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Seoul Raiders

cast: Tony Leung, Shu Qi, Richie Ren, James Kim, and Jung Jin

director: Jingle Ma

95 minutes (12) 2004 widescreen ratio 16:9
Hong Kong Legends DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
Seoul Raiders (aka: Han cheng gong lüe) is another of those martial arts films out of South Korea and Hong Kong. I don't know enough about the political situation in that part of Asia to discuss current film funding but I do know the Chinese were keen for Hong Kong to continue on its capitalist way after the British handed over power, and shrewd enough to encourage Jackie Chan for one to retain a base there.

This film is a follow up to Tokyo Raiders (2000) a box office smash by the same director and features Tony Leung (from Hero; 2046) as Lam, a personality-free Chinese secret agent who, like the late, great James Coburn's Derek Flint, is aided by a team of adoring females; Chow Lee's Angels anyone?

Lam steals a set of US dollar counterfeiting plates at the start of the film and meets beautiful thief J.J. played by Shu Qi (The Eye 2, and The Transporter) who interestingly enough was Jackie Chan's jailbait girlfriend in Gorgeous (1999), which also featured Tony Leung and Richie Ren; incestuous film industry or what?

Lam, never having seen Charade, loses the plates in ridiculous circumstances to Richie Ren's Owen, who attempts to sell them to mysterious Korean super crook 'Polar Bear' in Seoul. The first half of the film follows Lam's assembly of his girly troupe (they call him 'Bossee!'), and a sequence of combative encounters with Owen while the latter tries to set up a deal with Polar Bear.

Fans of Hong Kong martial arts movies and their derivatives don't really care about crap plots and bad acting as long as the fight sequences are convincing and maybe bring some originality to the table; this after all is how Jackie Chan forged a successful career. Where Seoul Raiders fails, in the first half at least, is that it doesn't convince as action movie and the comedic touches are so lame one begins to wonder if they were intended at all. A fight in a bathing pool or one using crockery as weapons ought to be more exciting than they are in the resulting sequences; what you are left with is kung fu lite.

Halfway through the film there is a switcheroo and you realise that what has gone before was a fiendish diversion, this is presented in a headlong bit of information dumping, and the movie then rattles quite amiably to its conclusion.

My teenage children found this film quite entertaining on its own terms, a sort of non-threatening spun sugar confection of pretty girls and bloodless fights; I found its existence as baffling as big screen versions of television animations. It as if the makers have looked at action comedies in the west and attempted to repeat the formula but something has gone wrong with the translation. Maybe my objections are down to cultural differences, in researching technical details for this film I found a review from Tokyo that wrote persuasively about Tony Leung's depth of characterisation and the film as a parable of good against evil, and the effects on the personalities of those manning the frontlines; I also found a review by an Asian-American who disliked it even more than I did.

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