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Jackie Chan didn't really become a bankable star in the United States until the 1995 release of Rumble in the Bronx. Before that, Chan had more of a cult following of fans in the U.S. who appreciated his style of comedic adventure mixed with martial arts. But with the popularity of his films that were released domestically throughout the second half of the 90s, Chan's action comedies finally found an audience in America. The key thing to keep in mind, however, is that Chan has a loyal following because of the fact that what he does, he does better than anyone else. Even when he makes a film that is mediocre compared to his better movies, it still works because it is a Jackie Chan flick. Understanding that is key to understanding why Seoul Raiders doesn't completely work. It is a mediocre Jackie Chan film, only without Jackie Chan.
Hong Kong director Jingle Ma reunites with actor Tony Leung for this sequel to Tokyo Raiders. Leung returns as Lam (although he was Lin in Tokyo Raiders), a not-so-well-defined rogue who is equal parts mercenary, spy and thief. Early on Lam crosses paths with JJ (Shu Qi), a sexy master criminal looking to get her hands on the same prize as Lam--a set of engraved plates to be used to counterfeit U.S. currency. Lam manages to get the plates away from JJ, only to lose them to Owen Lee (Richie Jen), an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Hong Kong, who steals them so he can sell them to Korean gangsters. Tracking Owen to Seoul, Lam teams up with a trio of asskicking Korean beauties (imagine Charley's Angels, only with no sense of character development or depth). Once in Korea, the film is basically an extended chase between Lam and Owen, with occasional breaks for them to either fight each other, or square off against the Korean gangsters. Meanwhile, JJ shows up, because apparently three women aren't enough to distract from the paper-thin story or the silly jokes.
As director of photography on such Hong Kong classics as Drunken Master II, Rumble in the Bronx, The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk and Deadly China Hero, it would seem reasonable to expect more from Jingle Ma as a director, but that's simply not the case. Ma's direction is competent, but unexceptional. Serving as both director and director of photography, Ma's sense of visual style seems like nothing more than a knock-off of every imitator of John Woo to come up through the ranks of the Hong Kong film industry over the last decade and a half. All of that is to say that Seoul Raiders isn't a bad film so much as it is movie that is pretty much indistinguishable from dozens of other Asian action flicks.
Tony Leung, who has proven himself a capable and diverse actor in films such as In the Mood for Love and Infernal Affairs doesn't quite seem to have what it takes to make the comedy in Seoul Raiders work. Of course, the fact that the whole film feels like an unproduced Jackie Chan script that has been gathering dust for ten years doesn't help matters. And the terrible dubbing job all but ruins the film, making it so difficult to sit through that if there is a truly good movie to found in Seoul Raiders, it is obscured by one of the worst dub jobs in recent memory.
Fans of Tokyo Raiders may enjoy this lightweight sequel. Fans of Asian action flicks may also be mildly entertaining, but the fight sequences and stunt work is generic by Hong Kong standards, making Seoul Raiders a film that will seem as run-of-the-mill and contrived as they come. And while there is no major reason to avoid the film--other than the dubbing--you're likely to be better off just watching a Hong Kong film you already know and love.
The DVD copy of Seoul Raiders I was given was a promotional screener that was presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer on the disc looked very good, and the image quality was exceptional. I do not, however, know what the final disc will be like.
The DVD copy of Seoul Raiders I was given was a promotional screener that was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital, with a clean mix, decent audio levels, and dubbed in English. As a rule, I prefer to watch all movies in their native language with English subtitles, even action films. I will watch films if they are dubbed from time to time, especially if I have already seen them subtitled before. The point I'm trying to make is that I'm not a big fan of dubbed films, and the dubbed Seoul Raiders is the reason why. This is hands down one of the worst dub jobs I have seen in years. The actors they have doing the different voices range from annoying to terrible, and at times it sounds like there are only two actors--one male and one female--doing all the voices. The actress doing the voice of JJ is especially annoying, and will leave you wanting to drive an ice pick into your ears. Honestly, the dubbing on this DVD was so bad, it made me dislike the movie probably more than I should have. The final disc is supposed to have a Chinese language track with English subtitles, and if it does, then I would be more likely to marginally recommend this movie.
There were no bonus materials on the screener DVD. The final disc is supposed to have deleted scenes, a making of featurette and behind-the-scenes footage.
If the final release version of the DVD has a Chinese language track with English subtitles, then I would say that Seoul Raiders is worth renting. But if there is only a dubbed English language track, then the best I can say is that if you want to watch this movie, keep the sound on mute, and just fast forward to the action sequences.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]