Posts Tagged ‘Tong Da Wei’

Switch or 天机·富春山居图 (2013)

June 19, 2013 7 comments


In the days when children were more naive and trusting, the television series based on Superman and other comics used to begin with a warning that everything shown on the screen was pretend. Children cannot actually fly. The sad fact evidenced in hospitals around the country was that young optimists were climbing to the top of pianos or, worse, launching themselves out of windows, expecting that wearing underpants on the outside would enable them to soar. Well, they were wrong. Fast forward to a few years ago when a young Jay Sun was watching some Western films in his local cinema. Here were James Bond and Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible) doing exciting things in cars and aeroplanes. And this young man thought that when he grew up, he would make films just like them. After all, if Westerners could do it, how difficult could it be. All they did was take a few pictures, transfer them to film and then stick the bits of film together using tape. So now we get to see the fruits of his first labour. It’s called Switch or 天机·富春山居图 (2013) and it’s a disaster movie. Sorry. To resolve the ambiguity. The film is a disaster.


There are many reasons why a film may fail and, with one exception, you can see them all on display if you make the mistake of going to see this film. The exception is that much of the cinematography is stylish. This means you can at least find the odd visual treat to distract you from counting all the other ways in which the film is alternately annoying and depressing you. Let’s start with what’s presented to us as the plot. Centuries ago during the Yuan Dynasty, Huang Gongwang painted a scroll called “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains”. For reasons not explained, this masterpiece was later cut into two. At some point during the Japanese invasion, a general made a copy of the half he found but, at the end of the war, that’s all his family had left. The original was recovered and later put on display at the Taipei National Museum. The other half is in the Hangzhou Museum, China (or perhaps that’s a copy too). Anyway, the plan is to bring both halves together so, instead of allowing this to happen and providing a single location to attack, violently inclined thieves set out to steal both halves.

Andy Lau going undetected

Andy Lau going undetected

Enter secret agent Xiao Jinhan (Andy Lau). You know he’s a secret agent because he drives one of these large white Hummer-type trucks with a massive microwave transmitter/receiver on the roof so he need never be out of touch with his boss who’s called F (cunningly extracted from the acronym SNAFU). It would not be possible to give our spy a more unobtrusive mode of transport. He’s married to an insurance project director Lin Yuyan (Jingchu Zhang). Appropriately, she’s called in to advise on security for the Chinese end of the operation but her advice is ignored (or not — I’m not sure on the point). Anyway, there are two groups competing with each other to steal these halves. One is Japanese. Yamamoto (Tong Da Wei) is the son of the Japanese general who had the copy made. Watch out for the finger betting scene to see why we’re supposed to think him sadistic and depraved. He’s assisted by a cohort of female warriors led by Lisa (Chiling Lin). There’s also a group of British heavies based in Dubai where they seem to have negotiated carte blanche with the local authorities to do whatever they like with fast cars, helicopters and gun, lots of guns. There’s a third group led by Empress (Gaowa Siqin) but apart from offering smuggling services, their role is uncertain.


OK so here goes. Both halves of the painting are stolen but Super Agent X switches them for copies, or not. It doesn’t really matter because neither of the halves stolen are the originals. But no-one involved knows this apart from F and possibly X. But they switch them anyway because that makes all the bad guys uncertain as to whether they have the originals. I hope you’re clear so far. So the Japanese bad guy and his gals kidnap X’s son and demand X return the half he switched which he doesn’t mind doing because he’s just returning the copy they stole. So there’s a lot of not very convincing fighting and X, ably assisted by his wife, recovers their son and switches the paintings (again) (or not) (I was past caring at this point).

Tong Da Wei preparing X's son for lunch

Tong Da Wei preparing X’s son for lunch


To give you an idea of how inept the fighting is, Agent X and Yamamoto decide to fight to the death with swords so they very carefully put on all that padding you see in the Olympic games and those protective visors so we can’t see their faces, i.e. neither of the actors can fight using swords so the stuntmen have to be disguised for the fight. Even so, the action was filmed in slow-motion and then speeded up which makes it look like a comedy sequence. There’s only one stunt that’s impressive in the entire 120 minutes running tine. A helicopter appears to pick up a car using suction pads and flies across Dubai until it crashes the car into one of these upmarket hotels. Had Andy Lau not run along the beach, jumped into a speedboat, and driven a high-powered sportscar until he crashed through into the foyer of the hotel (and waited for the lift to take him up to where the car had been crashed by the helicopter) he would never have caught up with them and rescued his wife before she fell out of the car seconds before it plunged to the ground below. In other words, the film elevates absurdity into a new art form. As a final reason for not seeing this, the poster image tells you there’s a romantic entanglement to work through. Irresistible Andy Lau is married but has an on-off relationship with Lisa (Chiling Lin) who’s loved by Yamamoto because she looks just like his mother when he was young and fancied her, i.e. his mother (creepy or what?).


So Switch or 天机·富春山居图 (2013) has a largely incoherent and often incomprehensible plot featuring some useless action sequences and fight scenes (albeit that some of the cinematography is quite striking) with gaps between the scenes where the sticky tape holding the film together runs through the projector. Only film students wanting to catalogue all the mistakes as a class project should go to see this film.


Treasure Inn or Cai Shen Ke Zhan (2011)

For some reason, the summer season is associated with big crowd-pleasing blockbusters. When the sun is beating down and there are so many distractions outdoors, the studios release the films they believe will pull the crowds. In many cases, their choices are really bad. It can just be that the particular script-writing committee and associated focus groups were particularly poorly co-ordinated so the plot emerges in a chaotic state. More often, it’s obvious the cast were only interested in taking the money and finishing as quickly as possible. Whatever the reason, the summer is often the graveyard of the studios’ hopes and expectations.

Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung finding humour in the moment


This year from Hollywood has been no exception. There have been some real stinkers. Looking in the other directions, there have been some good films from Europe and one or two excellent offerings from Hong Kong and China. Well, the mould has now been broken with the arrival of Treasure Inn or Cai Shen Ke Zhan from the remarkably prolific Jing Wong. This just goes to show that, whatever Hollywood can do, Hong Kong can beat if it puts its mind to it.

Huang Yi and Charlene Choi relegated to eye candy roles


Welcome to the wacky world of wuxia comedy. When this fires on all cylinders not only is the fighting superb, but the laughs flow as well. Treasure Inn is a classic example of how not to do it. I suppose the starting points for this pastiche were Dragon Inn or Long men kezhan (1967) and Dragon Inn or Sun lung moon hak chan (1992) which are wonderful straight fighting films set in a remote desert inn. So, as a modern director, you pick your targets carefully. This will have the Inn act as a haunt for criminals who auction off stolen goods to the highest bidders, making it a lure to all the best thieves who want the top return on their skills. In this instance, it’s all about a jade life-sized Goddess of Mercy. A gang of raiders hire a criminal mastermind to steal it for them and pass it on at the Inn. Standing in their way is an elite group of police agents led by Captain Iron (Kenny Ho). Also involved are Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung playing bottom-feeder officers, left to do household chores by their corrupt local officers. When they insert themselves into the investigation, they are accused of being the thieves and then make a break from jail thanks to the efforts of Fire Dragon Girl (Yi Huang) and Water Dragon Girl (Charlene Choi). Needless to say, this pairs off our “heroes” — you can tell this is love at first sight because of the red hearts that burst across the screen when their eyes meet. Yes, some of the humour is that primitive. The other element of romance is between Tong Da Wei as a doctor in love with Ling Long (Liu Yang), the lady who runs the Inn.

Liu Yang floats around showing she's in charge of the Inn


Perhaps it’s an age thing but, when I watch a film, I want it to make sense. I can understand why the corrupt local police would want to drive the innocent do-gooders away, but why they would stay in the face of this relentless abuse is unclear. What makes this a problem is that, when the murders and theft of the statue occur, they are fast to insert themselves into the investigation and obviously ambitious to be recruited into Captain Iron’s troop. Later, when accused of being the robbers, we have slapstick torture and then the rescue by the cross-dressing ladies. There’s no attempt at explanation of why one of the ladies should be locked up with our heroes, nor why the three should be sentenced to death without any kind of trial. I suppose we have to have the ladies readily agree to go to the Inn because that’s the way love works in these films. I could go on but you should understand that, except in the broadest of terms, there’s very little logic or consistency of characterisation at work in this film.

Tong Da Wei looking dangerous in a different film


I might have forgiven all this and accepted the one or two laugh-out-loud moments as compensation if the fighting had been any good. Sadly, we are into poor cutting to hide the lack of good fighting sequences. You can always tell you’re in trouble when the use of sound as a weapon is so heavily featured with red blades of doom being cast off the guitar strings while a lion’s roar comes back. Even the CGI storm that rages around and eventually destroys the Inn is embarrassingly bad.


It’s rare I emerge from the cinema unable to find a single redeeming feature. While accepting that humour often does not cross cultural boundaries, it’s possible this film is aimed at mainland Chinese markets and they will all fall about laughing from start to finish. Certainly, much of the humour is lower common denominator and basic — as in the usual argument about who such suck out the snake venom from one of our hero’s buttocks — so if cultural stereotypes are true, this will make a lot of money. Worse, there’s little passion in any of the three romances to distract us, and the fighting fails to deliver anything entertaining.


So even when Treasure Inn is scheduled on terrestrial television, think twice before spending time to watch it.


Other films by Nicholas Tse:
The Beast Stalker or Ching Yan (2008)
The Bullet Vanishes or Xiao shi de zi dan (2012)
Storm Warriors or Fung wan II (2009)

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