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The Go Master

Courtesy photo

Schemes in Antiques (2021)

Based on Ma Boyong’s novel, which has already spawned a popular TV series, “Schemes in Antiques” revolves around a Chinese national treasure – the head of a Buddha statue from Wu Zetian’s palace during the Tang Dynasty – gifted to the Japanese sometime during the early 20th century. Kana Kido (Lilie Matsumine) now wishes to return it on condition that the recipient must be a descendant of Xu Yicheng, the authority on antiques accused of treason and executed for giving the Buddha head away. Following the fall from grace of grandpa Yicheng and abandonment by his father, Xu Heping (Guo Tao), Xu Yuan (Lei Jiayin) trades electronics and dabbles in small-time scams at flea-market auctions.

Disheveled like Lee Jung-jae’s Gi-hun in “Squid Game,” Yuan is evidently down on his luck. As much as Yicheng’s greedy past foes would like to discredit him in order to get in on the Buddha head action themselves, Yuan has inherited the family expertise in antique authentication. While all concerned parties agree that the Buddha head in the Kidos’ possession is actually fake, they depend on Yuan, who has inside knowledge on clues to the whereabouts of the real one left by Heping, recently deceased due to probable foul play. But unbeknownst to all, Heping already anticipated every single move by every player involved.

What follows is an intricate game of Go being played off the board. In one scene, Yuan discovers a shelf of antiques hidden behind a wall in Heping’s abode, arranged to convey a message in Morse code. In another, antiques stored in 12 different storage units are meant to represent the stones on a giant Go board to reveal the location of a hidden tomb complete with Indiana Jones-style booby traps.

Yuan’s ability to solve problems is impressive, though it makes zero sense as to why he would leave any clues intact for Yao Buran (Li Xian), a descendant of Yicheng’s rival Yao Lai (Yang Xinming), to stay hot on his trail. On a separate occasion, Yuan narrates his thought process right in front of Buran as he pieces a puzzle together. In trying to spell out elaborate intrigues for moviegoers, the film’s screenwriters (Zhu Xuan, Huang Hai, Guo Zijian and Fan Wenwen) often lose sight of whether the characters’ actions still make sense, especially when Yuan’s opponents are often already steps ahead.

Director Derek Kwok’s brash filmmaking style serves certain scenes well, especially where Yuan is called upon to display a little showmanship. Other times, it feels a bit like a sensory assault. Whereas “Pushpa: The Rise” was undermined by inadequate C.G.I., “Schemes in Antiques” overuses it to the point that it feels gratuitous. We see a wall of antiques literally turning into a Go board when it’s much better left to our imagination. The computer animation adds nothing – quite the opposite. There’s already plenty going on plotwise to keep moviegoers riveted.


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