Director: Stephen Fung
Producer: Andy Lau, Stephen Fung
Cast: Andy Lau, Shu Qi, Zhang Jingchu, Tony Yang, Jean Reno, Eric Tsang, Sha Yi, You Tianyi, Zhang Yiqun
Running Time: 107 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Much like the classic 1989 triad movie, Casino Raiders, 2017’s The Adventurers opens with Andy Lau being released from prison after serving his time. However The Adventurers is not a remake of Casino Raiders, nor is it a remake of Ringo Lam’s 1995 production of the same name, which also starred Lau. Instead, director Stephen Fung’s latest production is a re-imagining of John Woo’s Once a Thief. The same scorn that comes with any news of a John Woo title being re-made was largely spared for The Adventurers, most likely due to the fact that for many, Once a Thief was a surprisingly light and breezy effort from the master of heroic bloodshed. Made in-between Bullet in the Head and Hard Boiled, even today many fans dismiss it as an anomaly in Woo’s filmography, despite its many strengths.
With The Adventurers, director Fung doesn’t so much opt for a straight up remake, but rather takes many of those strengths from the original, and uses them to craft a thematically similar tale for a modern audience. Replacing the trio of thieves which consisted of Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung, and Cherie Chung, is Andy Lau, Yo Yang, and Shu Qi. Notably, The Adventurers was the last movie that Lau completed before suffering a serious pelvic injury, when he was thrown off a horse while shooting a commercial in Thailand during January 2017. It also marks the first time for Stephen Fung and Shu Qi to work together since tying the knot in September 2016. Despite being billed as a remake of Once a Thief though, the influence which looms largest over The Adventurers is Tom Cruise’s latter day entries in the Mission: Impossible series, with Lau’s suave thief armed with an array of gadgets and devices to assist him in pulling off a heist.
Indeed for those familiar with Hong Kong cinema, just like Lau spent most of the late 80’s and early 90’s as a triad youth, so in recent years he seems to be constantly cast in roles which see him as a kind of Chinese 007. From Switch, to Mission Milano, and now The Adventurers, his character is one that’s been seen many times before, and brings nothing new to the table in his latest outing. The same could be applied to Shu Qi, who’s sassy thief feels equal parts the identical character she played in 2005’s Seoul Raiders, mixed with Jeon Ji-hyeon’s cat burglar from Korea’s The Thieves. However what can’t be argued is that both Lau and Qi have charisma to spare, and Fung seems to know it, sometimes allowing proceedings to coast along based solely on the fact they’re onscreen together. As a result, Taiwanese actor Yo Yang often seems to fade into the background, as he struggles to bring the same level of screen presence that his older co-stars effortlessly pull off.
The Adventurers certainly marks the biggest production Fung has worked on to date. After making his directorial debut with 2004’s Enter the Phoenix, here he’s back in the director’s chair for the first time since Tai Chi Zero and Tai Chi Hero, made 5 years earlier. The direction is confident, and the French locales are taken full advantage of, providing plenty of gorgeous backdrops (complimented by a seemingly permanent blue sky) for the trios thieving shenanigans to take place against. The casting of Jean Reno is also used well, here starring in his 2nd heist flick of 2017 (the first being the local French production Family Heist), as a weary cop determined to prove that Lau hasn’t gone straight since being released. He even gets behind the wheel for a car chase through the streets of Cannes, which for many will no doubt bring back happy memories of John Frankenheimer’s classic, Ronin.
However for all the gloss and high production values that The Adventurers comes with, as events progress through its 1:45 hour runtime, certain cracks begin to show that are difficult to be ignored. The real plot can essentially be described as Lau trying to figure out who it was that sold him out 5 years earlier, leading to his incarceration, after stealing a piece of jewellery that would allow for a priceless necklace to be complete. However it’s rarely the focus of what’s taking place onscreen, with large swathes of screen-time given to Jean Reno and Zhang Jing-Chu, who plays Lau’s estranged fiancé (and who also played his wife in Switch), and Lau and his teams plans to steal a component of the necklace from a Chinese wine merchant, played by Sha Yi.
The significant downside of this is that, while The Adventurers opens strongly and maintains a brisk pace throughout, by the time the finales comes around, the stakes don’t feel any higher than they were at the beginning. Somewhere along the way the task of building up tension, and making sure that there’s something truly meaningful on the line, was lost amongst the pretty scenery, impressively rendered CGI robotic spiders, and Mission: Impossible style sleights of hand. Going hand in hand with this issue, is the fact that none of the characters really develop from the time they’re introduced. Sure there are the standard double crosses and (blatantly telegraphed) reveals that are expected from the genre, but Lau in particular is missing any real arc that allows us to feel that we’ve shared a journey with him.
Of course the same could be said for plenty of Hong Kong action movies from the golden age, however they were usually bolstered (the original Once a Thief included) by outlandish set pieces and high impact stuntwork, factors that often made even the sloppiest storyline forgivable. While The Adventurers isn’t sloppy, it does make several stumbles, and the fact that there are no standout action scenes to punctuate the runtime makes them all the more glaring. Once a Thief may not have contained Woo’s trademark blood squib filled bullet ballets, but it still provided plenty of his undeniable flair for action. In 2017 Fung may have a high enough budget for decent CGI and a polished look, but that flair is missing, and the lack of any real set piece to hinge everything on makes the final stretch feel a little plodding. Fung needed a Burj Khalifa, or even a pack of razor sharp playing cards and a fishing rod, but things stay a little too restrained.
It is worth mentioning that, with large portions of The Adventurers being spoken in English, the majority of the cast acquaint themselves very well with a language that isn’t there own. There are no cringe inducing moments such as those found in Bounty Hunters and Lupin the Third, with Zhang Jing-Chu in particular delivering her lines almost as if she was a native speaker. I think the last time English was so competently used in a Hong Kong movie was most likely Ringo Lam’s Undeclared War from 1990. It’s also a pleasure to see Andy Lau and Jean Reno pointing a gun at each others heads, in a scene that recalls the finer moments of the heroic bloodshed genre, performed by a pair of actors who have played so many iconic roles in the last 30 years. Unfortunately, due to some inexplicable storytelling logic, Reno’s cop is completely absent from the finale. How great would it have been to see Leon himself unloading some clips in a HK action movie?
With that being said, if expectations are kept fairly low, there’s still plenty to enjoy in The Adventurers. Fung’s latest effort is far from being a bad movie, its real crime is that it’s unremarkable and average. During the 80’s and 90’s John Woo was an innovator when it came to action cinema, and directors are still copying the type of action found in his movies to this day. The main issue with The Adventurers isn’t that it’s a remake, it’s that so much of its inspiration comes from Hollywood movies, rather than creating its own distinct style. There was a time when people would watch Hong Kong cinema because it delivered something Hollywood didn’t, so to see productions now copying the very industry we once celebrated it being different from, is sadly a painful truth. The Adventurers real goal is that it aspires to be a Hollywood style heist flick, and for me at least, its biggest problem is that it’s successful in doing so.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10