Jingle Ma must've had as much fun making 2000's "Tokyo Raiders" as audiences had watching it. That movie was a total blast, lightweight but clever, silly but thrilling as hell, with the cast and crew clearly enjoying the chance to let loose and goof off. Well liked but not a particularly big hit, the only reason for a sequel would be to give Ma the chance to revisit that kind of ain't-this-a-hoot workday.
And so, in 2005, Ma delivered "Seoul Raiders," which is equally lightweight, almost as clever. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai returns as Lam, that easygoing, gadget-loving Chinese private eye moonlighting as an agent for the Japanese Security Bureau. This time, he's on the prowl for a set of near-perfect counterfeit plates of an American one hundred dollar bill - plates called "The Avenger" for their potential to wreck havoc on the American economy (too late, foreign agents! AIG and Lehman Brothers already beat you to it) - when he stumbles upon JJ (Shu Qi, as enchanting as ever), a cat burglar looking to swipe the plates herself.
After outwitting JJ, Lam winds up losing the plates anyway, the victim of the latest in a long series of double-, triple-, and quadruple-crosses that are standard for the franchise. Lam tracks the plates to Seoul, and the hands of rogue agent/charming rival Owen Lee (Richie Ren, credited here as "Richie Jen"); something about the mysterious Korean gangster "Polar Bear" also fills some of the barely-there plot, which exists merely as a thin thread on which to hang a series of action sequences, cornball jokes, and long glances at sexy ladies. You know, just like the first movie.
And just like that first movie, Lam sets himself up with three leggy supermodel assistants (Choi Yeo-Jin, Cho Soo-Hyn, and Cho Han-Na), who sign on for action but really wind up giggling and clowning around and looking superhot while Lam handles the dangerous stuff. "Tokyo Raiders" was described as "Charlie's Angels" if Charlie had more screen time than the angels, and this sequel ramps up that notion. The gals here have too little to do, and even though they're charming as can be and always easy on the eyes, most of the time they're just cluttering up the joint. The movie runs more smoothly when it's just Lam, JJ, and Owen working their we're-friends-no-wait-we're-enemies-and-back-again silliness.
The rapport between the three main stars is snappy and playful. There's an "Ocean's Eleven" vibe in these pictures, and even though "Seoul Raiders" is far from that level (it's more an "Ocean's Thirteen," clumsy but charismatic), it's that vibe that keeps the movie afloat. Ma's screenplay is a muddle, but the attitude is fun, and watching Leung and Shu Qi try to out-charm each other is worth more than a convoluted plot any day.
Better still, Ma packs his movie with action sequences that truly crackle. One lengthy chase, brilliantly paced and bursting with excitement, sets up a crafty stunt piece involving a coat and a subway door. Later, Leung and Ren face off in a pool, making for a fight scene with great visual verve. The finale delivers a plane running loose down the highway, played for both thrills and laughs.
Everything's busy moving ahead at a full clip, so we never quite mind when the movie makes the wrong choice, like when the soundtrack plays a generic sound-alike rip-off of Tomoyasu Hotei's "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" not once, not twice, but three (!) full times. The ridiculous plot and the one dimensional characters and the smirky attitude are all played for fun, creating a big, goofy popcorn flick that works best when it slacks off, cranks the energy to eleven, and piles on the charm. As long as Leung keeps smirking, we'll keep watching.
It's taken three long years, but "Seoul Raiders" has finally arrived on Region 1 DVD, courtesy of Arts Alliance America.
Video & Audio
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer features rich, deep colors, solid black levels, and minimal grain - all a (very) slight improvement over Mega Star's Hong Kong disc from 2005. There's softness to the image at times that seems inherent with the source material (and fits with the movie's mood), but for the most part, there's a nice amount of sharp detail.
Two soundtrack options are available: the original Cantonese, and a newly minted (if cheesy) English dub, both in Dolby stereo. Both sound good, richer than one would expect from a 2.0 mix, although it's disappointing to not get the Dolby 5.1 and/or DTS mixes that were available on both previous overseas releases. Optional English subtitles are provided.
The brief making-of featurette (9:25) from the international discs is carried over to this new disc. While heavy on the promotional fluff, the interviews with cast and crew are enjoyable, and there's plenty of behind-the-scenes footage crammed in between. So, you know, it's entertaining fluff.
Two deleted scenes (4:51), also available on the previous releases, offer only a pinch of extra character moments - a conversation between Lam and JJ, then a chat with Lam and Owen. Both are lightweight bits of extraneous material, rightfully cut. Both features are presented in 1.85:1 flat letterbox with non-removable English subtitles.
A collection of nine lobby cards and three posters can be found in JPEG form, accessible through your computer's DVD-ROM drive.
Finally, a batch of previews for other Arts Alliance releases plays as the disc loads.
All other extras from the Hong Kong and British releases are notably absent. On the bright side, at least those who own the Mega Star disc can now get English subtitles with their bonus material.
If you've previously imported the movie on DVD, there's little reason to upgrade. For the rest of you, however, "Seoul Raiders" is most certainly Recommended for its breezy blend of action and comedy.