EUROPE RAIDERS (2018) review

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13 years isn’t such a long time for a sequel to arrive, considering Rambo came back after 19 years, Blade Runner after 25 years, and Mad Max after 29. Yet 13 years feels like eons for the sequel to such fluff as Tokyo Raiders and Seoul Raiders to turn up. Not in terms of anticipation, mind you. Tokyo and Seoul were mildly entertaining but quite unmemorable, and haven’t really aged well. Still, they benefitted from attractive casts gathered around the considerable charm of Tony Leung Chiu Wai. Surprisingly, Leung returns for Europe Raiders, despite having become more rare in recent years – perhaps Wong Kar Wai’s role as a producer helped a bit, or perhaps he just wants to have fun: after all, he also appeared in Monster Hunt 2 this year.

After playing private eye Lin Guiren in the first two installments, Leung nows plays bounty hunter Lin Zaifeng, but it’s basically the same role. In 2006, Lin delivers genius computer scientist Mercury (George Lam) to the CIA; the terms of his surrender is that the Agency will keep him in a high-tech prison of his own design, in which he will work on the the “Hand of God”, a mass-surveillance system. 10 years laters, Mercury has died and the CIA is using his invention for evil purposes. But Su Fei (Du Juan), a CIA operative who is none other than Mercury’s vengeful daughter, steals the Hand of God and threatens to reveal its source code to the general public. To stop her, Lin must team up with rival bounty hunter and former love interest Wang Chaoying (Tiffany Tang Yan), as well as with Su Fei’s younger brother Rocky (Kris Wu), a hacker.

The Raiders formula is faithfully applied here: a twisty spy-caper narrative, banter and one-upmanship between Leung and a high-profile male co-star (Kris Wu, after Ekin Cheng and Richie Jen), a flirtatious pas-de-deux with a female counterpart (Tiffany Tang after Kelly Chen and Shu Qi), and whole lot of swirly fights. Here, Jingle Ma obviously benefitted from a bigger budget, and gives the film a more blockbuster feel, with higher stakes and more high-tech spectacle, in an obvious attempt to ape the recent Mission: Impossible triumphs. But his film is, unsurprisingly, a puerile accumulation of spy clichés in which one-note characters flail around in a vacuum, trying to look cool, flirting and bantering heavy-handedly, throwing kicks left and right at evil gweilos and generic assassins, with a few laughable attempts at emotion thrown in.

Plot holes, nonsensical turns and wildly asinine final twist could’ve been somewhat redeemed by sheer spectacle and charisma. But Jingle Ma’s instantly dated sense of glitz is as tiresome as ever, especially as he’s now making extensive use of green-screen, like in a visually ugly final set-piece set against the backdrop of an eye-gouging CGI crimson sky, in Su Fei’s eye-sore of a high-tech lair. And the abundant fight scenes, choreographed by Jackie Chan Stunt Team member Han Guanhua, are edited to shreds (just like in the first two installments). And while Tony Leung Chiu Wai is a joy to watch (and still puzzlingly youthful), he’s in nowhere as good company as in Tokyo and Seoul. Tiffany Tang, while passable, is far from possessing the presence and skill to be believable as Leung’s flirtatious rival; such a role requires the class of a Zhou Xun or a Li Bingbing. Kris Wu is downright risible, preening, pouting and prancing around with all the deluded confidence of a teenager wearing his father’s leather jacket, while Du Juan gives yet another dead-eyed performance.

It’s fun to see veterans Lo Meng, Yuen Qiu and Liu Chia Yung as a trio of henchmen right out of a Stephen Chow comedy, but Jeeja Yanin and Cung Le are wasted as a duo of assassins whose only victim is sartorial elegance. And Jennifer Tse, who would have been better casting than either Tang or Du in their respective roles, suffers the indignity of being omnipresent (playing one of Tang’s henchwomen) yet having her face barely glimpsed. Though perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise for her. Another sequel, America Raiders, was in the plans, but will probably not see the light of day following Europe Raiders’ box-office failure.

Long Story Short: A pointless, instantly dated sequel, with Tony Leung Chiu Wai its lone flicker of life. *1/2

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