REVIEW / ACTION COMEDY
FOR A FEW BULLETS (NC16)
115 minutes/Opens tomorrow/2.5/5 stars
The story: Zhuang (Kenny Lin Gengxin) prides himself as China's top hustler. He finds himself working with the icy agent Ruoyun (Zhang Jingchu), veteran con man Shi Fo (Tengger) and his wife (Liu Xiaoqing) to retrieve a precious jade seal - one that the Japanese military wants to use to legitimise its rule in Nanjing in the 1940s.
Kenny Lin's big break came in the period drama Scarlet Heart (2011) in which he stole hearts as the dashing 14th prince.
Seizing his chance to lighten up here, he turns in a charming performance as a rakish con man with a winning smile and a quick wit, which is the best thing about this uneven movie.
His character Zhuang is remarkably cavalier in the way he handles the MacGuffin here, a priceless four dragon rectangular zun (ancient Chinese wine vessel). His carelessness with it reveals the greater treasure within, a royal jade seal which has to be kept out of Japanese hands, a task that falls to an unlikely team assembled by director Peter Pan Anzi (The Palace, 2013).
There are some twists and turns involving traitors and double- crossers, not to mention hurdles that are set up to keep them from their prize. But none of it feels particularly clever or terribly exciting. The ploy to nab the seal on a ship - clearly set up to be a highlight - falls short of being inspired.
It is sad to see Liu Xiaoqing, China's movie queen in the 1980s, reduced to clowning about in a slight role in a sloppy movie whose villains are hammy, subtitles are rife with errors and computergenerated imagery is distractingly amateurish.
This movie headed by China's ambitious Wanda Pictures needs stronger ammunition to mount a successful assault on the stranglehold of Hollywood's best.