By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Well GO USA
Now Playing in Theatres
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Xu Yuan (Tao Guo) may well lose his head in Schemes in Antiques (古董局中局). This Chinese action-adventure flick examines the trade in artefacts, and I’m sure it’s even much worse should other nations get involved. In fact, this movie looks at the role the Japanese had when the head of Wu Zetian Mingtang (immortalised as a Buddha statue) is revealed to be a fake, and the real one must be found.
The story picks up and moves like Tomb Raider (2018) without the blockbuster stunts and huge set design. It works because the budget is spent on getting deeply into the detail about what distinguishes a fake artefact from the real. There’s even some light humour added so that we’re getting a blend of shenanigans from the people who ally with Xu in his hunt for a lost head.
This national treasure was given to the Japanese by Xu Yicheng more than a century ago, and back then, nobody thought about the uproar it would cause between the two nations. The film takes place in the modern day where the country now wants to return it. Miss Kido (Matsumoto Lili) is an envoy and said she’ll return it on one condition, only a member of the Xu clan can receive it. They found the statue, but over time, their reputation got mired and the family more or less went into hiding. Xu is apparently the last survivor, but he’s no longer involved in this trade. He’s an electronics repairman and a drunkard. Somehow, he still has the skills of his forefathers, an ability to recognize fakes in the antique business.
He gets a rival, Yao Buran (Xian Li) and not only must they face off on who is the best but also race to find the actual head. Xu has an advantage, memories of his father teaching him Chinese checkers, to go find the real lost head. Ultimately, this story is about broken relationships rather than a hunt for treasure. Although Yuan looks like a down on his luck member of society, his reputation gets the boost required so he can soon hold his head up high and restore family honour, like a true Chinese patriot.
3½ Stars out of 5