Hong Kong/China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 108 mins.
Director: Feng Delun 冯德伦 [Stephen Fung].
Conventional super-thieves-in-Europe caper, with the cast phoning in the computer-generated script.
France, the present day. After a robbery at the Louvre of The Eye of the Forest, Zhang Dan (Liu Dehua) is captured by detective Pierre (Jean Reno) after a long chase but the jewel is not recovered. Along with The Wings of Destiny and The Rope of Life, it makes up the priceless necklace Gaia, a 17th-century gift from Spain to China that was later broken up and smuggled out of the country. Five years later Pierre is waiting when Zhang Dan leaves Fresnes prison, south of Paris, but Zhang Dan gives him the slip, flying by helicopter to Cannes, where he joins his younger partner, Taiwan super-hacker Chen Xiaobao (Yang Youning), 28, and a new partner, super-thief/driver Ye Hong (Shu Qi), to steal The Wings of Destiny from the Grand Hotel Cannes, where it’s being auctioned by Chinese actress Tingting (You Tianyi). Despite the last-minute arrival of Pierre, the robbery is successful. Afterwards, Ye Hong says she’d like to work regularly with Zhang Dan but he says it was his last case; he plans to marry his fiancee, international art expert Amber (Zhang Jingchu), who wants him to give up the business. Pierre asks Amber’s help in tracking down Zhang Dan and she reluctantly agrees; she says The Rope of Life is in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, in Prague, Zhang Dan checks in with his boss, Jin Gang (Zeng Zhiwei), who tells him it was Amber who tipped the police off about the Louvre robbery. Zhang Dan asks Jin Gang for one more job on which to end his career – The Rope of Life necklace. Amber meets Zhang Dan and tells him she’s working for the police; he tells her to stay away from him. He invites back Ye Hong to join him and Chen Xiaobao in stealing The Rope of Life, whose owner, wealthy Mainland businessman Luo Chali (Sha Yi), has it under high-tech security at his wine-making chateau outside Prague.
Five years after the over-bloated and very iffy costume action dramas Taichi Zero 太极1 从零开始 (2012) and Taichi Hero 太极2 英雄崛起 (2012), Hong Kong actor-director Feng Delun 冯德伦 [Stephen Fung], 43, finally returns to the director’s chair for his sixth feature, The Adventurers 侠盗联盟, one of those breezy heist capers where Chinese super-thieves jaunt around upscale foreign locations. Apart from his Shanghai-set dance drama Jump 跳出去 (2009), all of Feng’s features as a director have been fluffy crime/action comedies, with his first, Enter the Phoenix 大佬爱美丽 (2004), still the best. Adventurers continues the line, playing like a mash-up of every foreign-set Chinese crime caper of the past 25 years, with a name cast dutifully clocking in and a script seemingly generated by a computer programme. Mainland audiences were robbed to the tune of a solid RMB235 million.
Initially publicised as a very free re-make of Once a Thief by Wu Yusen 吴宇森 [John Woo] – Wu’s longtime producer Zhang Jiazhen 张家振 [Terence Chang] is even on the credits, under his new Mannix Pictures banner – it turns out to have nothing in common with the 1991 film, apart a French setting and a thieving threesome. Set in France, the Czech Republic and Ukraine – but actually shot only in the first two countries – it centres on Zhang Dan, a middle-aged super-thief who does five years in a French prison for stealing a jewel from the Louvre, immediately commits another robbery with his team of two, plans a third (near Prague) for his swan song, and surfs various betrayals by his nearest and dearest.
Now 55, Hong Kong’s Liu Dehua 刘德华 [Andy Lau] recycles his likeable, super-criminal persona honed over several decades and is still convincing in the action bits; as always, Taiwan’s Shu Qi 舒淇, 41, aka Mrs. Feng, looks fabulous, as if she’s just wandered on set and is winging it; her wooden younger compatriot Yang Youning 杨祐宁, 34, shows occasional hints of personality as a virginal super-hacker; Hong Kong veteran Zeng Zhiwei 曾志伟 [Eric Tsang] phones in a giggling super-criminal; Mainland actress Zhang Jingchu 张静初, 37, mostly looks confused by her role of a loyal/disloyal fiancee, and doesn’t get to do any action stuff or have much fun; while fellow Mainlander Sha Yi 沙溢, 39, as a suave businessman, has much more fun flirting with Shu’s pretend journalist. As the cop on Zhang Dan’s tail, veteran French actor Jean Reno, 69, tends to stands there while the thieves are running rings round him or occasionally screams “You’re being robbed!” at various victims. Though the film was shot in Mandarin (with Liu and Zeng voicing themselves), a big chunk of the dialogue is in laughable English constructed from crime-movie cliches; only Zhang gives a good account of her English lines.
If it all sounds terribly familiar, that’s because it is. The Adventurers is painless on a throwaway level but with a cast and locations like these it could have been so much better (and classier). The depressing thing is that no one seems to have cared, probably because they’re mostly from a generation that grew up with or invented such films: Hong Kong film-makers have been getting away with the formula for over a quarter of a century, so why change? Even the camera angles in the action sequences are the same.
On a technical level, the film is consistently slick and good-looking, with resonant, varied photography by US d.p. Shane Hurlbut, who shot the first series of US TV drama Into the Badlands (2015- ) on which Feng is a producer and action director. Music by Finland’s Tuomas Kantelinen is standard genre fare, with whooping horns and Bond-like sonorities, while editing by Hong Kong veteran Lin An’er 林安儿 [Angie Lam] keeps things moving. Location connoisseurs will be amused to see Karlovy Vary’s famed Grandhotel Pupp – last seen as the “Hotel Splendide” in “Montenegro” in Casino Royale (2006) – now posing as the “Grand Hotel Cannes”.
Presented by Gravity Pictures Film Production (CN), Flagship Entertainment Group Hong Kong (HK), China Film (CN), Infinitus Entertainment (HK), Shanghai Alibaba Pictures (CN), Media Asia Distribution (Beijing) (CN). Produced by Mannix Pictures (HK), Infinitus Entertainment (HK), Gravity Pictures Film Production (CN).
Script: Feng Delun [Stephen Fung], Luo Yaohui, Zhang Zhiguang, Ha Zhichao, Huang Xiaozhuang. Photography: Shane Hurlbut. Editing: Lin An’er [Angie Lam], Joel Cox. Music: Tuomas Kantelinen. Art direction: Guillaume Amosse. Costume design: Zhang Shihong [Silver Cheung], Luo Peisha. Sound: Tomáš Bělohradský, Dhanarat Dhitirojana, Sarunyu Nurnsai, Kaikangwol Rungsintorn. Visual effects: He Wenzhi.
Cast: Liu Dehua [Andy Lau] (Zhang Dan), Shu Qi (Ye Hong/Red), Zhang Jingchu (Amber), Yang Youning (Chen Xiaobao), Jean Reno (Pierre), Eric Tsang (Jin Gang/Kong), Sha Yi (Luo Chali/Charlie), You Tianyi (Tingting), Zhang Yiqun (Demon), Karel Dobrý (Yelyuk).
Release: Hong Kong, 24 Aug 2017; China, 11 Aug 2017.