In 2000, Hong Kong director Jingle Ma’s film “Tokyo Raiders” introduced audiences to Special agent Lam of Japanese National Security. Reprising his role as the quick witted and quick fisted detective, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai proves to be the primary saving grace of Ma’s disappointing self-penned sequel “Seoul Raiders.” In “Tokyo Raiders,” a young woman hires Lam (a private investigator then) to find her fiance in Japan. More or less operating according to the woman’s wishes, Lam ends up doing more than locate a missing person. “Seoul Raiders,” however, allows its protagonist to maintain more control over his movements and opponents. The upside is that Tony Leung appears to be enjoying himself more; the downside is that he doesn’t get to use any cool weapons except for a thin, retractable metal rod that delivers electrical shocks. The other devices he finds in the environment (dishes and briefcases).
The film begins by presenting the main conflict. With the unsolicited help of JJ (Shu Qi), an amateurish thief who appears out of nowhere, Lam retrieves money plates used to make counterfeit American bills and delivers them to Owen Lee (Richie Ren) of the CIA’s Asian Division. Owen serves Lam spiked wine, snatches the plates, and jets to Seoul, South Korea. Realizing this turn of events, Lam flies to Seoul to steal them back. The story beings well enough, but falls apart very quickly. “Tokyo Raiders” had a serious element in its plot yet it was still very fun to watch; “Seoul Raiders” has a silly streak but lacks the ability to thoroughly entertain its viewers. Although there are examples of creativity and imagination in terms of fight choreography (courtesy of Ailen Sit) and action (characters fighting in and on top of a small airplane running down a Seoul street), these instances of spectacle do not adequately compensate for a storyline that isn’t absurd enough to endear but is sufficiently uninspired to distract.
Moreover, character (ir)relevance and casting choice contributes to the shortcomings in Ma’s film. Shu Qi’s character serves narrative causality purposes, but she doesn’t add significant value to the film other than being one more hot chick who can defend herself. “Seoul Raiders” mirrors its predecessor by giving Lam a trio of female martial arts assistants (Choi Yei-Jin, Hanna Cho, Jo Su-Hyun). They kick butt, they look pretty doing it, and they provide a decent amount of comic relief. Unfortunately, it’s not to ease dramatic tension; it’s to alleviate the boredom one inevitably feels when Tony Leung is not on screen. Rather than cast an actor who commands a strong presence (as Ekin Cheng did in “Tokyo Raiders”) to star opposite Leung, Jingle Ma went with Taiwanese pop idol Richie Ren. Ren is overshadowed by Tony Leung and even Shu Qi (she is much cuter). It’s not that he is forgettable; he just has little chemistry with the other characters. The one scene that showcases his ability to complement the others’ with his charm occurs when he sneaks into Lam’s home base, is tied up by the three Korean women, and is subjected to an interrogation technique called Wasa-Wasa-Wasabi. There are reasons to skip this film, especially if a strong and well-developed story is important to you, but this scene and Tony Leung’s performance make the rest of “Seoul Raiders” worth your attention.