Tokyo Raiders (2000) Movie Review

Tokyo Raiders is an action/comedy that stars one of my favorite Hong Kong actors, Tony Leung, who plays a dashing private investigator/ spy/ government agent/ ladies man. Prolific actor Ekin Cheng once again rears his head along with another favorite, Cecilia Cheung. The film purports to include a scene that takes place in Las Vegas, but I’m more prone to believe the Las Vegas sequence was shot in Japan using interior sets. Regardless…

Tokyo Raiders opens with the mysterious disappearance of Japanese businessman Takahashi (Toru Nakamura), who we later learn is a CIA agent under deep cover in Japan. Takahashi’s disappearance leaves his bride-to-be Macy (Kelly Chen) at the altar, all dressed up and no one to marry. With the company of an interior designer name Yung (Ekin Cheng) who Takahashi supposedly owes money to, Macy runs to Tokyo in search of her beloved. There, she meets up with a group of Yakuza thugs and Lin (Tony Leung), a Chinese private investigator who speaks “bad Japanese” (according to everyone in the movie). Lin is not who he seems, and before long everyone is running from everyone and no one is who they said they were.

Tokyo Raiders is a comedy with a lot of stunt work. The action, for what it’s worth, is highly choreographed, and director Jingle Ma (Fly me to Polaris) sometimes has to resist the urge to go too crazy with the editing and shaky camera. He doesn’t always succeed, and as a result Tokyo Raiders consists of a series of action sequences that relies more on choreography than actual martial arts skills by its participants. Ekin Cheng, whom I have often accused of not knowing actual martial arts because of various filmmaking gimmicks employed in his “fight” scenes from previous films, showcases quite a bit more here. For once, I almost believe the man actually knows what he’s doing. Almost.

Tony Leung (In the Mood for Love) leads the cast as Lin, who turns out to be the star of Tokyo Raiders in more ways than one, mostly because Leung has (properly and correctly) decided that he’s slumming with this film, and there’s nothing here to warrant the flexing of his acting muscles. So Leung plays his character as superficially cool, charming, and slick, and it works. I also like the angle of Lin as a Chinese spy working in Japan with a bevy of Japanese beauties at his beck and call, a sort of Lin’s Angels.

Plot-wise, Tokyo Raiders’ writers Susan Chan and Felix Chong reaches into the big bag of old spy movie cliché and comes out with yet another Hong Kong version of the CIA as the ultimate bogeyman bent on destroying Asia and Asians. It’s quite ironic how the American foreign intelligence agency has become such an easy target for anyone with a pulse, although you can’t really blame foreigners for blaming the CIA for everything including the rain, since paranoid and leftist Americans themselves seem to enjoy blaming the world’s problems on the (supposedly) monolithic and omnipotent CIA. Tokyo Raiders blames (get this) the CIA for the devaluation of the Japanese yen! Yes, that’s right, it’s all an American conspiracy to get over the Japanese! And if you believe that, I got some swampland in Florida to sell ya.

Which brings us to the comedy in Tokyo Raiders. Actors Tony Leung and Ekin Cheng spend a lot of time arguing and interacting, and I have to admit that they’re both very charming in this movie. Leung plays his slick spy act with style and a wink and a nod, while Cheng goes for the rough and tumble battler without a clue. Both men come off as a bickering twosome — but in a humorous way. Definitely good, fun stuff. Co-star Kelly Chen does her damsel in distress thing one too many times and it gets rather tiresome after a while. Cecilia Cheung shows up in a glorified cameo at the 50-minute mark, although it’s always nice to see Cecilia playing an a–kicker instead of another throwaway romantic role.

Tokyo Raiders is most effective when it goes for comedy, but falls apart fast whenever it opens its mouth to talk about “international conspiracies.” The CIA angle is old hat, and I found it a little difficult to believe that the xenophobia-prone Japanese government would actually hire a Chinese national who could barely speak Japanese to be one of their lead agents. Mind you, I wouldn’t bother with these sorts of questions if Tokyo Raiders didn’t try to be serious. If the film had stuck to comedy and played everything for laughs, these questions wouldn’t even occur to me.

Director Jingle Ma, who showed very poor judgment with the use of music in the Cecilia Cheung vehicle Fly me to Polaris, once again proves that he shouldn’t be given music to play with. During many of the action scenes, Ma tries, once again, to drown us with the soundtrack. I have to wonder if the man is deaf, or if he loves music so much he has no idea when to use it and when not to.

Aside from an overbearing soundtrack and a hackneyed plot with too many silly twists, Tokyo Raiders is good for a laugh. Tony Leung’s turn as a playboy spy is enough to warrant a look, but just don’t take the film too seriously. When the characters stop being funny, the movie stops being good.

Don’t even get me started on how dull and uninspired that entire boat chase sequence was toward the end of the film…

Jingle Ma (director) / Susan Chan, Felix Chong (screenplay)
CAST: Tony Leung Chiu Wai …. Lin
Ekin Cheng …. Yung
Kelly Chen …. Macy
Cecilia Cheung …. Saori
Toru Nakamura …. Takahashi

Buy Tokyo Raiders on DVD