After being betrayed by an insider, charismatic master thief Dan Cheung (Andy Lau) spent five years in prison. Now he is back, reunited with hacker sidekick Po (Tony Yang). Together with their sexy new partner Red (Shu Qi) the thieves con their way into a charity auction at the Cannes Film Festival and make off with a valuable piece of jewelry. Much to the consternation of grizzled French detective Pierre (Jean Reno) who has pursued Zhang relentlessly for years. On behalf of his trusted mentor, Dan agrees to pull off one last, dangerous job and steal the final piece in a priceless set of jewels from an eccentric tycoon based in Prague. Meanwhile Pierre recruits the one person he believes capable of taking down Dan, art expert Amber Li (Zhang Jing-Chu). Who also happens to be Dan's aggrieved ex-fiancé.
Just to confuse fans Andy Lau made his second film titled The Adventurers more than two decades after the Ringo Lam action-drama of the same name. On its surface the latest slick, state-of-the-art blockbuster offering from actor turned director Stephen Fung seems an obvious example of modern Hong Kong-Chinese cinema flexing its muscles with a glamorous, globe-hopping, stunt and special effects laden caper film. Yet The Adventurers is really just an amped up throwback to the frothy fun of John Woo's similarly romantic and Euro-centric Once a Thief (1991) and going back even further the long-running and hugely influential Aces Go Places franchise. Movies about good looking people doing cool stuff in exotic, more often than not European locations. Indeed longtime Woo cohort Terence Chang serves as executive producer while Aces auteur Eric Tsang essays a significant supporting role.
While the terse chivalry between Dan and Pierre pays lip service to the kinship between cops and criminals that was Woo's stock in trade, The Adventurers is more overtly influenced by the Mission: Impossible and Ocean's Eleven franchises (and to an extent Wong Jing's contemporaneous From Vegas to Macau films). On top of all that it is also the latest in a line of slick, inconsequential caper films Andy Lau has been cranking out over the past few years: e.g. Switch (2013) and Mission Milano (2016). Fung imbues the production with no small amount of panache, savouring the sumptuous scenery in Cannes, Prague and Kiev (stylishly shot by American cinematographer Shane Hurlbut), and techno-wizardry. Where the protagonists in Once a Thief and Aces Go Places relied on their wits, kung fu and hastily improvised gadgets, Dan and co. have access to flashier hardware. Sequences involving a cute spider-drone and fingerprint scanner concealed in Red's figure-hugging dress prove especially cool.
Nonetheless the gun-play and chase sequences rarely rise above mere functional and remain below the standards of classic Hong Kong fare. Fung, who co-wrote the screenplay, also adds a touch of The Thomas Crown Affair (1968/99) via the subplot concerning comely art expert Amber Li. Alas while Zhang Jing-Chu, who also appeared in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015), is excellent and exhibits far greater ease with English dialogue than most mainland Chinese actresses co-opted into international productions, the film does next to nothing with her character. While the plot is not up to match, lacking the quirky humour and faceted relationships that made Once a Thief so likable (though easily outdoing Woo's insulting made-for-TV American remake), the cast give keep things watchable. Lau, a last-moment replacement after Fung's original lead withdrew due to injury, coasts along on seasoned movie star charisma doing his best Tom Cruise impersonation. Imported French superstar Jean Reno galvanizes an otherwise feather-light affair with his trademark gravelly intensity. Meanwhile the eternally lovely Shu Qi, in reality a shade too mature for the ingenue role she essays here (not that you would know it to look at her) lets her hair down after a run of challenging art-house roles, and has a ball as the sassy, spunky Red. Beyond the surface though and despite a concerted effort to trick the viewer into believing otherwise, The Adventurers sorely lacks emotional depth. It is stylish, pacy, certainly fun, but hollow as a chocolate egg.