Time Raiders (盗墓笔记) Movie Review

“Even if no one else remembers you, I will”- Wu Xie to Zhang Qiling

This is a stable dialogue in every Daomu Biji adaptation till date. It could be the live-in action dramas or the movie adaptation, the “PingXie” romance is an integral part of this franchise.

Their love story was never subtle nor underrated; Wu Xie and Zhang Qiling transcend borders and yet again even timescales to be together. The reasons for watching this film are quite relatable “Suffering from Ultimate Note withdrawal symptoms”. Yes, such a condition exists and it is spreading rapidly amongst “The Lost Tomb Series” fandom. Despite my obvious love for the franchise, I spent a considerable amount of time comparing the adaptations and wondering where they went wrong with this movie. The film was largely adapted from the two series “Snake Pit Ghost Town” and “Buried Flower Sea”, instead of the first book from the Daomu Biji Series (Grave Robbers Chronicles).

Directed by Dragon Blade’s Daniel Lee, this film is an ambitious attempt at drawing a parallel universe similar to that in the later installments of the Daomu Biji Universe. The glaring similarities were astounding and the shocking differences were cringeworthy. Starring celebrity actors (LuHan and Jing Bo Ran) as the main leads, the film also includes a stellar international cast like Italian film Actor Vanni Corbellini (as the Tomb Raider Cox Hendrix), and Bollywood Actress Mallika Sherawat (as the Snake Empress). Let’s review this film as we dissect the finer details of this adventurous “Tomb Raiding” saga!

CHARACTERS

Wu Xie

Popular former member of the Chinese/South Korean boyband EXO, Lu Han plays the main protagonist Wu Xie. Wu Xie is the proprietor of an antique store and was born into a long line of grave robbers.

Zhang Qiling

Jing Bo Ran plays the role of Zhang Qiling, a mysterious immortal and Wu Xie’s potential love interest.

Fatty Wang

Zhang Bo Yu plays the role of Fatty Wang. He joins the Tomb Raiding Expedition as a part of Ning’s team.

Wu Sanxing

Wang Jing Chun plays the role of Wu Sanxing. He is Wu Xie’s Third Uncle and is an experienced Tomb Raider.

Ning

Sandra Ma portrays the mercenary Ning employed by the main antagonist Cox Hendry.

Time Raiders follows our main leads Wu Xie and Zhang Qiling as they are bought together by fate to stop the resurrection of the evil sorceress, the Snake Empress. Wu Xie belongs to a family of grave robbers and has been bought up by his Third Uncle Wu Sanxing. They unknowingly stumble upon an old relic which is tied to the old documents left behind by Wu Xie’s Grandfather. Despite Sanxing’s insistent warnings, Wu Xie tentatively joins in the expedition organized by his Uncle. Zhang Qiling on the other hand faces an existential crisis because of his recurrent memory loss and as such joins the same expedition to recollect memories related to his past life. Wu Xie is invariably drawn to the mysterious Qiling and thus they grow closer. At the same time, a gang of mercenaries lead by Ning (who works for Cox Hendry, a foreign Tomb Raider, hellbent on discovering the secret to Immortality), face off with the first team, in an attempt to find the mythical tomb. But unbeknownst to them, the tomb holds terrible secrets, which if unveiled could possibly destroy the mankind.

Lu Han as the inexperienced Wu Xie

Ultimate Note was the first Grave Robbers Chronicles adaptation, that I watched. It was morbid curiosity and nothing else. But the character that drew my attention from the start was Wu Xie. Wu Xie belongs to a family of Tomb Raiders and despite that, he doesn’t have the requisite qualities that are resplendent of Grave Robbers. He is kind, caring, entirely humane and also hugely ethical. As compared to his Uncle Sanxing, Wu Xie is naive yet quite knowledgeable. Lu Han plays off these characteristics well and although I did compare him to Li Yi Feng (The Lost Tomb Season One) and Joseph Zeng (Ultimate Note), Lu Han plays the character in his own unique way. Wu Xie although inexperienced is quick-witted and when paired opposite Zhang Qiling, they make a formidable team. There were certain instances where Lu Han acts out of character, but they are far between and can be easily ignored. The actor certainly makes up for the inconsistencies with his charming personality.

Jing Bo Ran as the Immortal Zhang Qiling

I was pleasantly surprised by Jing Bo Ran’s depiction of Zhang Qiling. The opening credits where Zhang expertly fights with a group of foreign mercenaries to protect the Temple Monk certainly set a precedent. Bo Ran portrayed this character with subtle nuances that are quite deviant from the character’s normal mute behavior. I was so engrossed watching him portray this character in his own unique style, that I literally forgot about comparing him with Yang Yang (The Lost Tomb Season One) or Xiao Yu Liang (Ultimate Note). The underlying romance, stares and soft gestures are still the same. This movie also revealed the secrets related to the tattoo on Zhang Qiling’s chest and although the story deviates quite often from the original script, it doesn’t lessen the mystique of this character.

PingXie Romance

“This should be a story about Me and Him”

The Grave Robbers Chronicles are hugely popular because of their romantic depictions of Wu Xie and Zhang Qiling’s relationship. The homoerotic content largely points to their love story and the lack of any female interest draws attention to their apparent closeness. There are marked differences between the live-in action dramas and this movie adaptation when it comes to highlighting this relationship. While the dramas hugely focus on the tomb raiding activities, the “PingXie” romance often gets sidelined.

Time Raiders however decided to give us a storyline where both our main leads stuck together till the end and as such making necessary sacrifices to save each other’s lives becomes the norm. The movie starts on a sad note where Wu Xie is shown reminiscing the sweet moments beside Zhang Qiling (there is no clear explanation as to why Qiling is missing) and yet the vintage photographs leave you with a foreboding feeling. Their first meeting is a replicant of normal Chinese Romance Dramas with cherry blossoms floating through the air, which are a subtle indication of their brewing romance.

Their second meeting is as memorable as the first, wherein Wu Xie is innately drawn to this strange guy who has no recollections of his past life. Between clicking photographs of the mysterious stranger, they share life stories and make promises for the future. It might seem out of character, but they are “PingXie”, so the instant connection is inevitable. Despite being absolute strangers, they fit together like the pieces of an odd puzzle. The movie version of Zhang Qiling is also comparatively different from the usual. He is albeit carefree, has decent conversations with Wu Xie and even smiles. That’s a huge victory on Wu Xie’s part, because the drama version of Qiling can be pretty frustrating at times!

The slow burn romance progresses as the story advances and Zhang Qiling becomes the ardent protector to our Damsel in Distress “Wu Xie”. So, although there are plenty of instances where Zhang tries to shake off Wu Xie for his own safety, our adorable puppy would still follow him around. I wasn’t a huge fan of this movie’s manipulative storyline, but I did enjoy watching this Bromance as our adorable couple grow closer.

“Of course, I will remember You”

These lines remind you of the same exact dialogue in Ultimate Note, where Zhang Qiling (Xiao YuLiang) rues about the fact that maybe someday no one will remember him. Wu Xie (Joseph Zeng) vehemently denies the same and utters the above mentioned dialogue with the same conviction as Lu Han does in the movie version.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The story falls flat when compared to the drama adaptations. There are several blurring mistakes which antagonize the original script and that leads to disturbing inconsistencies. The storyline focuses on discovering the long-lost tomb of a mythical Snake Empress and although the premise is quite similar to “The Ultimate Note”, the execution is faulty. The drama adaptation is set in a parallel universe, where the “Heavenly Queen Mother” concocts pills of Immortality. In Time Raiders, however we have the Snake Empress (Mallika Sherawat) playing the maniacal Sorceress who is out to destroy the mankind. The viable differences will disappoint you and Mallika’s raunchy makeup seems too over the top. The CGI effects are glaringly inadequate considering the fact that this film is tagged as Fantasy. The majestic sets do add to the allure but there is only so much that they could do.

The ending sequences were poorly executed and I actually felt bad for Mallika Sherawat, because she was hugely stereotyped as a villainous character, hell-bent on destroying the world with her tentacles and an army of mutant worms. I’m not even sure if she knew that she is actually starring in a popular Bromance franchise and that she fell short of the expectations that are attached to this popular saga! The female antagonists in this film were hugely disconcerting and as such Ma Sichun was entirely unconvincing as the badass mercenary Ning. Sichun failed to draw the respect or admiration that I have for Ning and I was left disappointed.

The film is drawn out, seemingly confusing and the ending is oblivious. The only saving grace is the chemistry between the main leads which makes this film remotely tolerable. So although the film’s poorly executed script and inadequately choreographed scenes might seem like a disaster, Time Raider is a worthwhile watch if you are an ardent fan of the Daomu Biji Series.


Rating- 3 out of 5

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