Next up we have something a little more “Family Friendly”, a Chinese-backed, but very much in the style of old school Hong Kong Cinema, Martial Arts Action-Adventure, with a pretty good and interesting cast. Would it be enough to sate my desire for some good old chock-socky whilst giving a fun all round cinematic experience? Or would it fail dismally, showing us that you really cannot go back?
In “Wu Dang” Indiana Jones style Professor Tang (Vincent Zhao) uncovers a fake sword being sold to an old friend by a Gangster. Fake it may be, but hidden inside the box is a treasure map containing the location of 7 mystical items. For reasons that are not clear until much later on in the film, he sets up a fake Martial Arts tournament in the Wu Dang region where these treasures are hidden, and travels with his young daughter Nig (Josie Xu) to the mountain based location. Also making her way there is Tianxin (Mini Yang) who is after one of the treasures in particular, and fakes her way into the competition so she can hunt it down. Tang and Tianxin fight and flirt and eventually join forces, whilst young Ning takes part in the competition. She meets a trainee monk called Shui Heiyi (Louis Fan) with whom she starts some kind of rather creepy romance (more on this later) with both being rather forcefully egged on by his sick Mother. The tournament is overseen by senior Monk Bailong (Dennis To), who has also the task on keeping a tab on those relic robbers, though that moustache he is sporting may well give you a hint that something else may well be going on.
The film starts of rather well, with a pretty decent action sequence between Vincent Zhao and the gangsters. Poor Vincent Zhao has never really been anything more than a cheap alternative to Jet Li, and given his latest trouble with Donnie Yen, this isn’t going to change any time soon. He does a reasonable job, but to be honest his role is rather unexceptionally written and he doesn’t have much to do than look rather sage and cool most of the time. Mini Yang isn’t really much of a fighter, but she does what she can, and luckily her personality makes her character probably the most interesting. Young Josie Xu is utterly miscast here (I’m sorry, but her Martial Arts suck), but luckily in her other scenes she shows she is still an actress of which great things are going to happen.
There is one other pretty good action sequence near the end of the film, but on the whole, even the influence of Corey Yuen can’t rescue the utterly anodyne and frankly pointless competition part of this film. In fact, I have no idea what role in the story it really takes, as none of the main protagonists even need to be there for it.
It is written pretty clumsily too, with the “big bad” being revealed far too late, his motivations are unclear (and to be perfectly honest, he could have done this all himself without 90 minutes of people doing it for him). The gangsters from the opening sequence are also re-introduced in the final reel, but again, it is too late, and they serve no real purpose to the story.
Then we have the Creepy Romance. As I write this Louis Fan in 39. Josie Xu is 15. If this film was probably made a year ago, then it just gets worse. In a film that is very much garnered to a family audience, this pretty much goes beyond icky. It’s credit to the actors that actually their scenes together are probably the most enjoyable, they at least have some chemistry, but surely everybody involved in the film could see jus how wrong this was?
The other thing is that over the course of the film, at least 4 people die. 3 of them are pretty much called dead by characters on the screen. And every single one of them is revived, not 30 seconds after their last rites should have been performed. I’m afraid this kind of lazy writing is exactly what is wrong with this film – you can attempt to channel all the old time charm you want, but if the story is just stupid and badly put together, it can’t be rescued.
So what we have here is a film that is not the sum of its parts. The cast is pretty good, and for the most part everyone does a decent job. The real problem is that the story is humdrum, and that the various elements are put together in an uninspired and unoriginal way. It fails to inspire either as some kind of fun throwback to the Hong Kong action films of the 80’s and 90’s, as it is just too straight-laced. Production values, whilst not fabulous, are decent, but it lacks the fun, wit and occasional surrealism that was part of the films it aches to be. It also fails as a family film, because frankly it is just too boring, and there is that uncomfortable match-making.
It is also a hard one to rate on my normal scale, as it isn’t so terrible that it should get an avoid, but I can’t find myself ever recommending it to anyone. So let me just call it Mildly Diverting.