Director: Shin Tae-Ra
Producer: Raymond Wong
Cast: Lee Min-ho, Wallace Chung, Tiffany Tang, Jeremy Xu, Karena Ng, Fan Siu-Wong, Yang Mi
Running Time: 105 min.
By Paul Bramhall
In 2016 China continued its mission to create a watchable Hollywood style action blockbuster, and this time they’ve called in some help to back them up. Bounty Hunters is produced by Hong Kong based Raymond Wong, and perhaps sensing that leaving such a blockbuster in local hands could result in something that resembles a sequel to Switch, the directorial reigns have been given to Korean Shin Tae-ra. The director behind such middle-of-the-road Korean action comedies like My Girlfriend is an Agent and Runway Cop, Tae-ra may not be a hot ticket to success, but his background does make him an obvious choice to helm a globe-trotting action adventure.
Tae-ra isn’t the only Korean influence in Bounty Hunters though, with Lee Min-ho also coming on-board as co-lead alongside Chinese actor Wallace Chung. Min-ho is known for his handsome looks, and in most of his career has arguably been cast in many a Korean TV drama because of them, which has resulted in him having a huge fan-base not only locally, but also in China. However his previous movie role, as the lead in 2014’s Gangnam Blues, proved him to be more than just screen candy, with a convincingly gritty performance that also allowed him to show off his action chops.
As mentioned Min-ho is paired with Wallace Chung, and in Bounty Hunters they play a pair of slacker bodyguards. Both used to be agents for Interpol, but due to the usual story of a mission gone wrong, they were dismissed, and now run their own agency to provide their services to those who need protection. The pair are hired to protect an informant, who has information on a terrorist responsible for blowing up hotels across Asia, however when things go wrong and the informant is compromised, they end up in the cross-hairs of a pair of female bounty hunters, played by Tiffany Tang and Karena Ng. Oh, and their gay butler played by Fan Siu-Wong.
If that last line seems a little out of place compared to the rest of the plot description, then let me further adjust expectations, that it’s the last line which represents the tone of Bounty Hunters more than anything else written. It may not reach the towering badness of Switch (and none of the actors have apologised yet for appearing in it), however this has more to do with it having a marginally shorter run time than anything related to the move itself. Bounty Hunters is the kind of bad movie that only China seems capable of making, the type of bad movie ear marked by the ridiculously high budget that’s been thrown at it, and the ridiculously low level of talent tasked with making it.
Illogical decision making and incoherent story telling are the orders of the day, built around a script that was probably written on the back of a coaster by a chimp. At one point Min-ho and Chung check into a hotel room with the informant, and find a cake waiting for them on the table. Identifying that it’s a bomb, instead of attempting to dispose of it, they simply leave it in the room and calmly vacate the hotel, leaving it to go off and wipe out who knows how many innocent lives. There are countless more examples. As they’re witnessed with the informant, the pair end up as suspects behind the bombings, however not once do they ever run into any cops or law enforcement during the whole run-time. This might be 1% plausible if they remain in Hong Kong, however the fact that they then then travel unhindered to Tokyo in Japan, Incheon and Jeju Island in Korea, and Bangkok in Thailand, doesn’t just demand that you leave you brain at the door, it assumes you never had one if the first place.
Let’s talk about Fan Siu-Wong. He must have had a gun held to his head to appear in this, either that, or work must be really scarce for talented martial artists in 2016. Siu-Wong has long been one of the most underrated martial arts stars of Hong Kong cinema, and never really got the break he deserved, partly due to what he blames on his decision to star in 1992’s hyper-violent Story of Ricky. While this may be true, whatever movies he does appear in are usually brightened up by his kung-fu skills and likeable presence. Not so here. In the role of Tang’s heiress characters gay butler, he has precisely zero action scenes (unless you count displaying some shapes work to open motion sensor curtains). Instead, he’s reduced to being a personal fashion assistant to Min-ho and Chung when they go on a shopping trip, acts as everyone’s waiter, and pines after Min-ho.
Min-ho himself doesn’t fare much better. It becomes apparent from the moment the movie starts that he’s there to bring in his large female fan-base, and little else. His job is to look pretty, and to that end he performs it well. Even when he’s been involved in a high impact car crash, he emerges out of it with cuts that look pretty. To ensure a tone of glaring predictability is maintained, a romance develops between Min-ho and Tang, which brings the male and female bounty hunters together. The pair share a scene tied up and locked in the trunk of a car together, clearly trying to recreate the similar scene of sexual tension that George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez performed so well in Out of Sight. However they have a non-existent chemistry, and instead the scene is embarrassing and awkward to watch, even more so than the rest of the movie.
As a villain of the piece, Chinese actor Jeremy Xu is an irritating failure. Sporting orange hair and suit shorts, his reasoning behind blowing up the hotels relates to his rich parent issues, and is about as threatening as he sounds. That is, not at all. His character talks a lot, jumps and screams even more, and constantly refers to the explosions that he watches from nearby vantage points as ‘fireworks’. No matter how much of the script is taken up by his inane ramblings though, the fact is orange hair and suit shorts don’t amount to a worthy villain, and it’s impossible to ascertain how anyone involved in the production thought otherwise.
There is action in Bounty Hunters, it is after all an action comedy, and most of it goes to Min-ho, most likely for no other reason than to appeal to the audience that are watching it for his presence. The action scenes are brief, but manage to maintain a degree of competency. One particular sequence has him taking on a room full of suited attackers, which thanks to some camera trickery gives the illusion of being filmed in a single shot, and the usual wire-assisted high kicks are present and accounted for as well. Tang doesn’t fare so well, as she cuts such a slight figure that it’s impossible to believe there’s any degree of power behind her blows, with it instead falling upon the stuntmen to make their reactions and falls look convincing.
As a comedy, it fares much worse. The scenes that involve characters speaking English invoke laughter for all the wrong reasons, thanks both to the actor’s delivery and the lines themselves, which have blatantly been written by a non-English speaker. However the intentional comedy is a write off. Several scenes aim to derive their laughs from the use of a stun gun, usually involving one of the bounty hunters threatening to use it, in a way that will have the others being caught in its range. However watching a group of grown-ups having spasms and twitching on the floor in a ‘comedic’ manner wasn’t funny in the first scenario, so when the same joke is recycled for a second time, it’s just lazy. The procrastination that takes place in these scenes, almost as if Tae-ra is imagining the audience settling down from their side splitting laughter before delivering the punch line, is equally as painful to watch.
The problem with these big budget Mainland China movies is that, even if every review reaches the same conclusion that they’re terrible, local audiences still flock to see them. It happened with Switch, and it will happen here as well. Lee Min-ho is in it, so that factor in itself brings a built-in guaranteed audience. It’s a smart business case which will likely ensure a return on investment, but as a legitimate piece of filmmaking it’s a soulless exercise, as incompetently made as it is glossy. For those wondering what kind of movie would have a final scene that contains Fan Siu-Wong attempting to French kiss Lee Min-ho while straddling him, then you’ve come to the right place, for everyone else, steer well clear.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 2/10