Hong Kong/China/South Korea, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 104 mins.
Director: Shin Tae-ra 신태라 | 申太罗.
Routine action-comedy tries to be stylish but ends up formulaic and colourless.
East Asia, the present day. In Tokyo and Singapore, bombs hidden inside cakes go off in buildings owned by the A Hotel Group. In Hong Kong, after messing up an assignment as bodyguards to a foreign boxer (David Ismalone), former Interpol agents-turned-professional bodyguards Wang Boyou (Zhong Hanliang), 38, and his Korean friend Yi San (Yi Min-ho), 28, are summoned to Incheon, South Korea, by Sam (Lorne Oliver), a client who has found an informant among the bomb terrorists. However, the informant has already left for Bangkok and the meeting at Incheon’s A Hotel turns out to be a deadly trap. Following a car chase when Sam is kidnapped, Wang Boyou and Yi San find themselves blamed for this latest bombing. They reluctantly join forces with a group of bounty hunters – led by the independently wealthy Cat (Tang Yan), plus techie Swan (Wu Qianyu) and butler-cum-bodyguard Bobo (Fan Shaohuang) – who have also been blamed for the hotel bombings. Cat says Wang Boyou and Yi San can keep the US$2 million reward as long as she gets to lead the team to clear their names. In Bangkok the group tracks down Sam’s informant, who turns out to be Indian terrorist Purandhri Dhupam (Nopachai Chaiyanam); he says he’s been forced to work with the bombers, as a woman called May (Gim Yu-mi) is holding his girlfriend hostage. Barely escaping from more bombs and assaults, the group takes temporary refuge in the Thai village Lakunbatun. Swan then discovers May is head of security for A Hotel Group and is to accompany the chairman (Shin U-cheol) on a visit to Jeju island, South Korea. The group sets off there for a showdown, and soon discovers that May is working for an unexpected person.
The ensemble chemistry is as weak as the plotting and dialogue in Bounty Hunters 赏金猎人, a formulaic action-comedy capitalising on the popularity in China of South Korea’s Yi Min-ho 이민호 | 李敏镐 – best known for TVDs Boys over Flowers 꽃보다 남자 (2009) and The Heirs 상속者들 (2013) – as well as following through on his manlier image in hit gangster movie Gangnam Blues 강남1970 (2015). Hong Kong’s Zhong Hanliang 钟汉良 [Wallace Chung] has been thrown in for comic relief, along with a handful of Mainlanders and other Hong Kongers to give it the appearance of a Chinese production, but they’re essentially decoration around the big Black Hole of Yi’s non-performance. Routinely directed by South Korea’s Shin Tae-ra 신태라 | 申太罗, who made the stylish splatter-horror Black House 검은집 (2007) but then the lame (though financially successful) spy rom-com My Girlfriend Is an Agent 7급 공무원 (2009), Bounty Hunters is the kind of film that makes a great trailer with all its foreign locations and snappy visuals but is utterly unengaging across 100-or-so minutes.
Though Shin’s crew is virtually 100% Korean – apart from lead writer Huang Zihuan 黄子桓 [Edmond Wong], son of veteran Pegasus producer Huang Baiming 黄百鸣 [Raymond Wong] – the film doesn’t feel or look South Korean at all. In fact, it doesn’t have any clear cultural identity, beyond generic East Asian: the dialogue is a blend of Mandarin and English, with flecks of Korean; the main goodies are international bounty hunters and ex-Interpol agents; Yi’s Korean character speaks only English or Mandarin; and the main baddie turns out to be a metrosexual Korean with orange hair and short trousers who speaks English (and is played by a Mainland Chinese). The deliberate lack of national identity is so pervasive that at one point, when someone speaks Korean directly to Yi’s character, he says he can’t understand the dialect.
All of this wouldn’t matter a jot if the characters were more engaging, or if the film had a genuine sense of fun. But the screenplay – co-written by Shin and Korean TVD writer Gim Gyu-weon 김규원 | 金奎元, plus a small army of Korean adaptors – tries to be smart and witty and just ends up sounding lame, while on-screen the boys spend as much time as the girls posing like fashion plates. The older Zhang, 41, manages to inject some humour here and there but has zero buddy-chemistry with the younger Yi, 29, and only young Pegasus regular Wu Qianyu 吴千语 (Magic to Win 开心魔法, 2011) shows any genuine bubble. Looking uncomfortable, China’s Tang Yan 唐嫣 (MBA Partners 梦想合伙人, 2016; A Chinese Odyssey: Part Three 大话西游3, 2016) leaves most of her usual bubble corked up this time, and also has zero chemistry with the wooden Yi. Hong Kong actor/martial artist Fan Shaohuang 樊少皇 [Louis Fan] mostly stands on the sidelines with big, soulful eyes as the bounty hunters’ muscle guy, while China’s Xu Zhengxi 徐正曦 tries much too hard as the temper-tantrumy villain, looking more like an escapee from the Tiny Times 小时代 films.
On the credit side, the hand-to-hand combat scenes have a visceral whip under South Korean action choreographers Go Hyeon-ung 고현웅 | 高贤雄 and Choi Gwang-rak 최광락 | 崔光洛, but the film contains way too few of them. Editing by Yang Jin-mo 양진모 | 梁进模 is tight and camerawork by Shin’s regular d.p. Choi Ju-yeong 최주영 | 崔炷荣 is functionally good-looking, while the score by Choi Seung-hyeon 최승현 | 崔承铉 shamelessly mines Mission: Impossible for pizzazz. Powered by Yi’s female fans, the film grossed a respectable RMB213 million in China, enough to put a sequel in the works.
Presented by Pegasus Motion Pictures (Hong Kong) (HK), Union Investment Partners (SK), Harmonious Entertainment (Shanghai) (CN), My Pictures Studio (CN). Produced by Pegasus Motion Pictures (Hong Kong) (HK), Harmonious Entertainment (Shanghai) (CN), Starhaus Entertainment (SK).
Script: Huang Zihuan [Edmond Wong], Gim Gyu-weon, Shin Tae-ra. Adaptation: Gim Ji-ho, Choi Yu-jeong, Choi Ju-yeong, Shin Han-seol. Photography: Choi Ju-yeong. Editing: Yang Jin-mo. Music: Choi Seung-hyeon. Art direction: Yang Hong-sam, Ji Hyeon-su. Costumes: Im Seung-heui. Sound: Bak Hyeon-su, Gim Yeong-ho. Action: Go Hyeon-ung, Choi Gwang-rak. Special effects: Yi Heui-gyeong. Visual effects: Son Seung-hyeon, Yi Yin-ho (Digital Idea, Macrograph).
Cast: Yi Min-ho (Yi San), Zhong Hanliang [Wallace Chung] (Wang Boyou/Yo), Tang Yan (Kaidi/Cat), Wu Qianyu (Tianke/Swan), Fan Shaohuang [Louis Fan] (Baobao/Bobo), Xu Zhengxi (Tommy), Gim Yu-mi (Meiyi/May), Gim Min-gyo (Yan Can, Tommy’s Jeju thug), Nopachai Chaiyanam (Purandhri Dhupam), Lorne Oliver (Sam), Shin U-cheol (A Hotel Group chairman), David Ismalone (David Marshall, fighter), Ratchaneeboon Pheinwikraisophon (female reporter).
Release: China, 1 Jul 2016; Hong Kong, tba; South Korea, tba.