The Robbers -- Film Review

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BUSAN, South Korea -- A Tang Dynasty village is the setting for Yang Shupeng's "The Robbers," a confused and mostly pointless action-comedy-drama about two professional thieves unwittingly coming to the defense of a community being harassed by soldiers. Almost anything from Mainland China is a hot property these days, and the presence of star Hu Jun ("Red Cliff," "Lan Yu") could help sell it to art house markets. For the most part, however, this is festival stuff, and not nearly arty enough for some. Anyone looking for the second coming of "Hero" is advised to look elsewhere.

Xue Shi San (Hu Jun) and Chen Liu (Jiang Wu) are partners in crime who show up at Ma Qi's home asking for water. They claim they're passing hunters but eventually show their true thieving colors. As they're about to make off with some booty, a squad of soldiers passes through, and in a bid to save Ma's daughter Luo Niang, from rape, the duo fight them off. Now wanted men, Xue and Chen try to get away but are recaptured in order to be turned over to the next group of soldiers. There are more escape attempts and more debating within the town council such as it is before it's discovered there is indeed honor among thieves, and Xue and Chen lead the villagers in their own defense-which fails miserably.

"The Robbers" swings between comedy, drama, action and romance (Chen falls in love with Luo Niang and tells the story in flashback), never quite settling on any one for any stretch of time. The result is a scattered, disjointed narrative that is unable to pull viewers in, peopled with flat, one-dimensional characters that are hard to empathize with. Many of the themes Yang explores are common to Chinese cinema (loyalty, brotherhood, wealth above all else) and so expectations aren't shaken up on that front. But if Yang has another message it doesn't really come through.

The fight choreography, the cinematography, and the performances all lean toward bland. Hu has been better, and the supporting cast has little more than sketches to work from. And the constant mention of the grandness of the Tang never amounts to much. Nothing about "The Robbers" is incompetent -- it's just average.

Venue -- Pusan International Film Festival -- Midnight Passion

Sales: Infotainment China Media
Production company: Backlight Film
Cast: Hu Jun, Jiang Wu, Lee Lichun
Director: Yang Shupeng
Screenwriter: Yang Shupeng
Producer: Cindy Lin Mi
Director of Photography: Zhou Shuhao
Production Designer: Du Changshun
Music: LV Jiajia
Editor: Fang Lei
No rating, 89 minutes
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