlene Choi) and Fire Dragon Girl (Huang Yi); the much-revered Captain Iron (Kenny Ho), head of the Imperial Gold Constables; and a doctor cum idealistic romantic-at-heart (Tong Da Wei) after the owner of Treasure Inn, Ling Lung (Liu Yang). There are few rules in Wong Jing's playbook, so if you had stepped into this film expecting anything of quality, then you'll recognise your folly right from the start.
In typical Wong Jing style, the movie is all over the place in its 'mo lei tau' silliness. That isn't a bad thing per se, for there are bits which are genuinely funny. Kung's method of catching fish by knocking them unconscious in the water is amusing. Ditto the buck-teethed egotist Brad's delusion about his good looks. Then there are also the highly exaggerated bits, like Brad's literal body extension after going through a primitive torture technique, and his miscalculated descent upon trying to brush off a chicken on his head by spinning up into the sky and landing head-first.
While Wong's lack of discipline does work to give the picture free-form zaniness, it also works against it when he fails to rein in his own excesses. Especially telling is the romantic bits between Kung and Water Dragon Girl, as well as Brad and Fire Dragon Girl- their love-at-first- sight routine happens with cheesy red hearts popping out around them, or yellow question marks flying around their heads. Even the old-school Hong Kong movies contended with just the appropriate sound effects, and not these cringe-worthy displays.
Much of the action is reserved for the second half of the movie, where our heroes arrive at Treasure Inn and get up to all sorts of hijinks before the perfunctory climax. There's a considerable amount of more action in this movie compared to what you would expect in a Wong Jing film, but even with veteran action director Corey Yuen at the helm, the action sequences are nothing to shout about, the wirework plainly obvious. Special effects also feature prominently at the end of the movie, but thankfully, they are considerably well-rendered compared to the awful dud "Future X-Cops".
Rarely, if at all, are Wong Jing movies noted for their performances, and this is no exception. This is Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung's first on screen collaboration after their highly acclaimed "The Stool Pigeon" last year, but their only motivation in this movie seems to be to have a good time with as little effort as possible. Nick Cheung fares better this time round, his egotistical behaviour standing out compared to the utterly bland and forgettable Nicholas Tse here.
But you'd probably already expect as much from watching the countless number of Wong Jing films over his past 30 years in the movie-making business. He's certainly one of the most hardworking Hong Kong filmmakers around, even if he definitely is not one of the best. Still, if it's 'mo lei tau' comedy you're after, Wong Jing delivers just that silly yet amusing entertainment in this latest. It's no treasure, and the whole is no doubt less than the sum of its parts- but the same can be said of every one of his movies, so just go in for the laughs and keep your expectations low.
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 favoritism 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.