Seoul Raiders (Hancheng Gonglue)

Reviewed by Lee Alon

Five years were enough for NASA to more than tweak some of its advanced aerospace projects in the past, but short of a sufficient interlude for Jingle Ma and his cohorts to craft a respectable actioner. Why they presumed to see a need for following up on the ho-hum Tokyo Raiders beats us, but at least that 2000 release, now seen through the rosy haze of nostalgia, contained appearances by rising stars who've made it to the lofty heights of pop success in our current epoch. Indeed, half a decade ago not only was the IT market full of bristling optimism, but likewise were Ekin Cheng, Cecilia Cheung and Kelly Chen still busy rising to stardom that we later came to take for granted. Ah, the memories. However, such fond recollections can't mask cinematic mediocrity (one avoids using terms like "crud" in polite society) when it unveils itself, and with Seoul Raiders we marked one of the most redundant, uninvited extensions of a movie license in recent recorded history. Sure, perhaps for old time's sake it was worth churning out another go at Ma's brainchild crowd displeaser, yet bereft of the original cast's hallowed, electrifying power, subsequent entry Seoul Raiders results in even more of a tepid mixture than henceforth believed possible.

Only Tony Leung returned after all those intervening years, once again doing Lin (known in the HK version subtitles as Lam), an international jet setting police super agent and impressive wooer of womenfolk. After disarming some major troubles in Tokyo, Lin came back to handle a crisis in, you guessed it, Seoul, capital of South Korea and unfortunate host to this debacle. Why Leung agreed to appear in this disgrace defies logic. The man clearly established himself as a talented powerhouse over the years, and to see him defile a quality background by fooling around with Jingle Ma's rudimentary excuse for an action comedy really ticks one off.
At any rate, the next question which begged asking was how did the Raiders circus end up in Korea? Well, to account for that you must look at good old Richie Ren, singer, actor, and overall plausible guy given a decent script. Of course, here he had no chance to reprise relative successes as seen in “Honesty” and “Fly Me to Polaris”. Instead, Ren was entrusted with depicting Owen, a treacherous country-hopping criminal, CIA mole and master of disguise who absconded with priceless plates capable of spawning immaculate fake US currency, thus potentially plunging the global economy into mires even worse than having to watch 95 minutes of HK-originated tripe.
Hot on his trail, both Lin and hottie cat burglar JJ, done by a startlingly under-the-weather-looking Shu Qi, land in Seoul. There they proceed to track Owen, engaging in some of the feeblest excuses for fighting and chase sequences we've had to suffer through in quite a while. Seoul Raiders used relatively copious amounts of action, throwing a nefarious Korean-Chinese crime syndicate into the mix for good measure, yet none of it was any good, and some was downright embarrassing, like an opening scene showing JJ and Lin fending off gangs of hoodlums while playing catch with the valuable plates. A movie buff couldn't help but root for the baddies and hope they'd make with the firearms rather than fists.
On the film's only coherent upside, Lin once again enlisted a retinue of local babes to aid in securing world peace. The girls come replete with semi-believable martial arts proficiency, knee-high vinyl boots and revealing attire. They all oddly speak Chinese, and must give off a rank aroma, for we noted nary a rare change of clothes. Similarly, there was some incredulity at witnessing Seoul practically awash with Chinese characters, a thing we thought went out when Korea switched to a different alphabet. Either way, the Raiders outfit seems to be like some sort of twisted Olympics: wherever wins the bid, you simply don't want to be an accidental tourist.

Aside from all these issues, SR was afflicted with an abysmal story leaving very little room for maneuvering. You could literally recount the movie's premise in two or three sentences. Its two primary stars, Leung and Shu Qi, each failed in deploying their full range here, the former too dapper and possibly irked at himself for even signing on, the latter pale and all too minimal of contribution. Basic, unsatisfying fight scenes and poor special effects basically rendered Seoul Raiders impotent, since with a hobbling comedy element it had only its action half to fall back on, but that too soon collapsed. And, in a vein similar to that which is prominent in other Hong Kong productions, the movie stopped short. It had no true violence (blood-free carnage? No thank you), and for all his chauvinistic pandering, Lin scored as much with the girls as this writer did playing Leisure Suit Larry: in other words, it was all virtual, baby.

Flaccid, forgettable and disappointing were the leading concepts associated with Seoul Raiders upon sitting down to behold its celluloid wasteland. Wherever the series Raids next, it better be beyond roundtrip range.

Rating: 4/10

Directed by Jingle Ma
Starring Tony Leung, Shu Qi, Richie Ren, Cho Han Na, Choi Yeo Jin
2005, Cantonese/Putonghua/Korean/English, 100 minutes

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