Hong Kong/China, 2011, colour, 2.35:1, 93 mins.
Director: Wang Jing 王晶 [Wong Jing].
Above-average Wang Jing [Wong Jing] production with a varied cast and some good action.
White Horse Town, ancient China, central region. Lao Ba (Zhang Jiahui) and skilled martial artist Young Master Gong (Xie Tingfeng) are two lowly policeman working as cooks and laundrymen in the local goverment residence. They both dream of becoming top-ranking Gold Constables of the Imperial Justice Ministry. Following a mass murder at the Zhang family mansion, and the theft of a large White Jade Goddess of Mercy statue hidden there, Gong works out there were five killers. But after presenting his findings to Gold Constable Tie Wuqing (He Jiajin) and his associate Zhu San (Zheng Xiaodong), he’s not allowed to join the investigation. Instead, Gong and Lao Ba are thrown in prison, and only escape execution thanks to two con artists, Fire Dragon Lady (Huang Yi) and Water Dragon Lady (Cai Zhuoyan), who run a scam claiming fake rewards. Water Dragon falls for Gong, and Fire Dragon tells them there’s only place where the statue can be – the desert-bound Treasure Inn, run by famed dancer Yu Linglong (Liu Yang), who organises a gathering of buyers of rare artifacts every mid-autumn. En route, the four meet up with young medical student-cum-martial artist Wen Wenqie (Tong Dawei), who’s also going to Treasure Inn to see his beloved Yu Linglong, and helps stave off an attack by two of the killers, Nine-Tailed Fox (Pan Shuangshuang) and Tang Ao (Tang Weicheng). They also bump into Tie Wuqing and Zhu San, who have worked out that the killers were led by the notorious Jin Bu Er (Yuan De). Everyone arrives at Treasure Inn as the buyers assemble. But then a violent sandstorm seals off the place, and on his way to claim the statue is a general, Red Dragon (Huang Yonggang), who originally hired Jin Bu Er to get the statue, stolen from his family.
The more ambitious of two escapist movies shot by prolific Hong Kong producer-director Wang Jing 王晶 [Wong Jing] in China last year , Treasure Inn 财神客栈, released before Treasure Hunt 无价之宝 this summer , is a well-shot costume martial arts comedy that’s way above Wang’s usual quickie standards. Starting out like a typical silly-arse jape, with stars Xie Tingfeng 谢霆锋 [Nicholas Tse] and an almost unrecognisable Zhang Jiahui 张家辉 [Nick Cheung] (with top-knot and rabbit teeth) larking around as two lowly imperial cops on kitchen duty, it finally morphs into a surprisingly enjoyable action romp set in that old staple of a remote inn full of heroes and villains.
Since his last Mainland excursion, Future X-Cops 未来警察 (2010), Wang has considerably raised his production stakes. Special effects by South Korea’s Kinomotive Studio are much improved this time round; costume designs by Wu Baoling 吴宝玲 [Bobo Ng] and the inn set by Chen Zizhong 陈子仲 are both characterful; the symphonic score by Huang Yinghua 黄英华 [Raymond Wong Ying-wah] is attentive; and the photography by versatile d.p. Jiang Guomin 姜国民 [Venus Keung] (So Close 夕阳天使, 2002; Seven Swords 七剑, 2005; Its Love 白蛇传说, 2011) makes good use of shadowy interiors.
The main weakness, apart from a bored-looking performance by Xie that stands out a mile, is Wang’s script, which is heavy on exposition during the 40-minute pre-inn section and is playful but not often very funny, lacking in comic rhythm. The film’s main strength is the frequent and inventively staged action by veteran Yuan Kui 元奎 [Corey Yuen] that makes good use of a cast that’s light on actual martial artists, apart from Yuan De 元德 and Wu Yunlong 伍允龙 [Philip Ng] in supporting roles.
Aside from Xie, the varied Hong Kong and Mainland cast is strong. On the latter side, actress Huang Yi 黄奕, who’s since stepped up impressively into a lead role in action-drama The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake 竞雄女侠秋瑾 (2011), manages to throw Hong Kong’s rather subdued Cai Zhuoyan 蔡卓妍 [Charlene Choi] into the shade most of the time; Mainland “football model” Pan Shuangshuang 潘霜霜 has some sexy fun with a power-wave pipa; and even Tong Dawei 佟大为 is bearable as a lovelorn sap in his scenes with the feisty inn manageress of Liu Yang 刘洋. Of the remaining Hong Kongers, He Jiajin 何家劲, from TV drama, shows impressive screen presence as a Gold Constable with a mission. Treasure Inn doesn’t pretend to be a super-blockbuster, but it’s better than okay most of the time.
Presented by Bona Film & TV Entertainment (CN), Beijing Bona Film & TV Culture Commication (CN). Produced by Mega-Vision Pictures (HK).
Script: Wang Jing [Wong Jing]. Photography: Jiang Guomin [Venus Keung]. Editing: Li Jiarong. Music: Huang Yinghua [Raymond Wong Ying-wah]. Art direction: Chen Zizhong. Costume design: Wu Baoling [Bobo Ng]. Costumes: Guan Meibao. Action: Yuan Kui [Corey Yuen]. Visual effects: Kinomotive Studio.
Cast: Zhang Jiahui [Nick Cheung] (Lao Ba/Brad), Xie Tingfeng [Nicholas Tse] (Young Master Gong), Tong Dawei (Wen Wenqie), Cai Zhuoyan [Charlene Choi] (Water Dragon Lady), Huang Yi (Fire Dragon Lady), Liu Yang (Yu Linglong, inn manageress), He Jiajin (Tie Wuqing, chief Gold Constable), Wu Yunlong [Philip Ng] (Yu Feng, killer), Pan Shuangshuang (Nine-Tailed Fox, killer), Zheng Xiyi (Tiger Baby, inn waitress), Zheng Xiaodong (Zhu San, Tie’s associate), Tang Weicheng (Tang Ao, killer), Yuan De (Jin Bu Er), Mo Meilin (Zhan Feilong), Huang Yonggang (Red Dragon, general), Na Wei (county official), Zheng Yitong (county official’s wife), Sun Xiaofei (Lanlan, inn waitress), Sun Changjiang (Tong Tianpeng, buyer at inn), Huang Xiaolan (Hibiscus).
Release: Hong Kong, 23 Jun 2011; China, 28 Jun 2011.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 29 Nov 2011.)