"Tokyo Raiders" was a sizeable hit, so it comes as no surprise that the producers would come back for second helpings. Director Jingle Ma returns to the helm, Tony Leung is back as the clandestine operative Lam (wasn't he called something else in the first film?), and his girls are back too, but other than that "Seoul Raiders" shares nothing with its predecessor.
Even though Tony Leung's character wasn't exactly the lead in the first film, he was definitely the best part of it, so I don't mind that he gets to take centerstage is this new story. The problem is the actual story "Seoul Raiders" sets out to tell. It's so trivial, you have to wonder why they even bothered.
The whole chase after the plates is just a so-called McGuffin. A plot device to move the story forward, which has no actual relevance. They could be chasing a jar of pickles for all we care, it wouldn't make a difference. The chase for the plates might have worked if the story was strong and the characters detailed and interesting, but that's not the case. What little plot there is seem to exist only to tie the action scenes together, and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There's double-cross upon double-cross, but even those involved don't seem to be aware of what's really going on, until it's revealed to the audience, at which point they act like they knew all along.
The only thing that works perfectly for the film is the visuals.
The fights, for example, are really spectacular. There's a cool chase through a train, where Leung and his babes kick Richie Ren's ass. Along the way there are also a number of truly gorgeous hand-to-hand fights with some inventive choreography. All the fights use slow-motion extensively, and almost all of them are shot against the light, creating a moody noir-ish feeling. But Jingle Ma saves the best for last. The final action scene is a spectacular chase involving a small plane, a car and a motorcycle. It ends with Ren and Leung fighting on top of the plane as it's racing down street! It's all very cool, but because there's no story in the film, and since most of the fights lead nowhere, the whole thing gets a bit tedious after a while.
As it's the case with all Jingle Ma's films, "Seoul Raiders" look fantastic. The film relishes in the modern high tech architecture of Hong Kong and Seoul, with their metal and glass structures. The fights are lit like those in Johnny To's "Throw Down", with pools of light illuminating small patches of the darkened streets. Everything simply looks great!
Shu Qi appears in the very first scene, but after Lam frames her, she disappears from the film, and doesn't return until the 40 minute mark.
It's hard to get a grip on her character's function in the story. She's not exactly a love interest. Tony Leung doesn't seem to be after her, even though his girls feel very threatened by her. Richie Ren expresses some interest in her, but since they are adversaries, nothing really comes out of it. She returns to the story, presumably to help Tony Leung, but when she actually arrives he's the one calling the shots, and she's got no input whatsoever. In other words, what the hell is the character of J.J. suppose to do?
In spite of these problems, Shu Qi should be able to handle this kind of role in her sleep. She usually brings a bubbly innocence to such a part, and usually it's easy to forgive a film's shortcomings as long as she's around. That's not the case here. Shu Qi simply isn't on top of her game. Her initial appearance in the opening heist scene is less than convincing. Actually it's awful, I'm not sure what's wrong, but that's certainly not the Shu Qi I love and respect. She blatantly overacts in the most excruciating way, and it's not charming at all. When she returns later in the film, her acting greatly improves, perhaps because the character no longer has to behave like such a buffoon. She also gets to share a simple beautiful scene with Tony Leung on a balcony, which makes J.J. appear almost human. Almost.
"Seoul Raiders" is by no means a bad film, but it should have aimed higher. It just hasn't got the spark the original had. It's fast-paced and there plenty of funny moments (Shu Qi dressing up as a man is one of them), but it's devoid of passion and purpose.
Watching from the sidelines as "Seoul Raiders" was announced, shot and opened, I was amazed by the speed of the film crew. Now it's obvious why they could move so fast. That's easy when you don't try too hard. "Seoul Raiders" is distinctly average and it's inferior to the original in every aspect. That's not really the way to make a sequel, is it?