Tag Archives: Jackie Chan

Skiptrace (2016)

It’s hard to believe that Jackie Chan was just awarded with an Oscar for lifetime achievements late last year! In celebration of the man’s career, I decided to watch Skiptrace, an action movie that apparently came out in 2016 but I had no idea even existed.

To be honest, I expected absolutely nothing from this movie. The last couple of Jackie Chan films I watched were all garbage — Dragon Blade, Chinese Zodiac, The Spy Next Door — essentially lame efforts to promote cross-border collaboration for the mainland Chinese film industry. Skiptrace seemed like more of the same, with Chinese actress Fan Bingbing being cast in the lead female role and Johnnie Knoxville as the American buddy sidekick. But you know what? I actually didn’t mind it. It’s definitely one of Jackie’s more watchable movies in recent memory.

The plot is pretty non-existent. Chan plays a Hong Kong cop trying to track down a criminal mastermind called the “Matador”, and somehow he has to track down a conman gambler played by Knoxville who witnessed a murder. Naturally, this takes the two of them on a trip around from Russia to China through Mongolia. Oh, and Fan Bingbing plays his goddaughter and the damsel in distress.

It’s a fairly typical Jackie Chan script, with the usual cringeworthy plot points, dialogue, jokes, and Asian actors forced to speak uncomfortable English. I’m actually quite sure some of Fan Bingbing’s lines were dubbed, or at least recorded later. Like many of his previous movies, Skiptrace felt like a tourism commercial, this time for Mongolia and parts of scenic China.

Having said that, I was surprised by the chemistry between Chan and Knoxville, who gets thrown around an awful lot (his forte, I suppose). Chan also seems to have a bit more of a spring in his step despite having hit the age of 62 and is involved in more action and stunts than in his prior films of the last few years. The action sequences and fights in general are just more creative and better choreographed too.

These positives don’t quite make up for the cringe moments and the bad Jackie Chan movie trademarks (such as always having a woman young enough to be his daughter as his love interest), though on the whole, Skiptrace turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining movie. Perhaps five-time Golden Raspberry Award nominee for Worst Director, Renny Harlin, somehow managed to turn back the clock to work his magic this time.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Dragon Blade (2015)

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I had prepared myself for a colossal turd, but I have to give credit where it’s due. Dragon Blade is not THAT bad.

One of the most expensive Chinese movies ever made with a budget of US$65 million, Dragon Blade is a sprawling war epic has already made nearly double that at the box office in China alone. It has plenty of CGI, tons of battle sequences — be it one-on-one or massive armies — and the biggest Chinese action star there is, Jackie Chan. What made the headlines, however, was the casting of two Hollywood A-listers, John Cusack and Adrien Brody, as two Roman soldiers. Honestly, it had all the elements of a massive flop.

Despite its questionable motives and its fair share of annoying flaws, Dragon Blade is actually one of the more acceptable Chinese action films I’ve seen in recent years. The more I think about how bad it could have been, the better I think it actually is.

If you want action, the film definitely delivers, with much of its 127-minute running time dedicated to fighting, fighting and more fighting. It’s all nicely choreographed, albeit a little repetitive, going for the more traditional approach as opposed to the modern stylized version popularized by films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Grandmaster or even Hollywood flicks such as 300.

The special effects are generally well done, but not quite on par with Hollywood productions. There are many sweeping shots of the landscape and ancient architecture that look like paintings (probably because they are), and in my opinion they look fake. If the whole movie had that type of feel (a la 300), then it wouldn’t have been as noticeable, though here it’s jarring because it doesn’t match the rest of the film’s grounded presentation.

The film also falls prey to problems that plague other ambitious Chinese films hoping to crack the international market. The plot is simple but they had to make it unnecessary convoluted. You can tell Hong Kong director Daniel Lee was trying to make the narrative more stylish by making things jump around a little when telling the Roman back story, but I think he made it more confusing instead. They also had to find some other non-Chinese Asian actors to appeal to the wider market. In this case they chose Korean-American pop star Yoo Seung-jun, who has a small token role.

The worst mistake, however, had to be the moronic and unnecessary “modern” link they forced into the plot, starting and ending the film in the present with a couple of unconvincing Asian-American archaeologists (Taiwan’s Vanness Wu and Hong Kong’s Karena Lam) looking for something pointless. It’s the typical “let’s throw some popular Asian starlets in there for no reason” idea Chinese movies love so much. Wu and Lam are cringeworthy. Both the acting and the dialogue are laughably bad.

The central characters are relatively well-developed, I suppose, for this type of film. The big signings, Cusack and Brody, really had to earn their paychecks. Cusack plays the good Roman and has to endure a lot of crap, while Brody plays the bad Roman who has use all his Oscar-winning acting to give his stock-standard villain some much-needed depth. Both guys get opportunities to wield swords, and they actually look convincing. Neither guy has been tearing up the box office as of late — Cusack’s in danger of becoming the next Nicholas Cage with some of his choices of late, and most of Brody’s roles in big films these days are of the supporting kind — so I guess they needed the money.

I find it interesting that Cusack’s role was originally said to have been for Mel Gibson. It makes me smile thinking that he would have agreed to play a Roman — you know, the guys who crucified and killed Jesus Christ — and to star alongside the Jewish Brody.

Anyway, as headline-grabbing as the Americans are, Dragon Blade is of course still Jackie Chan’s film. Unfortunately, Huo An is like every other character Chan has ever played. He’s a big hero; he’s courageous, morally upstanding; he never backs down from doing what’s right. And even though he’s now 60 years old, Jackie’s still getting 20-something actresses to play his love interests as though that’s how it’s meant to be. That said, he’s still got the charm. You can tell he’s desperately trying to show off his acting skills — Jackie has said that he really wants to win an Oscar — which is why there’s nearly half a dozen crying scenes for him in this film. Of course, he also does some singing. Because he can.

Pardon my cynicism. Growing up, Jackie Chan was my guy. Everything he did was the shit: Project A, Police Story, Armour of God. I loved it all. I’ve grown up now, but Jackie’s still the same, except a lot slower and no longer capable of the innovative kung fu acrobatics he’s known for. Oh, and now I also think he’s a bit of a Communist Party stooge.

It doesn’t help that Dragon Blade looks and smells a lot like a piece of Communist Party propaganda. Chan plays Huo An, a commander during the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) tasked with keeping peace on the Silk Road when a bunch of rowdy Romans come knocking. And guess what? Last year, Beijing announced its new “belt and road” initiative, comprising the Silk Road Economic Belt, a land-based belt connecting China to Russia to Europe via Central Asia, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, a maritime route through the Strait of Malacca to India, the Middle East and East Africa. China says the project promotes mutual interests and peace. A coincidence?

What makes it seem even more like propaganda is that the film is filled with unsubtle and unabashed corniness regularly found in Jackie’s movies. It’s a bona fide corn field out there, with an over-the-top musical score and a plethora of “f%*% yeah” moments. I like to call it “Team America-style cheering with Chinese characteristics.” Chinese people want peace! But we will fight to the death for what’s right! We are so righteous even the Romans are willing to follow us!

That’s why no one should be faulted for suspecting that Dragon Blade has a hidden political agenda. It’s a film that demonstrates China can make big blockbusters like Hollywood now, AND they can afford to get top Hollywood actors and even Academy Award winners to join them. China is depicted as a keeper of peace in a volatile world, while the film’s Chinese protagonist is depicted as incorruptible and just. Ethnic minorities are portrayed as uncivilized folk who need the Han Chinese to unify them. I doubt it was an unintentional decision to make Chan’s wife in the movie, played by Mika Wang, an ethnic Uyghur. For those who don’t know, Uyghurs — who say Beijing suppresses their cultural and religious freedoms — are a big problem for China and have been blamed for all the terrorist attacks across the country over the last few years.

The only thing in the film I can think of that really goes against China’s current political philosophies is that Huo infringes Beijing’s principle of non-interference when it comes to the internal matters of other countries — in this case, the Romans. Then again, the Romans were “making trouble” on China’s doorstep, something Chinese president Xi Jinping once said he would not tolerate (though that was in reference to North Korea).

Perhaps I’m over-analyzing. Maybe Dragon Blade is just an innocent action blockbuster after all. Whatever the case may be, it’s not a horrible effort. It is by no means great, or even very good, but at least it’s not boring and it’s not pretentious. The production value is relatively high; Cusack and Brody don’t embarrass themselves like I had anticipated, and the action is solid and occasionally spectacular. As I said, it could have been much much worse.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

The biggest problem with the 2010 “remake” The Karate Kid is that it’s called “The Karate Kid.”

It so shouldn’t be, and it’s the sole reason that I didn’t watch the film any earlier.  (Okay, that’s a lie.  I also thought the film was a shameless “star” vehicle for Jaden Smith, Will Smith’s kid, as adorable as he was in The Pursuit of Happyness.)

Calling The Karate Kid “The Karate Kid” is misleading because the 2010 film has nothing to do with the classic franchise with Ralph Macchio as Daniel-san and Pat Morita as Mr Miyagi.  It’s not a real remake.  For starters, it’s not even karate (it’s Kung Fu!).  It also happens to be set in China.  Sure, it borrows from the goodwill of the 1984 original and allows them to throw in a few homages to some of the more memorable scenes between Daniel-san and Mr Miyagi, but I think it does a disservice to both the original and the new film to use the same name.  They should have gone with “The Kung Fu Kid” or something like that.

Anyway, as surprised as I am to say it, the 2010 “remake” is actually pretty decent.

Jaden Smith is Dre Parker, as 12 year old kid who moves with his mother (Taraji P Henson) to Beijing, China for some reason.  And of course, he’s not liked by the local kids who all turn out to be little kung fu warriors.  But fear not — enter Jackie Chan as the building maintenance man, Mr Han, who also happens to be a master of kung fu.  So begins little Dre’s transformation from bullied foreigner to kung fu hero.

If the plot sounds formulaic, that’s because it is.  But having said that, The Karate Kid still has a fair bit of heart.  It’s targeted at a younger audience and I think they’ve hit the mark — it has an underdog story, it’s fairly entertaining, lightly amusing, and there’s a good message hidden in there somewhere.  It’s way too long at around 140 minutes, but to be honest I didn’t find it boring.  The kiddy fight scenes were done very well, and most of it looks pretty legit.

Little Jaden is growing up quickly and he’s adequate as Dre.  I heard some bad reviews about his acting but he’s not that bad.  The cute kid routine no longer works but you can tell he works hard, just like his old man.  (He also looks a lot like him from the nose up, as evidenced from an early scene where you only get to see half his face in a van.)

The thing with Jackie Chan is that you always know what you’re going to get.  Charismatic, good jokes, nicely choreographed fight scenes, and the ability to pull the heart strings when necessary.  He’s clearly getting on in age but can still kick some butt when he has to.

The Karate Kid should never be considered a replacement for the original for the new generation of kids who like to pretend they know how to fight.  But still, it’s not a bad film, especially for younger kids.  Maybe they’ll find it easier to relate to a genuine 12-year-old in Jaden Smith rather than a 30-year-old Ralph Macchio playing a 16-year-old (okay, he wasn’t that old…maybe like 23).

3 stars out of 5

[PS: apparently in China it’s called The Kung Fu Dream and several minutes of the film that makes China “look bad” has been cut!]

Movie Review: The Spy Next Door (2010)

Growing up, Jackie Chan was one of my movie heroes.  His innovative and comedic action flicks, especially the old Hong Kong classics when he was in his prime, are amongst my favourites of all time.  Which is why it was so upsetting for me to watch his latest, The Spy Next Door.

In this stereotypical, The Pacifier-style set up, Chan plays Bob (horrible name — I loved the old films where he was just called “Jackie”), an undercover superspy who has to look after some bratty little kids belonging to his squeeze, played by Amber Valletta.  I have no idea how this happened, but Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez both somehow found themselves on the cast.

Jackie Chan is old.  He has just turned 56, and it showed in The Spy Next Door.  It showed so much it was depressing.  Not only the way he looked (the hair just about killed me), but also the way he moved.  While Jackie still impresses for a man of his age, especially in a few slapstick-style fight scenes where he bounced around like a monkey, he’s a few steps slower and a lot less agile than the man I grew up idolizing.  I’m not even sure if he does his own stunts anymore.  To be honest I’m pretty sure it’s not all him doing those moves.

While it’s unfair to expect Jackie Chan to turn back time, it’s absolutely fair to slag the rest of the film, which is repetitive, annoying, and frankly, very unfunny.  Jackie still has charm, but the script is so lacking he’s essentially handcuffed.  And there’s no Chris Tucker to bail him out this time.

I know The Spy Next Door is targeted almost entirely at children, and particularly young children, but even as such, it’s terrible.

Come on Jackie.  You may be unable to move like you used to, but that shouldn’t mean you have to be stuck doing films like this.

1.5 stars out of 5!