Nearly two decades have passed since Hong Kong director Jingle Ma launched his jet-setting Raiders franchise. But judging by this third installment in the series (which follows the 2006 South Korea-set Seoul Raiders), time has seemingly stood still. Featuring the same leering male protagonist, his photogenic paramour and sidekicks, and a plot revolving around a rogue hacker, the CIA and a computer chip measuring the size of an external hard drive, Europe Raiders parties like it’s still circa 1999. Why bother about 21st century emotionally scarred anti-heroes or the threat of global surveillance when you can entertain audiences with beautiful people running around beautiful Italian cities performing beautifully choreographed spy-jinks?
Still, it’s intriguing to see Tony Leung Chiu-wai reprising his old role in Europe Raiders, and a puzzle why Wong Kar-wai’s Jet Tone Films signed up to co-produce the $26 million film alongside China’s Inlook Media. Though it surged to second place on the Chinese box office charts on its Aug. 17 release with takings of $14.1 million, the film’s gross swiftly spiraled down, adding only $5.4 million more over opening weekend. It opens in Leung’s hometown Hong Kong on Thursday, followed by Singapore on Aug. 30.
While it’s perhaps wide of the mark to expect Ma to incorporate Jason Bourne nuances or Edward Snowden exposés into his comical cinematic universe, it’s useful to remember how things have moved on even in the world of espionage-heist action comedies since the director ransacked Hong Kong and Asian markets with Tokyo Raiders in 2000. That was a time when Hong Kong was inundated with “high-tech” crime thrillers like Gen-X Cops and the revival of the cynical “girls with guns” subgenre, while internationally an old-school Bond was still smirking over his conquests in The World Is Not Enough and Charlie’s Angels was considered the epitome of Girl Power.
It’s obvious that exotic backdrops, lavish wardrobes and scintillating pyrotechnics are no longer enough to launch Europe Raiders with a new generation of viewers. The film’s passé premise is further deadened by a weak story and script. Even the bankable Leung has lost the sparkle that ignited the earlier Raiders films many years ago. As shown by his two recent botched stabs at comedy in See You Tomorrow and Monster Hunt 2, the actor’s efforts to reconnect to his 1980s comic roots have been fraught with difficulty.
Unfolding largely in Italy — mostly Milan — Europe Raiders revolves around Lin Zaifeng (Leung), a private eye who, in the prologue of the pic, crashes into a house and fights off thugs to rescue a computer scientist (veteran Hong Kong actor-singer George Lam), known simply as The Wind Listener. When the film proper begins, more than a decade has passed and the scientist is already dead. He has left behind his legacy, the “Hand of God,” a computer program which will allow the CIA to wreak havoc around the world.
But when the mugging spy chiefs try to launch the Hand of God, the system breaks down and the crucial computer chip is discovered missing. This, it turns out, is the handiwork of Sophie (played by Chinese supermodel and actress Du Juan, American Dreams in China), a hacker working undercover at the agency who happens to be The Wind Listener’s daughter. Desperate to wrestle control back, the agency tries but fails to get the semi-retired Lin on board to recover the chip. It’s only when the Americans turn to Wang Chaoying (Tiffany Tang, Bounty Hunters) that Lin suavely steps up to the bat, ready to fire up some onscreen chemistry with his girlfriend-turned-rival.
The Italian runaround begins with Lin and Wang trying to track Sophie down with the help of their underlings and the hacker’s younger brother Rocky (Kris Wu, Journey to the West: the Demon Strikes Back). The whole charade is simply a backdrop to the Mr. and Mrs. Smith-like sparring between Lin and Wang, with Lin’s condescending superiority over his ditzy partner never in question. Their first meeting involves Lin asking Wang to smile and flash her cleavage as he watches her from a surveillance camera — a meet-cute which sets the tone of Europe Raiders, all the way down to Wang’s being the only one not in the know about the spectacular con unfolding around her.
The big reveal cancels most of the tension and drama that goes before. But then again, Europe Raiders seems less focused on logic than on pleasurable sensations, as Ma (who also serves as his own DP), his designers and his action choreographer Han Guanhua concoct a relentless dream of fights and crashes. They have certainly succeeded in raiding the vaults of Hong Kong cinema for its most entertaining bits, even if they have sadly overlooked the fact that the world has moved on from vintage.
Production companies: Jet Tone Films, Inlook Media
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Tiffany Tang, Kris Wu, Du Juan, George Lam
Director: Jingle Ma
Screenwriters: Xiao Peng
Producer: Jackie Pang
Executive producers: Jackie Pang, Chen Xiangrong, Lee Kwok-hing
Director of photography: Jingle Ma
Costume designer: Yee Chung-man, Doris Ng, Crystal Pa
Music: Peter Kam
Editing: Cheung Ka-fai
Sales: Jet Tone Films
In Mandarin/Cantonese, English and Italian