The Adventurers Review: Hong Kong Action Film Starring Andy Lau and Shu Qi
For his fans, they had the relief of knowing that before his accident. He already had five films due for release, keeping him very much in the public eye throughout the year. Firstly he had a supporting role in the lacklustre fantasy actioner The Great Wall (2016), from director Zhang Yimou. Released in China last year, it didn’t see an American release until February 2017.
More enjoyable was Herman Yau’s Shockwave (2017), which had Lau back in a leading role and working with Yau for the first time since Fascination Amour (1999). In addition to these there was his supporting role in gangster epic Chasing the Dragon (2017), which found Lau reprising his famous role of Lee Rock one more time.
Still to be released is drama Find Your Voice (2017) from director Adrian Kwan, which Lau has additionally produced. Between these films, Lau starred in director Stephen Fung’s The Adventurers (2017), another starring vehicle for the actor.
A loose remake of John Woo’s Once a Thief (1991). The Adventurers proves to be a breezy lightweight affair that whilst enjoyable, fails to live up to its predecessor. The original Once a Thief was likewise lightweight. Especially in comparison to John Woo’s previous Bullet in the Head (1990). But it did have enough of Woo’s signature style to make it worthwhile.
It also was bolstered by performances from three of Hong Kong’s biggest stars of the time. Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung and Cherie Chung. The Adventurers may not have the same amount of star power but still does well with superstar Andy Lau (Luu Duc Hoa) front. And centre and able support from the likes of Shu Qi, Jean Reno, Zhang Jingchu, Eric Tsang and Tony Yang.
The original film focused on three thieves who were brought up together and the love triangle that develops between them. There were of course shootouts, fight scenes and car chases as expected with a John Woo movie, but overall the film was closer in spirit to Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955) than A Better Tomorrow (1986).
The Adventurers still focuses on a team made up of three thieves, but the love triangle angle is removed. Lau’s character Zhang is a master thief who has just served five years in prison. He is met on the outside by French detective Pierre, who has been waiting on his chance to catch Zhang in action.
Zhang is hardly out of prison ten minutes before he is performing another heist, taking place in Cannes. He enlists the assistance of protégé Po Chen (Tony Yang) and new recruit Red Ye (Shu Qi), with the three of them making off with priceless jewels.
In order to catch Zhang and his team, Pierre enlists Zhang’s ex-fiancé Amber Li (Zhang Jingchu) to assist him in their capture. Throw in the usual crime bosses and Euro-villains, and you have a pretty straight forward caper movie.
The Adventurers manages to be a major improvement on director Stephen Fung’s previous film, the disappointing Tai Chi Hero (2012), itself a sequel to the slightly better Tai Chi Zero (2012), also helmed by Fung.
His other films as director may not have been masterpieces. But the likes of Enter the Phoenix (2004) and House of Fury (2005) managed to be overall enjoyable. That showed the directors knack for action and comedy.
There has been quite a gap in between Tai Chi Hero and The Adventurers. Fung had originally worked on the remake, Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016), which would have marked his Hollywood directorial debut. He left the project before filming commenced, with John Stockwell taking over as director.
In the meantime, Fung has been one of the producers and action directors on AMC’s television series Into the Badlands (2015), starring long time friend and colleague Daniel Wu. In the second series of the show, Fung went on to direct a number of episodes as well.
Fung is probably better known in the West as an actor, with some of his most famous roles being Jet in Bishonen (1998) and Match in Gen X Cops (1999).
Fung keeps the action film (phim hanh dong phieu luu) moving along at a fast pace, with his camera constantly being on the move. He works well with cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, who makes everything look beautiful, using the various locations in France and the Czech Republic to the films advantage. The film manages to look more expensive than its budget of RMB 150 million (roughly $22 million) would suggest.
Hurlbut had already worked with Fung on Into the Badlands, with him giving that show a distinctive look of its own. Outside of these. The best example of his work as a cinematographer is Into the Blue (2005) and Act of Valor (2012). Two films which perhaps fail on a storytelling level but can’t be faulted on their visuals.
Although the situations during the film put the characters in peril. It is so light and carefree that the audience never really expects anything bad will happen. The action is handled well, with the opening car chase being a standout. But considering that this is based on Once a Thief. The Adventurers proves to be considerably light on the action front.
What action there is mainly consists of chase scenes, with the briefest of a shootout during the finale. There is nothing on the scale of the original. And is one of the main aspects of the film that lets it down.
Fung does manage to get good performances from his lead actors, but there is nothing here that truly stretches them.
Andy Lau has performed similar roles in the past, with the role of Zhang calling for him to be his usual handsome and charismatic self. The film does have him deliver a good deal of his dialogue in English, with him sharing multiple scenes with Jean Reno.
Lau wasn’t the original choice for the lead, with William Feng originally being cast. Before production began, Feng pulled out as the lead, stating that he had a leg injury. Luckily for the production, Andy Lau stepped in, with him also working as one of the film’s producers.
Similarly, Shu Qi wasn’t the first choice for her role, with Crystal Zhang being originally cast. Like William Feng, she dropped out before the start of production with Shu Qi stepping in at the last minute.
Qi plays another variation on the loveable and quirky heroine she has played in many Hong Kong film’s throughout her career. She always plays these roles well, with The Adventurers being no different. The last third of the film does manage to shake things up for her character, giving her a bit more depth than expected.
The Adventurers will be more memorable to Stephen Fung and Shu Qi for another reason. As the two got married during the production of the film.
Tony Yang plays the typical goofy sidekick that is typical of Hong Kong caper films. He isn’t terrible in the film, but is sadly not in the same league as his more established co-stars. This is perhaps more to do with the type of character Yang is given than his actual acting talent.
Zhang Jingchu has proven on multiple occasions that she is an accomplished actress, and as expected does good work here, even if her part is somewhat underwritten. She spends most of her screen time alongside Jean Reno, which results in her dialogue mostly being delivered in English.
The Adventures is a major improvement on Jingchu’s last co-starring role with Andy Lau. The better off forgotten Switch (2013) although it fails to live up to their first collaboration, Protégé (2007).
Eric Tsang is a welcome presence in any film, with him seemingly able to play any type of role. Usually he is called upon to be a comedic presence. But there are rare occasions where he gets to play the villain, such as in Infernal Affairs (2002). His role here is clearly not in the same league as that classic. But he still makes an impression and does more with his role than what others lesser actors may have.
Giving the film an international flavour is the addition of Jean Reno as the cop on Lau’s trail. Not on par with the actor’s best work. It is still good to see Reno back in action. With him being better utilised than some of his Hollywood output. And having a considerable amount of screen time.
As well as directing, Stephen Fung produced and wrote the screenplay for The Adventurers. Fung is clearly a better director than writer, with the film having some poorly written characters and an uneven tone. Although this can be the norm for Hong Kong films. All the blame can’t be laid on Fung for the uneven script, as another five writers worked on it in addition to Fung. Thankfully Fung’s direction and the talent of his cast manage to cover the faults in the script.
As well as being produced by Andy Lau and Stephen Fung, The Adventurers had the involvement of producer Terence Chang, who produced the original Once a Thief.
Assisting in keeping the action flowing is prolific editor Angie Lam. Lam has worked on many Hong Kong movie classics during her career, with the likes of Iron Monkey (1993), Full Alert (1997) and latterly Red Cliff (2008) being amongst them. Lam has done better work in her career. But shows she is still adept when it comes to action.
Lam wasn’t the sole editor on the film, with Clint Eastwood’s’ usual editor of choice. Joel Cox, working on the film. It is unclear how much work either editor done on the completed film.
The Adventures (Hiep Dao Lien Minh) opened to some extremely negative reviews, focusing on the poorly written script instead of focusing on what the film gets right. The Adventurers is overall a forgettable but fun thriller that should at least please fans of the actors if nothing else.