INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL PREMIERE
Schemes in Antiques
古董局中局 (Gu dong ju zhong ju)
Hong Kong/Mainland China, 2021, 123’, Mandarin
Directed by: Derek Kwok
Screenplay: Fan Wenwen, Sean Huang, Arvin Wang, Pan Yiran, Chang Xiaohu
Photography (color): Jake Pollock
Editing: Matthew Hui
Art Direction: Wang Kuo
Music: Wan Pin-chu
Producer: Han Sanping
Cast: Lei Jiayin (Xu Yuan), Xin Zhilei (Huang Yanyan), Li Xian (Yao Buran), Ge You (Fu Gui), Guo Tao (Xu Heping), Wang Qingxiang (Huang Kewu), Matsumine Lilie (Kido Kana)
Date of First Release in Territory: November 28th, 2021 (Mainland China); TBA (Hong Kong)
Shady tricksters and an immense puzzle emerge in Schemes in Antiques, Derek Kwok’s latest foray into blockbuster territory. The setting this time is mainland China of the 1990s, with a shabby drunkard getting flung into a whirlwind search for a missing artefact.
Xu Yuan (Lei Jiayin) runs a TV repair shop, has a side hustle in the shadowy world of antiques, and largely keeps to himself given that his family name became mud in the early 20th century. Back then, his grandfather Xu Yicheng, as the head of antiquities authority Plum Blossom Five, brought shame on the household for gifting an ancient treasure – the head of a Tang dynasty bodhisattva statue – to a Japanese man. Decades later, with the family living as pariahs of the antiquities world, Xu Yuan’s father (Guo Tao) walked out of the home and disappeared.
Now the topic of the bodhisattva head returns to light in a big way. The Japanese family that received the head wants to return it to China, and they need a descendant of Xu Yicheng to receive it. Huang Yanyan (Xin Zhilei), who’s the daughter of current Plum Blossom Five chairman Huang Kewu (Wang Qingxiang), tracks down Xu Yuan and pushes him into deep intrigue. When he gets to inspect the head to be returned, Xu Yuan draws on his antiques expertise and pronounces it a fake. And that raises questions: Why would Plum Blossom Five bigwigs approve it as genuine? And, if it isn’t, where’s the real deal?
Early on, Xu Yuan told viewers the antiques business is filled with con artists – “scum among scum,” as he put it – and now he must deal with those people as he searches for answers. Before his death, Xu Yuan’s dad had set up an insanely complicated puzzle that could lead his son to discovering the truth about the head, and with Yanyan joining him he sets out on the trail. But making things even more difficult is chairman Huang’s antiques expert nephew (Li Xian), who’s tracking their every move, not to mention the mysterious thugs also in pursuit and a frightful Hicksville of rogues.
Based on a novel by Ma Boyong, Schemes in Antiques hurtles through its two-hour running time with a mix of thriller style, action adventure and more. Early on, Xu Yuan’s hidden expertise is revealed in an antiques-identifying contest that’s given heavy cinematic treatment, replete with swooping camerawork, snazzy effects and a swelling orchestral score. But the picture can also be overly dense: a parade of twists and turns zips by from start to finish, requiring viewers to stay alert or else miss key bits of exposition.
Lei Jiayin gives an enjoyable performance in Derek Kwok’s wild ride, starting off as a slob before a sudden stylish turn later in the picture, and Xin Zhilei offers a light-hearted turn as his sidekick. The two heroes are joined along the way by Ge You, who adds a comical and mysterious presence. Those who’ve been following Kwok’s earlier films will note there are no Hong Kong faces in the cast this time – with its casting, source material and overall vibe, Schemes in Antiques plays very much as a mainland-style film. It’s a far cry from his hometown productions, but once again Kwok shows his versatility in crafting high-budget entertainment and venturing into new directions.
Derek Kwok (1976) began his Hong Kong film career as a writer for director Wilson Yip before making his directorial debut with the offbeat drama The Pye Dog (2007). In 2010, Kwok and Clement Cheng co-directed the nostalgic martial arts feature Gallants, which won Best Picture at the 30th Hong Kong Film Awards. Kwok notched another milestone in 2013 with his first blockbuster, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (co-directed with Stephen Chow), and followed it up with more high-end spectacles in As the Light Goes Out (2014) and Wu Kong (2017).
2007 – The Pye Dog
2008 – The Moss
2010 – Gallants (co-director)
2010 – Frozen
2013 – Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (co-director)
2014 – As the Light Goes Out
2015 – Full Strike
2017 – Wu Kong
2021 – Schemes in Antiques