Movie Review – The Treasure Hunter (2009)
Treasure Hunter is a film so inept that it defies explanation and begs the eternal question, “What were they thinking?” It is almost as if the entire cast and crew got together at the start of production with one goal in mind to make a movie so abysmal that it would give eternal whipping boy Battlefield Earth a run for its money as one of, if not the worse, movie of all time. This is one of those films that leave a foul odour in its wake and all involved should be supremely embarrassed by the end product so shockingly dire that they should count themselves lucky if they ever are employed in the industry again.
Taiwan pop idol Jay Chou dons a spiffy leather jacket, some cowboy boots and his signature bullwhip in the role of Qiao Fei, a righteous archeologist in the vein of not only Indiana Jones but Robin Hood. You see, Qiao Fei doesn’t really go tomb raiding but instead robs stolen artefacts from those who obtained them illegally. Thus he has made it his life’s work to ply the Mongolian desert seeking out treasure hunters whose only goal is to sell ancient artefacts on the black market and return them not to their rightful owners but to a nearby museum. Or so I think because the narrative is decidedly vague in explaining exactly how Qiao Fei plies his services as one moment he’s fighting off a gang of thugs who have stolen ancient relics and the next he’s in some sort of showdown with a black-cloaked figure apparently to win the title of, “Eagle of the Desert.” In short, it’s all very mind-numbing and poorly rationalized.
Regardless, he is soon teamed up with an adventure book writer named Lan Ting played by the incredibly leggy Chinese supermodel turned actress Lin Chi-ling in an epic quest that’s one part revenge and another to find the “Lost City” which is said to house riches beyond the dreams of mortals. Along the way they find themselves in a constant struggle with various antagonistic groups all of which want to either kill them or beat them in finding the Lost City and its treasure.
At first the primary villains seem to be a cowardly treasure hunter named Pork Rib (I kid you not!) played with manic emotion by Hong Kong vet Eric Tsang and his partner Hua (Chen Dao-Ming) who is Pork Rib’s polar opposite spending the movie ruminating on his mysterious past by staring blankly into space at every opportunity. Throw in another faction this time headed by Qiao Fei’s former flame who seems to have gone off the deep end after their breakup and now goes around wearing a monstrous face mask that looks like General Kael from Willow as well as a throng of barbaric supernatural warriors that appear presumably by way of transport in a freaking tornado and one gets the intense feeling that the movie is not channeling Indiana Jones but rather It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World starring Spencer Tracy. That might not necessarily be a bad idea yet while It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World knew exactly that it was a comedic caper movie Treasure Hunter has no clue what genre it wants to be in.
Treasure Hunter is a wholly schizophrenic movie that literally changes tone and direction virtually every single scene from drama to romance to high-flying action to melodrama to screwball comedy. It just can’t make up its mind what exactly it is and as a result director Kevin Chu seems to basically not care and lets the feeble script play out in a baffling manner totally unconcerned about simple elements like coherency. This is a Frankenstein-like product that attempts to combine every single cinematic genre save porn into a massive hot pot of shameless contrivance, substandard acting and total illogic that will leave audiences reeling with a massive migraine.
Characters are merely dumped into the plot from out of thin air and the script does them no favours by not bothering to provide enough exposition to validate their appearance. Worse still, some of these characters are somehow related through past events but we never know why which is kind of an important element if one thinks about it! Thus we get numerous scenes where characters meet seemingly knowing one another and then fighting or hugging or skewering or laughing for totally inexplicable reasons. Actually, strike that, as oftentimes there is no reason provided whatsoever. Think of a movie like Titanic and when Jack and Rose first meet they immediately strip and make out on the deck leaving the audience with mouths agape since there is no rational reason for them to do so and one begins to comprehend the level of ineptitude on display here.
It also doesn’t help that every single actor or actress is not only performing in a different style but a completely different plane of existence as the performances on display run the gamut from emotionless block of wood to abject inflated mugging and overblown facial contortions. Eric Tsang gets special mention here as he’s the one primarily in overdrive mode the entire movie flashing his pearly whites in nearly every scene so much so that one gets the impression that he’s channeling the Joker. Not only is his character an annoying coward but the script also calls on him to occasionally punctuate his lines with English dialogue which is rather an unfathomable design choice. In fact the only times I bust my gut in laughter were during his English outbursts because they came at totally mystifying moments in the narrative. Case in point is the first time Tsang’s character meets the heroine onscreen when he bursts into a room and shouts at the top of his lungs, “You shut up baby!” Or the other times when he decides the best course of action to prove a point is to repeat himself so he often lapses into mumbling, “You no good! You no good!”
As per this sort of film it is obvious that our hero and heroine will fall in love with one another but alas this entire subplot is constructed with the flimsiest of reasoning as it is revealed that the duo have had feelings for each other since they were children. At first glance there is nothing wrong with romance beginning like this yet when the scene is finally revealed as to how their love for one another started and then fell apart you can’t help but slap your forehead with a jackhammer because it’s so poorly constructed. You see, when they were mere kids of about 8-9 years old they one day found themselves outside a bookstore and as luck would have it she desired a novel that she couldn’t buy. Being a stalwart gentleman the young Qiao Fei shoplifts the book and gives it to her as a present. So far so good. Then he leaves for ten years breaking her heart in two. Say what?? Yes, the audience is forced to believe that after his act of kindness that Qiao Fei inexplicably takes off for the desert for a decade even though he looks like he is eight years old and that this event so traumatized Lan Ting that she vows to never forgive him.
The entire movie is filled with these facile attempts at exposition and director Kevin Chu might have been better off if he never bothered to show these flashback scenes or even attempted to explain past events because every single one is constructed with shoddy reasoning. At the very least by not revealing the past he could have created a film where the viewer could somehow create their own backstory for each character to fill in the gaps but by showing ridiculous events it just undermines the film even more and adds to the entire discombobulated feel that permeates every second of the movie.
The film’s narrative and individual performances are not only all over the map they are all over the entire universe as there is just no consistency available in any facet here. Even a technical element that usually takes the backseat to most such as the film’s instrumental score comes off as totally garish as composer Ricky Ho and director Kevin Chu decide that virtually every narrative beat no matter its intensity deserves a reaction ten times the magnitude which results in a score that completely goes out of whack not only with overuse of the orchestra but with oddball choices in style. Watching a bevy of evil horsemen chase our motorcycle riding heroes through the desert accompanied by quasi-sitar music with a rock beat and a choral element that sounds like screeching is just awful and so are the comedic scenes such as when Jay Chou fights his former flame when out of nowhere the film cuts to a young boy jamming on his guitar to match the action around him. It’s incredibly bizarre and though one can hope that director Kevin Chu is attempting to be cheeky the result is almost physically painful.
To say that the script is lacking is a massive understatement with incredible leaps in common sense that will leave audiences clueless. Take the way Eric Tsang’s character devises to kidnap the heroine, Lan Ting. This is one of the simplest parts to write and I would believe that anyone in the audience could devise something a little less dim-witted than the solution presented here where the antagonists figure the best course of action would be to ram her car head on with a massive truck in order to render her unconscious. Really?? If the goal is to kidnap her just to get some sort of ransom, or in this case a map, wouldn’t it be a better idea to make sure she’s unharmed rather than to plough a lorry directly into her car?
Yet the silliness keeps going because she wakes up in a foreign room which turns out to be an inn in the middle of the desert (brilliantly named “Inn & Beer”) but the first thing that happens is that her cell phone rings and instead of calling for help she does absolutely nothing, more concerned with checking out the decor. Again, really?? Not only are the antagonists total morons for not confiscating her cell phone but she’s none too bright either for taking far too long before asking for help by which time it is too late. It’s aggravating to see such shoddy writing that no one seems to have caught or that they are purposely ignoring even though the plot holes are the size of entire galaxies.
If I had the time and the energy I would probably sit here and list every single oddball decision or total lack of good judgement from both the cast and the crew but there are so many it would take reams of paper and I have no burning desire to waste precious trees on such an endeavour. Suffice it to say when you write scenes where people can survive a raging tornado merely by hiding behind a low lying rock or a character shouting that he has wasted his time because there is no treasure even though the room’s centerpiece is a massive gold coffin or even a truly dumbfounding sequence where it is revealed that the reason everyone in history could not find the lost city is because they were holding the map upside down (!?) you get the idea that some heavy booze or illegal substance was used when penning the script as it is next to inconceivable that anyone could have thought that this was sufficient explanation.
There is a term that is bandied about in Hollywood and filmmaking in general called, “A four quadrant movie” which basically means that if successful the film will appeal to both genders and both age brackets of those above and below 25 years of age. Thus if you hear the phrase being thrown around in relation to box office analysis it means that the film has performed well across the board by appealing to all the four major segments of the audience. Treasure Hunter is that rare movie that fails on all four quadrants as it is such a dismal experience that it will appall anyone who watches it. I suppose if one were high that it might be tolerable but I would suggest that if anyone wants to experience what Treasure Hunter has to offer that the only approximation I can give would be to constantly bash one’s head into a concrete wall until one passes out from either brain damage or loss of blood.
ZERO out of ****
2009, Taiwan, 105 Min, Chang Hong Channel/Film & Video Co.
Directed by Kevin Chu
Written by Ivy Ho
Produced by Tun Wu, John Ho, Han San Ping, Jacky Tung
Executive Producer Raymond Lee, Fargo Pi
Associate Producer Wade C.Yau, Jennifer Chang
Original Music by Ricky Ho
Jay Chou: Qiao Fei
Lin Chi-Ling: Lan Ting
Eric Tsang: Pork Chop
Chen Daoming: Master Hua
Chen Chu-he: Desert Eagle
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