Jingle Ma’s “Seoul Raiders”, the sequel to his semi-hit “Tokyo Raiders”, is not so completely without merit that it finds itself tagged as a movie in search of a purpose. To be sure, it’s nothing you couldn’t live without, and is certainly nothing you should go out of your way to find. In its basest form, “Seoul Raiders” is Jingle Ma’s attempt at convincing the world that the “Raiders” movies are a franchise in the making. Not that anyone was clamoring for a sequel to the 2000 action-comedy starring Ekin Cheng, mind you, but bless his heart, Jingle Ma decided to give us one anyway.
“Seoul Raiders” has only one returning star, Tony Leung, who is back once again as Lam, a Chinese man who is also a Japanese secret agent, but who seems to be freelancing nowadays. After Lam gets wind that unsavory types are looking to sell U.S. counterfeiting plates off to a gangster named Polar Bear, who just happens to have ties to terrorism, Lam decides to steal the plates first so he can sell it back to the U.S. for a nice reward. During the theft, Lam crosses path with female thief JJ (Qi Shu), and after a long running fistfight that would become the film’s staple (as a variation of it dominates much of the film’s hour and 40 minutes), Lam hightails it to the U.S. Consulate to claim his just rewards.
At the Consulate, Lam hands the plates over to American agent Owen (Richie Ren), who quickly drugs Lam and flees to Korea. The traitorous Owen plans to sell the plates to Polar Bear and make a quick buck. Luckily for world security, the vain Lam is feeling a tad peeved about having his reputation tarnished by Owen’s backstab, and spends the next hour pursuing Owen through the amazingly clean streets, bath houses, bars, and subways of Seoul, Korea. (Hence the title, if you were wondering.) Helping Lam out are three giggling Korean girls, essentially his version of Charlie’s Angels, who from what I can gather are part of Lam’s global harem of hot-to-trot assistants that are at his beck and call. All he needs to do is whistle and they come running — giggling all the way, of course.
“Seoul Raiders” is an action-comedy like its predecessor, and Ma wisely avoids a lot of the pitfalls of his Asian brethrens, namely staying clear of out-of-left-field sober melodramatic moments in the Third Act. This is fluff entertaining all the way. It’s no mystery why Leung agreed to come back, as his character seems to be in on the joke from the very first frame. (And they probably paid him a nice sum, as his stock seems to have risen tremendously in recent years.) After dark turns in the “Infernal Affairs” film and Wong Kar Wai’s heavy “2046”, Leung was probably looking for a movie that didn’t require emotional investment. “Seoul Raiders” is definitely that film.
Like most Hong Kong action-comedies, “Seoul Raiders” has its narrative focus backwards, with the “A” story taking a backseat to the general foolishness of the “B” story. In this case, the B-side is Lam and his Korean Angels spending most of the film’s first hour chasing Owen all about town and engaging in elaborate, but pointless fisticuffs. Every now and then Owen meets up with representatives of the oft-mention but never seen Polar Bear to remind the audience there is actually a point to all of this. Well, not really a point, as the premise revolving around the counterfeit plates is so uninteresting that when the villain finally reveals all, you don’t quite understand if you’re supposed to be surprised at the revelation or annoyed that the movie thinks we care about any of it.
The action in “Seoul Raiders” is of the “choreograph the hell out of it” variety, in which Lam, Owen, and JJ can take on dozens of faceless opponents at once while grinning their way through it, and not surprisingly, no one ever develops any after effects of getting kicked, punched, and generally thrashed about something awful. While all this activity supplies the movie with an endless supply of slickly choreographed action, it also doesn’t do anything to inject the audience with suspense. The only sequence where writer/director Jingle Ma comes close to generating any decent tension onscreen is when Owen has to wade through a sea of Korean baddies in a parking lot fight at night. The rest of the action is so outlandishly and overly choreographed that they’re beyond being taken seriously.
“Seoul Raiders” doesn’t really mark any real improvement (or, for that matter, decline) in quality from 2000’s “Tokyo Raiders”. There’s no Ekin Cheng, of course, but Richie Ren does well enough in the shallow role. Although another actor might have been a better choice, as the Owen character is somewhat schizophrenic — sometimes ultra cool, other times bumbling. Ren, coming off an ultra serious turn in Johnnie To’s crime film “Breaking News”, still has the cool part down, but when the script requires him to be anything other than suave, viewers will get flashbacks of his (supposedly) “comic” turn in the terrible “Silver Hawk”. Also, it’s a shame how little Jingle Ma works Qi Shu into the film. There’s supposed to be something of a love triangle between JJ, Owen, and Lam, but chances of the perfunctory romance angle convincing anyone is nil.
It’s no surprise that “Seoul Raiders” is popcorn entertainment through and through. In that respect, it certainly lives up to its billing, and is no better or worst for it. Without a doubt, the chances of you liking the film is higher if you also like the three leads. If you don’t care for them, or are indifferent, then the film will probably irritate with its lack of ambition and creativity. The only real bone of contention everyone should be able to agree on is Jingle Ma’s vast plagiarism of the “Kill Bill” theme music. It’s one thing to re-use music from an obscure film, but did Ma consider his use, re-use, and still more use of the “Kill Bill” theme to be homage? One has to wonder what he was thinking.
Jingle Ma (director) / Jingle Ma (screenplay)
CAST: Tony Leung Chiu Wai….Lam