Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…
It’s been a while since Jackie Chan made a truly spectacular action film, but it’s not for lack of trying. He’s fifty-six years-old now people, so cut the guy some slack. A slowdown is to be expected, but what he does manage to get onscreen still deserves to be respected. I’m not talking about his US flicks obviously… good god I’m not talking about those… but his Hong Kong films continue to be entertaining, interesting, and often pretty solid on the action front. Shinjuku Incident, New Police Story, hell, even Robin-B-Hood was actually pretty good. So let’s all wash the residue of The Spy Next Door from our eyes and take a gander at his latest homegrown effort, Little Big Soldier.
The film opens after a large-scale battle has ended leaving the ground saturated with hundreds of dead bodies. A lone figure pops up from where he had been playing dead and begins to pick his way through the remains. Chan plays a farmer turned conscripted soldier who would much rather be back home tending his plot of land than fighting, but when he finds another survivor, this one a general from the enemy side, he decides to bring him back to his own army’s headquarters for a reward. The two of them set out on foot for a journey filled with enemy soldiers, criminal gangs, treacherous women, and a hungry black bear. It’s basically Midnight Run remade as a Chinese, martial-arts fueled period piece…
Chan has been thinking about this story for two decades but only recently was he able to bring it all together. His original plan was to play the role of the young general, but thankfully time has turned him towards the older and far more entertaining side of things. As buddy/road movies go Little Big Soldier is one of the better ones. The comedy works more often than not with the vast majority of it due to Chan’s expressions, mannerisms, and reaction shots. Physical gags involving fake arrows, wounds getting poked, and a fight scene that sees Chan flailing wildly well after the danger has passed are truly funny bits.
But Chan’s not dead yet, so there’s still plenty of action scenes to entertain and delight. Several fights and even more opportunities for his trademarked “prop shenanigans” are sprinkled liberally throughout the movie giving it a steady pace and energy. He’s still an extremely nimble and fast performer, and his famed stunt team always deliver the goods when it comes to falls, flips, fights and anything else required to keep the smile on the audience’s collective faces.
Little Big Soldier may not look like more than an action comedy on the surface, but it surprises with a degree of depth and drama that is quickly becoming another hallmark of Chan’s recent films. It’s obviously not a straight drama like Shinjuku Incident, but there are some serious themes at play here involving class distinctions and family honor. Chan will never win an Oscar but his performances, especially in his native language, continue to improve. Chan and his prisoner (Lee-hom Wang) have a fun and solid chemistry together as they play off each other for laughs and drama, and their sword fight is also pretty impressive.
The stunts aren’t big enough and the fights aren’t fast or frequent enough to raise Little Big Soldier to the level of Chan’s best work, but it still manages to be far superior to most of his US output. He’s always been a master of two physical performance types. One is martial arts and acrobatics (albeit to a lesser degree now than it used to be). The other is Harold Lloyd-like physical comedy utilizing his body and facial expressions in companion with physical gags. He may be relying a bit more on the latter these days, but if he continues to mix in interesting stories and characters like he does here he’ll continue to find an audience happy to sit back and be entertained.
Little Big Soldier is currently available on region A Bluray (that will play in all domestic Bluray players) from YesAsia.
The Upside: Solid swordplay and martial arts; more laughs than Chan’s US comedies; surprising finale; Jackie sings
The Downside: More fighting would have been nice; horse stunts look incredibly painful on the horses; Jackie sings