Judge Roman Martel always thought the danger beneath the dunes was the all powerful Sarlacc.
"Danger Lurks Beneath the Dunes." Was it the creature that mutilated this movie's script?
Somewhere in the deserts of northern China lies an ancient buried city filled to bursting with untold riches. Sure every treasure hunter worth his salt has heard of the place, but no one has ever discovered its location and lived to tell the tale. At least that's the story that Lan Ting (Chiling Lin, Red Cliff) grew up with. Little does she know that her father has a map leading to the location of the mysterious city!
As soon as she discovers this, a man named Pork Rib (Eric Tsang) kidnaps her to ransom the map from her pop. In addition, Mr. Rib contracted the mysterious Master Hua (Daoming Chen, Hero). Turns out that Hua has been to the city and survived the ordeal—but at what cost? Finally there is our hero, Qiao Fei (Jay Chou, The Green Hornet), a childhood friend of Lan Ting and a young man with a history. Turns out he's very familiar with the desert and the dangerous group of warriors known as The Sandstorm Legion.
Wow is this movie trying way too hard. It grabs so many different things, and throws them all together in a the vain hope that something spectacular might come out of it. The end result is so mediocre that it's kinda sad. The Treasure Hunter tries to be an adventure movie, a romance movie, and a character drama.
If you enjoy wire-fu battles there are a few good ones in here. Chou takes on a mysterious knight who rises from the sand. He faces a guy who looks like Darkman who uses his bandages to attack his foes. There is also a pretty good chase scene involving the Sandstorm Legion and their huge, huge maces! While the action scenes aren't too bad by themselves, the problem is actually caring about the characters when the thrilling scenes arrive.
The script tries its best to give everyone a backstory of some kind, but this slows down the momentum of the adventure story. Movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Mummy, and Romancing the Stone (movies that obviously inspired this one) knew how to balance action, plot and character interaction while always keeping pacing brisk. But The Treasure Hunter never figures that out. I'm not sure if it's the editing or script, but this film has the feel of one of those "movies" made of cut together television episodes. There are scenes that have nothing to do with anything. Then there's the fact that the adventure portion of the movie is jettisoned in the middle so we can develop all the characters with various subplots. Most of these are not very interesting, or have a dull pay off. By the time the movie meanders around to getting to the lost city, the viewer is left only enjoying the breathtaking scenery of the Chinese desert.
The performances are functional. Chou plays Qiao Fei like a mix of bad ass loner and petulant anime lead character. He moves well in the action scenes, but he doesn't have much chemistry with Lin, who also doesn't have much of a part. Tsang's Pork Rib character is around for laughs. His schtick wore thin on me pretty darn quick. Chen does what he can with a cliche character, attempting to bring some gravitas to his role as the mystery man with a secret past.
Funimation provides a solid audio and visual treatment for the disc. The transfer is handled well, with solid blacks in even the darkest scenes. The sound works fine, balancing the Mandarin audio track with the musical score. Subtitles are easy to read and are paced well. There are no extras to be found here, they must be buried in the lost city.
On its own, it's hard to recommend The Treasure Hunter. On the bright side: it takes itself very seriously, but has some really odd moments, strange characters and silly dialogue. This is the perfect mix for another type of entertainment—riffing. I mean you've got a character named Pork Rib in it! The Treasure Hunter is just begging for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. So grab a few of your quick witted pals, order some Chinese takeout and pop this puppy in. I think it will make for a fun evening.
Guilty. Bury this one in the desert.
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