The Treasure Hunter(2009)
- RatedPG /GenreAction, Adventure, Martial Arts
Rating: 3 out of 5
Every time Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou takes a role in a film, he presents a Keanu Reeves-like conundrum to movie reviewers around the world.
Is it fair to criticise an actor, especially one still learning his craft, for how little he is able to emote, because his natural disposition is to be placid and inscrutable? (Or should we blame casting directors and producers, or the profit motive?)
For a long time, Reeves was pegged as a dummy, a 'himbo' with limited emotional and acting range. It seemed he even mocked his own reputation -- with refreshing self-deprecation -- by uttering his trademark “whoa” in The Matrix.
Similarly, it is important to note that Chou's bona fide personality is not relevant in a movie review; who he is on his own time matters little to me.
Whether he presents a credible character, for the purposes of the plot and audience engagement in a film, is however rather more pertinent. If he's to be taken seriously as an actor, then he needs to act, plain and simple.
“Plain and simple” could describe Chou's performances in past films, such as Initial D and Curse of the Golden Flower. The director of Treasure Hunter, Chou's latest star vehicle with pretty model-actress Chiling Lin in tow, has praised Chou for improving his acting and fighting form in this film.
To some extent, Chou has not made Kevin Chu out to be a liar. In close-up fight scenes, Chou appears a plausible action hero, even when he at one point has the distraction of a dress-clad Lin sitting atop his shoulders, her modesty at risk.
It's almost certain that, given his legions of fans and bankability, all of Chou's parts are being tailored to him.
(Surely Chou's Kato in the 2010 remake of The Green Hornet will not be loquacious and outrageous.) And if Chou's character Ciao Fei, an anachronistic whip-wielding, desert-dwelling warrior who would feel right at home in a Mad Max movie, has been written as stony-faced and cool, then all is well.
The plot for Treasure Hunter is barely worth the effort to explain it, as it navigates a path filled with plot potholes and dead ends. Just know that there is a hidden city of riches somewhere in the Gobi desert, and Chou is racing against tomb raiders and relic hunters to this location, for reasons unknown.
Lin plays a novelist who gets caught up in the chase. She is first Ciao Fei's adversary, before becoming an initially unwilling ally, then a romantic target.
Several minor characters serve only perfunctory roles, with Ciao Fei's secondary love interest/antagonist a mere pawn of the plot. There is also a hidden romance that is 'spectacular' in its utter inconsequence and incredibility.
But for the most part, the primary characters portrayed by Chen Daoming (the King from Zhang Yimou's Hero) and Eric Tsang (in full comic-relief mode), and Chou and Lin, have been drawn with just enough detail to make them, and the movie, watchable.
Chen's character is perhaps most intriguing, and worth the audience's investment. He is an enigmatic explorer with a vigorous aversion to meat, a curious-looking golf-lover who does not speak of his past.
Like the rest of the cast, he is let down by the film's predictable and underwhelming ending. So while there may not be riches to be found here, one must be satisfied with more ordinary baubles.
You may feast your eyes on Lin and Chou, and savour his impassive facade and often-clipped lines of dialogue, and chance that that is enough value for the price of admission.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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