excursion into the haunted tombs of western China ought to scare the willies
out of Hollywood. It grossed $70 million in its opening weekend, but for added
international attraction it looked to Bollywood rather than Tinseltown. For the
record, it is not also based on the Ghost
Blows Out the Light franchise. Instead, it is adapted from Xu Lei’s Daomu Biji novels, which has also
spawned the competing television series The
Lost Tomb. Officially, the supernatural does not exist in China, but it
sure makes a lot of noise anyway in Daniel Lee’s Time Raiders (trailer
which is now playing in New York.
China, being in the “antiquities” business can be dangerous, especially the way
Wu Xie’s family practices it. His Uncle Three desperately wants him to excel in
a straighter line of work, but tomb raiding is in his blood. The title refers
to them as “Time Raiders,” but all their raiding takes place in tombs. Of
course, it would be a gifted scholar like Wu who unearths clues to the location
of the fabled Snake Empress’s tomb.
they have unwanted company on this expedition. They will be relentlessly
pursued by a rival team of mercenaries led by Captain Ning A, retained by
Hendrix, a shadowy western jillionaire. Zhang Kylin, a strong silent member of
Wu’s party has some bitter history with Hendrix dating back fifty years, when
the Himalayan martial artist last foiled the super-villain’s plans. Despite all
his efforts, Hendrix has not aged well since that day, whereas Zhang has
apparently not aged at all, so don’t scoff at the benefits of virtuous living.
course, when everyone gets where they are going, there will be a lot of
shooting, crashing through crumbling floors, evading swarms of flesh-eating insects,
and dodging the arrows of a marionette army. That is the good news. The bad
news is the connective narrative is definitely on the ragged side. The third
act is basically a logic-free zone, punctuated by some remarkably awkward
dialogue exchanges. Frankly, Time Raiders
makes Mojin look like Citizen Kane and Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe look like The Magnificent Ambersons, but if you dig huge set pieces and over
the top spectacle, it is still good clean fun.
fact, it is a minor triumph for the set design team (in collaboration with the
SFX team). For the most part, the 3D is unnecessary, but it does gives viewers
an eerie sense of the vastness of the underground caverns. We are talking big
Chinese audiences, former EXO boy band member is also a huge marquee name, but
not so much here. Jing Boran is better known in the West (probably for Monster Hunt, but Lost and Love is a far better showcase for his talents). He is
actually pretty credible as the hardnosed, severely-tempered Zhang, sort of resembling
a younger Chen Kun. However, Luhan is so delicate looking, their bromance scenes
take on sexually ambiguous overtones that are assuredly completely
unintentional, given the state’s frequent censorship of homoerotic subject
Ma Sichun makes a convincing bid for international breakout superstardom as the
steely Ning A. Her action chops are first-rate and her attitude is appealingly
barbed. She is the one viewers will remember, not Bollywood star Mallika
Sherawat, who basically just serves as an anchor for a swirling mass of CG
effects as the Snake Empress.
It is strange that books and films about tomb plundering
are so popular in China, given the government’s hardline against the practice.
You could almost call it cultural appropriation, since American filmmakers
essentially invented the genre with Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. Yet, Hollywood
rarely makes such cliffhanger adventures anymore, so it is up to China to fill
the vacuum. Mojin is still the best
(probably since The Last Crusade), but
at least Time Raiders is eager to
please, putting it all up there on the screen. Recommended as slightly nutty, popcorn
entertainment, Time Raiders is now
playing in New York, at the AMC Empire, via distributor Magnum Films.
Labels: 3D films, Chinese Cinema, Daomu Biji franchise, Jing Boran, Ma Sichun