Review: Little Big Soldier
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Oh, Jackie Chan. You cheeky little kung-fu scamp, with your crazy little waddle run, loose grip on the English language and scant concern for your own safety; what has become of you lately? With the onset of years bringing the inevitable decline in quality, this year alone has seen him star in the woeful family "fun"-ster Spy Next Door and the childhood-memory-raping Karate Kid remake (the box-office may disagree, but kids are stupid), but in between those two he managed to find time to write, produce, action-direct and star in this period-set Asian production, and it isn't too bad.
Set in ancient China during a time of wars between several states, the only two survivors of a vicious battle are Jackie's Big Soldier, a wily man with several tricks to play dead and sit out the warfare, and the opposing army's young general (Wang Leehom), who Jackie decides to capture and take back home for a handsome reward. However the journey as cinematic journeys so often are is fraught with peril as the two are faced with bears, bandits and barbarians, and are all the while pursued by the general's foes who want him dead for good. Just the kind of thing that turns enemies into friends and breaks down class barriers and allows cowards to discover their true bravery, then, with a bit of chop-socky action along the way.
But come on, it's a Jackie Chan film, all we want to know is just how much chop-socky action there is, right? Well… A bit. The action scenes are pretty fast paced, and on a grander scale than we're used to from Chan. Not only is there hand-to-hand combat while jumping onto, over and around tables and such, but swordplay, arrows, horses and an impressive set piece involving a buffalo. The down side is that now Jackie's getting on a bit, the action scenes are all augmented with wirework and CGI, and come only in short bursts.
To fill in the gaps Chan does display his other strengths, however, like physical comedy. Working in his native language he is able to perform unfettered, and there are plenty of opportunities for him to lampoon around like a Chinese Chaplin, while he's clearly taken some script ideas from his Hollywood outings in Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon/Knights to bring the same comedy of opposites bonding throughout their journey to become friends, though Wang Leehom is a much more stoic companion than Chris Tucker or Owen Wilson.
Where things do fall down are in the below par subtitle translations, which lend a corny edge to the dialogue, while a patchwork of scattergun editing throughout means that major plot points and character beats are sped through and the audience is left more than a little disorientated and confused.
Taken on its own merits Little Big Soldier does entertain. There are plenty of comic and even some more heartfelt moments, and the fight scenes are directed with assured aplomb. Based on recent works it's not hard to say it's Chan's best film in years, but when you're used to his dynamic and completely authentic former glory, and with the likes of Tony Jaa upping the stakes in recent years, it doesn't quite pack the same punch. (Out on DVD 8th November; Cine Asia)
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