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Let's face it- after writing and directing close to 100 films, you already know what to expect out of a Wong Jing film. The prolific filmmaker isn't anything close to auteur, but Wong Jing at his best makes silly yet ultimately entertaining crowd-pleasers- even if he has probably already reached a creative plateau in his goofiness. Such is the nature of his period action comedy "Treasure Inn" it is ridiculous and over-the-top, but at the same time you can't help but be entertained by the sheer inanity of it all.
The barely-there story penned by Wong Jing himself has two lowly street detectives Young Master Kung (Nicholas Tse) and Brad (Nick Cheung) after a group of highly skilled assassins believed to be responsible for the murder of the entire Cheung family in their town. Their motive? A prized White Jade Goddess statue that is apparently as tall as a person. Their destination? Treasure Inn, the place you go to when you want to auction off your stolen goods to other bandits and thieves.
The first half of the movie is more or less a road trip for our two heroes, where they meet a motley bunch of other characters while on their way to Treasure Inn- including a pair of sisters and respective love interests Water Dragon Girl (Charlene Choi) and Fire Dragon Girl (Huang Yi) the much-revered Captain Iron (Kenny Ho) head of the Imperial Gold Constables; and a doctor cum idealistic romantic-at-heart (Tong Da Wei) after the owner of Treasure Inn, Ling Lung (Liu Yang. There are few rules in Wong Jing's playbook, so if you had stepped into this film expecting anything of quality, then you'll recognise your folly right from the start.
In typical Wong Jing style, the movie is all over the place in its 'mo lei tau' silliness. That isn't a bad thing per se, for there are bits which are genuinely funny. Kung's method of catching fish by knocking them unconscious in the water is amusing. Ditto the buck-teethed egotist Brad's delusion about his good looks. Then there are also the highly exaggerated bits, like Brad's literal body extension after going through a primitive torture technique, and his miscalculated descent upon trying to brush off a chicken on his head by spinning up into the sky and landing head-first.
While Wong's lack of discipline does work to give the picture free-form zaniness, it also works against it when he fails to rein in his own excesses. Especially telling is the romantic bits between Kung and Water Dragon Girl, as well as Brad and Fire Dragon Girl- their love-at-first- sight routine happens with cheesy red hearts popping out around them, or yellow question marks flying around their heads. Even the old-school Hong Kong movies contended with just the appropriate sound effects, and not these cringe-worthy displays.
Much of the action is reserved for the second half of the movie, where our heroes arrive at Treasure Inn and get up to all sorts of hijinks before the perfunctory climax. There's a considerable amount of more action in this movie compared to what you would expect in a Wong Jing film, but even with veteran action director Corey Yuen at the helm, the action sequences are nothing to shout about, the wirework plainly obvious. Special effects also feature prominently at the end of the movie, but thankfully, they are considerably well-rendered compared to the awful dud "Future X-Cops.
Rarely, if at all, are Wong Jing movies noted for their performances, and this is no exception. This is Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung's first on screen collaboration after their highly acclaimed "The Stool Pigeon" last year, but their only motivation in this movie seems to be to have a good time with as little effort as possible. Nick Cheung fares better this time round, his egotistical behaviour standing out compared to the utterly bland and forgettable Nicholas Tse here.
But you'd probably already expect as much from watching the countless number of Wong Jing films over his past 30 years in the movie-making business. He's certainly one of the most hardworking Hong Kong filmmakers around, even if he definitely is not one of the best. Still, if it's 'mo lei tau' comedy you're after, Wong Jing delivers just that silly yet amusing entertainment in this latest. It's no treasure, and the whole is no doubt less than the sum of its parts- but the same can be said of every one of his movies, so just go in for the laughs and keep your expectations low.