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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Treasure Hunt
Treasure Hunt
Tai Seng // Unrated // January 24, 2006
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Cornelius | posted January 26, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Asian cinema is notorious for its genre-blending, but usually the oddball mix works in a movie's favor. Rarely does it result in something as sloppy and weak as "Treasure Hunt," the 1994 action/adventure/romance/fantasy/comedy from writer/director Jeff Lau. It's a shame to see a star as wonderful as Chow Yun-Fat stuck in such an uninviting mess - but then, if Chow can't help the film, then you know it's in trouble.

The problems abound right from the start, when we learn that Chow's character, an American CIA agent undercover in China, has been assigned to locate a missing "national treasure," the identity of which neither he or we know. How vague can this movie get? "Go find us… something." Gee, thanks.

His mission takes him to a Shaolin temple, where he takes up residence while poking around for the generic whatever. While there, he makes friends with the tubby junior monk (he gives him a Game Boy!) and the crotchety older monks (he teaches them baseball!). Most of these scenes exist for cheap slapstick effect; had someone been hit in the crotch while a "boooooinnnnng!!" sound effect played on the soundtrack, I'd have not been surprised.

While not goofing off with the monks, Chow's busy wooing a mysterious woman (Jacqueline Wu Chien-Lien) who's being held prisoner by the monks, apparently because she has mystical powers. For instance, she can make our hero's ears grow all big and floppy, because this is what passes for hilarious in this film. It's supposed to be a sweet romantic fantasy, with scenes like the one where she helps him almost-fly (it's more like giant jumps) intended to infuse a warmth and charm to the proceedings.

It almost clicks, thanks to the charisma of Chow and Wu Chien-Lien. These are two stars that can get us watching anything, and they add a natural feel to the characters that makes a few scenes actually work on their own.

And who knows, maybe it might have worked had Lau not opted to make his movie a little of everything, to the point where the fight sequences and gunplay - two things you'd expect from a Chow Yun-Fat actioner - simply don't fit at all. Should a cute romance have scenes of Chow and his costars shooting people between the eyes? Or, if you want to go the other way around, should an action movie about secret agents and Shaolin warriors have scenes of sweet courtship? Should either of these movies have so much limp slapstick in them? And should such a lighthearted movie stop dead in its tracks in order to give us some melodrama about how the tubby junior monk gets brutally whipped for breaking a rule? Talk about a buzzkill.

In trying to be twenty movies in one, Lau never manages to make any one of them very good. Even the showdown between martial arts legends Phillip Kwok and Gordon Liu (a potential match-up for the ages in the kung fu world) turns into a letdown, with both stars reduced to cheap comedy and a fight sequence completely lacking in thrills. "Treasure Hunt" (also known as "American Shaolin") is a movie that wastes too many opportunities, winding up little more than a garbled mess and a disappointment for fans of everyone involved.

The DVD

Video


Tai Seng didn't have that much to work with - Asian cinema of the early 1990s was never done using the sharpest film stock. But they do the best with what they can, the non-anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) image looking about as clear as one would hope. (That is, one would hope for 16:9 enhancement, but without that, this is a decent second-best.)

Audio

The original mono soundtrack (not offered here) has been retooled into serviceable 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS remixes, both in the original Cantonese language. The sound is probably as good as it's likely to get, considering the iffiness of the original track; the use of music and effects is nice and not overbearing. Also available are a Mandarin track in 2.0 Dolby and, for those who care, a 5.1 Dolby English track that features the same bland dubbing that one often finds in such releases. Optional English subtitles are available.

Extras

The only major feature here is an audio commentary from Hong Kong cinema expert Ric Meyers, who chats with Frank Djeng, Tai Seng's in-house translator. Meyers' title of "expert" is not hyperbole, and their discussions on the film's history and the careers of all those involved are far more compelling than the movie itself. Meyers claims this to be one of his favorite movies, and while it's too bad his joy isn't enough to get one to like the movie, it does allow for an energy that's often lacking in commentary tracks.

We also get the Hong Kong and U.S. trailers for the film, plus ads for two other Tai Seng releases. Rounding out the set are text biographies for Chow, Liu, Wu Chien-Lien, and Lau.

Final Thoughts

Considering how effortlessly Chow lights up the screen, it's almost painful to see what Meyers describes as a celebration of his work collapse again and again. Its charm, its romance, its comedy are all forced, and its action rarely engages. Fans of Chow Yun Fat in specific or Asian cinema in general might want to make this a rental, just out of completion, but only if they really must. You're not missing a thing by letting this one pass you by.
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