Treasure Inn (Review)

Treasure Inn

aka Choi San Har Jan aka 財神客棧 aka God of Fortune Inn

Directed by Wong Jing and Corey Yuen Kwai
Written by Wong Jing

Wong Jing scores with Treasure Inn, a blend of action and comedy with just the right ratio for a pleasant viewing experience. Like most Wong Jing movies, Treasure Inn borrows from a variety of sources, the most obvious are the classic King Hu wuxia films that revolve around inns (Dragon Gate Inn, The Fate of Lee Khan, and even A Touch of Zen) Jing makes the most of the sweeping desert landscape and the cinematography and nature shots are among his best work. Jing wisely brought in Corey Yuen Kwai (DOA: Dead or Alive, So Close) to direct the action sequences, giving them the fanciful look that Yuen brings to his projects. But before we get to the inn, we have the journey along the way.

At this point, I’m no longer impressed by opening credits animated in Flash. Luckily, the credits are quickly over, and we jump into the film proper as good guys are slaughtered and villains strike a deal. But let’s meet the cast!

Liu Jianmeng aka Young Master (Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung) – An apprentice cop stuck on laundry and cook duty while the incompetent bully actual police bumble their way through life. Young Master was taught kung fu by his grandfather, who taught him speed is the most important aspect and that true love is worth sacrificing for. Nicholas Tse has been on TarsTarkas.NET in The Promise.
Chen Yungren aka Brad (Nick Cheung Ka-Fai) – Young Master’s whiney friend and partner. Brad has big buck teeth that he’s shockingly using the entire film and not just for a throwaway gag. As the comic relief, Brad is usually horribly injured. Yes, this film has two actors named Nick as the two leads.
Lady Water Dragon (Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin) – Lady Water Dragon and her sister are reward scammers and thieves. Lady Water Dragon falls instantly in love with Young Master upon seeing him in the prison cell. No one would believe for one second she is a dude, especially with the tiny Hitler ‘stache she’s sporting. Charlene Choi is also here in Protege De La Rose Noire, Beauty on Duty, and Hidden Heroes.
Lady Fire Dragon (Crystal Huang Yi) – Lady Water Dragon’s sister, who winds up with Brad, and the contrast of the two characters’ personalities gives us many moments of merriment. A tough chick not taken to falling in love at first sight to a random guy in jail. Is just as unconvincing disguised as a man.
Wen Wenqie (Tong Dawei) – A wandering doctor who is probably asleep in the ceiling of your house as you read this! Is an expert in kung fu, though always tries the peaceful path first. Wen Wenqie is in love with Yue Linglong.
Yue Linglong (Liu Yang) – Owner of Treasure Inn and badass swordswoman and dancer. Object of Wen Wenqie’s affection, and even Young Master becomes smitten with her. Some of her anctics reminded me of Moulin Rouge, though I don’t know if it was intentional.
Captain Iron (Kenny Ho Ga-Ging) – leader of the Gold Shield Constables, tracking the villain who stole the White Jade Goddess statue and trying to keep Young Master and Brad from getting the villains before he does.

Young Master and Brad are two low-level local police officers, stuck on dish duty while their lazy and ignorant superiors bumble their way through their work. When there is a mass slaughter and robbery that could have only been done by several martial arts masters, Young Master walks us through the forensics reconstruction, explaining just how everyone was killed. There is also some good gags with the killers’ ruthlessness on their animal victims. Young Master’s work is not appreciated by the other officers, and when the high-ranking Gold Shield Constables arrive, their leader Captain Iron just brushes Young Master and Brad aside, and even tells the local police that they were in on the killing.

While in jail, Young Master and Brad have a cellmate, an obvious woman with a mustache who is part of a plot to collect bounties and then escape during the execution (hey, this sounds like it is also from a movie!) Her co-conspirator is Lady Water Dragon, who is instantly smitten with Young Master, much to the annoyance of Brad and Lady Fire Dragon. Brad and Lady Fire Dragon begin their antagonistic courtship by squabbling and drawing swords and snakes against each other. In the bamboo forest. Five points for Gryffindor if you can identify this homage.

The only way to clear their names is to recover the stolen White Jade Goddess statue, and the only place a piece that valuable can be fenced is at the annual rare antiquities auction as the fabled Treasure Inn. Along the way, they encounter an odd scholar Wen Wenqie, who is smitten with the owner of the Treasure Inn, Yue Linglong. They also run into the Gold Shield Constables, and fight with them against some of the bandits. Here, Yuen’s action sequences are highlighted. The different fighters use different attack methods, with the musical weapon welded by the female villain being the most obvious homage (though music used as a weapon has been used in film and storied for decades, the imagery is “borrowed” directly from Kung Fu Hustle.)

The evil gang is comprised of:

Tang Ao – King of 1000 Hands, whose weapon is Killing Shower
Yu Feng – King of Eagle Claws, who wears metal claws and has a fauxhawk and vest, looking like he stepped out of Dragonball Z
Lady Fox – Acoustic Power, she uses the lute as a eadly weapon.
Jin Buer – King of Jokers, the evil mastermind behind the theft that can be found under his umbrella most days.

It wouldn’t be a Wong Jing film if there wasn’t 90 million characters, and they all meet together at Treasure Inn as we close in on the battle finale. There is betrayal, love, surprise Copper Monks, extras who looked like they were going to do more than they did, poison, sandstorms, and heroics.

Treasure Inn knows when to have cool action and fights, and when to have goofy filler in between. The visuals are excellent, the set pieces engaging, and most characters are given enough personality to make them distinct. A few stand out less (Charlene Choi surprisingly, Jin Buer, Tang Ao), which is probably inevitable with a larger ensemble. But we still get a sense of who they are, who everyone is, and why they are doing what they do.

In conclusion, Treasure Inn is a great example of why Wong Jing continues to have a following. When he puts his mind to it, he can make great films. I’m perfectly willing to sit through mindless slop to get to the Treasure Inn each year. His borrowing of elements from great classic wuxia films and spinning them together into his own tale is a great refresher from the cheap comedies Wong Jing also pumps out. Treasure Inn made me want to revisit the King Hu films, and I realized it has been a decade since I’ve seen A Touch of Zen or Dragon Gate Inn, they being among the first batch of Asian cinema I started watching seriously (as opposed to the occasional Wutang Ninja Monkey Killer video picked up alongside random offerings from the scifi section of local video stores), and after spending all these years watching so many other films, it will probably be like watching them for the first time. And though it might not be the point of a film to inspire you to watch another film, it will reacquaint me with the films I loved so long ago, and that Wong Jing obviously loves as well. And that shared experience IS what cinema is all about.

Rated 8/10 (CSI: Ancient China, Question Mark, this is no time for Twitter!, Joe Camel, the best boss ever, boss’s sister, local lazy judge, bug fever!)

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