The Wong Jing Fun Factory churns out another made-to-order product, and hopefully there’ll be a recall. Treasure Hunt is a shoddy attempt at commercial filmmaking that combines about twelve different genres - from adventure to comedy to family film to infomercial - and it does it in such uninspiring style that one’s brain may hemorrhage. The story itself is average enough: commercial director Peggy Jiang (Cecilia Cheung) is offered a milk powder commercial starring superstar martial arts actor and perpetually drunk blowhard Mr. Big (Ronald Cheng). Her participation could mean financing for her dream film project, but the commercial requires a trip to remote Weizhou Island. In protest over her career-vs-family issues, husband Andy (Ekin Cheng in a cameo) takes off temporarily with their son Lucas (Lucas Tse, Cecilia’s real-life son). Faced with a choice between family and career, Peggy attempts to do the job while also using her phone to keep in contact with Andy and Lucas. Her phone breaks along the way, so hey, drama!
The actual commercial shoot is on a deserted island near Weizhou that’s also the location of a fabulous Ming Dynasty treasure, which is hidden underground on an “island in an island” and a “lake in a lake.” These silly directions come courtesy of an ancient scroll stolen by gangster Cobra (Liu Hua) and his henchman. They’re on the island along with Peggy, Mr. Big and their massive entourage, which includes Mr. Big’s daughter Cissy (Lin Maoke a.k.a. the lip-syncing girl from the 2008 China Olympics) and his agent Wayne He (Wong Jing). There’s also another group: tree-hugging mountain man Star (Shao Bing) lives on the island with his son Starlet (Peng Gen), who accidentally steals Cobra’s scroll. Add in a mysterious girl (Zhou Qiqi) who’s following Peggy’s group and the total number of factions on the island totals four. I think. Somehow Peggy gets involved, Mr. Big continues to boast, Cobra gets angry, Star acts manly and everyone ends up hunting for the treasure. It’s like The Goonies only nobody will discuss a potential sequel in twenty years.
Treasure Hunt is the second film in Cecilia Cheung’s return and it's great to see the award-winning actress back after six years away from the screen. Unfortunately, the film comes after months of bad press about her dissolving marriage and questionable parenting skills. As such, Cheung may have achieved the rare feat of becoming overexposed only two films into her five-or-six film comeback. Adding insult to injury, we can now knock Cheung's ability to choose projects because Treasure Hunt is transparent product. Also, the film transparently pushes product. Peggy is making a commercial for a China brand milk powder, which allows for the actors to play people who hawk milk powder, while in reality also hawking milk powder to the film’s audience. Wow, meta! This usage is crass but understandable - but does it make sense for an entire wall of Star's eco-friendly hut to be made of milk powder cans? No, it does not, but that's what happens in this film.
The milk powder thing is just the tip of the iceberg for Treasure Hunt's senselessness, so we should just move on. The problem is that the rest of the film is pretty bad, too. True to Wong Jing form, whole scenes are composed of characters standing around uselessly bantering or dispensing exposition. There's action to break things up; Mr. Big is a thinly-veiled Jackie Chan parody, and Ronald Cheng handles the moves decently when he has to. Facing off against him is Xing Yu, who offers some authenticity because he really can fight. The other thing the baddies do is overact like madmen, with one henchman (Fu Tianjiao) going for the full arsenal of funny faces and crazy eyes. Wong Jing has never been one for coaching actors, so this is really par for the course. At the very least, there's Cecilia Cheung, who earns credit for acting like she's not phoning this one in. The same cannot be said for her son Lucas, who seems to be doing whatever he wants onscreen. The effect is like watching Cecilia Cheung's home movies, except with Ekin Cheng standing in for Nicholas Tse.
The combo of Lucas’ casting and the milk powder overload tells you all need: Treasure Hunt is a cynical creation, assembling whatever elements the producers could to make dough from the audience and the investors. The filmmakers do attempt to fulfill their adventure plot, building a wrecked ship set and creating man-eating plants via CGI. But there’s never a moment where it feels like the filmmakers tried hard to make a good film; creativity, acting, story and production design seem to be attempting the bare minimum rather than reaching for a standard. Uncaring moviegoers may like this as a passably entertaining time killer, but anyone who thinks movies matter should stay far away. In the end, the most memorable thing about Treasure Hunt is unintentional. At one point, Cecilia Cheung says, "Having a family is the best of all treasures!" That's acceptable for hackneyed scriptwriting, but considering all of Cheung’s considerable gossip, the line becomes inadvertent comic gold. Wong Jing: you do your best work when you don't mean to. (Kozo, 2011)