As a reintroduction to Hong Kong cinema, Daniel Lee's (14 Blades, Black Mask) Time Raiders is a fitting place to start. The opening ten minutes drown in a sea of lousy dialogue, clichéd action beats, weak acting and poor effects work. Some of the shonky CGI would have looked at home in Andrew Lau's ludicrously entertaining The Storm Riders, and that was made eighteen years ago. In summary then, and I choose my words carefully here, Time Raiders encapsulates everything we have come to love about Hong Kong action cinema over the years. So why is it so mystifyingly average?
Lu Han (boy band EXO) and Jing Boran (Monster Hunt) take on lead duties, with a fleeting guest appearance by Mallika Sherawatis, who plays the sorceress in the film. Think Dwayne Johnson in The Mummy Returns and you won't go far wrong. The film is based on a Chinese bestselling novel series titled Daomu Biji (commonly translated to Grave Robbers’ Chronicles) by Xu Lei, which was also adapted into a Chinese TV series in China.
Raised by his Uncle, Wu Sanxing (Wang Jing Chun), Wu Xie is fascinated by old architecture and antiques. The plot revolves around a special piece of bronze that can be traced back to a lost kingdom buried in the basin of north-west China, named Xiwangmu Dynasty. As it turns out, Wu’s family recruited a group of tomb raiders - including a mysterious stranger called Zhang Qiling (Jing Boran) - who went deep into the ruins of the ancient city. Jumping back to the present, we follow Wu Xie on an all-new adventure. One that unearths all kinds of mystical nonsense.
The film settles down for a while as we meet our companions on this journey, complete with perfunctory back-stories and a musical score that aims desperately for the heart and misses the target with nauseating aplomb. It's fairly evident early on that Daniel Lee has no intention of breaking the mould with this one, riffing on Tomb Raider, The Mummy and any number of martial arts movies you might care to mention. My interest spiked at the halfway point with the introduction of Ning (Sichun Ma), one of only two ladies in the entire movie. That's an own goal in anybody's language, especially when they look as good as Sichun Ma (Saving Mr Wu).
It's all downhill from here. Promising set-pieces are hindered by terrible effects work, not to mention inexplicable dance routines. Okay, so there is just the one dance number but the comedy interludes are inexcusable. Within minutes we lurch into horror territory as a CGI beetle chomps down on a human skull. A badly rendered CGI beetle it has to be said. That's the biggest problem with Time Raiders though, it really doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be. Action, adventure, horror and comedy are thrown into the mix, but none of it is done particularly well.
The final acts reassembles all of the elements that have plagued the movie up to this point, in a stupendously idiotic conclusion that tops its own absurdity at every inconceivable turn. Stand out moments include the least convincing demonic slugs you have ever seen, and quality dialogue like, "Chew on this!", delivered with about as much venom as a p*ssed off daddy long-legs.
Daniel Lee has made some curious films in his time, he's also made some very entertaining ones. Time Raiders is just unintentionally bad. Welcome back Hong Kong action cinema, oh how I've missed you.