It’s Indiana Jones meets the Shaw Brothers when whip-wielding relic expert Qiaofei (The Green Hornet’s Jay Chou) ventures into China’s northwest desert to uncover an ancient treasure hidden beneath the dunes. And this tomb-raiding spectacle from China shames many of its American counterparts when it comes to sheer action! Stylistically reminiscent of Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird, The Treasure Hunter represents a unique, hyper-modernized amalgamation of serial adventure, kung fu, and western conventions. (In fact, the film features a chase scene through the desert not wholly unlike that of The Good, the Bad, the Weird‘s climactic chase.)
Thinly plotted as much of the tomb raider genre tends to be, The Treasure Hunter relies predominantly on its action sequences to carry the film. And while this works for a time, the last two-thirds of the film balk under the pressure established by the first third. The opening third of the film features spectacular fight scenes confined to the interiors of the opening location, an isolated desert inn called Inn & Beer. Once the characters venture away from Inn & Beer, however, and the film focuses instead on the thin narrative, we find ourselves little invested in scenes the film would appear to want us invested in. Moreover, the reasons for the various characters’ quests to find the lost city are generally unclear, especially when you consider that the film’s central character, Qiaofei, specializes in returning ancient treasures to their place of origin, not in recovering them as Indiana Jones does (Qiaofei’s reasons for this aren’t entirely clear either). As such, there appears to be little at stake for the characters as they randomly wander from one fight scene to another. As a result, a surplus of unresolved character and narrative arcs plague the film in its latter two-thirds, when it’s fairly obvious that the film would have been better served by relying instead on its visuals. Of course, the film’s occasional aesthetic obviousness problematizes this suggestion as the exceedingly dull conventions of grainy film stock flashbacks and bullet-time bog down the otherwise impressive visuals.
Despite these setbacks, kung fu fans will definitely want to seek out The Treasure Hunter for its highly inventive, genre-specific fight scenes. How genre specific? One of the most impressive confrontations in the film finds Qiaofei and his whip pitted against a masked fighter who lashes out in all directions with independently-controlled mummy rags!
The Blu-ray release features a stunning HD transfer that beautifully highlights the film’s rich visual style, and both the Mandarin and English dub audio tracks are appropriately presented in dynamic Dolby TrueHD. (The dub is decent if you prefer dubbed products, but obviously, as a film purist, I recommend the original Mandarin soundtrack.) The film’s theatrical trailer represents the sole bonus feature on this release (and is curiously non-anamorphic).