I remember the first time that I saw Noah Baumbach’s Kicking And Screaming (1995). I became all excited when Carlos Jacott is at the airport carrying a framed one-sheet for Jeffrey Lau’s Treasure Hunt (1994). One has to understand that when I was growing up Chow Yun-Fat was a mega star. I saw so many of his films during that period. Of those films, Treasure Hunt has always been one of my favorites.
Treasure Hunt was probably the tenth Chow Yun-Fat film I saw (back in the days of VHS), but it was my first excursion into the wild, genre bending world of Jeffrey Lau comedies. Since then I have, unfortunately, only seen one more film by Lau, his masterpiece, The Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993). Lau strikes me as a genuinely versatile genre filmmaker. He has this terrific sense of the aesthetic cues that define genre, usually in the most minimal and subtle ways.
Treasure Hunt is a kind of beautiful, compulsively watchable mess that still manages to feel, on an emotional level, coherent. The film opens as a buddy action comedy, shifts into Chinese propaganda, shifts into melodramatic romance and fantasy, only to shift again into wuxia, and then, finally, to the heroic bloodshed genre. Every sequence, despite being drastically different from what preceded it, feels like a natural extension of Chow Yun-Fat’s and Wu Chien-Lien’s star persona’s. Lau exploits this, as well as exploiting the flexibility of his “tragic romance” narrative to explore these various genres.
However, what really holds Treasure Hunt together is the chemistry between Chow Yun-Fat and Wu Chien-Lien as CIA agent Cheung Chi and the supernaturally gifted Mui Sui-ching. They give Treasure Hunt its heart, as well as an emotional continuity on which Lau can hang the rest of the film. These two are so good together that I think they could sell any premise in any movie as plausible. The same year that they did Treasure Hunt together they also co-starred in the spectacular The God Of Gamblers Returns, another of my personal favorites.
Treasure Hunt isn’t an amazing movie, but it is effect, compelling and moving in a number of surprising ways. I think Jeffrey Lau does enough technically for audiences who are unfamiliar with Hong Kong cinema of this period to find something of interest. And I cannot over state the joy that comes with watching Chow Yun-Fat and Wu Chien-Lien together. Check this one out for sure.