'Bounty Hunters': Film Review

Bounty Hunters Still 1 - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Pegasus Motion Pictures

Bounty Hunters Still 1 - Publicity - H 2016

The year’s most forgettable action-comedy so far.

Korean action-comedy helmer Shinterra brings together a roster of emerging regional stars for a pan-Asian cyber romp.

No conventional stone is left unturned and no cliché in the book is left by the wayside in South Korean hack action-comedy director Shinterra’s (sometimes credited as Shin Terra, Terra Shin or Shin Tae-ra) latest, Bounty Hunters, a Hong Kong-Korea-China co-production scientifically engineered for maximum regional appeal. Sadly, the filmmakers forgot to engineer a script.

Best known for throwaway but entertaining romps like Runaway Cop and My Girlfriend Is an Agent, Shinterra and writers Edmond Wong (Donnie Yen’s Ip Man trilogy) and Kim Kyu-won are clearly trying to recreate the goofy globetrotting fun of John Woo’s Once a Thief and Choi Dong-hoon’s The Thieves, but neither Bounty Hunters’ comedy, performances or story are amusing or inventive enough to achieve those goals. The film could garner limited attention during the summer, when this type of fare plays best, in the three markets that will guarantee its release, but beyond that its prospects in Asia-Pacific are minimal at best. Select overseas markets might take a gamble on the shiny glamor pic, if only to have an option during a slow week. That said, it’s ideal airplane fare. 

Bounty Hunters starts in Tokyo with a bombing at a luxury hotel, one of a chain that is evidently being targeted by terrorists. The next stop is Hong Kong, where we meet former Interpol (again with the Interpol) partners and current bodyguards Yo (Wallace Chung, Drug War, Monster Hunt) and Lee San (Lee Min-ho, Gangnam Blues) as they try and connect with their next client, a persecuted journalist. Then it’s off to Seoul, Bangkok and finally resort-y Jeju Island off Korea’s south coast (strangely Shanghai does not make an appearance). Along the way, the duo meets bounty hunter team leader Cat (Tang Yan, Assembly), her hacker partner Swan (relative newcomer Karena Ng) and Bobo (martial arts star Louis Fan, Ip Man), the multitasking butler/stylist/hitter.

While on the road to the final showdown with Tommy (Jeremy Jones Xu, Kung Fu Angels), the megalomaniacal Big Bad Possessed of an Evil Laugh — who is bombing the hotels his father founded because he was left out of the will (maybe?) — Bounty Hunters checks off every box this kind of entertainment could possibly have. Potential love interests getting “stuck” together at kissing distance? Check. Escape from fiery death by jumping out a window into a hotel pool many floors below? Check. Heroes with tragic and/or more benevolent backstories than they let on? Unlikely allies in former adversaries? Hilarious (totally not) gay panic moment? Check, check and check.

The entire insipid affair is further hampered by limp, uncommitted performances. Lee, so good in Gangnam Blues, struggles to make the one-note, reticent Lee San feel more substantial than a surly high schooler, and Chung’s endless mugging and “comedic” inappropriateness is exhausting. Tang is unconvincing as a badass bounty hunter and spends most of her time literally modeling fashionable crime-fighting ensembles. Ng is the hacker, so her character development amounts to wearing odd clothes and typing faster than is humanly possible as she pulls up multiple screens showing classified documents. Only Fan seems to be having some self-aware fun as the multitalented Bobo. Admittedly they get no help from prosaic technical work, action directors Ko Hyun-woong and Choi Kwan-grak’s bland, uninspired fight scenes and unremarkable chases or from a bad dub, presumably to match each market’s language. Like Europe, it’s not unusual for anyone in Asia to speak several regional languages, and the film would have been less awkward had it embraced that pattern and let the actors speak — and act — for themselves.

Production companies: Pegasus Motion Pictures, Union Investment Partners, Harmonious Entertainment (Shanghai) Limited, Starhaus Entertainment
Cast: Lee Min-ho, Wallace Chung, Tang Yan, Karena Ng, Louis Fan, Jeremy Jones Xu
Director: Shinterra
Screenwriter: Edmond Wong, Kim Kyu-won, Shinterra
Producer: Raymond Wong
Executive producer: Edmond Wong,
Lee Jea Woo, Jerry Xi, Xiu Xiaoyong
Director of photography: Choi Ju-young
Production designer: Yang Hong-sam
Costume designer: Lim Seung-hee
Editor: Yang Jin-mo
Music: Choi Seung-hyun
World sales: Pegasus Motion Pictures

In Cantonese dubbed version

Not rated, 115 minutes