Aces Go Places V: The Terracotta Hit ★★½

The series comes to an end with this installment, directed by none other than Lau Kar-leung (there was a sixth film released with a different cast in 1997). From a promising beginning (Sam Hui and Karl Maka have split up and floundered attempting to make it in the real world while Leslie Cheung and Nora Li Chi rip off some thieves wearing Aces masks, framing the heroes) the film meanders for awhile, with a couple solid action sequences (especially an early one involving Conan Lee, as the "Chinese Rambo") and some funny gags (Sam's office telephone is made out of Legos, the villain is introduced petting a white cat ala the Bond movies, but the cat turns out to be a glove that he wears and brandishes as a claw weapon, a kitten mitten, if you will). Cheung gets pretty much nothing to do, and the shapely Li's role is primarily to be the brunt of boob jokes. Danny Lee has a cameo in a bizarre sequence in which the four thieves have been imprisoned in a PRC death camp. The tonal shifts from wacky farce to utter bleakness are impressive, even for an 80s Hong Kong film, unfortunately the farce isn't that funny and the darkness is too reliant on Maka and Hui, likable actors rather lacking in emotional depth.

After the collapse of Shaw Brothers and the market for period kung fu films dried up in favor of heroic bloodshed and special effects movies, Lau's career kind of stalled. His previous film, a modern cop movie with Chow Yun-fat, Tiger on the Beat, is admirably weird and grotesque, but Lau just doesn't seem a good fit for the Aces universe. Despite his pioneering work in blending action and comedy, a model which would be the key to Cinema City and the Aces series' success. Or maybe at this point everyone was tired of a premise which was pretty thin from the beginning (Sylvia Chang doesn't even appear in this one, having left with the scene-stealing Baldy Jr for Canada).

I'm glad I saw all these movies, but I wouldn't say any of them are particularly great. But neither are any of them bad: at worst, they're OK. Here's my ranking:

1. Aces Go Places II (Eric Tsang)
2. Aces Go Places IV: You Never Die Twice (Ringo Lam)
3. Aces Go Places (Eric Tsang)
4. Aces Go Places III: Our Man From Bond Street (Tsui Hark)
5. Aces Go Places V: The Terracotta Hit (Lau Kar-leung)