AKA GOND FU TU JIA
AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL July 31st, BLU-RAY AND DVD August 7th, from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment / Well Go USA
RUNNING TIME: 107 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Jack, a renowned professor of archaeology at the Terracotta Warriors Museum in Xi’an, recieves a visit from young female Indian professor Ashmita from National Museum Institute, Rajasthan. She wants him to help her to locate India’s lost Magadha treasure in Tibet, and has even found a map. Jack forms a team and they find the treasure underneath a frozen lake, only to be ambushed interrupted by a group of mercenaries led by Randall, the descendant of a rebel army leader. They steal the treasure and leaves them there to die, while Jones – a member from Jack’s team – smuggles away with a diamond artifact which later pops up in Dubai for auction….
Though he’s said on several occasions that he’s not doing any more action films and wanted to concentrate on serious drama, Jackie Chan can’t seem to say no to a script, and this year we’ve had Skiptrace, Railroad Tigers and Kung Fu Yoga. A Blu-ray of Railroad Tigers has been sitting in my never decreasing pile of unwatched discs for a month or so now, while a UK release of Skiptrace hasn’t even been announced yet [guess I’m going to have to import], so I can’t really compare Kung Fu Yoga to them, but the latter is pretty much the kind of film that Chan would have made it in the 80’s or the 90’s, and it may very well have been a classic, a light hearted adventure taking place in exotic locations with Chan’s trademark jaw-dropping fight and stunt sequences. In fact while I was watching it, I couldn’t help myself imagining how great some of the set pieces would once have been, and even finishing them off in my head. Unfortunately, Chan is now 62 years old so can no longer do much of the crazy stuff that he used to [though he can still do a hell of a lot of things most of us can’t], which means that the main reason for watching a film like this just isn’t there, especially if some of the other elements aren’t really up to scratch.
And yet Kung Fu Yoga isn’t really as bad as a quick skimming of the IMDB reviews may suggest [Chan’s worst movie – really! – has the reviewer seen The Medallion or Police Woman?]. I expected something pretty awful and was pleasantly surprised. For the most part, it’s reasonably pleasant viewing. It moves fairly well except for a few instances when it gets bogged down in exposition. is colourful and exotic to look at, and the action is both fairly plentiful and, if one thinks about it, often not bad if you just put to the back of your mind the Chan of 30, 20, even 10, years ago. Despite flitting from English to Chinese in the screener I saw [I would imagine that the Blu-ray/DVD release next month has proper subtitle and dubbed options], kids would probably love it – and then you can really treat your child to one of Chan’s earlier works. For long-time fans like myself, there are a few scattered, brief moments which recapture just a little bit of the thrill we used to get when we first saw Drunken Master, Police Story or Rumble In The Bronx. The main problems with the film are its often stupid storyline which seems to have been thrown together by writer/director Stanley Tong whose work with Chan was once very fruitful indeed [in fact you could partly credit Tong for helping break Chan into America as he deliberately crafted certain films to appeal to a US audience], and that dreaded word CGI, the thing that can be more of a curse than a blessing.
Matters don’t really get off to a good start with a prologue set in Ancient China which gives us far too much information far too quickly for us to assimilate and would better have been placed later on in the film, but not, it was decided that the best way to open the film was with an almost entirely CGI sequence narrated by Chan and featuringa young Chan as a general [again] who does some stunts involving elephants that even Peter Jackson may well have thought to be over the top [and that’s something I never thought I’d say]. The camera swoops all over the place and the visuals aren’t actually that bad, but the sheer artificiality and ridiculousness of the sequence is distracting. Thankfully it turns out to just be a clip that Chan is showing as part of a lecture to university students. Most viewers will probably then immediately think of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and will be either rewarded or insulted by a variation on that film’s eyelid flirtation a couple of minutes later and a rather sly pastiche of a much later scene as we get to the finale of this one. Myself, I kept wondering whether this was supposed to be a sequel to Chan’s 2005 collaboration with Tong The Myth considering the flashback featuring Chan, the fact that he’s called Jack, and many later similarities. Chan has denied this, but I couldn’t stop wondering.
Jack has just found some terracota warriors and is showing a special technique for restoring them when Ashmita approaches him. A few minutes later Ashmita is seen teaching some people yoga, and yoga is referenced later on, but sadly it’s never combined with kung fu, which is misleading if you ask me. Jack cooking and showing off on a whin chun dummy, things he apparently never does, is amusing, but his lustful looks at Ashmita just seem sleazy given Chan’s age. Anyway, he, Ashmita, fellow teachers Xiaoguang and Nuomin, assistant Kyra, and Jones the father of a friend who disappeared looking for the hidden treasure, set off for Tibet. Little really happens for a while though there’s a nice moment where Jack trades some friendly moves with Jones, but eventually we do get quite a cool fight set underground on and amidst ice with the expected slipping and sliding. One can still imagine Chan thinking up amusing and exciting little bits of business to put in, even if there’s nothing outstanding to see here. Jones proves traitorous and steals a diamond while the villainous Randall sets off an avalanche and takes the rest, though everyone survives to follow Jones to Dubai, and it’s here that the plot just gets stupid, such as somebody stealing the diamond again just to get Jack to India when, being an archaelogist, he would have gone there anyway considering that the diamond can supposedly open up a gate to more treasure in an Indian temple. The final act is very much like that of The Myth, though with better fighting. It’s less daft too – until the climax is suddenly interrupted [this may count as a spoiler but I have to warn viewers] by everyone doing a Bollywood-style dance number!
There’s a decent fight [I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of fighting in the film] in an Indian market with snakes in baskets, fire and a rope put to good use, plus a solid car chase around Dubai, though Tong’s action scenes have lost some of the rhythm that they used to have. Animals are everywhere – hyenas, wolves, and a lion in the back of a car that Jack is driving which does cause a few chuckles – but every single one of them is CGI, which sometimes takes one out of the sequences a bit even though the graphics proved, with a few exceptions, to be a bit better than I expected. Far too many of the sets are computer generated though, and sometimes Tong just likes to tell everyone “look, I have CGI at my disposal now”, such as when he pointlessly zooms away from one location and into outer space and a satellite, then immediately zooms back again. On the other hand I liked the way that the stuff involving Chan has very little enhancement, the temptation to show him doing really extreme stuff he can’t actually do being admirably resisted [though he can still jump through a luggage carrier]. In fact co-stars Aarif Rahman and Zhang Yixing probably get to do more things stunt-wise. When the car chase happens, it’s Rahman who jumps from one car to another and hangs on a roof while Chan just drives. It’s a laudable approach. Also admirable is a moment after one of the major set pieces where Jack goes off to the police station “because heaven knows how much more there is to pay for damages”. Most action movies never seem to think of this unless it’s as a joke.
There’s slightly less humour than I expected though everything is still very light and a few genuine laughs do come along, like Kyra suddenly having a runny nose [it’s funnier than I’ve made it sound when seen in context]. Unfortunately the idea of bringing China and India closer is repeated over and over again and just comes across as propaganda like we’ve seen in some other recent Chans. The man himself is too old for his role but still has much of the usual charm. The three lead actresses get to participate in some Operation Condor-type moments but are mostly just there to look pretty [which they certainly do], while Sonu Sood is a rather unthreatening but effectively arrogant villain. Eric Tsang has another nice cameo. All character relationships are very sketchy, but then again it’s the script that’s probably the worst feature of this film – I know this is a Jackie Chan film, but it’s clearly hasn’t had much thought put into it at all. All and all though, Kung Fu Yoga does have its pleasures and should entertain as long as you don’t expect too much.